Friday, 27 May 2011

Philippines: Do's and Don'ts!

I can’t believe it’s been over a month since we returned from a wonderful trip to the Philippines. From the gorgeous landscape, to some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, and the laid-back atmosphere that impregnates everything and everyone, it is a great destination. Remote enough to put off many tourists, the country is welcoming and full of surprises. The distances may be long, and the food questionable, but it’s worth the effort. I just wish we could have had months, rather than weeks, to fully explore what it has to offer.

Anyway, as ever, here are a few tips for getting the most out of a trip there…


- Appreciate the fantastic hospitality of the Filipino people. It’s been a long time since we were somewhere where we could walk into a shop, or along a street lined with taxis, without being hassled. Although normally very friendly, there are times when you want to be able to walk/browse/sit in peace. Throughout our trip, on every island, we were left alone. No pressure, no hassle. Just friendly faces, genuinely helpful when needed, and always kind. It was wonderful and very relaxing.

- Prepare yourself for an abundance of ballads! Every taxi, hostel lobby, jeepney and plane we found ourselves in played the apparently preferred musical genre of choice - cheesy love ballads. Perhaps better than the blasting rap that we usually tend to end up with on trips, we soon got to know some of the famous names in Filipino music, and some interesting covers of Western music too!

- Check out the smaller, locally run excursions as well as their more famous relations. Whale shark swimming draws the crowds to Donsol, but the fireflies in the evening were incredible in a different way. Tarsiers and the chocolate hills advertise Bohol, but you hear less of the beautiful butterfly sanctuary. Ask around for recommendations and you might discover some hidden gems.


- Underestimate distances between islands. On a map they looked perfectly manageable, but hopping between islands proved far more difficult than we had imagined. With months to spare, we would have been okay, but on a couple of occasions we relented and booked short flights instead. Reserved in advance, we could have picked them up extremely cheaply. Booked a couple of days before, they suddenly became an extra expense we could have done without. We hadn’t come to the Philippines with a definite plan of where we were going, and with some proper thought, we could have saved ourselves some money.

- Forget about the unpredictable weather. Although some are more reliable than others, most of the islands are in typhoon territory and the winds pick up at a moment’s notice. Sudden showers are also not uncommon, and a light rain jacket or plastic poncho prevents that soggy feeling on bus rides! The temperature is warm no matter the weather though, so don’t bother with a proper rain jacket – the lighter the better.

- Be shocked at the prices. Whilst some things are very cheap, such as food and taxi rides (with the latter, the cheapest I’ve found ever), others are expensive. One such expense is accommodation. Again, with a fixed plan we could have snapped up cheap rooms with ease, but booking a couple of days before arrival at each place left us with fewer options. This is one of the only times that we’ve had this problem – usually just showing up can help secure a cheaper deal. But when visiting the most popular areas, with interesting things to do and see, book up quickly. Filipinos travel extensively within their own country too, particularly over the weekends, so avoid arriving somewhere new on a Friday night!

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