It was really hard to leave the Maldives. After 10 days living in a dream, we didn’t want to break the bubble, depart from our little piece of paradise. If we had left to go straight home and back to work, we would have been absolutely crushed. Luckily, we got to continue our travels to a brand new country: the Philippines!
The end of the Maldives also marked the end of our travels in the South Asia region. It seems like just yesterday that I was writing about entering this part of the world. So much has happened since then – unexpected adventures in Nepal, testing our limits in India, getting our groove back in Sri Lanka, and the mini-vacation in the Maldives. Now we head back to where we once came from – SE Asia. We could have chosen any of the remaining nations we have yet to visit, but figured we better spend June in the Philippines before typhoon season hits in July.
Male to Manila via Singapore
One of the few regrets from our visit to the Maldives was not having an aerial shot of the many islands and atolls. Small islands, shallow sandbanks, and crystalline azure waters make an incredible view. Our flight into the Maldives was at night, so we couldn’t see anything then. We had scheduled a scenic photo flight in a seaplane, but cancelled last minute due to bad weather. Our last chance was on our flight out, which was during the day. Unfortunately, neither Carlos nor I had a window seat (darn!), so no photos, though we sneaked a few glances out. Let’s just say we’re going to make sure we take that scenic photo flight next time.
We flew Tiger Airways from Male to Manila, with a long layover in Singapore. The trip was a long one, and definitely the longest leg we’ve flown since we first began the trip in Hong Kong. Nothing exciting, which may sound boring, but is always preferred on travel days because it means everything went smoothly. Changi Airport was a great airport for layovers with all the modern amenities, so our time there flew by.
One funny incident took place when we checked in for our connecting flight in Singapore. We had to have flights out of the Philippines before we were allowed to get boarding passes. Since we hadn’t booked flights out yet, we had no choice but to do it then. Conveniently, Changi Airport had computer stations everywhere, so we literally booked our flights out of the Philippines right there on the spot. Just one of the many unexpected situations we’ve found ourselves in during this trip – booking flights on a random computer station in a layover airport.
We were a bit apprehensive about arriving in Manila, as Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) doesn’t have the best reputation. It was once voted the worst airport in Asia, what with overcrowding and an AC-less sauna in Terminal 1. We’re happy to report that things have drastically improved with renovated terminals. No visas needed for either Carlos or I, so that always speeds up the airport process. Welcome to the Philippines!
First Impressions of the Philippines
- People in the Philippines spoke English really well. As a second official language, English is omnipresent in the Philippines and taught in all levels of school. It made traveling here easier, as there was barely any language barrier. Add on the fact that everyone, especially those in the service industry, spoke such polite and courteous English, it was something we didn’t even know we had missed. We are going to be spoiled here!
- Metro Manila was really modern and standards were higher than in most SE Asian countries we’ve been to. Traffic was more organized, places were cleaner and with a more official look – we felt like things were more dependable here. Plus I admit I felt more in my comfort zone now that we’re back in this region than I had been in South Asia.
- Filipinos love malls. There were malls everywhere and all of them were huge! You could find anything without ever leaving the nice air-conditioned environment. It was pretty easy to get lost inside any of them. Plus the sheer variety of food options available both inside and outside malls was ridiculous. After the past few countries where restaurant options were few and spread out, it was such a pleasant surprise and a bit overwhelming to walk into a mall and literally have 50+ options. But having choices was wonderful! Not to mention that meat was back in full force…
- Traffic in Manila can be at times very crowded. We experienced this first hand on a Friday night during rush hour. Taxis were hesitant to drive us in what they knew to be terrible traffic, lest for an absurdly high price we weren’t willing to pay. So we attempted to take the public metro, which was a nightmare in and out itself. We literally had to wait as four trains passed by us as they were so packed already, no one new could get in. It took us an hour just to get inside Line 1 of Manila metro to be packed like sardines (they need to make longer trains!). Line 2 was a lot better. I’m a big fan of public transportation, but maybe Friday night in Manila wasn’t the best idea.
- Given the island-nature of the Philippines, there will be lots of flying involved. (Interesting fact: with over 7000 islands, even if a person stayed just one day per island, it would take more than 20 years to visit every island in the Philippines.) This doesn’t gel well with the flexible nature of our trip-planning. Flying means booking flights on set dates and booking in advance for cheap flights. Essentially we had to outline our plans and commit to them before setting foot in the country. We shall see how that goes.
If the excitement of a new country filled with idyllic beaches and amazing food wasn’t enough, the idea of visiting our beloved friend Jannelyn basically cemented the fact that we were going to love the Philippines.