The Philippines was never very high on my travel bucket list. No one really talked about the place, and it seemed to have a reputation for being a rather dangerous place to travel through. Besides, all travellers knew that Thailand had all the best beaches, China had all the work opportunities and Vietnam had all the best food. Why bother going to the Philippines?
Then finally in March this year I got the chance to visit. What I discovered was a country inhabited by the friendliest people on Earth, littered with unimaginable beaches and an infectious family like culture that made you never want to leave. Some of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in Asia were hidden in faraway corners of the country, still unheard of by much of the backpacker crowd. What I still can’t figure out is how so many travellers in Asia pass on this country full of beautiful people, fresh tropical fruit, picturesque islands and untouched natural beauty. Safe, cheap, beautiful; I ended up staying for 6 months! It’s easily become my new favourite spot in Asia.
Need more proof? Here’s 10 reasons why you need to skip Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and head straight to the Philippines on your next trip to Asia.
1. The amazing people
It’s amazing how friendly the people are here. How the place got a reputation for being dangerous, I have no idea. There was one time where I ran out of cash in El Nido, and since the place had no ATM’s I wasn’t able to get cash to pay for the tour I had been on that day. I was so embarrassed but when I finally told the guy, he just laughed and said “Ahhh no problem, you can pay anytime! I just hope you enjoyed the tour!” A perfect example of the generous, welcoming spirit of the Filipino people.
They’re also so polite! I’ve never been called Sir so many times in my life. As soon as you walk into 7 Eleven – “Good afternoon Sir!”
Then I ask her to help me work the drink machine, “Yes Sir, no problem Sir!”
Then when I go to pay, “Thank you Sir, is there anything else you need Sir?”
Then when I leave, “Thank you Sir, come again Sir!”
Then as I walk through the door the security guard holds it open and says, “Thank you for coming Sir, have a good day Sir!”
This isn’t a one off, it happens like this every single time! I thought the Japanese were polite but this was a whole new level. They don’t try to sell me anything, they don’t try and give me a taxi ride, they don’t try to ask for money; they’re just polite for the sake of being polite, and that’s something that you don’t see around the world too often these days. Filipino’s certainly know how to make you feel welcome.
2. The incredible food
What I love about Filipino food is that it’s so different. I love eating new things and that’s hard to do in many other parts of Asia. I’d eaten a whole lot of Chinese food before I went to China, I’d had quite a few gallons of Tom Yum soup before I went to Thailand, I’d eaten my fair share of curry and roti before I went to India and I knew all about udon noodles before I went to Japan. Yet before this year I had never seen or even heard of kalderetta, adobo, sinigang, bulalo, turon, lumpia, I could go on forever. Some of the food didn’t agree with me completely but there were some things, their soups especially, that were just so different and delicious. There really is a lot of stuff that will be like nothing you’ve ever tasted before. Damn, I’m craving a sinigang right now!
3. You don’t get scammed or hustled
To me, one of the most unattractive things about Asia is the blatant scamming. If you’ve ever been to the markets in China or caught a tuk tuk in Thailand you’ll know what I’m talking about. Hustling is even worse – take a walk through Phuket one night and count how many times someone tries to sell you something. 100 times only? Guess it was a quiet night. During my 6 months in the Philippines I got scammed once. Other than that, it was so refreshing not having to watch my back every second of the day. A couple of times I even tested the taxi drivers, telling them I had no idea how to get back to my apartment when I actually knew the way perfectly. Did they drive me around the block and run up the meter? Nope. Maybe the country’s strong religious roots has something to do with it, but whatever it is you’ll definitely appreciate it.
4. It’s off the beaten track
I still struggle to understand how so many attractions in the Philippines continue to fly under the radar. How is it that Bali gets 3 million visitors a year and Boracay barely manages to get a million? How is it that I literally had the entire resort on Cagbalete Island to myself? The Philippines only had 4 million tourists in 2012, compared to 20+ million in Thailand. Anyway, whatever the reason is let’s just hope it stays that way. Part of the magic in exploring the spotless white sand beaches of the Philippines is that you quite often have them all to yourself.
5. Everyone speaks English!
I was surprised to find out the language of instruction in schools here is actually English! Finding your way around a language barrier can be half the fun in travelling, but it’s also surprising how different your travel experience becomes when you can actually communicate with everyone. The level of English here is very high, definitely better than any other country I’ve visited in Asia (except for Singapore). It really makes travelling through the country a lot easier, and it’ll allow you to interact with the locals who will be able to recommend things and places you would have never otherwise heard of.
6. The fantastic shopping
For me, shopping in Manila would be the best I’ve ever seen. Bangkok was pretty good, Shanghai was also good, even Hong Kong is not bad. Manila beats all of them. Out of the 20 biggest shopping malls in the world, 5 of them are in Manila. That’s more than any other city. On top of that all the shop assistants speak great English, stuff is not overpriced (cough, Shanghai), the local brands are surprisingly good quality and the free WIFI actually works! No stupid codes, no getting a password from the information desk; just connect and go. Their malls are not just big, boring boxes either. The maze of Greenbelt malls is modern, classy and full of character. Spend a whole day walking through here and you’ll probably only manage to see half of it.
7. Unbelievable beaches
These days its pretty hard to find a picture perfect beach that isn’t overcrowded, overdeveloped or overhyped. Unless of course you’re in the Philippines, where there are just too many to name. In a country made up of over 7,000 islands beautiful beaches are bound to be everywhere. And they are! Try Googling Amanpulo, Caramoan, White Beach Boracay, Coron, Camiguin, Anguib Beach, Cagbalete Island, Caramines Sur, Nacpan Beach, Bolobadiangan Island, Subic Beach, Buluan Island; there’s just too many to list. Most of these I haven’t even seen yet, but I’ll definitely be back to do it soon. What’s even crazier is that I’m guessing you’ve never even heard of these places, meaning no one else is going to be there except you.
8. The pretty faces
While I was living in Manila, the Traveler’s Digest released an article ranking Quezon City as one of the “Top 10 cities with the world’s best looking men”. The article caused a bit of a Facebook sharing frenzy amongst the locals, and the humble celebrations had barely ended when the Philippines won Miss World 2013 a few months later. In fact, it appears the Philippines has been cleaning up at beauty pageants for quite some time now. I’m just going to chime in and go on record saying that the Philippines really is a country of very pretty people 🙂
9. It’s cheap!
Budget travellers will definitely have no problem making their way through here. Taxi rides around town cost $3, a decent meal costs $1.50 and a bucket of beers will barely run you $5. Catching the latest movie at the cinema will cost you $6 and you can rent yourself a studio apartment for around $15 a day! Not to mention the country’s budget airlines (Cebu Pacific, PAL Express) offer some of the cheapest fares in Asia.
10. It’s growing, fast
I remember the first time I visited Fort Bonifacio and felt like I was walking through an upgraded version of Singapore. Skyscrapers were going up in all directions, it was incredibly clean, all the international eateries were around, there were Deutsche Bank and HP and IBM offices towering above me, the roads were wide and uncrowded, there were fancy public parks and boutique shopping streets; there I was thinking “I thought the Philippines was 3rd world?” The place looked like New Zealand 20 years into the future! I cannot wait to see what this place looks like in a few years time.
I’ll say it one more time. Go to the Philippines NOW. Asia’s best kept secret may not stay a secret for too much longer.
Heading to the Philippines? a few tips:
- For affordable accommodation, I highly recommend using Airbnb. There are many condo and apartment buildings in the bigger cities that are vacant and you can find lots of good offers that will be cheaper and more comfortable than hotels and hostels. You can get $25 of free Airbnb credit using this link.
- I highly recommend purchasing travel insurance for the Philippines, particularly if you plan on travelling to other places around the country. Travel in the Philippines is not dangerous but many aspects can be unreliable and you should expect the unexpected. I recommend using World Nomads. They offer awesome coverage with generous limits and it’s super simple – you can literally be covered within two minutes. I use them often.
- For getting around the cities I recommend using Uber! If you don’t speak Tagalog it can be difficult to communicate with some taxi drivers. Uber is far safer and more reliable. You can get your first ride on Uber for free by using this link.