If you haven’t already read my last blog that is an overall view of my experience in the Philippines, then you are watching Bahubali – The Conclusion without watching Bahubali – The Beginning.
The archipelago of Philippines is made of over 7000 islands. You obviously can’t visit all of them because life is short so I shall take you through some of the popular ones.
This is the map of the Philippines. It is broadly divided into 3 main geographical divisions – Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. That’s all you need to know to proceed.
Manila is the capital city of Philippines and is a part of Metro Manila, one of the 3 defined metropolitan regions of the country which is also known as National Capital Region or NCR. It falls in Luzon. Metro Manila is the most populated region of the Philippines and you will realize this from the moment you land at the airport.
Like any other metropolitan city, Manila has high-rise buildings, crazy traffic and aggressive people but what makes it stand out is the walled city of Intramuros! Intramuros is Latin for “Within the Walls”. During the Spanish Empire, this was the seat of Government and only the elite had access inside the walls. If you’re a history lover, then this place will strike a chord with you! Take the guided chariot tour around the 600 sq. meters of the city, walk around Fort Santiago, visit the Rizal museum and the Churches. I would strongly suggest that you read up on the history before you go so that your experience is amplified!
Metro Manila is developing at a high-speed. Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city by strolling around Bonifacio Global City (BGC), a cyber hub where you’ll find classy boutiques, fine dining restaurants and some great street style! If it interests you at all, take a day trip to the city of Tagaytay and check out the active Taal Volcano. Don’t bother boating in the lake but sit at a café that faces the lake and have brunch. To finish off, have Rowena’s Buko (Coconut) Pie for dessert.
In case you didn’t already know this, Manila is a shopper’s delight. It has 2 of Asia’s biggest malls too. Try the Mall of Asia for a wide selection of local and international brands. While you’re at it, grab a bite at one of the Korean bakeries for some delightful breads and macaroons. Then head to Makati, which is an up-scale locality with world renowned hotels. Also nearby is the Dampa Seafood Market where you can pick fresh fish and have it made in a restaurant of your choice, in the flavor you prefer!
That’s a glimse of what you’ll see at the Dampa Seafood Market
If you have a shoe fetish, take the time to go to Marikina, the shoe capital of the Philippines. The museum there is very informative and has a vast collection of former First Lady, Imelda Ferdinand’s fancy footwear. She was the one who encouraged the revival of the dying industry. Today, Marikina shoes are known for their excellent quality and comfort!
Puerto Princesa, Palawan:
Out of all the cities that we visited, I loved Puerto Princesa the most. It is the capital of the Palawan province. Throughout the country, it is said that Palawan is the prettiest island with the most generous people.
A small city with hardly any skyscrapers and narrow cement roads, Puerto Princesa has a very peaceful ambience. There is still a lot of traffic at peak hours, but it’s not a mad rush with people driving in random directions like in Manila.
No trip to Puerto Princesa is complete without visiting the Puerto Princesa Subterranean Underground River (PPUR). There is nothing like this that I have ever seen. A cave that leads you into an underground river, into pitch darkness and pin-drop silence. That’s when I realized that we live in a world where silence is a luxury. The PPUR is one on the list of UNESCO’s 7 Natural Wonders. The natural stalactite and stalagmite formations will take your breath away! You must take the zip-line on your way back because words can’t describe the view of the ocean that you will witness.
That’s the view from the Zip-line. Excuse the shrill screams from my excitement.
Another unique experience to take is the Firefly watching tour. An extremely slim, wobbly boat will scare you at first and make you want to ditch the ride but curb the urge because this is totally worth it! It’s like looking at living Christmas lights. I wish I had pictures to show but I was too scared of my phone falling into the river. Fireflies need an ample amount of oxygen to survive, that’s why any place with fireflies is the sign of a clean atmosphere so take all the deep breaths you can while you’re here!
When in Puerto Princesa, do the Honda Bay Island hopping tour. They’ll take you snorkeling where you can feed the fish bread and then to the Luli Island which disappears at high tide. Your guide will push you to take embarrassing photos for your Instagram which you cannot refuse. Luli Island also has a jumping platform and the fish will swim around you anticipating the bread. Have lunch at the Cowrie Islands where there is excellent fish, fruit and coconut water.
An alternate plan to the Honda Bay is to leave Puerto Princesa early and head to the Coron Islands and El Nido in the Palawan province itself. They say that the emerald waters of these islands will give you goose-flesh! Snorkeling at the Tubbataha reefs is also known to be breath-taking! We didn’t include these places in our itinerary unfortunately.
You know how you leave Mumbai and feel like your life is moving in slow motion mode? That’s how you’ll feel in Cebu. It’s such a relaxed place. The buildings aren’t too tall, the people are friendly and the place is neat! The most famous activity here is swimming with the Whale Sharks in Oslob but we wanted to indulge in some relaxation so Mom and I spent most of our time at the Salons and Massage parlors. Don’t miss the Hilot, which is a traditional massage of the Philippines. They use candles and cups to create a vacuum that will open up knots in your nerves. The beauty industry is so reasonably priced here and they give you excellent quality! Try facials, get your nails done, buy your favorite make-up, you’ll still have lots to spend on entertainment!
From Cebu, take a 2-hour ferry ride to Bohol. Being here is meditative. Everything about the place brings a sense of calm to your nerves. You don’t need more than a day, but I have heard of people who spend a whole week in Bohol just to get away from the noise. Don’t miss lunch at the floating restaurant on the river not because the lunch is awesome (it’s not) but because the ride is soothing and the waters are serene. Bohol is most famous for the Tarsier which is the cutest little nocturnal primate you’ll ever see. It’s the size of your palm with big round eyes and you’ll just want to bite it’s bum. But your trip to Bohol will be incomplete without a visit to the Chocolate Hills which is a one-of-a-kind geological formation. There are 1776 hills over an are of 50 sq. km that are covered in green grass that turns brown in summer, making it look like the Hershey’s Kisses, hence the name.
After all the sightseeing we did this far, it was time to head to the most fun place on our itinerary – Boracay! Boracay can be compared to Goa in India because of its happening night life, food culture and water sports galore. You must book your hotel on either Station 1 or Station 2 if you’re looking to party and have a whale of a time. Station 3 is the quiet side with more nature walks, peace and quiet. Ladies, be careful at night if you’re by yourself – Alcohol is cheap and people start drinking by noon! Spend your money on the water activities because the view is just the best! We saw a huge sea turtle swimming in the sea on our parasailing ride. There is something called “Parau sailing”- A slim sail boat that takes you into the depths of the ocean until land is out of sight. It will give you an adrenalin rush like no other.
I wanted our 15-day trip to be a balance of relaxation and exploration. The intention behind such a long holiday was to learn about and from a new culture. We didn’t spend on expensive hotels and ensured that we interacted with the locals. The above are the few places we could cover in our limited time, but here is a list of places in the Philippines that I’ll definitely go back for!
From the pictures I’ve seen, the islands look like they’re straight out a painting! The emerald shades ombrè into turquoise with lush green covered rocks at intervals, making it so picturesque. They say that the Japanese shipwrecks from World War II make the scuba diving experience very unique.
An equally dreamy island in the Palawan region, El Nido makes for the perfect honeymoon locale (Future Husband, listen up!).
If you’ve been mesmerized by the Great Barrier reef in Australia, this should be next on your list. Dense in marine life and pristine coral reefs, this is one of Philippines’ oldest ecosystems. Pack your snorkeling gear and get ready for sights to be etched in your memory.
Hinatuan Enchanted River:
I had to save the best for the end! Here’s something you’ve probably never seen but only imagined; A place that will make you believe in magic! I am only saying this out of my knowledge from the reading I did before going to the Philippines but these pictures are achingly beautiful!
Philippines is the upcoming hot destination in South East Asia. It’s pretty untouched right now so you can enjoy great prices too! This is a place that you can go backpacking to or even make a luxury tour of it with all the beautiful resorts that have been set up. Pick what interests you and you can have a lot of fun here!