Bangka at Shimizu Beach, El Nido, Philippines

Philippines Final Thoughts

Jul 21, 2015 - ourglobaltrek

Often skipped by most backpackers, the Philippines has been on our list of countries to visit for a long time for several reasons. First and foremost, our friend Jannelyn lives here, so we knew we wanted to see her. If that wasn’t enough, there are thousands of islands worth of beautiful beaches, amazing marine wildlife, great food, lovely people, and a one-of-a-kind blend of history and culture. You ask for it, the Philippines has got it.

His Final Thoughts

Carlos in Boracay, Philippines
Carlos in Boracay, Philippines

Some of the most friendly and easily approachable people we’ve met during this trip were in the Philippines. Always with a smile on their faces and willing to help, the Filipino people really knew how to give us a warm welcome and take care of us. We found that service standards were well above average if compared to other countries in Asia as guests and customers were always ready to be well received. Especially in the tourism industry, we appreciated the extra hospitality from hotel receptions to tour operators. Coming from the Maldives, we certainly continued to enjoy in the high tourist standards.

Throughout our month in the country, we felt both the Spanish and American historical and cultural influences in the Philippines. From Hispanic names everywhere to the predominant Roman Catholic faith (a rarity in Asia), the Spanish colonization period was evident. The American influence was a little harder to pinpoint. The most obvious was, of course, the prevalence of English and how well and fluently it was spoken by most of the population. Filipinos spoke by far the best English anywhere during our trip, which undoubtedly made things easier and smoother for us on a daily basis. As always, it was very interesting to see how cultures blend and structure society as a whole.

Coming from some of the most perfect beaches in the world in the Maldives, any others would easily pale in comparison, but the ones in the Philippines held their own. White Beach in Boracay was beautiful and wild. With powdery white sand and pristine waters during the day, Boracay transformed itself into a party heaven at night, rivaling (and our opinion, beating) Koh Phangan or Koh Phi Phi in Thailand. El Nido and the Bacuit archipelago were simply gorgeous. Karst green limestone mountains formed small yet grand islands with hidden secrets lying within its rocky walls. We sailed through small canals that led to breathtaking lagoons in the heart of the islands, with a scenery reminiscent of that found in Ha Long Bay. The Philippines definitely has some of the most stunning beaches in all of Asia.

If the scenery above water wasn’t enough, the dive sites would certainly take you to another world. Diving in general in the Philippines is unrivaled in both quality and price. With unique sites and a huge diversity of corals and fish, diving in El Nido was like diving inside an aquarium. From stingrays to jawfish to a cabbage coral forest, we had a really cool experience diving in the Philippines and I’m only wondering when the next time is that I will have the chance to do it again. Hopefully it will be soon!

Her Final Thoughts

Julie sitting at Fort Santiago, Manila, Philippines
Julie sitting at Fort Santiago, Manila, Philippines

My favourite part of visiting the Philippines was seeing our beloved friend Jannelyn and spending time with her and her family. After 11 months on the road, it was indescribably nice to have someone who could take us around, knew where to go, and essentially take away all the stressful aspects of traveling. We got to live like a local, which we didn’t realize how much we missed until we experienced it again. It was a taste of home and we made sure to soak it all in. Thanks for a wonderful time, Jannelyn! We will treasure it forever.

My second favourite thing was (surprise, surprise) the food! Filipino food was admittedly much more to my usual tastes than all the South Asian food we’ve had before this (though that was wonderful in its own way). Eating lechon or roasted suckling pig in the Philippines has finally been deliciously and thoroughly crossed off my bucket list. Normally not a breakfast food person, I for once enjoyed the Filipino breakfast of tapsilog – fried rice, fried egg, and meat. Philippine mangoes were also a sweet highlight that I wish I had more of when I had the chance. Overall, the sheer variety in food and having to choose from many great options was a nice problem to have.

With 7,000+ islands, the Philippines challenged our trip planning in a new way. Flying between destinations was often the easiest and cheapest method. However, booking flights requires advanced notice; bus or train tickets can often be bought the day before, but flights (especially good deals) need to be bought much earlier in advance. Given the flexible, somewhat last-minute nature of our day-to-day trip planning that we’ve gotten used to so far, it was unusual for us to plan out exactly how many days in each place for the next month all at once. It felt a bit constricting to essentially commit ourselves to those specific plans, but we didn’t have much of a choice, so we tried our best to anticipate. While it did not work out perfectly, we were lucky enough to change some of our plans with minimal fallout and made the best of it. It’s funny how drastically differently we do trip planning during this trip as compared to all the usual traveling I’ve done before. It’ll be interesting to see how our trip planning in the future after this trip goes.

We only visited 5 islands out of the total 7,000+. On the main island of Luzon, we stayed around the Manila area, with side trips to Corregidor and Tagaytay. We skipped the Banaue rice terraces, Baguio and the northern mountains, plus Donsol in southern Luzon. Boracay was small enough that we saw most of it. For the central Visayas region, we only stayed in Cebu City in Cebu, before making our way to Bohol, where we saw the main attractions of chocolate hills and tarsiers. We changed our minds last minute about both Malapascua island and Donsol, both of which are known for their diving and marine wildlife. Lastly, the mostly undeveloped western island of Palawan had Puerto Princesa and El Nido, but not much in between. We also missed the large southern island of Mindanao as I would have liked to visit Davao and Cagayan de Oro. Out of all the countries we’ve visited in our Asia trip, the Philippines is one of the ones we’re most likely to come back to in the future. Until next time!