Have you been to Thailand and been quite possibly disappointed with the experience of mass tourism and felt left thinking ‘I wish I went there twenty years ago to experience it for what it was…’, well I think I may have found a country in South East Asia that hasn’t (yet!) reached anywhere near that level of mass tourism, where the locals are some of the friendliest I’ve ever come across and with the most beautiful beaches sans the awful Brits you see in Thailand. That country is called The Philippines which houses over seven thousand islands to choose from, yep, that’s a whole seven thousand. It’s like ‘where on earth do I begin to choose where to go?’ I started my round the world trip in that country in 2013 and so, here is The Philippines Review in my eyes as a backpacker.
I decided to start my year long round the world trip in The Philippines because it was somewhere I had always heard amazing stories about. Word of mouth is without a doubt the best form of PR for Tourism as a backpacker and so Steve & I decided it would be a great start to our trip full of lots of days lounging around on the beach – perfect! When we arrived in Manila, Stevo thought the cab driver was trying to rip us off – it turned out he actually wasn’t at all, something we were so used to in Thailand. I had to keep reminding ourselves that this wasn’t Thailand and not to judge people as the same. That didn’t last long because the people are so friendly there, it was such a breath of fresh air. I actually don’t blame the Thai’s for being rude because they must see most if not all Westerner’s as drunken idiots. (I must note I have lived in Thailand and been there several times and this is just what I picked up…)
My Travel Map through The Philippines
I did quite a bit of research before we got there but nothing really prepared me for how difficult it was going to be to travel around the country. You begin to realise how easy it is to travel the backpacker route of Thailand – Vietnam – Cambodia – Laos because it is so readily designed for backpackers that there isn’t much effort in getting from A to B. What I mean by this is when we got to The Philippines, there were no travel agents anywhere in Manila and all we had the help of were the few guys working in the Hostel who actually didn’t know much.
We began to talk to a lot of other backpackers and the beauty of starting in the capital city of Manila means there were always going to be a good few people finishing their trip with loads of advice to give. We worked out very quickly that unlike Thailand with the mass buses, boats, trains and planes to choose from, our options were going to be limited. So what I had planned for didn’t quite work out and our plans changed very quickly.
Manila itself was a bit bizarre. There was a massive and I mean massive divide between the rich and the poor. I saw some really upsetting scenes of child poverty and even had a three or four year old child try to reach inside my bag one evening while we walked past a glitzy shopping mall. Out of the majority of countries I have been to, I must say I didn’t really feel very safe in Manila. We stayed on the street equivalent to the Koh San Road of Thailand (Thailand’s biggest tourist street) which was located in the ‘Brothel area’. There were barely any other tourists around and just a lot of prostitutes. The prostitutes weren’t threatening or intimidating at all, I just felt sorry for them really.
The Hostel we stayed at was called Where 2 Next, a very basic hostel but it was the best in that area. When we returned to Manila at the end of the trip we got a beautiful place on agoda called The Oasis Park Hotel (I definitely recommend this one as it’s in a way nicer area). The cost between the two wasn’t much more but we got way better value for money with the Oasis Park Hotel with ensuite, tv, breakfast etc. At the hostel, it was literally two single beds. That was it!
What can you do in Manila?
I actually can’t remember much that was terribly exciting apart from we were taken to a really bizarre but brilliant Cowboy Grill place that was huge and very Americanised. It was hilarious with waiters head to toe in their cowboy outfits and there was a big stage with musicians and dancing etc. Oh there’s a completely un P.C. place in Manila that has small people serving you which is meant to be one of the highlights but we didn’t go there. The shopping malls are also meant to be huge too.
That was the thing about The Philippines, it was very Americanised. We saw basketball courts EVERYWHERE and while we were there it was Valentines Day, a massive day over there. It was really funny!
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We got a flight to Cebu (we booked all of our flights with cebu pacific) and then a 3 hour boat to this island. When we turned up we hadn’t booked but we ended up finding a home stay in the end and stayed at a place called Pabua’s Cottages. We loved that place loads. The family were amazing and we loved our room. It was perfect as it had an ensuite and a TV. Perfect in my eyes! It was also nice to support the local community as there was a huge glitzy resort in front of our place. After five days or so lounging around on the stunning sand bar oh and I must mention the hot springs. O my god, these were amazing! It cost something like 20 Cents to get in and then you have a load of natural hot baths to choose from and then an amazing massage for $3 afterwards. We absolutely loved these, it was one of the highlights of our trip!
I really liked Camiguin island, we even hired a mo-ped for a few days and drove all over the island (it is quite big) which was great fun. I’ll always remember a local saying to us that he was glad we visited his island and that we must go back. That was the first and pretty much the only thing he said to us. I can’t remember anyone every saying those words to me and really meaning it before.
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We then decided to head to Malapascua next, an island north of Cebu and famous for diving with sharks and diving in general. We got a boat to cebu, then a bumpy 4 hour drive north to then jump on a 2 hour boat ride. We didn’t realise that there were no ATM’s on that island and had to make a mad dash to get some money out before the boat left which meant Stevo jumping on the back of a local’s bike and racing to the nearest town. Malapascua was beautiful, an island with no transport whatsoever that was easy enough to walk around and was just stunning! We stayed at MG Matterhorn which I had booked knowing how hard it was to find accom now. I really loved that place, it was awesome! It was like a little home and the owner was lovely. We found a lovely cheap local cafe off the beach which had the best food but you had to wait a long long time for it. Food took ages out there, I honestly have no idea what they were doing. They would stand around talking for half an hour, then make your drink and an hour later the food would come out. We found a random part y on at a Basketball late one night, it was amazing. All full of locals who gladly accepted us to join in with a big stage, massive speakers and a DJ.
We didn’t dive with sharks because you need to have your Advanced in Diving certificate. I only have my PADI and I didn’t want to pay more for it. I did hear that you had to see the sharks with a net in between yourself and the shark and although it was definitely one of the ‘to do’ things to do in the Philippines, I kind of regret not taking on that experience.
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The Palawan Islands – El Nido
This is the island I heard the most about, it looked amazing yet I didn’t really want to go somewhere full of tourists. After a lot of bad weather during our trip we took the plunge, booked a flight and we were off to El Nido. Our flight went from Cebu to Peurto Princessa and we then had to endure in a 6 hour minibus ride to El Nido. They were building an airport in El Nido when we were there which will definitely save on the horrendous bus ride now although it will be even more touristy. That doesn’t really matter though because O MY GOD… El Nido is incredible. It was so stunningly beautiful, you could stay there for weeks on end. If you’ve seen the latest Bourne film, the last scene was shot here!
There are 3 snorkel trips to do, A, B and C. We did A and B which were just amazing. A was a snorkel trip taking you around the many islands near El Nido with a stop off at an island for lunch. B was the lagoon tour. We went to the most amazing lagoons you have ever seen and it’s no wonder that there’s a rumour that the book The Beach was based on these lagoons. I have never seen anything like it, it was absolutely stunning. These tours are great value for money. You pay something like $30 for a full day trip so you’ll notice the town is dead during the day and once everyone comes back from their trips, it picks up at night time. The beach in El Nido isn’t great but it seriously doesn’t matter as the view of the other islands is amazing.
We met a girl who found out about a camping trip so we joined her and 10 other random people. No one really knew each other before the trip. Basically you pay a guy (I think we paid $40 each) to leave El Nido around lunchtime 1pm, he then takes you to whichever deserted island you like and you spend the night there. He bought all the food with our money, supplied us with tents, volleyball net and a party. We just turned up with whatever alcohol we needed and it was awesome. Out of my year I had travelling, that had to be on of the best days/nights I had from the entire trip! We spent the day hanging out on the beach, watched the sunset and the guys cooked us an awesome local rice dish for dinner. We had a campfire and a party afterwards. We got back to El Nido at 1pm the next day.
The restaurants were the best we found in The Philippines, from local food to amazing Italian places to an awesome Art cafe, it’s all there. El Nido is a definite must see when visiting The Philippines.
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Top Tips about the Philippines
1. The People are AMAZING – Have to the nicest people in SE Asia.
2. The beaches are incredible
3. Not as touristy as other SE Asian countries
4. El Nido in itself makes the list for it’s incredible beauty (the LAGOONS!!)
5. Camping trip in El Nido – Amazing!
6. The random but amazing disco’s on the basketball courts!
7. The other tourists are so lovely, it’s rare to travel a country and every other tourist we met was really cool!
8. The Hot Springs in Camiguin, a must do!
Bad Points about the Philippines
1. Not easy to get around, expect to pay for flights which are about $50 each way
2. Food is pretty awful, expect to wait for a good hour for it
3. Must book accommodation in advance, it gets booked up fast
If I knew getting around would have been difficult, where would I have visited looking back on the trip now?
1. I wish we went up to see the Hanging Coffins in Segada which looked amazing which you can easily get to from Manila on a 10 hour bus ride north.
2. I have always wanted to go to Caramoan Islands which are located on the east of the Philippines, looks amazing and untouched which we could have got a long bus ride to there (10+ hours).
3. I wish we went to Coron to go diving. That place is meant to be out of this world for diving.
4. I also wish we went to Donsol to see the Whale Sharks. That would have been easy if we went to Caramoan islands then it would have meant a 4 hour bus ride to there.
You can only get a 3 weeks visa to The Philippines. Check immigration for details
If you need anymore advice about The Philippines, contact me here.
Thanks for reading!