I spent three weeks in the Philipipnes last August, a place where my mother is from. A former Spanish colony which was briefly occupied by the Americans and Japanese, it is a mish-mash of cultures and the 7,000 islands I would highly recommend visiting the following places:
El Nido, in the region of Palawan. You can fly direct from Manila via a fancy small jet. The airport is private and small and you’ll be greeted by singing women and given juice and aperitifs. Surreal but lovely. The upmarket hostel Spin Designer Hostel is newly built, clean and luxurious for a hostel. If you rent a private room for 2 it’s less than £20 a night. Learn to freedive with Palawan free diving school and you’ll be taken to small private islands to swim and freedive on.
Olongapo, in the region of Zambales. It’s roughly a 3 hour ride from Manila (dependent on traffic though). I volunteered for two weeks with the PREDA Foundation which is a great way to travel and learn about a country. PREDA is a human rights organisation that helps sexually abused children as well as help native indigenous farmers grow mango that is dried and sold internationally (including being stocked in Waitrose). Living at the PREDA headquarters meant that I was able to pay for my accomodation and food at very low rates, volunteer at the girls home and meet and work with Filipinos. As a former English teacher, it was interesting meeting and learning about the issues affecting education, child rights and development in the Philippines. It’s a really reputable and organised agency that is partially funded by USAID who are notorious for being rigorous at checking funds are allocated and spent properly. Father Shay has done alot for vulnerable children in the Philippines.
Beach resorts in Batangas, a region south of Manila and about three hours drive. My mother is from San Juan so I went to see family and we stayed in various resorts in Anilao and La Luz.
Food recommendations: kare-kare (can be vegetarian if you ask), chicken or pork adobo, chicken congee, halo halo (an unusual dessert), pansit (noodles), lumpia (spring rolls), pinakbet (delicious with lots of vegetables).
Food to avoid: Jollibee (like a Filipino McDonalds but not that exciting), anything that’s been excessively fried – ask things not to be too oily (some places can cook in an unhealthy style), anything with pigs blood in it (my grandmother tried to serve me some which made me feel a bit sick), Balut (egg with a fertilised half alive chicken in it which is still very young but very much alive).
Places to avoid: Manila – far too polluted, Boracay – too over developed and built up but it is popular with locals and honeymooners, Mindanao – some parts are dangerous for foreigners to visit due to the rise in kidnapping.
Words of Advice:
Lots of stray animals. If you are like me and want to feed the strays, get a rabies shot beforehand. I was bitten lightly (the puppy ate from my hand but grabbed my finger). I was fine but for anyone else I would advise getting the shots. Also donating to animal charities in the Philippines which helps to look after strays and get them neutered.
Try riding a Jeepney. The local bus if a bus was given Acid and sprayed silver.
When to travel. August is humid and rainy at times but much cheaper and quieter. Between November-April is a good time to go. I went during Easter as a child and watched an actual recreation of the crucifixion by accident – the procession was going on when we drove past it. Harrowing but fascinating at the same time.
Unlawful killings ‘drug dealers’ have been killed in the streets under the Presidents authorisation. Be careful at night as it’s been reported that vigilante groups have been shooting people who are on the streets at night whether they are street children sleeping, homeless people or people they just don’t like.