After two weeks, literally jumping around the Philippines, I believe I am qualified to have an opinion on this place. Two weeks is of course not enough to understand everything within a country, but at least it has given me time enough to get a first impression (as we know: already after seven seconds you have made up your mind about someone). You can find my previous blog posts from the Philippines here:
Based on my own mistakes and right decisions I have created (in my eyes) the perfect two weeks plan for anyone visiting the country for the first time. But first, let’s look at my overall impression on this wide and diverse country:
Getting to the diamonds might be a challenge, but that is also why they are diamonds. Whether it is under or over the surface you will find sweet candy for your eyes. The Philippines offer some of the most unique and beautiful beaches I have ever seen. The ocean life is also something you will not be able to experience anywhere else.
I am probably not the right person to talk about this as I spent half of my time in the Philippines with a food poisoning. However, most people we spoke to had a similar attitude to the Filipino food: “boring, tasteless, bland…”. Even the Philippines themselves seemed to prefer Thai, Italian, Chinese, and American food. Personally, I didn’t mind their typical ‘Adobo’, but their twist on Italian dishes was very namnam-nam.
The culture has a strong preference for men. The only time I was spoken directly to was when I was on one of my blog ‘missions’, because then I was suddenly important enough I guess. Except for those times, Toby was always seen as the centre of attention. I have no idea of how many times he got hit on by other men. They all seemed pretty disappointed when he had to tell them that I was not his sister but rather his girlfriend… Toby had according to them a delicious super hero factor: “Your boyfriend looks like superman!”, “OMG, you must be Spider-Man!”, “SEXY!”. While I just had to stand in the shadow of his waving cape and being ignored. Haha, but I really enjoyed observing how uncomfortable it made Toby.
Things take time, and things will never end up as expected. There is no point fighting it, just charge up your patience and let the Filipino spirit lead the direction. I don’t know how many times I have been close to rip out my own hair. If you ask for coffee you will get tea, and if you ask for tea you will get coffee, and if you ask for two coffees, you get nothing just because they forgot what you ordered…
This brings me into the most entertaining part of traveling around the Philippines. When I say entertaining I mean screaming annoying! Not once, not one single time was any of our flights, boats, or buses on time. As a Norwegian this kind of tardiness is the root of a headache. Oh well, enough of my complaining… One good thing about the Filipino transport is that it is very affordable. You can fly anywhere for almost nothing, just remember to book the tickets 3-4 weeks in advance. Because the country is spread out on islands with relatively long distances between them, flying is probably the best way of getting around. For shorter distances on land, bus is the cheapest option. Taxi is a bit more reliable and less time consuming, but 10 times the price. In the bigger cities like Manila and Cebu, Uber is definitely the best transportation option; cheap, safe, reliable, efficient.
For the more rural areas there are always tuk-tuks around, however, be careful so they do not rip you off (ask a few locals about what they would pay for the same trip, in order to get an idea of what is ‘the local price’).
The Philippines has unfortunately the reputation of being an unsafe destination. This is true to some level, however, I believe that this is the case for anywhere in the world! As long as you do not do anything stupid there is very little chance of getting into danger. There are a few islands that you should stay away from, which even locals avoid, so do your research before you go as these places change with time. When people say don’t go there, just don’t go there. As a tourist in the Philippines you are seen as ‘untouchable’; tourism is their main source of income and they will hit hard down on anyone that might disturb their safety. Expats, on the other hand, is another story… The expats we spoke to all had at least one ‘safe room’, gourds and/or gourd dogs, weapons, a ridiculous perimeter, and of course close relationships with the army. However, don’t let this scare you! Common sense will take you far, so just don’t do things you wouldn’t do in any other place.
You can get some really luxurious and stylish boutique accommodations all over the Philippines. The best thing about these place is that they do not necessarily cost a fortune. You can get a lot for your money here. If you are not on a strict budget, ‘splurging’ on a good place might be the difference between “I love the Philippines!” or “Mah, I had an okay time in the Philippines”.
Toby and I tried to keep our costs low. Our average cost of a night was between 10 – 15 dollars, which is as cheap as you can get it! However, at this rate you do also get what you pay for. If you are lucky there might be an air con in the room that actually works, and hopefully you will not have to share the room with too many bugs. The best way of finding the cheapest and best deals are always to meet up in person at the place and ask for the magical ‘special price’. Do your research on booking.com, agoda.com, hotels.com, etc., beforehand and then book it when you get there. By going directly to the source you avoid the booking fee (which is normally at least 10% extra), and by staying at a place for more than one night you can negotiate yourself down to maybe half the price. As long as you are not traveling in the peak season you can get away with this sneaky technique almost anywhere.
Two weeks is not enough to see the whole country, but it is enough to see what is worth seeing. To enjoy this itinerary you will have to like the beach. Saying that, I am personally not the person who can spend hours on just licking the sun (red hair, da-a!), so please keep in mind that ‘beach life’ is so much more than just sunbathing.
Fly to Manila. Have a mouth watering dinner at the City of Dreams Hyatt to kick start your vacation. If your budget allows it, staying a night at the Hyatt is very recommended.
Next morning get a cab or an Uber to take you to the Taal volcano. Uber does not normally operate that far outside of Manila city centre, but some will be willing to negotiate a good deal for you. Make sure that you get the driver to wait for you, as there is very little traffic when you arrive at the harbour before Taal. You will have to buy a ticket to get a boat over to the island, which also includes the horseback ride up the volcano. When you arrive at the island you’ll also have to pay an additional ‘bridge tax’, but don’t worry, this is a very small cost. Just make sure you have some cash on you, as the guides will also ask for tip after the ride. It’s not a very comfortable trip, but definitely worth the workout! The view is amazing, especially if you manage to coordinate it with the sunset.
Then, when you get back to Manila, have a nice dinner at Stella to end a lovely and adventurous day.
Next morning fly over to El Nido, Palawan. We flew to the main airport in Palawan, however, this meant that we had to do a 6 hours drive. Normally you will have to share your seat with at least one other person. These 6 hours turned into a 10 hours trip because our van broke down (very common issue apparently). So to save yourself a lot of pain, fly directly to El Nido if possible. If you arrive late it’s worth having an idea of where you are staying. Dormitels is the cheapest ‘hotel’ I have ever stayed at, and it was actually not too bad: new rooms, clean and comfortable. We spent about 8 dollars per night for a double bedroom, which is ridiculously cheap even for the Philippines! It was a bit hard to find at first, but it is just by the Corong Corong beach and still a bit away from the crowded areas.
Get a tuk-tuk to the Las Cabanas beach area and spend your day here just being lazy. After that, have a wander around the city centre and book up a boat trip for the next day. They all offer the same packages, and from talking to several other tourists and locals who have tried all of them, ‘tour A’ is the best one. Tour A will take you to the Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, and Seven Commandos Beach. You can see more photos from my time in El Nido here.
Next morning, probably around 7 am, you will be picked up to go to the boat. The whole day is all planned out for you, so sit back and go into ‘sheep mode’. In the evening, walk along the beach and find a calm place to have your dinner and sunset cocktails.
Moving on, in the morning catch a flight to Cebu. Then as soon as you get there, head over to the bus station where you can get a bus to Oslob. The bus takes about 3,5 hours. Find a random and cheap place to stay for the night. You will have to negotiate heavily; people will attack you with accommodation offers as soon as you step outside the bus.
Get out early in the morning (the earlier the better, I recommend 7 am) so you can get someone to drive you to the whale shark feeding. You can read more about it on my blog post. Straight after, catch a ferry to Bohol.
Panglao, Bohol: time to relax! Stay at the Regents Park resort and explore the beach area just beside it. Let those high shoulders fall a few levels down.
Get a bus to the chocolate hills if you are on a budget, but if you like less ‘adventurous’ transportation (it was just pure luck that we got there in the end) get a cab, which is of course a lot more expensive.
—- If you do have a couple of days to spare: instead of going back, get a cab/tuk-tuk to the south-eastern point of the island in order to check in at the Anda Resort. This is the place to just pamper yourself. We all love a good infinite pool with a great beach view. —-
If not, go back to the Regents Park resort and have a lazy day by the pool.
Next morning catch an early ferry to Cebu, and take advantage of what the city life has to offer. Shopping, food, city walks, whatever tickles your tastebuds.
Make sure you do have brunch at the Abaca Baking Company and order a cream cheese bagel with smoked salmon, before you head to the airport. Then get a flight to the Siargao island. This is the place to go surfing or just general beach life zoning! Read this blog post for more information. Remember to get out enough cash for your whole stay at this island before you land, as it is really hard to find ATMs that actually have money in them, and no one really takes credit cards. When you arrive at the airport get a van to your accommodation. Ocean 101, is a great place to go for breakfast/lunch, and outside of the peak season it has also reasonable prices for their rooms. However, if your budget allows it I would highly recommend staying at the new Lux resort. Apparently Lux does also have a very good sushi restaurant just in the corner of their garden. Unfortunately for us the chef was away the days we stayed at the island. If you are on a strict budget you can find places for under 20 dollars a night, but keep in mind that there are a lot of shit holes that call themselves ‘hotels’ at this island, so always have a look at the room before doing a decision.
Head over to Cloud 9, and watch the surf pros do their magic tricks on the waves. If you have a surf heart grab a board and join in on the fun. The mangroves are also worth visiting with a paddle board. In other words: just spend your day on, in, and beside the water. Yoga is also a great way to get those surf abs active. For dinner, you will have to try Mama’s Grill! Trust me, you will love it. It is so dirty and so good! Toby and I ate most of our dinners here.
Fly back to Cebu and make sure you have a few hours before catching your next flight to wherever ;)
I would love to know if anyone of you end up trying out my travel itinerary, or maybe you have other suggestions? Maybe you have a juicy story from the Philippines yourself that you would like to share with me???
I truly enjoyed my time in the Philippines and I really hope that I have managed to persuade some of you to take the trip. Please feel free to ask me any questions.
Quote Of The Day:
“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”
– Paul Theroux