After my memorable-yet-stupidly-expensive adventures around Hawaii, I hopped a few time zones over to a much cheaper place: the Philippines. From what I’ve read, this country seems like it’s so often overlooked on travel blogs and tourism boards, falling in the shadows of more popular nearby destinations like Indonesia or Thailand. The Philippines is criminally underrated and it’s simply not fair. While I may be a bit biased (as my mother is a Filipina) and the media sometimes paints a negative image of this place on the news, the Philippines deserves to be on more travelers’ radars for several reasons. Being in Southeast Asia, you can get by on a lot less money here as well as enjoy other wonderful things that make this lovely country worth checking out.
Alongside Filipino/Tagalog, the most widely spoken dialect in the country, English is an official language in the Philippines. You’ll see it on signs and hear it spoken on TV and by locals (if you’re in the urban areas). Children learn English in school here. This gives English speakers a huge advantage in dealing with locals and navigating around the country. I’m learning Tagalog and while I would say I’m pretty competent, knowing that I can revert back to English if I’m in over my head takes some of the pressure off.
The Philippines is quite a geographically diverse country. From the Chocolate Hills in Bohol to the Banaue Rice Terraces in northern Luzon to the pristine white-sand Boracay Island in the Visayas province, there’s something for everybody.
If you’re into mountains or volcanoes, Mt. Pinatubo, the aforementioned Banaue Rice Terraces, and the perfectly-symmetrical Mayon Volcano in Bicol are worth checking out.
Beachgoers rejoice too – beaches in the Philippines are often rated as being among the best in the world, rivaling those of Thailand. The islands of Boracay, Coron, Palawan, and Siargao (the surfing capital of the Philippines) are all rife with beautiful Pacific coastline. With the Philippines comprising 7,107 islands, you’d have trouble not finding a place to catch some rays. You’ll also find that many of these landmarks aren’t that crowded since the Philippines as a tourist destination is underrated. Bonus!
Filipinos are some extremely hospitable and friendly people. You’ll get many friendly glances and smiles walking around here. They’re good-natured and will often even inconvenience themselves just to avoid conflict. Extraordinary displays of generosity are the norm here; it’s not uncommon to be offered food or a small trinket from a family that has very little themselves. Filipinos also impress others with their resilience. You’ll still see smiles from people living in extreme poverty or enthusiasm from the local community working together to rebuild after a natural disaster.
Filipino culture is a unique blend of Malay, Spanish, and American influences. The effect of nearly 400 years of Spanish colonial rule can still be seen today with Spanish surnames/place names/colonial architecture, loanwords in the Tagalog language, and Roman Catholicism as the predominant religion. Yes, there is some truth to the common sentiment that Filipinos are the “Mexicans of Asia”. You simply won’t find that Latin flair anywhere else in Asia. You can also see the USA’s Western influence on the Philippines from the 20th century onwards, with the widespread usage of English in the vernacular as well as the popularity of American food and restaurants like KFC and McDonald’s.
Like, a-meal-for-two-for-8-dollars cheap. As I mentioned at the outset, a lower standard of living combined with a favorable exchange rate can give you reverse sticker shock when you’re traveling here. This the case with many countries in this part of the world, and the Philippines is no different. The average yearly income for a Filipino is only a few thousand dollars a year, so when the prices of local goods and services are set to be affordable for the average Filipino, you can bet they’re ridiculously low for American or European standards. Cheap eats, stupid cheap liquor (especially local rum!), ~$10 hostel beds, and the prevalence of English make the Philippines a great destination to consider if you’re a budget backpacker or maybe looking to offset higher costs from traveling through a more expensive country.
Okay, hear me out. Filipino cuisine is not usually rated too highly compared to other Asian countries. True, the food that’s offered here could make the most intrepid foodies cringe: bagoong, a pungent fermented shrimp paste; fried chicken feet which the locals affectionately refer to as “adidas”; or the world-infamous balut, a 17-day-old duck embryo eaten from the shell. But if you’re not feeling too adventurous, Filipino cuisine offers numerous “safer” options. You can’t go wrong with pancit (noodles and mixed meat/veggies), adobo (chicken or pork marinated with soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic), lechon (deep-fried pork), or sinigang baboy (sour tamarind soup with pork). Or you can try halo-halo, the Philippines’ trademark dessert, made from an amalgamation of ice cream, shaved ice, coconut, condensed milk, fresh fruit, and sweet beans (halo-halo literally means “mixture” in Tagalog). Also, if you’re not too fond of hot & spicy cuisine, Filipino food has the distinction of having quite possibly the least spicy food in Asia.
I’ve only briefly touched on some of the positive aspects of visiting the Philippines because it’s impossible to cover everything. There is so much more that this beautiful country offers. Do yourself a favor: buy yourself a ticket to the Philippines and check this place out. Safe travels.