The Journey

Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year as many of us know it, is the longest and most important holiday on the Chinese calendar. For us foreigner teachers, it’s also a great opportunity to take a few weeks away from the hustle and bustle of China and go someplace a little more quiet.

While it might seem logical to use the 2-4 weeks off to explore China, the fact the rest of the country’s 1.6 billion are doing the same thing makes traveling around China’s more far-flung provinces an unwise decision. Much better then, to pack your bags and head someplace exotic to escape the cold.

With that in mind, I teamed up with two of my brothers (Dom & Leigh), Dom’s girlfriend, and my good mate Hogg to get some sun in the Philippines.

After hearing Nomadic American rave about the place, I went in with expectations high and came home with a newfound love for the island country in my heart.

Here’s why.

10 Reasons Why I Love the Philippines

#10 – The Food

I’ll admit that I was a pretty terrible traveler in my visit to the Philippines. After almost a year of either greasy Jiangsu cuisine or the local selection of foreign food, I seized upon the opportunity to indulge in waaaaaay too much unhealthy western food like Shakey’s Pizza and the huge selection of amazing foreign restaurants along Boracay’s White Beach.

A veritable feast of delicious food on an El Nido Island Hopping tour.

A veritable feast of delicious food on an El Nido Island Hopping tour.

Some rice and BBQed pork on a beach north of El Nido.

Some rice and BBQed pork on a beach north of El Nido.

That said, I did develop quite a soft spot for Filipino dishes such as adobo (rice, vegetables, and either chicken or pork), the various ‘silogs’, and the famous luchon (roast pork). I could go without ever having longganisa (sweet sausage) again though…

#9 – Westerner Friendly

While it is always fun to get off the beaten track and really test yourself, when you’re traveling for relaxation with a few friends or family members, it’s sometimes nice to just be able to communicate without needing wild hand gesturing and a language guide.

Owing to its history as a US territory, the Philippines has some of the best spoken English you’re likely to find outside of the western world. In fact, in many ways, the Philippines is a more tourist friendly area than more popular Thailand to the north. It manages this without being quite as ‘give me your money’ as Thailand too, which is nice.

You’ve still got to contend with people wanting to scam you out of your money and there’s still a lot of tourist traps, but it manages this in a less aggressive manner than Thailand.

#8 – The Animals

The Philippines has some unique and beautiful wildlife both above and below the water. From the tiny tarsiers that are endemic to certain islands to the gigantic whale sharks with which you can swim at Oslob, there’s some exotic wildlife to be seen up close and personal all over the islands.

A friendly tarsier clambers down to greet us (or eat an insect) at the Tarsier Sanctuary in Bohol

A friendly tarsier clambers down to greet us (or eat an insect) at the Tarsier Sanctuary in Bohol

Our trip was lucky enough to include both tarsiers and whale sharks within a few days of one another, one of the perks of visiting a less tourist loved destination such as Bohol.

People who love marine life are obviously going to find a lot to love in the Philippines, with places like Coron, El Nido, and various other islands alive with colourful and unusual wildlife beneath the waves.

#7 – The Night Life

If you like to party, the Philippines is going to be a good place for you. Boracay and Manila are obvious hot spots for night clubs, bars, and more *ahem* exotic nocturnal pursuits, but most everywhere is going to have a few bars serving ice-cold San Mig Light or (my personal favourite) Red Horse, as well as the dirt cheap and not at all bad local rum.

In Boracay we found a few popular watering holes that we preferred (Munchies, Mint, and Summer Place for those curious), in El Nido it was a selection of dingy bars along the main drag, and in Alona Beach it was either Coco Vida or the very laid back Sunset Grill at the far end of the beach.

Celebrating Chinese New Year on the beach in Boracay

Celebrating Chinese New Year on the beach in Boracay

The night life is not without its risks. A lot of locals have learned that travelers are usually pretty cashed up, so keeping your eyes peeled for opportunistic trouble-makers (a minority) is a useful skill unless you want your wallet to be a little lighter.

Boys! This means being careful when a pretty local girl flirts with you.

#6 – The Scuba Diving

The scuba diving in the Philippines is pretty legendary, and we were lucky enough to do some diving off El Nido that was quite stunning.

As I’ve said before, scuba diving is a hobby I really need to do more of, and I’m glad to have finally checked Asia off my scuba diving list after five years of living in the area. Coron, farther north than El Nido, is famous for its wreck diving – so I’ll have to get up there someday.

#5 – The Transport

As a tourist haven, it’s quite easy to get between the Philippines most popular spots. Ferries and low-cost air carriers criss-cross the country, making it a pretty simple matter to get from Point A to Point B. While Air Asia may be a pain in the ass when it comes to annoying hidden costs, it’s still insane that you can get between islands in an hour for $50 or so.

For those on a tighter budgets, regional buses are cheap and dirty; and there’s the always popular jeepneys and trikes to get you around local areas. These are criminally cheap as well, which is always good.

#4 – The Serenity

How’s the serenity?

Get away from the buzzing tourist spots like Boracay and Manila, and it’s not hard at all to find a quiet little corner of the populous country to call your own.

One of my only regrets from the three-week trip was that I didn’t get enough ‘me time’ to just find a quiet spot and read for a few hours.

An isolated waterfall near El Nido. A perfect place for a bit of quiet reflection.

An isolated waterfall near El Nido. A perfect place for a bit of quiet reflection.

I did get one blissful hour’s sleep in a hammock on an isolated beach north of El Nido, but for the most part it was ‘go, go, go’ as I played tour guide to my motley crew.

Both Palawan and Bohol offered plenty of quiet escapes away from the hustle and bustle, and I’m sure there are even less well-known spots where silence is the norm rather than the exception. It definitely is a country where it pays to explore on your own.

#3 – The Girls

For a guy with a well-known penchant for American girls and who has voiced his general disinterest in Asian girls for much of his time living on the continent, the Philippines was a breath of fresh air.

Obviously I’ve met pretty Chinese, Korean, and Thai girls in my travels – but the Philippines really did knock my socks off with just how pretty the locals were. I can definitely see why so many people around the world are attracted to the intoxicating mix of Asian and European features that comprises the Pinay girls.

I don’t know why I say pinay girls; pinay is the female form of the word.

Breakfast at Hooters in Makati

Breakfast at Hooters in Makati

As I said earlier, it does pay to be careful. The Philippines has a lot of dirty old men from abroad looking for pretty young girlfriends, and that’s created a subculture of girls who are only too happy to use their looks and sexuality to make sure they’re taken care of. You can’t really blame them, either.

I was lucky enough to meet some genuinely nice local girls, as the majority are, but don’t take every flirtation as genuine interest.

#2 – The Beaches

Despite only living about six months of my adult life on the beach, I live for the ocean. Holidaying in Newcastle, Byron Bay, and Mooloolaba as a kid every year – I’ve come to feel very much at home with the sand between my toes or bobbing out beyond the breakers.

Our boat, the Faith Agape, waits for us at our own little slice of paradise in El Nido

Our boat, the Faith Agape, waits for us at our own little slice of paradise in El Nido

A hammock, some sun, and the gentle purr of the ocean. Heaven!

A hammock, some sun, and the gentle purr of the ocean. Heaven!

While I didn’t find a lot of the latter in the Philippines clear and calm waters, I did manage to spend all of my time there living in or near to the beaches of Boracay, El Nido, and Panglao.

For those wanting to stretch out and relax on the beach, snorkel, scuba dive, or just soak in the water for a while – the Philippines has an obvious allure.

#1 – The People

I think the first thing I loved about the Philippines was just how friendly the local people were.

I rocked through immigration at 11pm wearing my Jake the Dog t-shirt and was immediately greeted with a broad smile and a “Hey! Nice Jake shirt!” from the immigration officer who checked me through.

Almost every local – male or female – I met just came across as genuinely happy to meet me. This wasn’t the forced friendliness you encounter when in a tourist heavy area, but a generosity of spirit that made you feel immediately at home.

Local kids make their own entertainment with this log at a beach near El Nido

Local kids make their own entertainment with this log at a beach near El Nido

Case in point: It’s 5am in Boracay and my brother and I are treated to a delicious early morning breakfast by a few local girls we’d been hanging out with. We offered to pay, of course, and were quickly told to put our wallets away as the meal was on them.

There were more examples, though. Tour guides who dived into the ocean to fetch a tube of sunscreen we’d accidentally dropped overboard, trike drivers who insisted we not pay them after a ride because we’d had a good chat, local families who gladly chatted with us about local food we should try after we’d finished a hike, and a bunch of others.

The tour group (and me, buried in the sand) end a brilliant day together with a group shot.

The tour group (and me, buried in the sand) end a brilliant day together with a group shot.

I’ve previously stated on this blog that Fijians are the friendliest people I’ve met, and I’m of the belief that Cambodians really give them a run for their money. But as of now, the Philippines has earned its place atop the pile.

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True Love?

It’s hard to say whether I love the Philippines as much as the above indicates, or whether I’ve just got a case of travel lust with the place. Like a real life relationship with a pretty girl, it’s too early to tell if she’s the one to take home to Mum or just one I fondly recall spending a few steamy, sweaty nights in bed with.

The plan is to test it out though. Once my contract here in China is up, I’m hoping to rent a place someplace quiet and just soak the place in for a couple of months. No teaching gig or regular job; just my savings, my blogging, my novel, and me for a while.

Your Say

Have you ever been to the Philippines? What do you love (or dislike) about the place?

What’s a country you have particularly strong feelings for? Why?