Advantages Warm, fun, lots of Choice and friendly people
Disadvantages Long Listance(but I think that is an advantage), Polluted cities, crime & corruption
How to describe and give an opinion on over 7000 islands? This is the task I have set my self with this effort'. I have just returned from spending a month in the Philippines, during which time I took notes on what we did and where we stayed. This is the first of the opinions to come from this trip, my aim is to give you a little background to the Philippines, some general information and some ideas on what life is like there. Lookout for my tips on travelling in the Philippines. I will apologise now if I start to sound like a travel brocher, but I will tell you the bad along with the good.The Facts
The Philippines are an archipelago of 7100+ islands set in the South China Sea. The two main Islands are Luzon in the north and Mindanao in the south, between these two are the thousands of other islands in the chain that are collectively referred to as Visayas. The Philippines has a tropical climate, Hot and humid all year round. The temperatures averaged 32deg C when we were there Dec2001/Jan2002.Metro Manila is the national capital and is situated on the southwest coast of the Luzon Island and is made up of a number of boroughs which are usually referred to as cities,
The Philippines is a Constitutional Democratic Republic with a directly elected President who serves for a single term of six years. The Administrative set-up is in a similar model to the USA, the Philippines was an US colony. The National Government is the sole Lawmaker with an elected Congress and Senate. An elected Governor administers each of the 16 Provinces, or Regions. Individual cities, towns and municipalities have their own elected mayors and councils.The most common language use is English, the legacy of the US occupation; this is the official language of Government, commerce and Law. All students with a High school education should have an adequate understanding of English. There are a vast number of native languages, or dialects. Tagalog originated around the Capital region and now incorporates many elements from the other dialects. Sometimes called Filipino or Pilipino, most Filipinos are fluent in Tagalog whilst still speaking their local dialect.
The Philippines is unique as being the only predominantly Christian nation in Asia, this is a legacy of the Spanish colonial rule. As such 80% of the population is Roman Catholic with Catholic mores forming the basis of most of the country’s Laws and censorship. 10% are Protestant with Inglesia Ni Cristo forming the largest denomination. Muslims form about 10% of the population and are concentrated in Central & Western MindanaoThe National Currency is the Peso (PhP); the exchange rate is in a state of flux at the moment. When we went the rate was 50Php to the US Dollar and 70Php to GB Pound.
The Philippine people are of Malay stock with Chinese, Spanish Japanese and of course ‘American’ blood forming part of the mix. Filipinos are a friendly, fun loving people naturally gifted in music and dance.Most visitors arrive by air, flying into Manila Airport, situated in Pasay City, most of the really good hotels are situated in Manila or Makati Cities, which can be 30 to 90 mins in a taxi depending on traffic.
The RealityOK, most of what I have written so far, you could have found out for yourself from books and the Web from here on in are my general obsivations and opinions with a few practical tips thrown in to keep you interested. I should also point out that my wife is a Filipina as such some of my views of Philippine life may be a little coloured.
The Philippines people are indeed an extremely friendly race who will go out of their way to look after a visitor. A guest staying with a Filipino family will be given the best room in the house, the best of the food they have to offer whilst also being treated like an honoured member of the family. My wife and I have stayed with family of friends, who we had never met, and been very well looked after. The family is an important aspect of Philippine life; it is not unusual to find several generations living in one roof or in close proximity to each other. The notion of close family also extends out to cousins, second cousins and more distant relatives. A family will look after it’s elderly and sick. Politeness and respect are automatically accorded to an elder. The advice and guidance of older generations is often sort and usually taken. A Philippine family home is also an open house with Aunts, Uncles, cousins and friends often wandering in and staying for something to eat or even the night.There are two great activities that Filipinos enjoy above all else: - Shopping and Eating. What can I tell you about shopping, the Malls open about 10 am and shut at 10pm. There is a shopping frenzy around Christmas called ‘Midnight Madness’ where the stores stay open until gone midnight. Filipinos, rich and poor alike, will spend hours strolling and not purchasing a thing. Friends will meet after work and just ‘hang out’ at the Mall and window shop. When not strolling there is the food, Filipino’s love to eat, it is a central part of life in the Philippines, with up to five meals a day. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner with two additional meals called merienda – snacks, taken mid-morning and mid-afternoon
Philippine cooking brings together many elements; local foods are blended with American, Spanish and Chinese influences. Pork, Chicken, fish and vegetables are common, however the staple food is rice. Now I like rice, light fluffy rice. Unfortunately the Filipinos have a habit of boiling the life out of it. It becomes a glutinous mass, which is scooped out and served. Often the ‘merienda’ snacks are just rice, maybe with some sauce. My favourite dish is Adobo, Chicken and/or pork that is marinated and cooked in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves and pepper. Lechon Baboy, a pit roasted suckling pig, is served on special occasions and is excellent. I would recommend trying Lumpia – Spring rolls, Pancit Canton - Noodle and for a real taste of the Philippines try Ube ice-cream or cake, pronounced Oo-bay. This is a root vegetable similar to a sweet potato, which produces a violet coloured food. For those of you that need to know, there are many western fast food outlets; MacD’s KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut are common. I will write a separate opinion on food and give more details. Oh, before I forget - a Whopper does taste like a Whopper.Philippine cities are polluted; there is no other way to describe them. I had to walk along a main road in Manila called EDSA for no more than 10 minutes and I could barely breath. With the heat and humidity, the unprepared traveller will tier very quickly. When you go out take bottles of mineral water, drink a little and often. Take a face towel, if you dampen it and put it over you mouth it will help you breath. Rest often, walking around in 30deg C+ really saps the strength.
The public water supply in major cities is generally good, unfortunately because of the pollution; instances of typhoid and water born illnesses have been increasing. Most travellers use bottles water or if they are in a good location like Makati city, boiling the water first is a good idea. Please note that Manila is a ‘soft’ water area, this can cause some problems for those of use from ‘hard’ water areas like London.Getting around is fairly easy; the main form of public transport is the Jeepney. This is a development of the US Army jeep that has been extended to carry more passengers. These colourful vehicles have no air-conditioning and are open at the back to allow passengers to get on and off. They travel a fixed route of about 4 miles stopping at major intersections and locations; these are often painted on the side of the Jeepney. A Jeepney may be flagged down almost anywhere along it’s route and you can ask the driver to stop at any point. You should pay around 35Php for a single trip. If you are up for it, I recommend a ride on a Jeepney, it can by fun, you get to meet the natives and even at the busiest times it is better than squeezing onto London Underground. Buses are regular and air-conditioned and travel longer distances; like in the UK they set down and pick up only at specified points on the route. On busy routes it is common practice to put padded wooden planks across the aisle between the seats to get more people in. A journey on a bus will cost from 20Php for a 10 min ride to 150Php for one of several hours. Trikes are very common in areas away from the main roads and in the countryside. These are generally 50/65cc motorcycles with a covered sidecar. These little vehicles should carry three passengers, one behind the driver and two in the sidecar, however I have seen up to 7 people on one. The cost of a single short trip is 8Php per person. Air-conditioned taxis are available and very reasonable, I will strongly advise you to get a metered taxi or agree the price with the driver before you get in, during busy times it is common for a driver to turn of the meter and charge was much as possible. To give you an example we took a taxi from our apartment in Makati City to the Mega Mall in Pasay, a trip of 20mins, and it cost us 100Php. Coming back the same trip cost us 400php and 45mins. Other factors also play a part on how much you will be charged. In the example above we hired the taxi from our Apartments fleet, the following day we did the same trip at the same time but hired the taxi on the main road opposite and it cost 60Php. Makati (5star Dusit Hotel) to Paranaque was 300Php. Paranaque to Makati, flagging down a taxi was 60Php.
If you want to travel further, maybe to one of the islands or down to Mindanao, there are many ferries most of which will go to Cebu first and then on to the final destination. Ferry from Manila to General Santos City in Mindanao would cost 1500Php and take 3 days. There is also a good domestic airline network; the main operators are Air Philippines, Asian Spirit, Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific. A single airfare from Manila to General Santos City is 3500Php on Air Philippines, however look out for deals at the travel centres, we (Me, wife & Infant daughter) flew from Manila to General Santos City and back, with a night in a 2 star hotel for 13500Php.On any trip abroad you can’t spend your time shopping, watching TV and laying by the pool, so what can you do? Most major cities will have a variety of entertainment. Cinemas are cheap at less than 100Php per person, Tenpin bowling from 60Php per Lane/person. Nightclubs/discos are great, usually with no entrance fee, but look out for the cost of drinks. Restaurants are usually very good with excellent food at a reasonable price. We visited a number of restaurants during our trips around the Philippines and we are yet to find one where the service was not good.
Away from Manila try: -
- A trip to Tagaytay and the Taal Volcano, take a coat with you, as it is quite cool there.
- The Enchanted Kingdom amusement park is a good day out.
- Borocay is a beautiful island 45 mins on a plane from Manila.
- CEBU is worth visiting, particularly if you want to cruise to some outlaying islands.
When talking about crime, corruption is usually mentioned and the Philippines are no exception. Part of the problem lies with ‘family first’ mentality ingrained in the Philippine people. When someone is starting a business they usually look to members of their own family for staff, even if they are unsuitable for the position. Nepotism affects all layers of society from the poorest street pedler to the highest echelons of government. Although the Philippines are a democracy, political power seems to reside within a small number of families. For example they current President (Gloria Arroyo) is the daughter of a previous president. Another common trait within these families is the mixing with the entertainment industry, for example the host of the most popular Philippine game show ‘Game KNB’ is Kris Aquino, daughter of former President Cory, who herself was the daughter of a leading political figure. Movie star President Joseph Estrada, who is currently under corruption charges, has an Actor son called Gingboy, who is Mayor of a provincial town. By the way Gingboy is also under investigation for corruption.Some Practical Advice
Ok so what pearls of wisdom can I dispense today? Remember you are in a Foreign country, be respectful to your hosts. Learn a bit of Tagalog: Salamat (Thank you) is always useful. You can pick up some good phrase books in any bookstore. Never carry a large amount of money with you and make use of the hotel’s safety deposit boxes. Be prepared to negotiate prices with store holder, when given a price look doubtful, this often got me a 10 to 15 percent discount. This works in small store, not in large department stores. Oh, by the way, you can get discounts for cash. When packing remember that the Philippines was a US colony for over 100 year, as such many international brands can be found in stores, so don’t take too many toiletries, buy them out there, it is cheaper. If you are travelling with an infant and require nappies, Pampers and Huggies are easy to find, however remember Philippine babies are smaller than ours, so the sizing is differentWhat to do before you leave for the Philippines
1. Inoculations: Polio, Tetanus, Typhoid and Hepatitis. If you are going to be travelling a lot away from Manila, Malaria would be a good idea.2. Visa – If you are staying for less than 21 days, you do not need a visa. Any longer, up to 56 days, you will need a visa - £22 each, You should apply in person at the Philippine Embassy, take with you your valid passport with 6 months remaining after return date, proof that you can support yourself (bank statements, credit card statements etc.) two passport size photographs. You will have to complete a form, which you can download from the website or collect at the embassy, pay the fee, and leave your passport with the embassy and you will be told when you can collect it, usually 2 days later.
Philippine Embassy: 9a, Palace Green, London W8 4QE (Kensington)
Tel: 020 7937 1600 FAX: 020 7361 4640
3. Money, I work out the minimum spend per day and put that in travellers’ cheques (TCs), US Dollar – I could not find anywhere that would take Sterling TCs. I then take Sterling – you get an excellent rate of exchange. Credit cards – for Hotel & Restaurant bills etc – you generally get a better rate of exchange than paying by cash or TCsThings to Pack
- Teabags/instant tea – you can get tea in Manila but it is the week varieties, Milk in the Philippines is not good, fresh pasteurised is expensive.
- A good emergency medical kit incl Savlon and Sudacrem (put metal instrument in Check-in luggage as you will not get this on as Carry-on
- Sewing kit – again Check-in luggage
- Pen – there are forms to fill in when you arrive
- A lightweight backpack for when you are out ant about
- A shower proof jacket – it does rain
- A jumper and cardigan if you are going to Bagio or Tagaytay
As a whole, the Philippines is a beautiful country with some of the most warm and friendly people you could ever hope to meet. From a cosmopolitan nightlife and shoppers paradise to palm fringed beaches of fine golden sand, I hope that this opinion has given you a taste of life in the Philippines, If you require more information please leave a comment and I will fill in the holes. As I said at the start of this opinion, this is the first of several I am writing as a result of my recent stay here.Some Costs
I based my holiday on an exchange rate of 70Php to the Pound (GBP), I was getting between 71 and 72 Php to1GBP from money changers, however when I used my credit card exchange rate was better, 73.5 to 74.1 Php to 1GBP.Air Ticket London to Manila via Singapore on Singapore Airlines: 650GBP
1 Night Stay at Dusit Makati: >=150U$D per person, per night. You should be able to get a deal thru your travel agent, we paid 35GBP per personCinema Ticket : 100Php
BK Whopper meal: 85Php
KFC Zinger meal: 65Php
Regular Supreme Pizza: 175Php
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Pages: 304, Hardcover, Cornell University Press
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