So you’ve travelled to Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, China and Malaysia and you figuring where to go next? Try the Philippines! It has thousands tropical island host nearly 100 milion people, bright light big city cities like Makati and Cebu, tons of nature and culture and 24/7 shop ‘til you drop. What’s there not to like about the Philippines? As a first tome visitor of the Philippine here’s where to go, where to stay and what to see!
Bright lights big city
Most travellers enter the Philippines through the capitol Manila. It isn’t really a city. It’s more like Los Angeles, a huge puzzle of small towns grown into eachother and becoming what they now call Metro Manila. It’s BCD is Makati City. It’s a city like no other, not even like Bangkok, Seoul, Tokyo or Kuala Lumpur. This is Manila! Other cities with more then 1 milion people are Quezon City, Caloocan and Davao City. All cities have western style skylines, 24/7 shopping malls, on the street eating booths and lots of history.
The old city of Manila encloses lots of history. Its scars from past wars can still be seen in the streets and on the hundreds of buildings throughout the city. Spend a couple of hours to do a tour, it’s worth it.
Intramuros is a 64-hectare stone citadel, founded by the Spanish in 1571. It has withstood wars, natural disasters and successive waves of colonial invaders, and as such stands as a metaphor for Manila itself.
The Holy Spirit is everywhere in Manila, like in Greenbelt 3, a luxury shopping complex where commercialism and Christianity make for intriguing bed partners. Its prominent domed church, the Greenbelt Chapel, sits like a jewel in the middle of carefully manicured grounds. A stone’s throw away is Greenbelt 5, where you can atone for your sins by supporting local design talent; an entire top-floor wing is dedicated to the country’s homegrown brands.
Manila Ocean Park
Those people who are fans of aquaria and sealife may find that they also enjoy this oceanarium in Metro Manila. Rates are fair and you can also enter the sea lion pool on seperate opening hours. Great fun for kids and adults.
Marikina Shoe Museum
People from all over the world will always be fascinated by the footwear of the Philippines’ controversial former First Lady, Imelda Marcos. You can find it at the Marikina Shoe Museum in the heart of Manila’s shoemaking district.
Those people who are interested in the religious history of the area will specifically want to check out this cathedral which was first established as a church in Manila way back in the sixteenth century.
This is a section of a city in Metro Manila where you can learn more about the military history of the Philippines. Various landmarks are located throughout the district with the main place to visit being the Heritage Park memorial park. Memorial cemeteries can also be visited here.
Taste Filipino Street Food
Filipino street food is not just about raw egg and intestines (Balut). They also have fried banana fritter, like pisang goreng – only that it’s coated with lots of sugar. Fried fish balls are also popular. Or choose from one of the many meat or fish on a stick, right from the charcoal BBQ. Delicious!
This historic park has been the site of some very important moment’s in Manila’s past and is a great place to start if you really want to learn about the history of the area. Memorial plaques and monuments will give you this type of education throughout the park. There are also more leisurely things to enjoy here including the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, the Orchidarium and Butterfly Pavilion and a chess plaza. If there’s only one thing that you get to experience during your stay in Metro Manila, you’ll want it to be this park because there is simply so much to see and do in this one area.
Daytrip to Lake Taal Volcano
This active volcano has caused a lot of devastation to the area surrounding Manila in the not-so-distant past. However, when it’s not erupting, it’s a beautiful “mountain” located on VolcanoIsland in LakeTaal. Near the crater rent a donkey who brings you to the top, or walk if you’re on a budget. The scenic beauty is worth taking photos of while you’re enjoying a stay in Metro Manila. Make it a daytrip and you’ll have an adventure day out.
Shop ‘til you drop in Manila
Even if shopping isn’t your thing, it’s worth it to check out at least one of the three major malls in Metro Manila. These three malls SM Mall of Asia, SM City North Edsa and SM Megamall, are all on the list of the world’s largest malls, making them historic attractions as well as intriguing sightseeing opportunities. Personally I’m a fan of Festival Supermall, Glorietta, Greenbelt, Greenhills, the Power Plant and Rockwell. All are fully equiped with aircon, food courts and playcourts. You’ll be surprised what you’ll find here that you don’t have in your local mall ;-).
Find food in the Philippines
Well I can assure you, you don’t have to look far and you don’t have to bring lots of cash. Every city has malls with extended food courts that serve all sorts of meals. Try the Filipino street food to taste the local flavours. Cash opens all doors but ‘plastic’ is accepted in all major shopping malls. Try the national treat Halo Halo, a mixture of shaved iceand evaporated milk to which are added various boiled sweet beans and fruits, and served in a tall glass or bowl. You’ll find all sorts of restaurants from budget easyfood to deluxe cuisine star restaurants. I always go to Korean and Japanese restaurants as they are more affordable than in Europe.
Throughout the country you’ll find plenty of places to spend the night from budget to 5 star resorts. The islands offer bamboo lodges and more modern versions with beachfront location. In the cities you’ll find places like Super 8 and Motel 6 to Shangrila and Continental. I’ve stayed in the Peninsula and the Shangri-La in Manila which are superb hotels. If you’re looking for exclusive holiday experiences you’ll stay at places like Amapulo or Antulang. You don’t need to book months ahead. Just logon to the internet when you’re there and book anything you like. Using websites like booking.com, agoda.com and local agancies make that very easy (pay cash :-)). Or just ‘Google’.
The Philippines are shaped by more then 7.100 islands, mos tof them consist of nothing more then white beaches and palm trees. The most tourist friendly tropical islands are Palawan, Cebu/Mactan, Boracay and Bohol. But all other are fine as well. The Mindanao area isn’t save due to rebels, local wars, etc. so if you don’t really need to go there, don’t.
All international flights arrive into Manila and Cebu. You can continue your travel by air, on water or by wheels. Plenty of choice! From Europe you can take KLM from Amsterdam via Taipei into Manila. Or choose an Asian carrier. For domestic travel there are several low cost airlines besides the national Philippine Airlines. They offer great rates for domestic flights and operate modern aircrafts. So don’t worry about your safety. I prefer Cebu Pacific. Taking a ferry like Supercat brings you close to the locals. It’s not the fastest way of transportation but it’s really cool, and cheap! Do island hopping with a banca. Rent one for a couple of Euro’s. It’s a great way to explore the country. Motorized transportation like taxi’s and cars are like in any other South East Asian destination.