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