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Planning a trip to South East Asia? Why not head over to the beautiful islands of The Philippines? Despite being born and bred in London, I am a Pinoy at heart. Both my parents are from the Philippines, and so I’ve had the pleasure of knowing the country from a young age when my parents would take us on vacation there. I still have family there, so try to visit every couple of years. However, I still don’t think I have explored all there is to offer! Hopefully, this Philippines travel guide will help you explore this beautiful country!
- 1 Where to go in the Philippines
- 2 What’s Filipino food like?
- 3 What are Filipino people like?
- 4 Philippines Travel Guide – My Top Tips
- 5 What’s not to miss in the Philippines?
Where to go in the Philippines
The Philippines is made up of 7,000 islands, which is one of the reasons why there are so many beautiful beaches to choose from – is that you are never too far from water. You should also note that there are different types of beaches to visit depending on the type of experience you are after.
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In what can only be described as paradise on earth. Boracay is known for its glorious white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters. And has been a leading tourist destination for years now. Boracay is accessible via 2 airports; Kalibo and Caticlan. If traveling to Kalibo, note that you will need to take a further drive to get to Caticlan… But the fun doesn’t stop there, you also need to take a short boat ride (20 mins) to get to Boracay island itself.
The island is broken up into “stations” and you will often hear people referring to locations based on the station they are at. There are three stations in total and it’s good to know which station you are staying at so you know which boat to take.
Station 1 is the quieter end of the island, here you will find more of the high-end luxury resorts. The beaches here are spacious and the water is calm and easy to swim in. Station 2 is the central part and where the bulk of the resorts, restaurants, and bars are. It can get quite crowded here but this is where most of the action is. And lastly, station 3 is another peaceful end of the island where you can find cheaper accommodation. Be warned that the water here isn’t as shallow and is better suited for the watersports activities.
If you’re looking for beaches in the Philippines that have a bit more adventure, then head to Palawan. You will find so many different places and things to explore. From the Underground River to the Crocodile Farm.
The Underground River was actually named one of the new 7 wonders of the world. It is a subterranean river and a series of naturally formed caves. The site itself is on a protected part of the island which you still need to get to via a short boat ride. Once you arrive on the beach you are able to pick up a life jacket, helmet, and audio guide. You then walk through what can only be described as a tropical jungle before reaching the river. You then jump on canoes (they fit up to around 12 people) and are paddled towards the entrance of the cave. It’s such an amazing experience and the different sights you see within the cave are really one of a kind. I highly recommend it!
There are also many beaches and places to go swimming. It’s worth going island hopping and exploring other islands and beaches. If you’re after more action after that, there are also many other adventure activities on the island including mountain climbing, zip lining, and buggy cars.
I couldn’t write a Philippines travel guide without highlighting the capital city! Manila is a diverse city that is rich in history but still boasts a lot of the modern amenities of western culture. You can expect to see the hustle and bustle of everyday life with people traveling to and from work, surrounded by shopping malls and centers as well as local food markets. There are a lot of malls and most have western stores, however, don’t think you will get a bargain. When I looked at the prices they had for Topshop for example, the cost price vs what it would be in the UK was at least £5 more expensive. However local stores are a lot cheaper so you may find yourself shopping loads.
The other great thing about Manila is that it never sleeps. Literally! You will find something open at any hour of the day or night. If you’re craving food, there will be a restaurant ready to serve you. You have bars and clubs that stay open till the early hours too and a lot of convenience stores or Starbucks are open 24 hours. I once craved an iced matcha coffee and sweet treat late at night and was able to satisfy my craving at a local Starbucks.
What’s Filipino food like?
Filipino cuisine is similar to its culture, in that it takes elements of other cultures that it has inherited over the years. Being located in South East Asia, Filipino cuisine has a strong theme of Asian as found in Chinese, Korean and even Japanese food. However, as the Philippines was a Spanish colony before the 1900’s – there is also a lot of Spanish cultures still present in the food (and even the language!).
The most exciting thing about Filipino food is probably the fresh seafood and range of vegetables and fruits. Food is also very cheap, so it’s quite easy to dine like royalty. I recommend heading to Seaside Dampa in Pasay, where you can buy fresh seafood in the market and then go to a nearby restaurant to have it cooked for you.
The staple element of most Filipino food is RICE! They eat rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! For example for breakfast, it’s quite common to have garlic fried rice with hot dogs and a fried egg. Then for lunch, you could have rice and a meat stew or barbecue meats. For dinner, again you would have rice with some type of accompanying stew.
Typical Filipino dishes include:
Adobo – Probably one of the most famous Filipino dishes! This is made from marinating and slow-cooking meat (usually pork or chicken, sometimes both) in garlic, vinegar and soy sauce. This is served with rice.
Kare-Kare – A beef/goat stew in peanut sauce and range of veggies including eggplant, green beans, and pak choi. This is usually served with a shrimp paste to compliment the peanut sauce.
Sinigang – This can be made with either meat (pork/beef) or fish (salmon/tilapia) and is a sour soup base. The stew is a mixture of the meat/fish and veggies such as green beans, cabbage or water spinach. This is usually accompanied with a fish sauce and chilies.
Menudo – Just like the Spanish dish.
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Tips when dining out:
Ulam – is the term used to describe the main dish. So you would have an ulam and side dish such as rice or noodles.
Unli – this is just short for ‘unlimited’ but is a common term now used when dining. Often referring to unlimited rice or drinks. If you see this, you can order extra servings free of charge!
Calamansi – known as the Philippine lemon/lime. It is smaller and often used to season food as well as juiced into a lemonade style drink.
Sauces – most dishes come with additional condiments that allow diners to season based on their personal preference. It’s not uncommon to have an additional dish to mix chopped chilies with fish sauce or soy sauce and calamansi.
Boodle – Is a military term for how soldiers traditionally dine. It has now become a food trend and dining in this way means the food is eaten all together and is laid out on a single banana leaf. All diners use their hands to eat and the food is all in the center of the table. A bit weird if you’re not used to it, but it’s a fun experience!
What are Filipino people like?
Filipino people are known for their hospitality. If you have ever met a Filipino family you know they love to eat, chit-chat and entertain. Visit any Filipino home and you will find yourself full from all the food – and it would rude to say no to that extra slice of cake!
All jokes aside, the Filipino people are very warm and welcoming to tourists and love to please. They will often be happy to help to give directions and most speak English. In fact, the most common language is tag-lish; a combination of Tagalog and English.
You will have no trouble making new friends along your travels and will find many people willing to show you where to visit next. No wonder, they were classed as the third happiest country in the world last year.
Philippines Travel Guide – My Top Tips
The traditional method of transportation is the jeepney or tricycle. I recommend trying both at least once. But there are easier ways of traveling such as the LRT (which is their metro), or cabs. If you do prefer traveling by cab, always get an official one. I usually opt for booking via the Uber or Grab app. However, for longer journeys across the country, you may need to book internal flights, coaches or even boats.
Like most tourist destinations now, we should also be aware of safety at all times. So be aware of thieves and scammers. This includes beggars on the street. Theft is rife in some of the major cities, however, most places are safe as long as you stay aware of your belongings like you would anywhere else.
Water & Cleanliness
I don’t advise drinking the tap water, so always drink only bottled or filtered water. I would also recommend carrying hand sanitizer and tissue as most public restrooms are not that clean.
What’s not to miss in the Philippines?
The history and culture are everywhere in the country, but I highly recommend visiting Baguio which is located in Northern Luzon and is a mountain town. It boasts breath-taking views and sights. If you do head that way, I also recommend passing the ‘Valley of Colors’ which is reminiscent of some of the favela paintings in Brazil.
If you’re after something a bit different why not explore Intramuros at night? There is a lot of superstition and folklore in Philippine culture. From ghost stories, monsters, and even mischievous elves. You will find many a ghost story when visiting the historical sites. There is even a ghost tour that allows you to explore the historical locations with a tour guide at night.
Give the street food a go. I know it can be daunting but street food is not to miss! You can often find shopping centers or markets that serve street food which is probably more hygienic. I personally love fish ball and mango with shrimp paste. Weird combo I know, but don’t knock it till you try it!
And lastly, if you get a chance head to a karaoke bar and do as the locals do – sing your heart out!
Make sure you book your tours and activities before arriving so you don’t miss out!
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Amanda Rose is a Londoner who blogs about travel, food, and lifestyle at LDNROSE.com. She has traveled to many destinations across the globe. And her favorite destinations include Iceland and Dubai. You’ll most likely find her booking her next adventure or sipping on an iced coffee and enjoying a donut or two…