Traveling in the Philippines: the good, the bad and the ugly
I’ve been getting a lot of questions by other travelers about the Philippines. There isn’t an extensive amount of info online and finding a very comprehensive info about the country can be hard sometimes.
I travel without much planing, so when I got to the Philippines, I went through a shock process, some things I expected to be terrible were actually awesome and some things I thought would be smooth, were complicated.
As a professional blogger I was warned to never ever say anything negative or unpleasant about the country. That whatever I said could make it or ruin it for me.
This put a tremendous preasure on me inicially. But i decided to always be honest no matter what the outcome would be. Glad I stood to my values on honesty above all, because it revealed a surprise…
The Philippines: the good, the bad and the ugly
I didn’t know what to expect, so I expected nothing at all.
Well, I was warned about the horrendous WiFi, the “disgusting” food, the lovely people and those were the 3 pre-conceived ideas I had when I entered the plain.
When doing my check in in Dubai, I was approached by different pinoys, who in absolute excitement asked me: “are you visiting the Philippines??”. When I nodded YES, their smile filled the room.
They told me about the beaches, the forests, the beauty and the food. They were so proud, I felt completely contaminated by their excitement.
TRAVELING IN MANILA
I’ve heard a lot about the scams and rip offs by taxi drivers in Manila, so I decided to skip the initial stress. I asked to be picked up by my hostel.
I paid the double, but I didn’t have to fight over money and… Oh boy, I was too jetlagged for that.
My hostel was located near the airport so I didn’t even enter Manila. The atmosphere was great. The staff was awesome and the 2 days I spent there turned into a warm hearted post on how sitting by my balcony window observing the poorest people at the immense slums, made me revaluate the real important things in life. You can read it here: this is why I feel so jealous of the Filipinos.
Then the ugly happened and I didn’t know what to think. A random guy broke into our dorm in the middle of the night.
He was not staff. He walked around in our bedroom and stared at the two other girls sleeping. Then he walked around checking out our stuff, touching our laptops and cell phones.
I observed everything through the corner of my eye, petrified, not knowing what to do. That was my first night in the PH and I didn’t know if things could get violent so I observed attentively while pretending I was sleeping. He managed to break in three times that night.
Next morning, the hostel staff didn’t really show much interest for the episode, which I thought was a bit strange. Later on I’ve heard stories of theft going on there too.
This was also when I got ripped off for the first time. I just couldn’t seem to get a fair price for the fruit at the local stall. Being a vegan and the Philippines a place where mangos are an absolute must, i felt frustrated. I got really annoyed and decided to stop trying to buy fruit from local stalls and just stick to the supermarkets where price is fix.
BOHOL / PANGLAO
Oh Bohol, aren’t you simply magic?
I checked in at the Bohol coco farm. A few minutes later and I was already making new friend.
The Coco farm was a lovely small family run business. Nature was so lush and green here. It was absolutely stunning!
Next morning a group of us headed to the chocolate hills. A pinoy/ German girl, an American, a British, a German, a Polish and me… Oh, and french guy who had to put up with all these chicks having girl talks.
Bohol was simply amazing. The natural scenery was breathtaking. The green rice fields were so stunning we had to stop a couple of times to simply soak in the magic.
The Loboc river, mirrowed the lush trees that stood at the shore, creating dramatic reflections on the water.
And the chocolate hills were so unique and picturesque. I wondered if they were home to the Teletubbies.
Among laughter and the best company in the world, the scary moment arrived: I needed to eat my first meal out and the only place around was a tiny carinderia. I saw meat everywhere and nothing that resembled a vegetable.
I immediately remembered the horror stories every vegan and vegetarian told me about. I was even advised by vegans to simply skip the Philippines, because I would starve. I was told by meat eaters that the food sucked and that I should be prepared for the worse.
And that’s when I was introduced to the wonderful world of the carinderias. My new pinoy friend Melanie, told me with a huge smile:” look, there’s eggplant and steamed rice. Does that work for you?”
That was the very BEST eggplant I ever ate! Seriously! It was so good I stuffed myself on rice and egg plant.
Next morning I was served the most delicious breakfast I ever had during my travels around the world. Steamed rice, delicious veggies, coconut and fruit.
The list of delicious meals kept growing, even when eating at the cheapest carinderias no tourist ventured into. The food was simply amazing!
I was always waiting for the moment when I’d be served the famous “disgusting” food and curiously…. That never happened!
In fact, I found the Philippines to be an extremely vegan and vegetarian friendly country. So good, I would recommend any vegan to travel to the PH without any fears and I will be preparing a very comprehensive vegan guide to the PH soon!
My mongo soup + rice obcession at 8 am for breakfast became quite famous. It almost became a joke amongst us in the hostel and to a taxi driver who laughed hysterically when I told him that the mongo soup was one of the highlights of my trip.
But I was struggling with an issue: the rip offs. During my stay in panglao, the local vendors were constantly trying to rip me off. Even the jeepney guy….
I knew the real price and value of things. I knew how much the fruit costs. I knew how much other food items cost, but no matter how much haggling or negotiations, they wouldn’t put down the price. I gave up the fight, decided not to buy any fruit and started feeling a strange resentment.
That’s when I did what everyone told me not to. I was going to say something negative about my experience and how much frustration I was pilling.
I posted on my FB:” Filipino friends, I need your help and advises. I’m tired of having vendors taking advantage of me. I’m tired of the rip offs, the constant lies about the prices and im really frustrated. I feel I’m being discriminated for being a foreigner, I feel I’m not having equal treatment. I really need some guidance on this”.
Instead of hate responses, I was flooded with suggestions, tips, and even a list of Visaya words that could help me out. People were so helpful I realized the myth that pinoys can’t take any negative criticism is not true.
Some pinoys even sent me a bunch of private messages explaining this happens to them too, when they visit other parts of the country and the suggestions kept coming.
Once I left Panglao and moved to Malapascua, a tiny island with no cars, no banks, basically no tourist, everything changed.
I LEFT MY HEART IN MALAPASCUA
People were so welcoming, honest and humble, I felt I had found my heaven on earth. Any residue of frustrations, was left behind.
Malapascua is simply the most beautiful place on earth. I had never seen such crystal clear water, such amazing shades of blue.
I had never came across such kind and beautiful people. In Malapascua I found the long term travelers; the ones who stay eternally, because they too found peace and serenity there.
I met locals who are fighting hard against the destruction of the natural environment and where the school walls display huge murals on animal protection.
I thought I could live there happily ever after. I discovered the true Pinoy hospitality, away from the tourist traps and little annoyances.
Malapascua gave me the best sunsets of my life and everyday, I loved the PH more and more.
But my visa was running out and it was time to move on. Hong Kong waited for me.
Once back to Cebu, on my third round at the tropical hostel, I was greeted by the staff as if I was an old friend. I enjoyed chatting with them and having some good laughs together. It was also nice to see the handsome security guard every time I returned to Cebu.
The day I left I realized how I had become friends with the people from every place I stayed. I had long conversations with pinoys about love, life, spirituality, that inspired me in a very profound way.
I can’t remember having such fun and positive interactions with any other locals in Asia. I understood how absolutely amazing the pilips are and how I would return for more, because as they say: its much more fun in. the PH!
PHILIPPINES, THE MANY SHADES OF DARK
No matter where in the world you go, there will always be the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s just part of life.
There were a couple of things that alarmed and scared me while at the Philippines; most of the travelers I’ve met had been robbed.
Many got their cellphones robbed. Others got all their money robbed. I met people who got their entire backpacks stolen by taxi drivers or motorbike taxis who took off with it.
The amount of people I met who got robbed didn’t stop growing even after I left the PH. Some of them extremely experienced travelers.
I was also surprised how many pinoys told me to be safe and take care while in the Philippines. Theft might be a general problem, I don’t know, but it certainly is for us travelers.
For this, the Philippines might not be the best country for a first timer solo traveler. You have to be seriously aware of your belongings the whole time. Even I got my rain gear robbed in Panglao…. And it was raining season, which was seriously annoying.
The PH are also not an easy place to move around. Getting from place A to place B no matter how far or how close, will suck an entire day. You might have to take a taxi, that will take you to the bus, that will that you to the ferry which will require another taxi afterwards.
All this will soak up a lot of $$ too. There are little taxes for everything from exiting islands to exiting airports. And for the first time in my life, I blew up my budget. So the Philippines are not a cheap country either.
I can’t wait to return though.
I can’t wait to return to a country where people always welcomed me with a smile.
I was told by a couple of people that:” my country is your country too. I’m really glad you came to visit the Philippines. Please feel at home.”
While in Manila, avoid the white taxis and go for the yellow ones. White taxis are supposedly cheaper, but they’re also the ones who’ll give you a hard time with the meter
While in Cebu, do the other way around. Avoid the expensive yellow taxis and go for the white ones. I had no stresses with taxis here.
When departuring from basically every island, you’ll have to pay terminal fees in cash. Be aware of that.
When leaving the airports, you’ll have more fees to pay in cash. Save money for that, they’re quite expensive.
I only eat Asian, even at home. Rice is my stapple food, so I felt at home food wise. If you want to eat western style, then head to the more touristic islands and avoid the small ones. I don’t want to be judgemental but… Eating local food in local places is part of understanding a culture. Every time tourists demand their stuff from home, they’ll be destroying the food culture of their destination.
NEVER give money to a beggar child! You’ll be fueling more of a beggar culture. Children should be at school.
DON’T touch the corals, the turtles or the dolphins. The Philippines are beautiful and its our duty as visitors to behave respectfully. Avoid all tours and activities that exploit or injure animals.
Don’t rubb your material wealth on people’s faces. Although pinoys have incredibly rich family and community bonds. they might not all be as materially wealthy as you. Be modest. The public display of expensive things by some wealthy tourists might trigger theft. Pinoys are great people, but with all the TV influence, they might want things they can’t afford, therefore creating theft.
Watch out for your belongings always! Keep you money and passport with you and we’ll hidden.
Solo female travelers: I have good news. I felt safe throughout my 1 month traveling solo. Men are quite respectful and you should have a smooth trip. Still dress modestly when visiting smaller rural areas.
And most of all, enjoy the most beautiful country in the world!
PS: The internet didn’t always suck! You’ll be just fine!