But check this out and see if you agree. The Philippines is a desired destination. You will drool on your keyboard! Everything we read , all the pictures – so convincing. Put it on the list, if not next year then the year after. But, whatever your list, this trip needs to go toward the top.
On a bumpy bus ride to Cambodia a few years ago, I met a young Swiss couple backpacking their way around the world. At the time I was just 2 weeks into my first real overseas adventure, so I soaked up their photos and stories with wide-eyed astonishment. “So you’ve been all over the world…what is your absolute favorite country?” I just had to ask.
Their faces lit up, as if they had been waiting to tell me the whole time.
Wait, what? The Philippines? One would expect them to mention exotic destinations like Thailand, Vietnam, India, or Peru.
Well, I never forgot what that couple told me. About two years later, I jumped at the chance to visit – and let me tell you – I ended up staying for an entire year! I have been to many countries, but the Philippines is just different. There I found a warmth and hospitality that is unrivaled anywhere in the world.
Yes, in that time I fell deeply in love with this beautiful country – just as that Swiss couple had.
One reason the Philippines has gone unnoticed may be because of how isolated it is. From Thailand you can easily take a cheap bus through a few other countries – Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. The Philippines, on the other hand, is a country of over 7,000 islands, and they are hanging out by themselves out in the vast Pacific Ocean. Another reason might be that, to Western eyes, the country doesn’t seem as “exotic” (read: different) as other Asian nations.
Filipinos have a strong sense of modesty and prefer not to boast or show off. Well I’ve witnessed the beauty and cultural diversity firsthand, and I’m not Filipino…so allow me to boast for them 🙂 The country is in fact quite “exotic,” and it’s poised and ready to give other destinations in SE Asia (and even places like the Maldives and the Bahamas) a real run for their money!
Thailand has tuk-tuks; the Philippines has trikes and “jeepneys.” Cambodia has Angkor Wat; the Philippines has the Banaue rice terraces. Vietnam has bustling Ho Chi Minh City; the Philippines has Makati. Laos has temples; the Philippines has countless 300-plus-year-old Spanish churches. Thailand has “Phi Phi Leh” island, where the movie The Beach was filmed; the Philippines has breathtaking El Nido, which inspired the movie in the first place.
For all these reasons (and so many more), I want you to consider postponing that overdone SE Asia backpacking trip and travel to the incredible Phiippine Islands instead.
Why? I thought you’d never ask:
Natural Beauty. Yes, these islands are STUNNING. I have seen some beautiful beaches in my life (Florida Keys, Bahamas, Vietnam), but these take the cake. They are frequently compared to the beaches in southern Thailand and the Maldives, but at just a fraction of the cost. Yes, budget-minded travelers will be in heaven here. El Nido’s impressive limestone rock formations are definitely on par with Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, and the incredible 2,000 year-old Rice Terraces in Banaue and Batad are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Did I mention the waterfalls? SO. MANY. WATERFALLS. By the way, it’s well known that this beauty extends to the people as well.
MAJESTIC. Bomod-ok falls in Sagada
Adventure Awaits. We covered beaches, but what else do you want to do? Snorkeling/kayaking in El Nido? Mind blowing. Surfing in Siargao’s Cloud 9? Amazing. Trekking in the rice terraces of the Cordillera? Boat trip through the Underground River? You got it. Spelunking (cave exploring) in Sagada Mountain province? Unforgettable. Shipwreck diving in Coron? Windsurfing/sunset gazing/partying at world famous Boracay beach? Yes please.
Swimming with the whalesharks (AKA “gentle giants”) in Oslob and Donsol? Cebu Booze Cruise? You’ll have a blast. Zip lines, 4×4 tours in Ilocos Norte, canyon swings, ATV tours up the “perfect” volcano in Legazpi, wakeboarding in Naga City…and much more. What are you waiting for?
Pure Joy. Filipinos are arguably the happiest people on earth, and happiness is not a bad thing to surround yourself with on your coveted vacation, right?
Affordable. The cheapest room I ever found was on the stunning volcanic island of Camiguin and it was run by a charming older couple. I paid just US$3.75 a night! I wasn’t sleeping in satin sheets, but I couldn’t complain! In the off season you might pay an average of $7.50 for your own budget room, or as little $3.50 for a dorm. $20 will get you a pretty nice place, perhaps even with AC instead of just fans. I found local carinderias (eateries) where I regularly ate rice, chicken and/or pork for just $1.50 a plate! Tanduay rum is popular in the Visayas, and costs just $1.50 a bottle. These are all the favorite ingredients of those backpacking on a budget!
Culture/Food. Trek for hours to discover the last remaining tribal tattoo artist . Sleep in a nipa hut and explore remnants of the Ifugao warrior culture up there while you’re at it. You can journey to the beautiful “enchanted” island of Siquijor, which is said to be inhabited by witch doctors and practitioners of black magic. This stunning island is not that popular with local tourists for some reason 🙂 Virtually everybody speaks English, so don’t expect much of a communication barrier. There is a fiesta going on somewhere each day of the year.
San Miguel beer is quite good, and can often be found for under $1 a bottle! It’s right up there with Manny Pacquiao in terms of national pride, and for good reason!
Hosts. Filipinos are very welcoming (the more you get away from touristy areas, the more you will notice this). You may be invited for dinner or to stay with people you meet along the way. Don’t miss this opportunity to experience the hospitality and culture! Members of the Couchsurfing travel community will be happy to learn that there are plenty of amazing hosts in Manila and Cebu. They often take their own backpacking trips through SE Asia, Australia, and Europe. Other smaller cities around the Philippines are gaining more and more members all the time as well! I recommend Naga and Legazpi in the Bicol region if you want to get off the beaten path. This region is rich in spicy, delicious food (spicy is not common in the country otherwise), and has some stunning natural attractions like the “world’s most perfect” cone volcano (Mt Mayon) and pristine Caramoan beach.
Wifi/Data Coverage. You can easily purchase a Globe Tattoo or Smart Bro USB stick and you will find signal almost EVERYWHERE. Sun is good also. It may not always be fast, but I loved the convenience – even on a ferry boat with no land in sight! Cost might be about $50 for the stick and a 30 days of use.
Reasons why you SHOULDN’T go to the Philippines:
You hate fun, and happy people who like to have it.
You’re allergic to any of the following:
- Good times
- The sun
- Powdery white sand
- Crystal clear blue water
- Seafood that’s so fresh, it might just bite you back
Haha. Get the point? Go. Now. Word is spreading fast, and places like this don’t stay a secret for long.