The Philippines is probably the most well known of the Southeast Asian countries, for Americans at least. Thailand is probably the most famous overall, but due to there being so many Americans of Filipino descent, you’re likely to know many people with family in this country.
Overall, English is widely spoken, the beaches are stunning, it is relatively uncrowded and safe, and is cheap by American standards, and even by SE Asian standards if you aren’t in a touristy area. All of that said, however, I like Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand more, and I think many people do unless you go with someone who has ties to the country. Therefore, wait until one of your Filipino friends goes to the Philippines, invite yourself, and get to see the community from the inside. As a tourist, it is a nice country, but the culture doesn’t feel all that unique, the food is only okay, and the tourist spots seem to be more expensive and harder to traverse than other SE Asian countries.
I ended up skipping Manilla as I heard it was boring, and ended up spending more time in the beautiful town of El Nido in northern Palawan.
Cebu (Spent 2 days here, I’d skip it entirely)
Cebu is where I was supposed to swim with Manta rays but due to miscommunication I never got picked up. Instead, I tried to go to the beautiful beaches the area is famous for but got stopped everywhere I went because they are all owned by resorts/hotels. I had to tell the security guards that I was going straight to the beach bar in order to keep them from charging me $50 just to use their facilities. Which, while nice, is ridiculous for this part of the world.
Again, very nice pools, but I feel like you can have much more fun somewhere else, and stay at equally nice places elsewhere as well. Going swimming with Manta Rays would be cool, but I’ve heard that guides’ methods for attracting them can be questionable at best. So, just research it for yourself and decide if it is worth it.
Palawan Island (El Nido and Puerto Princesa)
Peurto Princesa (Spent 1 day in PP, and you should spend just a night here too)
Peurto Princesa is where you have to fly into to get to Palawan Island as it is in the middle of the island and is the largest city. It can be fun if you stay at the right hostel and meet the right people. Go to one of the karaoke bars and go to a beach or two, but I would do this on your way out of the island (to make sure you don’t miss your flight). As soon as you fly into the airport, grab the busiest looking bus company and if you can do so with other people this is ideal, as you can get a better group right, and it shouldn’t take so long to fill the bus up.
El Nido (Spent 5 days in El Nido, and you should spend 5 days as well)
I RARELY ever want to spend more than 3-4 days in one city, and often spend less in an entire country. However, El Nido is a backpacker city surrounded by beautiful beaches, fun parties, and a wide range of accommodations for every kind of traveler. I met some awesome girls from Canada while I was staying in a pretty sketchy hostel, and we ended up hanging out the rest of my time there having a blast.
As far as advice goes:
- Eat before you leave Peurto Princesa because the food halfway to El Nido is terrible
- On holiday weeks/weekends, get plenty of cash beforehand because the one ATM in town can run out of money (and did with me)
- Book in advance if you can find a good deal online, but otherwise, there are plenty of places without the internet that you can find once you’re there.
Finally, the best advice I can give you concerns the 4 tours that you can do in El Nido. These “tours” are really just different islands, beaches specifically, that you can travel to on one of the many boats in and out of the harbor. I highly recommend doing these tours (maybe $20 for the day, including food, but not alcohol), but I also recommend you try to find a group of people to do it with you, and do a combined tour.
Usually, they only let you do one tour, but with enough people you can get your own boat and they will take you wherever you want. The single tours give you just enough time at the beach to be bored, but not enough time to relax, the combined tours are MUCH better (I did both a combined and a single tour), even if I didn’t know the people I traveled with.
On a funny sidenote, I was interviewing for a job at this hostel and right in front of me a guy I went to high school with walked by. Halfway across the world, I ran into someone I know. He came with us on the boat tour and we could not have had a better time.
My buddy Andy from high school that I ran into in the Philippines.
Manilla (Spent no time here, do the same)
Manilla is supposed to be like most big, dirty cities, feel free to skip it as I did.
Overall, I had a lot of fun in El Nido, in fact, it was one of my favorite stops on my trip. I met some great people, did some fun things, and didn’t spend a fortune for any of it. I even extended my time there, which I’ve only done one other time (on purpose at least), and that was in Cartagena, Colombia. That said, as I mentioned before, the culture isn’t that unique or exciting if you don’t know locals, the food isn’t that great (pork is decent, but that’s about it).
Country level of difficulty – 4/10This entry was posted in Southeast Asia