Philippines: A Country for Travelers of Many Styles

PUBLISHED ON MAY 2, 2018 — TRAVEL

Hey guys,

It’s been a while. A lots happened. Since I last posted on Antartica, I’ve traveled back to California for a month and then went to the Philippines and Singapore. To be honest, I’ve been caught in a few development projects and my blog has slipped away. Time to pick things up and keep up my writing (which just inspired me to write another post about my motivation for writing.). I’m sorry for the huge delay, but hopefully given the few months away from the blog I’ll have even more stories to share.

Enjoy this post on the Philippines. As always, if you have any questions feel free to reach out to andor@henosisknot.com and I’ll make sure to answer you as fast as possible.

Philippines

Mabuhay! You’ll hear that word a lot in the Philippines. That word has roots in a word that translates to “life” which is fitting opener adjacent to the perspective of many Filipinos. If you think Philippines, think “Mabuhay”, because the Filipinos have generated an appreciation for life and living in a way that is unexpected for a country that has been ruled for nearly 400 years and only recently achieved its own independence. I spent two weeks in the Philippines, and while that’s not enough to fully understand the region, it was enough to notice that the Philippines has a lot of facets to it that make it worth an exploration should you find yourself eager for a plane flight.

Conclusion: Worth a visit.

The Faces of the Philippines

The Philippines has a a few different “faces” or “sides” that make this country complex to understand. My goal is to help you understand to some level a few sides of the Philippines.

Yes. It’s Poor

The Philippines is poor. With a currency that converts from 50 pesos to 1 dollar, your USD carries a lot of weight. I bought a pair of matching athletic shorts and shirt ~3 dollars. I beat my all-time cheapest haircut price of $3 and spent $1.20 on a haircut. A solid breakfast: $1. That’s cheap!

Going to cheap countries with USD is always great for traveling on a budget but I get some bitter-sweet taste from that sort of travel. I walked through many areas of Manila and some of the slums made me very grateful for my life. At one point, I was traveling through some slums and saw massive rats EVERYWHERE. I’m a backpacker and can live in pretty crappy environments, but I can’t imagine living in a situation like that for any extended period of time.

It’s Friendly

It’s poor. It’s been ruled for hundreds of years. It has every right to be pissed at the world. Yet, to coin a cliche, Filipinos took a frown and turned it upside-down. I had so many positive interactions with Filipinos. I was asked to play in pick-up basketball games, and they showed very little reservation to reach out and offer their greeting.

When I went to the Philippines, I saw many people filled with life, energy, and a strong determination to change their situation. A small example is a Filipino roommate I had. In the middle of the day he worked. When he came home he would come and study to be an auto-mechanic. When I talked to him he was determined to make a better life for himself. I’ve met many similar Filipinos and I think that’s amazing.

It struck me odd that in a country that’s filled with so many determined people and can speak English, how can it be so poor? I don’t have the answer, but if anyone’s going to pull the Philippines out of their poverty, I believe they can. Apparently GDP’s been steadily rising over the years.

Map of Manila
GDP of Manila

It’s beautiful

With thousands (7641!) islands in the Philippines, warm beaches, massive volcanoes, unexplored coral reefs, and beautiful white sands that pepper some of the islands, the Philippines can take years to explore correctly. I traveled pretty basic Philippines 101, but given more time I got the feeling there’s no question you could spend a long time exploring the large variety of different islands, landscapes, and culture within the various islands of the continent.

A History/Background of the Philippines Rule (Short Version)

In case you didn’t know, the Philippines is a collection of islands. The locals speak both English, Tagalog, and often their own local dialect. The population is a little over 100 million.

If you check out their history, they’ve had it kinda rough.

In 1571 it was ruled by the Spanish. 1762 ruled by the British. 1764 ruled by Spanish again. 1902 ruled by America. 1935 gained semi-independence. 1942 ruled by Japan. 1944 back in American hands. Finally in 1946 gained independence.

History kinda sucks for the Philippines from an autonomy perspective. That being said, I didn’t sense lots of resentment from the population toward other countries when I went there. At least on the surface level. It’s very possible there’s some deep rooted resentment for the unfair rule of many Filipinos that just isn’t obvious without digging deeper into the culture.

My Route

My general route for the Philippines was pretty basic. I would have loved to see Palaui island, which is right above Luzon but didn’t have the chance. If you want a quite getaway spot that has very little people, I think it should be a great experience. Please let me know what you think once you get there.

The general route was Manila -> Baguio -> Manila -> Anilao -> Masasa -> Manila. I traveled with a friend so it was definitely a different style of travel than I was used to.

Manila

I didn’t spend too long in any particular area as I was moving around. To get an idea of Manila, check out this map. I love this map because it’s a basic guide to most of the city and great for tourists to plan their getaway.

Map of Manila
Map of Manila

(Provided by http://toursmaps.com/manila-map-tourist-attractions.html)

Makati
In the center of Manila is Makati. Makati’s the “happening” area. It’s right next to the business district and has an awesome night life. Stay here if you want to be in a nicer area that’s got a lot of food options.

In Manila, and specifically Makati, there are tons of 24 hour businesses, and night life is booming. You will have quick access to food, and if you pick up food from a cart it should be pretty cheap. Be careful about getting ripped off, as there are plenty of stalls that will try to take advantage of you being unaware of local prices. A Buko drink for example (coconut like drink) should cost 10~15 pesos or ~20 cents. I’ve been quoted at 40 pesos which is 4 times the amount of the local prices. This is something to look for whenever you are in the Philippines, not just Makati.

Intramuros
Intramuros is an old colonial village. If you go here, you’ll go to check out old spanish buildings. Personally, I wasn’t up for the hype but it was a fun stop.

Divisoria
Divisoria has some of the cheapest shopping I’ve ever seen. If you want something for super cheap, head over to Divisoria. Just be careful, as there are a ton of pickpocketers and some sketchy areas around the market. We ended up walking to a sketchy area at some point and had to turn back because it wasn’t safe.

Clothes typically cost between 1 dollar and 4 dollars.

Mall of Asia
It’s a mall. Unless you love malls only go there if you want close access to the waterline.

Serendra
Also a mall. Unless you want to go to malls skip it.

Map of Manila
Sunset from Serendra

Baguio/Mt.Ulap

To get to Baguio we took a 6 hour bus ride from Manila. They run every hour so in general you shouldn’t have issues catching the bus the same day without pre-booking. Be wary though, on a return trip (Sunday) we ran into issues finding a ticket back and almost got stuck in Baguio.

I believe I spent ~450 pesos (9 dollars) to get to Baguio.

Baguio is a cool little city. There’s some awesome food in Baguio, so make sure to get your foodie self on if you manage to make it over to the area. A night market also in Baguio is relatively famous, so its worth your time to stop by.

About 1 hour away from Baguio is Mt.Ulap.

Mt. Ulap is a fun little mountain with 3 peaks and about a 4 hour walk. I would rank it easy/moderate in terms of hiking. To get the entrance ticket they said we needed a guide (not sure if I believe them). We ended up making some cool friends which was awesome. It gives some nice views and is worth your time if you happen to be in the area.

Map of Manila
Mount Ulap

Masasa/Anilao

My friend that I was traveling with wanted to do two things: Relax and Snorkel. After talking around we settled in Anilao and Masasa beach. This was probably the highlight of the trip for a number of reasons as described below.

Anilao

Anilao is known for their scuba diving. We found a resort that was relatively cheap ($40) a night so split between two people came out to be reasonable. The city of Anilao is not much, but a cheap resort situated in the mountains with a view over the water was incredibly relaxing. During the day, I took a lot of walks and we headed to Anilao beach for some snorkeling.

Snorkeling gear rental: 20$ per person.

To rent out gear it came out to 20$ per person. Considering it was scuba diving I think it would have been better to simply buy the gear at Divisoria beforehand and bring it with us.

Anilao’s reef life was honsestly pretty unimpressive and sad. There was a lot of trash near the beach. A little farther out you got some better life but not what I would have expected out of an area that is known for scuba diving. The beach is pretty trashy as well.

Overall - if you plan your trip you might want to skip Anilao and go directly to my next destination: Masasa.

Masasa

Masasa beach is located on the Tingloy island about an hour ferry from Anilao. The ferry is a few bucks, so it’s pretty cheap to get over there. It’s located really close to Pureto Galera.

It’s not necessary to book things in advance with regards to accommodations. There are plenty of homestays in the area if you give yourself a little bit of time to look around, and they give a really cool experience. We ended up staying at a homestay for about 600 pesos (12 bucks) a night for 2. The owner was awesome. She constantly tried to take care of us and by the end we were calling her “momma”.

Map of Manila
Homestay at Masasa. By the end we were calling her "momma"

It would behoove you to keep in mind that most likely your homestay won’t be any type of luxury that you’ll have in a developed country (you’ll have to wash yourself with buckets of water for example), but living a life of a local from the island only adds to the experience.

About 5 min from the homestay was the main event: Masasa beach. Masasa beach was beautiful and relaxing. Not going on the weekend meant it wasn’t super crowded. It will get hot, but luckily I picked up a 12 dollar tent in Divisoria and used that for shelter against the heat.

Map of Manila
Beach at Masasa
Map of Manila

Island Hopping

Island hopping was in my opinion the best part about the Tingloy island. We went to a few places including Sombrero Island. The whole thing cost 1,500 pesos for 4 people. Split across it was 375 pesos per person. At the last stop of the island hopping we strapped ourselves against the boat and went scuba diving. That was a really fun experience.

Map of Manila
Sombrero Island
Map of Manila
Snorkeling being dragged by boat.

Conclusion

Philippines was really fun and a good place to go for a getaway. I would love to have spent more time and money there to get the full experience. There’s plenty to do there given the energy to explore and no inhibitions to travel. I highly recommend the Philippines for many travelers (both hardcore backpackers and more casual travelers). Feel free to reach out to me at my email if you have any questions or want to be connected with a few Filipino locals.

Additionally:

You might have wondered what happened with the Books for Villages project I posted about here and the answer is I didn’t get enough funding to justify the project in the Philippines. There was only one person that funded outside of myself, so that person can get a refund however I am pushing for a new project in India so hopefully will make it work there! I want at least 500 dollars of funding before implementing the project, so please donate if you have a chance!

Stay thirsty my friends,
Andor