The Philippines is a tropical paradise of more than 7, 600 islands. This country in Southeast Asia is no stranger to the world’s best of the best lists–of the scenic, the world-class, the glam, the peculiar. Because it’s the best of both worlds, it has also graced some worst of the worst records–of the slow, the gross, the corrupt, and the most fucked up.
The Philippines is defined by its emerald rice fields, teeming megacities, graffiti-splashed jeepneys, smouldering volcanoes, bug-eyed tarsiers, fuzzy water buffalo and smiling, happy-go-lucky people.
–The Lonely Planet
The Philippines is a relatively easy travel destination by Southeast Asian standards. English is widely spoken, and the country has an endearing don’t-worry-be-happy vibe, soothing for first-time visitors. Alas, volatile weather and natural disasters can mess up trips in a hurry, while a menu of 7000-plus islands creates itinerary headaches for even the most seasoned travel planners.
–Greg Bloom, The Lonely Planet
Manila, its capital, belongs to a hub of densely populated cities—Metro Manila, host to about 13% of the country’s population. Besides being the seat of government, the region is also home to the country’s most progressive business districts. There are shopping areas everywhere, some of the world’s giant malls, plus a long list of high-end entertainment centers, restaurants, hotels, and resorts.
A melting pot of Spanish, Chinese, and American cultures, the urbanized capital can be easily mistaken as the West instead of Asia. Filipinos are highly proficient in English, thus a booming call center industry and high influx of Koreans who want to learn the language. Lifestyle is also generally modern, although still third world in internet service, transportation, and infrastructure. Manila also has more than 3 million people living in slums, so don’t think of a flawless destination as you see in the billboards and tourism brochures.
The Philippines is an ultimate island hopping destination. Visiting one island a day will take about 21 years to see everything. Don’t get stuck in the capital when you visit. Book flights to the laidback countryside where islands, beaches, surfing and diving spots abound.
Up north are the remote islands of Calayan and Batanes, which are popular for their rolling hills and unspoiled beaches. In the east is Caramoan, a popular Survivor shooting location. Palawan in the west is home to Coron’s pristine lagoons and limestone cliffs, Puerto Princesa’s underground river, and El Nido’s world-famous beaches. In the central Philippines, Cebu boasts of rich diving spots, and, of course, there’s the celebrated Boracay, which has captured the world with its beaches and sunsets. Down south is the surfing haven of Siargao.
Here’s a preview of Romblon, a group of islands in southern Luzon, as captured by Nic Morley.
As my few weeks of epic adventures in the Philippines comes to an end, I look back on the wonderful memories of my time exploring Romblon, Philippines 🇵🇭in the awesome company of Jackson.This was my first time in the country and I’m so thankful for the warm and friendly welcome from everyone I met along the way! 🤗 Safe to say I’ll be back soon enough.The islands we explored:-Tablas Island-Sibuyan Island-Cresta de Gallo Island-Carabao Island-Romblon, Romblon IslandMusic by ODESZA – La Ciudad
Posted by Nic Morley on Sunday, 6 May 2018
Snow is a big thing for Filipinos, because here, it’s tropical—only rain or shine. It’s dry from November to April (the best time to backpack around the country) and wet for the rest of the year. January and February are the coolest months. March until May is warm, with temperatures that can hit as high as 39 degrees Celsius. June to October is stormy. On average, the Philippines is visited by 20 tropical cyclones each year, so plan your trips well because getting stuck at the port, the airport, or in an island is a real thing.
THE GOING AROUND
Going around Manila can be a challenge. Traffic is hell, regardless if you take a bus or taxi. The MRT breaks down and is full-packed with commuters. Uber was indiscriminately penalized until it closed, so there’s only Grab left for booking rides. Outside Manila, traffic in Cebu is also crazy, but the rest of the country is relatively okay. Just not on busy holidays like Holy Week, All Saints Day, and Christmas when everyone goes home to their provinces. Take a bus, jeepney, tricycle, or habal-habal (motorcycle) to get to your next destination. Or take a plane, a ferry, or a ship to go from one island to the next.
It’s not all sun and sand. Throughout the year, grand, bizarre, and colorful festivals happen all over the country. So, make sure you join the fun. This is also one way to understand Philippine culture, and the faith, joys, and passion of the Filipinos. Each town has a fiesta celebrated in honor of a saint or the founding of the place. Party in the streets during Sinulog in Cebu, Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, and MassKara in Bacolod. Enjoy the overflowing beer party the whole October. See everything in bloom at the Panagbenga in Baguio. Witness a real crucifixion in San Fernando during the Holy Week and watch hot air balloons take off to the sky in Clark. And if you want the most wonderful Christmas of your life, there’s nowhere else to go but here.
Perhaps the most unforgettable about the Philippines is its people. It’s natural in our character to make visitors feel they’re part of the family. We’re close to everyone, so we sit side by side in the jeepneys. We fill the walls of our house with everything framed—photos, certificates, medals, name it. And we don’t mind if the altar has the image of Jesus beside Buddha, a green frog, and a Tanduay calendar girl. We scream for Katy Perry and KPop stars, and we call Caucasians “Kano”, our slang for American. We cheer for Miss Universe. We know Lebron and Michael Jordan like they live in the neighborhood. We smile a lot and belt out in the karaoke. We’re half of the people on Facebook and we love taking selfies. We text. We love ukay-ukay. We drive on the right and swerve like crazy. We speak English fluently, but we also say abante, bentilador, bintana, pelikula, kusina—words we learned from Spain for three centuries.
My biggest memory of the Philippines is the people. They are accepting, kind, and giving. I have been to the Philippines twice. When I went back for the second time, it was like going home. I feel I have made lifetime friends there.
–Joyce R, Canada
I remember the unbelievably welcoming locals. I was lucky to be hosted by a couchsurfer who introduced me to her friends. We ended up spending our weekends together. I also keep the memory of my time as an assistant teacher. I was welcomed with pasalubongs from the teachers’ hometowns. What was very new for me was that I was quite an attraction for the students. After a few days, they asked for selfies.
—Marcel F, Switzerland
One thing sure, our food is a fusion of styles, of the East and the West. Filipino breakfast is typically salty. We want silog—sinangag (fried rice), itlog (egg) plus something. Tosilog is tocino + sinangag + itlog; cornsilog is corned beef + sinangag + itlog; and chixsilog is fried chicken + sinangag + itlog. The list is endless. Chinese dishes are also no stranger. We know siopao and pansit very well, although our main menu has adobo, lechon, pinakbet, and of course, unlimited rice. We’re fond of boodle fights, because the more the merrier. For the sweet tooth, we have hundreds of rice cake versions and the colorful halo-halo, a dessert of shaved ice with tropical fruits and sweets bathed in milk. We go wild and exotic too—as crazy as balut, which is fertilized chicken embryo. And we love Jollibee, because nothing beats that sweet spaghetti and Chickenjoy.
There’s no country like the Philippines, they say. But on a second look, when you look at the details, you’ll say it’s just as familiar as some other place. How can a country so similar to others be so unique?
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