The glory of being based in Australia is that Asia is quite literally on your doorstep. The Philippines is a beautiful archipelago made up of roughly 7,107 islands and is full of friendly locals, flawless beaches, delicious (and cheap!) food and culture galore. It’s not attached to the tourist circuit of south-east Asia, so unfortunately it’s easy to miss when on the usual travelling backpacking trail. The plus is that it means tourism is relatively low so you don’t have to venture far to find quiet deserted beaches.
Manila is where the majority of visitors fly into. It’s a big, busy, crazy Asian city that many debate whether it’s a place to stick around in. It’s best to book a place to sleep ahead of arrival as there isn’t a bountiful amount of hostels. The guesthouses are quite expensive due to the fact that tourism isn’t massive (yet), and the really cheap ones aren’t the most comfortable. Or clean.
A great hostel in Manila is ‘Our Melting Pot’ which has dorms and private rooms at good prices. ‘Pink Manila Hostel’ is a fun hostelbackpackers that has a pool, gym, panoramic terrace views and hammocks on the roof!
With so many islands in the archipelago, it is understandable that there’s an abundance of seafood available. The capital city, Manila, hosts numerous Dampa (Wet Markets) where you can chose the latest seaside catches and the vendors cook it up in front of you. There are several in and around Manila, but the largest is on Macapagal Avenue. It’s definitely something to experience!
With the Spanish era of occupation still retaining a strong foothold in their culture, they continue to fiesta with feasts that will feed you to within an inch of your life! Many tourists have stigmatised Filipino food as bland, but you need to know where to go to get the good stuff. Traditional Filipino food has a range of influences that span from Malay and Chinese to Spanish and Mexican, and there are definitely some dishes that must be tried when visiting. Chicken Adobo is chicken cooked with vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and bay leaves and is a dish that is highly cherished by the locals! Be sure to try Kare-Kare (Oxtail in peanut sauce) and if you’re feeling daring, try the delicacy Balut (boiled duck egg embryo).
This tropical island has a famously stunning beach called “White Beach” which hosts an intense load of restaurants and clubs on the 4km length of beach. It is the place to head to for some wild partying, drinking on the beach and eating amazing seafood with the sand between your toes. A great hostel to stay in is ‘Frendz Resort Borocay’ which has the best beach location as it’s only two minutes’ walk from the White Beach’s buzzing nightlife! They have awesome little bungalows with verandas; just book in advance as it gets uber busy.
The natural landscape of the Philippines means that there is so much to explore and do! Another popular tourist destination is the province of Bohol. It is home to the Chocolate Hills which is an incredible geological formation of over 1,000 hills that has made the UNESCO World Heritage List. The best time for trekking is in the dry season when the hills have turned super brown, hence its name! Bohol is also the home of the Tarsiers: the world’s smallest primate. The strange looking creatures are bred and protected at the Tarsier Visitors Centre, which is a must-see!
Another great place to get up close and personal with wildlife is the island of Donsol. Once the world got wind of its incredible population of Whalesharks, it became a top location to come and snorkel with the marine giants. Head to the Visitors Centre to organize your boat trip, or call ahead and book a boat in advance during busy periods. The ‘Woodland Beach Resort’ has dorms available (plus an infinity pool!) and is within walking distance from the Whaleshark Interaction Centre.
There are other amazing spots for both snorkelling and diving in the Philippines, such as Malapascua and Apo, and so many adrenaline activities are available! Surfing, rafting, kayaking and wakeboarding can all be found. Siargao Island is the top place to hit up for surfing as it’s heavily influenced by the Pacific Ocean’s winds and currents. It definitely produces some seriously gnarly waves.
Not only do the Philippines have incredible white sandy beaches, but it also has a huge amount of rice terraces and rich jungle that provide great trekking experiences. Despite not having a high degree of developed tourism, adventure packages are continually growing for the existing demand and there are so many to choose!
The mountains of north Luzon hold Banaue, which is famous for its beautiful rice terraces, which is that’s commonly referred to by Filipinos as the eighth wonder of the world. Believed to be built by hand, these incredible terraces rise approximately 1500m above sea level and cover 6000 square miles. It is still used today to grow rice and vegetables, and is an amazing sight to behold. Tours run by ‘Rice Terraces Banaue’ allow you to fully explore the extent of the terraces.
The Philippines is easily accessible from Australia. Although flights will always be a tad pricey around this time of year, the best priced flights will be with budget airlines Air Asia or Tiger Air. Jetstar also have frequent flights. Melbourne/Sydney to Manila is just over 8 hours, Perth to Manila is 7 hours, but Darwin to Manila is under 5 hours. It’s so close!
Keep an eye out for promotional sales as you can sometimes snap up a bargain! There’s so much more to do in the Philippines, it’s a challenge to condense it down into a nutshell, so head over for a break to remember!
By Sophie Saint