Well hello again. Did you miss me?
I know it’s been awhile but you see I’ve been traveling in this magical paradise. This place called the Philippines.
While away, I hardly took my laptop out of my backpack because I was too busy eating fresh chicken, ripe mango, and staring at the most beautiful women in Asia.
Either way, I just returned from this two week adventure and figured I’d share a little recap of what went down and my first impressions of this unique country.
#1 The Philippines is shockingly similar to the United States
First of all, everyone speaks near perfect english. It was a bit mind blowing, actually. Especially coming directly from China where hardly anyone speaks English and if they do, it is laden with grammatical errors and odd pronunciation. It really highlighted the cultural difference that exists between the two countries that are so close together.
#2 The people are f*cking awesome
I’m serious. It was insane how friendly and hospitable the people were. Every single person, including the cab drivers, waiters, and even random strangers on the street, would address me by “sir.”
“Hello sir, how are you today?”
“Hello sir, welcome to the Philippines.”
“Sir, what Islands do you plan to see while here in the Philippines?”
On top of that, they were smiley, laughy, giggly, and all around super-engaging and willing to go out of their way to interact. Again, contrasting this with how it’s been in China, I can say that this was a nice change of pace.
#3 Manila is a shit show
And I mean that in the literal sense. Let me explain.
My friend Gary and I arrived at Manila International Airport around 1:00pm. We get through customs and walk outside to grab the nearest taxi. After getting haggled by a number of sketchy looking dudes to take their “special” taxi, we declined and found the legit airport “metered” taxi. But behind a HUGE fucking line.
“That’s alright,” we thought. “Should be quick.”
We were wrong.
We waited in that mother fucking line for 3.5 hours! I swear to god we could have walked to the hostel in a shorter amount of time. We even met some Filipinos as we waited who told us that the area of our hostel was less than 10 kilometers away.
Finally, we get into a cab and the cab driver warns us it will be another 2 hours to get there! Holy shit what a way to start a vacation.
And he wasn’t lying. We sat in traffic for 2 hours and arrived at our hostel at 7pm that night. So—to put that in perspective for you—it took longer to go from Manila International Airport to our Hostel in Makati than it took to go from Guangzhou to Hong Kong by train and then fly to Manila.
If you’re going to Manila anytime soon, come prepared. Or at 3am in the morning. I suggest the latter.
#4 The food gets old. Fast.
“Yes! Flavors, spices, and no bones!” we excitedly exclaimed upon eating our first couple dishes of Filipino food. The chicken was delicious, wasn’t littered with bones (like here in China) and was steaming hot. The pork adobo was flavorful, moist and delectable. The Sisig was one of my favorites. Comes out sizzling on a hot platter with delicious spices and sides of rice.
And we ate that day in and day out and then we realized that there was less variety than we thought. The meals basically came down to two things: meat and rice.
I started to get some serious vegetable cravings. No lettuce, no green beans, or even potatoes?
After several days of living off rice and meat sticks, it became clear that if we wanted to get any type of nutrients we were going to have to rely on fruits. So mango, bananas, oranges and apples it was.
We learned that if you’re going to go cheap, then Filipino style is the way to go as most meals would cost less than 150 pesos or roughly $3 USD. However, if you wanted to switch it up a bit, eat something a bit healthier or different, you’d have to go to a foreign restaurant, such as Korean, Japanese, or even a western chain like “Just Salad.” This was still relatively cheap when compared to the US.
To give you an example, we ate lunch at a Korean BBQ all-you-can-eat buffet, with side salads, vegetables, kimchi, and all the beef or pork you could ask for. It only cost us 400 pesos, which is about $8 USD. Pretty insane if you think about it.
All I can say is that I’m happy to be back eating leafy, veggie soup here in China.
#5 Boracay is not over rated.
And I’m talking about the beaches here. Yes it is incredibly touristy and overpriced but I can say with confidence that I have never seen beaches as beautiful as these.
Smooth white sand, crystal clear water, and a backdrop of lush greenery and coconut trees. It truly looked like one of those post cards you receive form your local travel agency.
Before we arrived, we had heard mixed opinions about this spot. Many explained the over commercialization and party-like atmosphere. Others explained how there are a myriad of options for cool activities like wind or kite surfing, diving, or island hopping.
Although we didn’t have the funds to participate in many of those activities, chilling on a beautiful beach and having access to an awesome nightlife with tropical backdrop was good enough for me.
True, we were only there for a short time due to money constraints but I think there is a reason this island is consistently ranked as one of the greatest island destinations on earth.
That being said, our exposure to many islands to compare it to are minimal, which leads me to my next point…
#6 Don’t judge a book by it’s cover
I’m looking at you Puerto Galera.
After Boracay we needed to go somewhere cheaper that wouldn’t require another plane ride and our research led us to Puerto Galera. It’s mostly known for it’s diving as well as a couple of nice beaches. It’s even called “The Poor Man’s Boracay” by some.
Well when we arrived it felt like anything but Boracay. Our hostel was located on part of the island called Sabang, which was littered with prostitutes, touristy, over-priced Italian restaurants, and dive bars complete with ladyboys snickering at us at every opportunity.
We quickly realized the mistake we made and felt pretty discouraged with our choice.
“That’s okay,” we thought, “we’ll just jump ship first thing in the morning when we reconvene with Gary and we’ll hit up an island nearby.”
However, it quickly dawned on us that this was just going to cost us more money with the possibility that the next place would suck as well. So after meeting up with Gary the next day we decided to just stick it out, forget anything about nightlife, and just explore the island for what it had to offer.
We had already met some cool people from Slovenia at the hostel and everyone who worked there was super laid back and helpful.
It turned out to be a pretty awesome place. There was incredible snorkeling just a ten minute walk away and the famous “White Beach,” which was absolutely gorgeous and much less crowded than Boracay’s white sand beaches.
We ended up staying for 4 more days, snorkeling, riding motorbikes all around the island, and seeing our first cock fighting match!
I really learned you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Some places might be seedy on the outside but they can turn out pretty awesome once you stick around and explore a bit more.
If you ever make your way down to Puerto Galera, I’d recommend staying at Paddy’s Bar Backpackers and Dive Center. The Australian guys who own the place are super cool and all about creating an inclusive environment all the while offering world-renowned diving opportunities. Make sure to say hi to Lorenzo for me!
#7 Two weeks is not long enough to explore this beautiful country
With minimal planning and lack of money I can say that we easily fucked up what could have been a vacation of epic proportions. And that’s saying a lot because it already was really awesome.
We came at the most crowded time of the year and didn’t think to look for accommodation sooner. This resulted in getting stuck with more expensive rooms that we hadn’t budgeted for.
We also booked flights very last minute which is a big no no. The problem was, there were so many choices for excellent islands to explore that we could not make up our minds. By the time we wanted to hop down to say, Siargao, flights were well over $100 for one way. Too much for a budget traveler.
Overall, the Philippines is an awesome country with mind blowing beauty and incredibly friendly people. I would argue that they are some of the friendliest people on the planet.
Despite our poor planning, drunken encounters with prostitutes, and getting hit on by an army of ladyboys, the two weeks spent there gave us just enough of a taste to keep us craving more.
So, the next time I’m exhausted from breathing overly polluted air, eating cold duck, and getting cold stares from everyone on the subway, I think I know where to go.
As they say, “It’s Always More Fun in the Philippines!”