It had been over a year since I took a work-free vacation and I could feel a sense of bitterness creeping in me. As Henry Miller rightly said, “One’s destination is never a place, but always a new way of seeing things”; I needed a new perspective and my trip gave me that and more.
This was supposed to be a solo “soul-search” travel but I think my mom deserved more of a break than me and we decided to do this together. The one and only condition was that she would behave less like a mother and more like a travel partner. I believe that you get to know a person best either when you travel or work with them. After living with her all my life, I was finally privileged enough to see the friend in her that I never knew existed.
“Why Philippines? I haven’t even heard of that place”, many have asked. Well, first of all, since you did not open your books back in school, let me educate you with my knowledge from Google. Philippines is a South-east Asian country that shares maritime borders with Taiwan (in the North), Vietnam (in the West), Palau (in the East), Malaysia and Indonesia (in the South). It comprises of over 7,000 islands which means that it’s the best holiday destination for beach lovers like me! Besides, Philippines was occupied by the Spaniards (1521 to 1898), the Americans (1898-1946) and the Japanese which makes it a delight for history lovers.
Filipinos, in majority are a bunch of happy, content and honest folks! Though we did come across our share of scoundrels, as we would anywhere else, I believe that by and large we attracted the kinder lot!
It wasn’t the warmest of welcomes for us at the Manila Airport where the taxi drivers were over-bearing and literally an inch away from our faces. A scary experience because it was just the two of us ladies and we weren’t sure of how safe it would be to take a cab independently. Since we are from India, we applied the same strategy that we use with our rickshaw drivers – Pretend to have blinkers and keep walking.
Manila is the capital city where opportunities are higher and everyone is part of a rat race. The people here are more aggressive and mean nothing but business. Don’t judge the book by its cover. As you meet more people, you’ll notice just how considerate they are, especially towards their guests.
To compensate for the airport fiasco, God introduced us to a gem of a person called Andrè. He was probably intrigued by how residents of a developing nation were scratching their heads over the workings of another one! When we told him our experience on landing in Manila, he made it a duty to ensure that we take back only good memories from his country. To me, that is the biggest sign of patriotism.
A lot of times visitors are left with such an embarrassing image of Indians only because WE think that THEY are fools. We try to rip them off with inflated prices, eve-tease women with disgusting cat-calls thinking that they can’t take action. I won’t say much, but you can make your judgment after reading this (Swiss couple attacked in Agra). Let us try to treat them with a little more hospitality rather than taking advantage of their unfamiliarity. It’s the least we can do for our country!
Coming back to the subject, when you go from Manila, the smaller cities such as Peurto Princesa and Cebu are more spacious. The people are calm too. Boracay, the Party hub of the Philippines is a color palette in itself with pristine turquoise waters and white glistening sand. It is best to travel to Boracay in a group. As prostitution is fairly common, travelling solo, especially for women may not be a great idea for obvious reasons. Since it is extremely commercialized, be cautious of tourist traps. If you plan to experience the wide variety of water sports, ask around for good deals. Non-native looking folks are usually taken advantage of.
In addition to the grand welcome, on the way to the hotel we spotted a dead python by the side of the street. It wasn’t a very pleasant sight and drastically brought down my expectations from the country. On one hand there is cutting-edge architecture, 5-star hotels and wide roads while on the other there are tin shacks and open drains. In Metro Manila, you must stay in Makati, Bonifacio Global City or Mall of Asia to experience the best. If you’re on a budget, book in advance for good deals.
In cities like Peurto Princesa and Cebu you can find a swanky beach resort or a budget hotel to suit yourself. In Boracay, stay at Station 1 or Station 2 so you don’t miss the fun. If you want to sit on the quiet side of the beach, go for Station 3.
With a bladder the size of a peanut, I am always worried about finding a clean toilet and that’s not a problem anywhere in the country including highways. You may have to pay and use at some places but rest assured, you won’t catch any UTIs.
Before you decide where you want to stay, be warned that Philippines’ traffic is ridiculous, especially in Manila. From 8 am to 8 pm EVERY SINGLE DAY, it’s a passel of vehicles. If you have to travel to a destination 15 minutes away, you will not take less that 90 minutes and I am not exaggerating. Even Google Maps can’t estimate the time with traffic. An application that you must download is ‘Waze’. It’s more accurate than Google maps as it is user operated and will show you faster routes.
The locals will tell you that Uber is safer than regular cabs but 3 out of 5 times we had really bad experiences with Uber. We got crooks for drivers! Andrè suggested that we hire a cab for the entire day as that would be convenient and he booked us with a known person for our safety. Trust me and pay the extra price because Philippines is not a very expensive country in the first place.
The only way you would pay an exorbitant price is if they overcharged you because you aren’t native; So be careful. Andrè booked us into city tours in the other cities that we visited because prices online are very high. I would suggest that you do not make any reservations but for your stay and domestic flights. You’re sure to get better deals once you reach the destination.
One thing you must remember is that the Filipinos love their food and will never compromise on quality. Whether you’re a Vegetarian, Non- Vegetarian or a Vegan, you are not going to have any trouble finding food here. There are plenty of cuisines available, from Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese to American and European; Even fast food chains are in abundance. If you are a strict follower of Islam and are very particular about consuming Halal food, you’ll have to make best friends with Zomato!
Andrè took us to dinner on two occasions. Once to the local Chinese restaurant in ancient China Town for a comforting hot-pot and once to the local fish market where we picked fresh catch of the day and took it to a nearby restaurant for them to cook it in their traditional style. We tried everything from deep-fried crab, mollusks and snails to several other fish species. It really helps to have a local take you through the place and show you how it is done. Also, I am ever grateful to Andrè for introducing us to a dessert called ‘Buko Pie’ or Coconut Pie. The taste still lingers in my mouth!
As I said earlier, the Philippines is not that expensive as compared to Europe or Australia. The price that you would pay for a decent, well-portioned, fulfilling meal without a drink is extremely reasonable; Approximately 500 Pesos (10 USD) for two, so freak out and try all the food you can!
Tagalog is a widely spoken language and similar to India, the Philippines has a lot of dialects that change regionally. Yet, English is spoken by almost everyone. Be assured that language will not be an issue for you in the tourist places. In fact, their speech is very clear with a slight hint of a Spanish accent!
Other Tips (Pun intended):
Tipping is a common practice here and most people who serve you rely on tips as they’re minimum wage workers, which is absolutely fine and correct too. But extorting a tip is not. In tourist places specifically, some guys will do a half-hearted job and insist that you pay them a tip. Beware of them. If you’re satisfied with the service, you must pay a decent amount (anything between 50 to 100 pesos) but if you’re not and you feel exploited, politely refuse by saying that you don’t have change on you.
To sum it up, our experience was rather exciting. We met some kind, gentle and respectful people. But my biggest take-away from this holiday was from Andrè. He didn’t have any need to be that kind to us yet he went out of his way to ensure our safety. How his kindness impacted and affected us is something that he will never know or understand. But we will remember and learn from it!
Photography by: Mother
Trained and Certified by: Me