The Philippines: A Land Up and Coming
It is now easier to list the countries we have not seen in Asia than to list those we have. Incredibly rich in natural beauty, history, culture and customs that are so diverse and different from Canada, our six months in Asia has been memorable to say the least.
The Philippines is no exception to this, and a few weeks here has only left us wanting to come back and explore more of it. A little out of the way from the hustle and bustle of the regular Southeast Asia circuit, it does not seem to have the same infrastructure for tourists as many other popular destinations in this part of the world – making it a dreamland for us, as we venture off the beaten tourist trail.
Already popular tourist destinations in the Northern Philippines, Banaue, Batad and Sagada are home to some spectacular mountainous landscapes and world renown rice terraces. Wandering around up North actually reminded us a lot of North American terrain. It was so different than what you’d imagine the Philippines to be: lush, green, coniferous forest and crisp cold air – definitely reminiscent of Canada. Of course, the impressive rice terraces added an exotic touch that let us know we were far from home. Adding to the allure of the rural mountain villages was the fact that they did not seem to have too many tourists exploring them.
We constantly felt within reach of local life – a rarity among most tourist spots. Usually the little snack stands, schools, repair shops and markets are hidden – if not lost completely – from the visitor’s eye. The large billboards and popular global chains usually dominate the developed landscape of accessible towns. We can only hope that this part of the country retains its local allure when the waves of tourists inevitably venture here in the future.
Down South, six hours from Palawan’s main town, El Nido was our home and paradise for a week. It also offered a pre-tourism-boom atmosphere. Sure, there were luxury hotels, overpriced restaurants, and many tourists walking around the streets. But there were also many local shops selling what locals need for daily life.
We are often caught in tourist towns, questioning where the locals and employees eat their meals and buy their goods. Surely they aren’t spending $10 on some spaghetti Bolognese or Hawaiian pizza! More often than not, we have to deliberately seek out the local, cheap, better food options. It also irritates us to no end that often the local impression of what we want is Western cuisine and amenities. And that a lot of the time, tourists perpetuate this impression. In El Nido, those little family-style restaurants where two can dine for $4 still exist and are visible to the tourist. The beaches, picturesque sunsets, awe-inspiring cliffs on the horizon, stunning snorkeling and cheap beer was all bonus during our stay there.
Heading East to Cebu Island, we also finally made up for all those lost opportunities to visit a local festival. Sinulog festival in Cebu City for our last few days in The Philippines was the perfect way to cap off our time in this diverse, vibrant, colourful country.
Navigating the impressively chaotic streets during the main parade was both stressful and exhilarating. It would not have been possible without our home stay host, Jesus – who helped make it one of the best, most authentic home stay experiences we will ever have.
We left this spectacular country knowing we’ll be back one day for more – as we have with many other countries in the past. Three weeks was not nearly enough time to take in all the beauty, adventure and paradise to be found in the 7,107 islands of The Philippines. The great thing about travel, though, is that no matter how much you’ve seen of the world, you’ll never see it all.
MNL Boutique Hostel, Manila, $12/dorm bed with shared washrooms – Recommended
Randy’s Brookside Inn, Banaue, $10/night for double room with shared washrooms – Recommended
Misty Lodge, Sagada, $13/night for double room with shared washrooms – Recommended
Renari Hotel, Puerto Princesa, $25/night for double room – Not Recommended
Mina Grande, El Nido, $30/night for double room – Not Recommended
Cliffside Cottages, El Nido, $21/night for double villa – Recommended
Yin Yang Hostel, Puerto Princesa, $17/night for double room – Recommended
Homestay.com booking with Jesus, rural Cebu, $9/night for double room – Recommended
Teo-fel Pension, Cebu City, $24/night for A/C double room – Recommended
Both Stephie and Eric – “Boodle for Two” at Mangan Kayon, Puerto Princesa, $13.50 for a massive platter of java rice, crab, stuffed squid, pork sisig, grilled fish, vegetables, chicken curry, BBQ pork, tomato and salted egg salad