There’s something bizarrely appealing about a country where it’s not uncommon to spot men peeing on fences as you drive by in the comfort of your Uber car. It’d be considerably more interesting if you could spot women doing the same, but a people can only be so appealing.
By the time you read this, we’ll have flown on to Singapore, our welcome–that is to say, our visa–in the Philippines having expired. We Americans are spoiled by relatively lengthy visas, but in the Philippines the standard tourist visa for Americans is 30 days. We’ve read it’s not too challenging to get an extension, but we have more of the world to see, more people to meet, so on we go.
People will ask us, “How was the Philippines?” It’s a fairer question than asking how we liked a place like Italy; after all, who doesn’t like Italy? The Philippines isn’t for everyone. If you’re expecting well-developed infrastructure, shiny and fancy resorts, western gourmet, and general “coziness”, you might want to consider another destination for your holiday time. The Philippines might challenge you, might stretch the reasons you travel, and will definitely change your perspective on the world (for most Americans, this is likely a good thing). Perhaps that’s exactly what you’re looking for, perhaps not.
The key for us, of course, is that we aren’t exactly “on holiday”. Full time travel implies not only the ability to experience a place like the Philippines in a bit more “deep” a plunge than short term travelers would experience, but it also fuels our passion for learning. We’re working on a PhD in amateur anthropology, and our course on the Philippines was more an elective than a core class. But it wasn’t a puff elective.
We don’t mean that the Philippines is not worth your investment in vacation time. If you seek an out-of-the-way, “different” travel experience, one with a touch of adventure in either, or both, a tropical setting or one of the biggest cities in the world, the Philippines might be what you’re looking for. You’ll almost certainly fly in and out of Manila: add a couple of days, check out the Intramuros, and find a couple of well-reviewed Filipino restaurants near where you’re staying: have some bulalo, some salpiaco, or some crispy pigs feet. Then head off to a palm tree and beach laden destination like Palawan (Puerto Princess or El Nido), Coron, Boracay, or Cebu. Go snorkeling. Climb a volcano. Eat something you’ve never eaten before (and you’re not sure what it is). Swim in an underground spring. Follow the masses in a religious procession. Take a Mr. Uber’s Wild Ride, or do a day-long tryke tour for the equivalent of $15 (and make his day by tipping him an extra $5).
But for the best experience in the Philippines, get to know the Filipino people. Filipinos are probably the happiest, most hospitable people we have yet encountered in our travels. Their smiles are infectious. They are eager to help you, curious about you, anxious to practice their English, more than willing to recommend where to go, what to see, and what to eat. Spend a few minutes in conversation and you have a friend for life.
And if nature calls, just find a nearby fence: don’t pee on someone’s wall or building, that’s just not polite.