Impressions of the Philippines

I love it when a place surprises you. I turned up on a bit of whim thanks to seeing a few nice photos and a bargain flight in the Air Asia January sale, with not much of an idea what to expect. It turned out to be right up there with Mexico & Peru as one of my favourite countries so far.

So what was so awesome about it?

`

The Mountains

Banaue Rice Terraces, Cordillera Mountains, North Luzon, Philippines

The Rice Terraces of the Cordillera

Anyone who goes to the Philippines and misses the Cordillera is seriously missing out. I saw an awful lot of beautiful mountains in Latin America, and almost thought I was mountained out. I was wrong – the Cordillera mountains of North Luzon are stunning, mainly because they are absolutely covered in rice terraces. I’ve seen rice terraces before in other countries, and thought they looked OK, but it was nothing compared to see whole mountains carved away by human hand into a series of neat, curving steps. The fact that many are well over a thousand years old makes them all the more impressive

 
The Beaches

Malapascua beach, Cebu, Visayas, Philippines

Over 7,000 islands to choose from - that's a lot of beach

Again, I thought I’d seen some damn fine beaches on my travels so far – in Mexico, Honduras, Colombia & Indonesia – but they really weren’t a patch on what the Philippines has to offer. Beautiful curves of sparkling white sand are ten a penny in the country, and with so many islands to choose from, there are only a few that are really developed – and even those have been very tastefully done, and are clean too. Especially spectacular are the islands of the Bacuit Archipelago, off the north coast of Palawan. I’m writing this now from Thailand – and having now seen the famous beaches of the Andaman Coast of this country (Rai Leh, Ko Phi Phi, Phuket), I can safely say The Philippines wins hands down, not least for the fact that it’s more sensitively developed and much less touristed.

 
The Wildlife
Philippine Tarsier, Bohol, Philippines

Want.

I’ve written enough about this already, so just to summarise:
Tarsiers: possibly the cutest animal in the world
Thresher Sharks: Very impressive looking. And even better for the points it’ll get me in future games of ‘diver one-upmanship’
Whale Sharks: indescribably awesome. Even better than the Orang-Utans. Possibly the best moment of my entire trip.

 
The People
Malapascua kids

The friendly kids of Malapascua beach

Yes, I know I say this about every country, but this time I have to say The Philippines was the best country yet for the locals. I think the people are just as friendly in some other countries (like Mexico or Indonesia) – but the big difference here is that virtually everyone speaks pretty good English, which makes it really easy to get chatting to people everywhere. They’re really passionate about their country (well, apart from about their politicians normally), always willing to help out and offer suggestions on where else to go, and a good laugh too.

 
My fellow travelers
Swimming in Donsol, Philippines

My fellow travellers made swimming with whale sharks even more incredible

It wasn’t just the locals who helped me have such a good time – the other travelers I met were equally cool, the best I’ve met in any country apart from Colombia (which makes me think that perhaps the kind of people who go to less obvious countries tend to be more interesting people). I met people from a more diverse group of countries than ever before – not just the usual mix of Western Europeans, North Americans & Australians, but plenty of Asians, Africans and Eastern Europeans too, and I always had both a real laugh and interesting conversations wherever I went.

 
The food (and the beer)

Filipino food has an awful reputation – often described as the worst in Asia. I think that’s really unfair. One of the things I liked most about it was that it was different – a nice change from the (delicious) stir-fries and curries that are that staple fair elsewhere in the region. The Spanish influence is obvious, and I loved dishes like Adobo (a vinegary stew normally made with pork or chicken) and Afritada (meat in a rich garlicky, tomato sauce with lots of peppers). I even liked Sisig (a common fast food or bar snack made with crispy bits of unusual parts of the pig). Best of all was Bicol Express, a (unusually for the Philippines) firey dish of chilis, pork, shrimps, onion, garlic and coconut milk. Meanwhile from the perspective of a traveller who is perpetually over budget, San Miguel (the national beer) is possibly the cheapest in the world, at about $0.60 a bottle. Marvellous.

I really cannot believe how many people come to South East Asia and skip The Philippines. It really is incredible, and it’s yet another country I long to go back to, so I can see more – Samar, Layte, Siquijor, Mondanao, Negros, Boracay, Camiguin and more of Luzon are all on my list.

That’s it now for The Philippines – I’m skipping on the usual budget & numbers post, as they were getting a bit samey and boring to write. For any geeky numbers fans out there, don’t worry, there will be a mammoth stats post at the end of my trip. In short though, yet again I blew my budget (this time it was on internal flights and diving, as the food & drink turned out to be the cheapest yet – even less than Bolivia). In terms of the other numbers, biggest surprise was the vast number of Danes I met. They are everywhere, and I would like to congratulate them on their very good taste in holiday destinations.

You can see all my photos of the country here, and read any posts you missed here.

Next stop: Chinese New Year in Singapore, followed by an unexpected trip to Hospital in Thailand.

32 responses to “Impressions of the Philippines

  1. Definitely do come back, there are more than 7,059 islands to see and discover. How many islands did you actually go to, anyway?

    What a surprise indeed.

    And just a correction:
    “Especially spectacular are the islands of the Bacuit Archipelago, off the north coast of Thailand”

    Did you mean Palawan? And definitely, way better than Phi Phi!

    • whoops – thanks for that – it’s now corrected.

      I went to Luzon, Busuanga, Palawan, Cebu, Bohol, Panglao & Malapascua (as well as a handful of small ones off Palawan). So yes, loads to go still!

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed your stay in the Philippines and even developed a liking of our food! Some foreigners I know liked it here in the Philippines very much that they keep coming back. It is only sad that sometimes we have negative reviews that some tourists skip going here. Other suggestions on your trip back here are the Ilocos Region and Davao province. Thanks for your posts!

  3. looks amazing H, wish I could have come with you x

  4. Perhaps owning your piece of paradise in the Phils is on the table now. Tempting, isn’t it?

    And what a surprise this country is.

    Great blog, mate!

  5. I love, love, love the Philippines. Surprised me as well!

  6. hey geoff, you asked me to tell you what leyte was like.. well, i didn’t see a lot – just stayed in tacloban (more of a stopover than anything else) and then headed down to padre burgos for just under a week.
    burgos was really cool. no cheap accomodation, so had to stay at a resort, but turns out there’s more whale sharks in that part of the world. all the resorts want to charge $70 (incl 1 dive) to go out and snorkel w/ the sharks, but i met up w/ a mad bunch of brits (and a few others) living in burgos. they organised a couple fishing boats and we went out to see the sharks for 200P each (incl a tip). because we were the only ones there, and the sharks barely see anyone, they’re a lot more curious. the first shark we saw spent about 15 min swimming around us – and even at us – to the point that you would have to keep trying to get out of the way. it was awesome. and other times, we’d just jump in the water, much around for a bit and eventually another shark would turn up! crazy!
    so next time you’re around the area, hit it up
    oh yeah, did a couple dives there too. they were nice – great coral, plenty of fish, alright visibility. didn’t get to see any crazy sea life, but a really nice dive nonetheless.

  7. Kumusta ka Geoff, i wonder if you remember me, i am a friend of Tony and Chris. Chris shared with me your website and i just want to thank you for your wonderful article about my beloved country. That was very nice of you and i am glad that you love it. I am not so surprised as i have not met anyone who visited it and not love it. With your permission, i would love to share this with some of my friends particularly travellers and adventure seekers. Best of luck with the rest of your travels and hope to see you again in London on your return . I have been to most of the places you visited in the Phil except Palawan, which is still in my list (for a long time now), we will have lots to talk about.

    Take care

  8. I forgot to tell you that i grew up in Leyte and you should definitely see it next time. What’s funny about the islands there is that one would think all islands are the same, fortunately for adventure seekers like us is that each is unique. You forgot to mention our delicious mangoes. The best of course as all the other locally grown fruits. xxx

  9. I love your post (i reckon I’m biased since I’m filipino :). Philippines is always overlooked as a good travel destination compared to its Asian neighbors. You have captured what I love most about traveling in the Philippines – the food, the people, the wonderful beaches, and awesome dive sites! there’s also the cheap beer, of course :) i wish i could be more of a tourist in my own country!

  10. thanks for sharing your thoughts about the philippines. must be an awesome place to visit. enjoy your succeding journeys..

  11. Hey Buddy, I’m really ashamed by my blog after seeing yours. I’m definitely reading it once I have the energy.
    I got into Meiktila this evening and am heading to Taunggyi or Nyaungshwe tomorrow morn in a minibus. I arrive around 6. You guys will surely be deep into your trek by then. What is it, 3 nights? Anyway, if you get this before you take off let me know when and where you’ll end the trek and maybe I’ll meet you there.
    ူMy FaceBook name is Tony Castanheira and the picture is of me and two friends.
    Take care and have fun! Hope to see you guys soon. Oh and Thanks for the help last night too. It turned out to be a good idea to get off the bus ;)

  12. Philippines has many tourist spot we should really visit and be proud of

  13. Ive been too Boracay, several years back ; D

  14. Great pictures
    Question: what are those War Wounds from? I can’t find the blog on this
    Thanks
    Tim
    Folkestone uk

  15. Hi:
    I just wanted to thank you for your blog and wonderful feedback re: your Philippine trip. I grew up in Manila and moved to Toronto 20 years ago and have been a few times since, yet sadly, I never got to visit as many places you did. Your blog certainly made me decide that I have to change all that. I am planning to go back in October 2010 and I know I MUST visit Busuanga, Palawan, Cebu, Bohol, Panglao & Malapascua…and maybe if there’s time, Ilocos. Such a shame that it took a foreigner (you) to make me realize all that I’ve missed in my home country…but thanks a million. If you don’t mind, I will send your website link to my family and friends…should help us create a good ‘agenda’ for when we all go back in October.
    Salamat…

  16. I’m totally psyched that you have positive things to say about my country. :) I actually live in Cebu and cannot imagine living anywhere else. I hope you come back for another visit!

  17. grace abella-zata

    thanks for confirming what i have long suspected-in terms of natural beauty, the Philippines is tops! camarines sur, i understand is also awesome! How lucky we are who live here. So many places to go to!

  18. Stumbled across your blog a while ago and have just booked flights to the Philippines as a result of the amazing posts I’ve read on different blogs including yours! Thanks for the great advice – I’ll certainly be following an awful lot of it!

    • Thanks Vikki, it’s lovely to hear a comment like that! Hope you have as good a time there as I did, it’s a truly remarkable country, I can’t believe it’s not more popular

  19. thanks for this wonderful blog! Philippines evidently is the Pearl of the Orient.
    hope that many people would be encouraged to visit the country and be delighted with the many things it could offer.
    I suggest u also visit Pagudpud and Negros Occidental.

    • Thanks for the suggestions – I loved the country I definitely want to go back and see more – and there’s plenty more I’d love to see – Mindanao, Leyte, Samar, Negros, Boracay just to name a few….

  20. Hi Geoff!

    I found your blog post through Tripadvisor because I am in the process of planning a trip to the Philippines with my Dad. It’ll be my first time leaving the US. And my Dad has 7 brothers and sisters; a huge family that I have never met. I’m really looking forward to having that trip as my first experience abroad. Your post painted a very nice picture of what’s to come!

    Thank you for sharing :D

    ~WW

  21. Hi Geoff!
    Good day! I always follow your blog, there are really lots of places here in the Philippines that you might explore on your next visit. Try Caramoan Peninsula…. the crystal clear water and sands are good as Boracay and the rockformation are good as Palawan.http://www.google.com.ph/images?hl=tl&xhr=t&q=caramoan&cp=4&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=uWFRTf_zEcTNrQfA1qG8CA&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=3&sqi=2&ved=0CD4QsAQwAg&biw=1440&bih=624 .

  22. On your next trip, try NOT to miss climbing the highest peak in Central Philippines –Mt. Kanlaon (2465-m) in the island of Negros… Wishing you all the best in your future travels..
    http://negrensemountaineer.tripod.com/id11.html

  23. Very impressive post of my country, the Philippines! All I can say is, “thank you!” :)

  24. Thank you so much for your generous feedback! For a view of what it’s like some 300 years ago, with glorious churches– check out Ilocos us north. We also have great beaches there,too. It’s called Pagudpud amd ask for the “blue lagoon”. Would be nice to meet you when you get back to the Philippines.

  25. Hi Geoff! From the review (I loved the photos) you just did of my country, I guess you’ve just helped a 3rd world country in terms of promoting our tourism. Of course every traveler must be “aware” of occasional opportunists and criminal activities that’s found in any other tourist destination. Always go through trustworthy advisers ( Hotel Concierge/Travel information ) and you’ll be relatively safe, Yes, our country has a lot to offer and I’m so happy someone appreciates The Land of the Morning Sun-The Philippines. Despite the many negative things said about it–its the country I love to explore too. Happy travelling Geoff. Hope you’ll return soon. From Jay

  26. Thanks Jay. I love your country and your people and I’m glad to have the chance to share that with the world. It’s a shame it’s so overlooked compared to its neighbours – and I can’t wait to come back soon to explore even more

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