It’s been a quiet some time now since I have traveled the Philippines but I never got to write my final roundup. Recently thinking about it, I wasn’t even sure if I should write it at all since it has been so long ago already. But giving it a second thought, I just had to do it. In the end it was the country where I spent the longest time (three months), the country where I found new friends, fellow travelers and locals alike, the country of many adventures and the country with probably the friendliest people I have met. No, not writing this final roundup wouldn’t do this beautiful country and its people justice. A country that has it all and that is probably my favorite country after all.
I came to the Philippines with fairly high expectations as two Dutch sisters, whom I had met a couple of years before in Indonesia, were absolutely crazy about it and made it sound almost too good. Their intriguing stories kept haunting me and so I decided to go there and see for myself. I knew that I wanted to take my time and planned to stay for two months, the maximum you can get on a regular tourist visa. As luck would have it, a good month before I had met Dolf and Chris from Belgium who also planned on traveling the Philippines. And since we got along well, we decided to team up, share fun and costs, and travel together. High expectations can be a tricky thing as the chances of being disappointed will be higher. My experience is that is usually better to stay rather neutral when visiting a new country and not expect too much. But in case of the Philippines, all of the expectations, all of the anticipation was more than justified.
A country of many Adventures
The Republic of The Philippines, as the country is officially known as, consists of 7.107 islands which are mostly covered by rainforest and volcanic in origin. This and its remarkably long coastline, considered to be the fifth longest in the world, make for an abundance of outdoor activities and adventures. No matter what you are after or what your idea of a perfect holiday is, the Philippines will probably have it. It features some of Asia’s best dive spots, you can climb a number of volcanoes, some of them still active, you can relax at the most pristine beaches and do nothing, you can surf some insane breaks, hike the most impressive rice terraces or you can explore some of the islands by motorbike. The opportunities are endless and the good thing is, that it is still pretty affordable. With so many different things to chose from, it can sometimes be hard to decide and making an itinerary is definitely recommended compared to other countries where you can just go with the flow.
Living with the Locals
One of my main highlights was getting to know and ending up living with the friendly locals in Gubat, a small town in the province of Sorsogon, Eastern Luzon. For Easter and the Holy Week the local surfers had organized a beach camp with live music, barbecues, surfing and many other activities. Since Holy Week is a very important holiday in the Philippines and hence a very busy time, we decided that this would be the prefect getaway. As we were the only foreigners, we received a warm welcome and quickly got to know everyone – the locals but also other Filipinos, mainly from Manila, who also attended the so called Hayahay. For the whole week we camped out by the beach in our hammocks and had an amazing time. Having drinks together, sharing stories and laughter, being invited into people’s homes and actually becoming friends with people. It was just extraordinary and to this extent never happened again during my travels.
After two months of traveling across the country with Dolf and Chris, it was time to part but I still didn’t have enough of the Philippines. I extended my visa and returned to Gubat which by that point had somewhat become my home away from home. I stayed at Glenda’s cozy cottage and lived a pleasantly calm and laid-back life, going surfing when the swell was good, visiting friends in town, cooking food and doing a little side trip every now and then. Basically just a regular life but looking back at it now, those were precious moments in which I really felt content and at peace with everything.
Getting around – Ferries, Jeepneys, Tricycles
Transportation in the Philippines may require some planning at times, especially in the more remote areas. But generally there are many ways to get around and you will be able to make it anywhere you want to go. It just might take a bit longer sometimes. Well-equipped and modern overland buses plough the major routes from and to Manila with numerous stops in-between. Connections into smaller towns, rural areas but also the within the major cities are covered by the famous and most popular means of transportation, the jeepneys. Only found in the Philippines, the jeepney is basically a small bus which was originally made from U.S. military jeeps left over from World War II. Decorated with vibrant colors and paintings and chrome-plated ornaments, the jeepney has become a ubiquitous symbol of Philippine culture. Known for their crowded seating, it is great to do the “top load”, which means sitting on the roof. We just loved riding on top and did whenever we had the chance to. Airy, the best views and so much better than being cramped up with 20 other people inside.
For shorter distances motorized tricycles are the way to get around. If you travel the Philippines, you will see that every larger town and every region has its own unique style of tricycles. It’s really interesting to see. You can use them the same way you would use a taxi or hire them for a day tour. Drivers usually know the best places to see but make sure to negotiate a good price beforehand – for tours and regular rides.
Since the country consists of more than 7.000 islands; you will have to take a ferry to make it to certain destinations. Some connections are covered by domestic flights as well, but if you are traveling on a budget, the ferry is the way to go. I actually liked our ferry rides as it is somehow a very calm and relaxed way of getting from one place to another and is also a great if you want to get in touch with the locals.
A word about safety and why Filipino people are awesome
People have kept asking me about safety issues as they had heard of the Philippines being a rather unsafe travel destination. After 3 months in the country I can say that I never had a single problem and that I never felt unsafe. To the contrary, wherever we went, people were welcoming us, asking where we were from and genuinely interested. I can without a doubt recommend everyone to visit the Philippines; it is in my opinion safer than a lot of other countries in Southeast Asia these days. Of course, as in every other country, you should act smart, not be too careless and a talent for haggling can’t hurt either. But then I am sure you will have a great time.
And that is because the Filipino people are just awesome. They are very friendly, open towards foreigners, helpful and very curious. It’s doesn’t take long to strike up a conversation with a local, old or young. And the good thing about it is that almost everyone speaks good English. That gives you the opportunity to actually have a proper conversation and get to know people. People in other Asian countries are super friendly as well, no doubt, but it can often be difficult to get beyond that language barrier and beyond just scratching the surface. In the Philippines I was able to make real friends and get a deeper understanding of the culture. It all made for a different travel experience, very rewarding and very inspiring.
A melting pot of cultures
Due to its colonial past, the Philippines feature a culture, which is very unique and different than any other culture in Southeast Asia. It is an interesting mix of Western and Asian cultures. Spanish influences are highly visible with Spanish sounding names, streets and towns and the popular barrio fiestas. The common use of the English language, the ready acceptance of American pop cultural trends and the country’s love for basketball are examples of the American impact on society. Maybe that is also the reason why fast-food is so popular in the Philippines. All Western chains are well established on the Filipino market alongside homegrown chains such as famous Jollibee or Goldilocks. Talking about food … in my humble opinion the Filipino food can’t quiet compete with other Southeast Asian cuisines. And this is maybe the only thing that I didn’t quite like about the country. But hey, it would be too good if even the food would be top notch. And I did like some dishes and I am actually missing a good Halo-Halo, Tocilog breakfast and my favorite, the Bicol Express.
Last thoughts …
It has been an amazing experience and a different travel experience due to the mentioned factors. I loved the Philippines because of its people, its abundance of adventure opportunities and because it was easy to venture off the beaten track. I remember crossing Samar and Leyte over to Cebu and we didn’t meet any other tourists for about two or three weeks. We had the most beautiful beaches all for ourselves and if there were tourists, it was mainly Filipinos who really travel a lot within their own country. And that’s actually a great thing. Of course the country has its touristic hotspots like Boracay, Malapascua or even Palawan, but it is still easy enough to find those hidden gems and to go exploring on your own. I have spent 3 months in the Philippines, I have seen a lot but there is still so much more to see and do. I can say that it is one of the very few countries that I will definitely visit again. Pilipinas, Maraming salamat po!
Where I have been:
1 day Manila
1 day Baguio
3 days Sagada
2 days Banaue
2 days Batad
1 day Capas (Mt. Pinatubo)
2 days Manila
2 days Camsur Watersports Complex, Camarines Sur
9 days Gubat (incl. Mt. Bulusan)
3 days Biri Island, N. Samar
3 days Biliran
1 day Maripipi Island
1 day San Isidro
2 days Malapascua
1 day Cebu
3 days Siquijor
6 days Camiguin
1 day Cebu
2 days Sabang
3 days El Nido
5 days Coron
3 days Manila
10 days Gubat (incl. Matnog)
5 days Catanduanes
3 days Gubat
2 days Donsol
15 days Gubat
1 day Manila
Ferry, Banka, Tricycle, Jeepney, Bus, Nightbus, Motorbike, Bicycle, Habal-Habal, Car, Dive Boat, Offroad Jeep, Minivan, Fishing boat
The friendly people, the many adventures, lack of mas tourism, riding jeepneys topload
Packed minivans, eating Balut
Types of accomodation:
Guesthouses, Hotels, Homestays, The Beach, Tent, Overnight bus, Overnight Ferry, Hammock
Relaxing on Camiguin Island, Climbing Mt. Bulusan, Surfing Catanduanes, Living a regular life in Gubat
Almost breaking my ankle during the descent of Mt. Bulusan, Almost throwing up while eating my second Balut
Photos shot and kept on File:
Below I put a selection of my favorite pictures from the Philippines. I hope you enjoyed the reports and the accompanying photographs. Feel free to message me or share your thoughts about your experiences traveling the Philippines or traveling in general. And if you like, please stop by my Facebook Page and give it a Like. I really appreciate it.