Okay, so I’m going to get all the bad bits of the Philippines out of the way first and then….prepare for a gushing blog post…
It’s the only country we’ve been to so far where I have actually googled ‘how big is a prison cell’ when I opened the door to a room (seriously, you couldn’t even fit the cat in it, let alone swing it), there is no electricity at least for a few hours a day even in the places that have electricity 24 x 7, the bathrooms are generally terrible, and Manila, like many big cities is dirty and crowded and full of poverty. They have some problems with terrorism. This can make traveling a bit hairy as you can be in a safe part and suddenly you aren’t. But that’s really no different from anywhere else. The roads are generally awful. The driving is certifiable lunacy and I’ve spent as much money on travel sickness tablets as rum since we’ve been here (though rum is actually only about £1.50 a bottle).
BUT – all of those things are worth it. The Philippines is an outstandingly beautiful country full of beaches that take your breath away, picture postcard views, landscapes that remind you of Jurassic park, and some of the most friendly people we have met on our travels.
So whilst it’s the only place that’s made me google how big is a prison cell, its also the only country where the view from my beach hut has actually made me cry. I’ve taken photos with my phone camera thinking I will need to edit them, and then looked and realised they are perfect just as they are. No filters needed.
Tourism is still in its infancy in some parts of the Philippines. This is a good thing for people who want to travel rather than be tourists (though in truth no matter where you go the locals tend to view you as a tourists even if you don’t). For example, in Sibaltan, on the North East coast of Palawan we stayed in a beach hut that in Thailand would have cost us 10 times as much just for the view. In Nacpan beach, we stayed at a homestay and slept on mattress outside with just a mosquito net. We sat and had beers whilst watching the sunset with the owner, drank rum with the other guests, and just had the most chilled out 2 days on one of the most stunning beaches we’ve ever seen.
So much to see
In a month, we barely scratched the surface of this country, it is vast, and nothing is near anything, so it involves some planning, and patience. We travelled over 4,500 km in a mix of planes, vans, boats, tricycles, and buses. Thankfully I’m good at the planning and Steve is good at the patience – its needed our combined efforts to get places here and we still have a list of 10 places we want to go at a later date.
We spent 3 weeks in Palawan alone, spending our time between sleepy little villages where electricity only comes on at dusk for a few hours, and the more built up (by Filipino standards) towns of Coron and El Nido, where there are still no pavements, very few cars, and very few high rise buildings. Most days were spent Island hopping, finding beautiful lagoons, snorkelling Japanese shipwrecks, and chilling on deserted beaches. This place is truly paradise on earth.
For those of you looking for a party the Island of Boracay is definitely the place to go. Yes, its touristy, yes its built up comparatively, and yes, there are some of the well know chains there, but it doesn’t really matter, because even with all that, its beauty, the Filipino peoples friendliness and the lack of any scamming makes it an easy place to spend a few days. Granted if you’re over 30 we can’t recommend the hostel we stayed in as it really was full of much younger people who looked as us little like we were aliens, but really, you don’t need to seek out a party hostel on a party island anyway. There is always a party somewhere.
And just when we thought that the Philippines couldn’t get any better, we were fortunate enough to get to swim with Whale Sharks in Donsol, a very small town which only gets tourists because of the Whale Sharks. You can do this all year in Oslob, though they feed the Whale Sharks which is questionable and generates a whole bunch of issues environmentally. In Donsol you can only do this for the time that Whale Sharks naturally migrate there, and there as some hefty restrictions on how many boats, and how many people can be near a Whale Shark at any one time. Seeing one of these enormous beasts coming towards you in the water is just an awe inspiring sight. They are truly beautiful and amazing creatures.
Even Manila, which I couldn’t recommend as anything more than a stopover is an interesting city – Karaoke bar here means something different to the UK. You pay to have unlimited drinks for a set time period, and then you can buy the ladies who work there drinks, and when its quiet, the group of ladies dance for you all. You can sing, but you don’t get up to sing. You just stay sat down. Its not quite a strip club with Karaoke, but its pretty close!
Fair warning though, if you do decide to go to Manila please remember that like many cities in second and third world countries it has some areas of abject poverty of the kind you only ever see on Comic Relief videos with Lenny Henry. Be prepared (I wasn’t, and it was heart breaking)
Get there soon
So, our month in the Philippines is over. I’ll admit it was a country I wasn’t totally sure about before we came but I am happy to admit I was totally wrong. For all of the hassle getting places involves, it is worth every bumpy van ride, cramped tricycle trip and 8 hour boat journey sat on a plastic patio bench. It’s a truly amazing place. Go before the rest of the world find this out and ruins it!!!