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You can’t argue with a tourism slogan that proudly proclaims ‘It’s more fun in the Philippines.’ Far from the harassing “Hello moto?” from the street corners of Hanoi or the constant barrage of “you like massage” requests of Bali, you’ll find a country with spectacular beaches, unique snorkelling experiences, and outstanding food; Welcome to the Philippines.
- Located in South-East Asia, north of Indonesia, East of Vietnam, South of China.
- Capital ~ Manila
- Currency ~ Philippine Peso (Approx AUD1 = PHP38, USD1=PHP50, NZD1=PHP35)
- Language ~ Tagalog and English
- Airlines ~ Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Air Asia X and Scoot
How to choose which islands to visit
The Philippines has over 7000 islands to choose from, so where do you start? Luckily only 2000 of the 7000 islands are inhabited. However choosing which specific islands to visit, all depends on what style of holiday you’re after, and the best part is, unlike Bali, you can visit the Philippines multiple times, and have a different style of holiday and experience with each visit. Whether it’s bar-hopping and shopping in style or snorkelling and diving on a remote island, you’ll find one that offers it all.
The most instagramed beach in the Philippines is on Boracay; a small sandy island with thriving bars lining the beach, pumping bangers, all night long; also popular with the backpacker crowd are it’s famed bar-hopping tours. (This is not my scene, hence why I have no photos of it). *Note: Borocay has been closed to tourists for six months – May 2018.
For a quieter, laid back beach (but still with restaurants and bars), head to Alona beach on the island of Bohol.
I stayed at the South Beach Hotel about ten minutes drive from Alona, and the picture speaks for itself. Quiet, air-conditioned, room-service, breakfast included, and the hotel has a scooter to rent (about AUD$15/day) and can arrange a snorkeling tour, straight from the beach.
Bohol is famous for its iconic Chocolate Hills (which deceiving aren’t made of Chocolate) and the Moglai-like tarsier; an ancient primate that can turn it’s head near 360 degrees and which commits suicide in captivity. You can view them at the Tarsier Sanctuary, just outside of Tagbilaran (which is also the airport and ferry hub for Bohol).
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The island of Cebu is another major airport gateway and boasts excellent snorkeling and diving (though there’s little to see in Cebu City apart from the landscaped, Ayala Mall). I stayed at the Asian Belgian Resort near Moalboal, (a few hours by bus from Cebu City) which was about AUD80/night for a bungalow, a few steps from the water. It featured an in-house dive shop and a spectacular colorful reef only 20 meters from shore (with turtles). It’s a ten minute drive from town but the resort will pick you up, and you can hire a scooter from a house just outside the resort, if you stay a few days.
In Oslob, about 4 hours by bus south of Cebu City, you can snorkel with the whale sharks. It’s practically guaranteed to see them as the local fisherman feed them which keeps them hanging around. It’s controversial with environmentalists however it also provides many jobs to the local community, thus keeping many families out of poverty.
No brochure will warn you on the traffic-jam that is Manila. Arriving on a Wednesday night, it took four hours to drive from the airport to my hotel in Ortigas; a distance of only 12 kilometers (7 miles). It took an average of two to three hours to get anywhere by taxi; which makes dinner plans a half day affair. Luckily taxis are cheap and air-conditioned so bring a good book for the journey. You can walk but it’s hot and humid, or take the subway, which was sweltering and took just as long as a taxi.
If you’re after isolation, peace and a simplistic vacation, you’ll find that in Puerto Princesa, a long-thin island South-West of Manila. Here You can find various huts for $20 a night or less, many on the beach, often including breakfast!
Of course there’s plenty more amazing islands to visit, but these are the main ones and are a fantastic place to start your Philippine odyssey. For further information, check out the Philippines Lonely Planet Guidebook.
The Philippines is strongly religious with the majority being devout Catholics. This plays a part in everything they do including politics. It’s illegal to get divorced (unless you can prove the other party is mentally incapable of making a decision to marry), airline, bus and ferry staff will lead a prayer to the Virgin Mary for safe travel and celebrations like Christmas and Easter are huge.
Expect to pay:
- AUD40-50 (USD30-30, NZD45-55) per night in a three star hotel
- AUD3-8 (USD2-6, NZD4-9) for an hour massage
- AUD5-15 (USD4-12, NZD6-16) for a meal (up to AUD40/USD35/NZD45) if you eat ribs in Americanized chain restaurants like I often did)
- AUD5-10 (USD4-9, NZD6-11) for an average taxi fare
- Less than AUD10 (USD8, NZD11) for a long distance bus fare (often only $3-$5)
On the flip side
There’s often warnings (by governments and in guidebooks) for the southern islands like Mindanao Island because of extremists, and there has been tourists kidnapped in the past, however if you speak to the locals, there’s often a different picture of what it’s like. It’s easy enough to stick to safe and popular tourist areas on other islands.
The Philippines cops a lot of flak in the media because of its associations with sex trafficking, and its current President’s heavy-handed approach to drugs, and corruption. Whatever you hear in the media, from a first-hand visitor, much (not all) but much has been cleaned up, and if you visit, what you’ll find is a beautiful holiday destination, that’s cheap, without the hoards of tourists like Thailand or Bali; locals are welcoming, genuinely friendly and everyone speaks english so even if you’re roughing it, you can still easily get around or be pointed in the right direction if you get lost.
For more detailed information, then buy a discounted Lonely Planet Guidebook from the Book Depository with free shipping!
Getting there and around
There’s direct flights from Australia with multiple airlines and the flight from Sydney takes 7 hours. There’s often deals with Qantas for about $750 return all-inclusive from Sydney to Manilla or $400 return with Cebu Pacific, seat only. It wasn’t always possible to book domestic transport like buses or ferries online, however I never had any issues with turning up, and getting on a bus, as there are regular departures.
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