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5 Reasons the Philippines Will Surprise You!

Taal Volcano

The Philippines is only a two-hour flight from Taiwan, where I’ve lived since 2011. However, despite it being so close, the Philippines was never high on my list of destinations to visit. I just always assumed there wasn’t anything special to see there besides beaches, which I could easily see in more exotic places like Bali or Thailand.

It was only because of the recent TBEX Asia 2016 conference in Manila that drew me to finally visit the Philippines, and after spending two weeks experiencing Boracay, Iloilo, Guimaras and Bacolod in the central group of islands, called the Visayas, as well as areas in and around Manila, I left there asking the question, “Why hadn’t I visited the Philippines before now?”

If you’re like me and have had the same assumptions, then here are five reasons I think the Philippines will surprise you.

 

1. The beaches

 

White Beach in Boracay, Philippines

Enjoying a beautiful day at the beach in Boracay

 

Ok, I just said I assumed the Philippines was nothing but beaches, but OH MY GOSH… the BEACHES!!! In all my travels, I’ve never seen such beautiful beaches as I did in Boracay and Guimaras.

Imagine sitting under an umbrella, the clean white sand massaging your toes. You can hear the gentle sounds of the waves, and the light sea breeze, that’s a perfect temperature, is flowing over you with the fresh smell of the ocean. You look out at the water, where the white sailboats, with their dark blue sails, pop against the clear blue sky and the vibrant blue-green water. You take a deep breath of that salty air, making you feel invigorated and clear-headed, and you say to yourself, “Now THIS is paradise.”

The best part? It’s not imaginary, and it’s not Bali, it’s not Thailand… this is the Philippines!

 

2. Rich Spanish history

 

San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod, Philippines

San Sebastian Cathedral in Bacolod

 

I admit that before going to the Philippines, I didn’t know anything about their history. So quickly, here is a very brief and simplified history lesson:

The Philippines was a colony of Spain from 1521-1898, beginning with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan, who made alliances with the natives in what is now Cebu, in the Visayas. Magellan converted the natives to Catholicism, and although he was killed in a battle a little more than a month after his arrival, more Spanish expeditions followed, and subsequently, the Philippines was renamed Las Islas Filipinas after Philip II of Spain.

As a result, the Philippines is still predominantly Catholic, and how unexpected it is to see countless churches, cathedrals, and buildings showing off the beautiful Spanish style and architecture in Southeast Asia!

 

3. The food!

 

Filipino food, Guimaras, Philippines

Selection of fresh, delicious Filipino food, most of it “farm to table”

 

I never see or hear about Filipino food making any lists of top world cuisines, so my expectations of the food weren’t very high. Boy, I was wrong!

I was shocked to discover that Filipino cuisine, influenced by Chinese, Malay, Indian, Spanish, Japanese and American flavors, combined with indigenous ingredients and cooking methods, is nothing short of amazing. I pretty much ate my way through the Philippines for two weeks, with favorites like Chicken Adobo (chicken braised in a garlic, vinegar, soy sauce mixture), Crispy Pata (deep-fried pig knuckles), and Leche Flan ( a  dessert made from milk and egg with a caramel sauce).

From vegetables to fruits to a variety of meat and seafood, the food was also very fresh. In Iloilo, Guimaras, and Bacolod, many restaurants practiced “farm to table” in which they buy directly from farms and serve everything very fresh. Many of the farms are also organic to reduce the environmental impact of pesticides and to keep foods healthy and natural.

The only thing that didn’t surprise me? That my pants were tight by the time I left!

 

4. Very cheap

 

Condo in Manila, Philippines

Swimming pool at the AirB&B condo I stayed in down the road from PICC in Manila

 

Most countries in Southeast Asia are pretty inexpensive, like Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and even Taiwan. However, I was amazed at how cheap the Philippines is to eat, stay, travel and shop.

For example, in Boracay, where it’s more expensive than most places in the Philippines because of high tourism, I bought a really nice 10L dry bag for $4 USD! A full American breakfast was less than $5 USD, beer was less than $1 USD, and in Manila, a bus ride to Tagaytay to see Taal Lake was less than $2 USD each way.

Most amazingly, in Manila, my friend and I stayed in a luxurious condo through AirB&B that had an amazing view of Manila Bay from our 25th floor balcony, boasted a really nice gym and swimming pool, and was just down the street from PICC (Philippine International Convention Center), where the TBEX Conference was held. Guess how much we paid IN TOTAL (before splitting it) for four nights. You’ll never guess. You’ll be totally shocked…  $135 USD!!!

Ok, pick your jaw up off the floor, and let’s move on to one of my favorite surprises about the Philippines.

 

5. Warm, friendly people

 

Filipino Police, Bacolod, Philippines

Even while it was pouring rain, the police were smiling. Btw, it was THEIR idea to take the selfie!

 

I can’t say enough about how sweet, caring, nice, generous, helpful, respectful and friendly Filipino people are. The “Filipino Smile” is really a thing, and everywhere I went, I was greeted with a smile and called “ma’am”. Even the police were so friendly and fun!

The main, and most important, thing is that contrary to what the media would have us believe, I felt completely safe in the Philippines. As an American, at first, I was worried about my safety and even wondered if I should tell people I’m from Canada haha.

However, after talking to many Filipinos, they all assured me that Filipino people love Americans (and visitors from other countries too!), and that regardless of what the media shows about political issues, Filipino people still have big hearts, pride in their beautiful culture, and a love for sharing it with others.

Speaking of that, in the Filipino spirit of being so generous and going above and beyond, I’m going to give you a little extra. Here’s ONE MORE thing that surprised me about the Philippines…

 

BONUS #6: Really strong beer!

 

Red Horse beer, Boracay, Philippines

Enjoying my last evening in Boracay drinking Red Horse beer with a Filipino friend

 

I like a good beer, especially when it’s cheap, ice cold and there’s a nice view to enjoy it. However, as many people say, Red Horse beer will kick your a**… and it did! At 6.9% alcohol, I drank four 500mL bottles of the stuff my last night in Boracay. Let’s just say that I brought new meaning to “pub CRAWL”!

But I will say this… Red Horse beer is one of the smoothest beers I have ever drunk. I would have never known it was so strong from the taste, but what a surprise!

Overall, the Philippines is a wonderful, beautiful country with a rich history, amazing food, and even more amazing people. I was happily surprised by everything it has to offer, and all I can think now (shakes head) is, “Why on earth did I not consider going there sooner?!” Needless to say, I’m already looking at booking my next trip. Hope to see you there too!

 

Share your thoughts! If you’ve never been to the Philippines, what assumptions do you have that are keeping you from traveling there? If you have been to the Philippines, what surprised you? Follow more of my stories at 101coloreddoors.com

 

Looking for a place to stay in the Philippines? Book with Agoda below and enjoy a big discount!


30 comments

  • What a great summary of reasons to visit the Philippines. It is truly a beautiful country, with friendly people and amazing food. I had heard that the Philippines wasn’t that cheap so it is good to hear that it can still be done on a budget if needed.

    • Hi Christina! Yes, the Philippines can definitely be done on a budget. I got great deals on accommodations through Agoda and AirB&B, and as I mentioned in the article, food, beer (and other drinks), and transportation are also quite cheap. It’s really worth visiting the Philippines. It’s one of the hidden gems of Asia, in my opinion. 🙂

  • Philippines is catching up with tourism a lot these and you’ve just given me 5 reasons to go there. I live in the Middleeast and have met a lot of Filipinos living here and just like you said they are very friendly and warm, always joyful and adventurous. A great read! Now to go and get those Red Horse beers and give a new meaning to pub crawling! 😛 Need some tips from you for that.

    • Haha, thanks for the fun comment, Johann. I totally agree – Filipinos that I have met anywhere in the world are all friendly, warm and joyful, and after visiting the Philippines, I can see why. I’ll be writing more articles soon about my experiences and impressions of the Philippines beyond this list, so stay tuned here on Travelosyo, as well as over at my own blog. As for pub crawling with Red Horse (mine was more like beach crawling – literally haha), here are some quick tips: 1. Eat a big dinner and 2. Pace yourself! I didn’t do either of those, so you can learn from my mistakes. 😉 I hope you find your way to the Philippines soon! It’s really a wonderful place, and you won’t be disappointed!

  • I’ve been reading some articles about the Philippines, now I’m eager to plan a trip thereto! Beaches look stunning and I wouldn’t mind a bit of art and culture, even though it’s European and not exactly local!

    • I highly recommend traveling to the Philippines, Iris! Although there is a lot of Spanish influence and it seems like the Philippines is very European, it’s not. 🙂 It is definitely very local, cultural and ethnic as well. In fact, the Philippines, with over 7,000 islands, is very very local as each island and area has something special about it in terms of food, scenery, attractions, and even festivals! If you want a really great cultural experience, I recommend that you time your visit around one of the festivals. While I was there, I caught the first night of MassKara festival (a festival of masks) in Bacolod, which was amazing, and I am planning to go back in January for Dinagyang festival in Iloilo. 😀 The Philippines is really worth seeing, and you definitely won’t feel that it’s European. 🙂

  • Awesome to read it from a foreigner’s perspective! With more than 7,000 islands, there really is so much more to see in the Philippines for everybody! Awesome list and I agree to everything!

    • Thanks, Darlene! I’m glad you liked it. 🙂 You’re right, there really is so much more to see, which is why I’ll be writing more articles about it. I simply couldn’t fit everything I saw and experienced into one article haha, and that was just from a two-week trip! I have so much more amazing things to share about the Philippines, so stay tuned for more articles here and at my own site. 🙂

  • Philippines is a veritable paradise on earth. The sheer natural beauty is enough to draw you like a magnet. The islands and beaches are really exotic and the stuff that dreams are made of. And as you point out there is much more to it than just that.

    • Yes! You said it very well, and I completely agree! The magnet part is especially true, as I find myself wanting to go back there again and again and again! <3 It has only been three weeks since I was there, and I already miss it and can't stop thinking about going back. So I already booked a ticket to return in January for Dinagyang Festival. I can't wait! 😀

  • Glad that you finally visited Philippines. I honestly get teary-eyed whenever a foreigner loves my mother land. Hopefully you can visit us again here and you can def add more reasons in your list. Happy Travelling!

    • Thanks, Danica! I’m glad I could bring tears to your eyes, in a good way. 🙂 I will most definitely be going back to the Philippines, and I have no doubt that I will have endless new things to add to my list of reasons I fell in love with the Philippines. Even now, I’m planning to write several more articles about my experience and impressions there, because there was just too much to love to fit all in one article! 😀

  • I love how you love everything about Philippines. I enjoyed reading this and I am all smiles when I saw the Red Horse photo 🙂 You have visited Manila and Visayas already, please don’t hesitate to explore Mindanao as well:)

    • That makes me so happy to hear that I brought a smile to your face! 🙂 Haha, yes, Red Horse is great, but I’ll have to be more careful with it next time. Thanks for the suggestion to explore Mindanao. I am so excited to go back to the Philippines and explore more areas, so I will definitely add that to my list. Thanks for reading! 😀

  • Great! Philippines from a different view. It was great to read something different about it apart from the regular beaches.

    • I’m glad it was useful for you. 🙂 I have so many great things to share about my experience in the Philippines… other than just the beaches 😉 so stay tuned for more articles here on Travelosyo, as well as my own site.

  • Great that you enjoyed your stay here! Hope you come again soon and I will drink beer with you while we watch awesome sunset views!

    • Hey, Carla! It was so great to meet you in the Philippines! I’ll be back there in January for Dinagyang Festival, so I’m going to hold you to that! 😉 I’ll let you know my plan of where I’ll be and when. I’m planning to stay in Iloilo, hit Boracay again for a few days, then finish it up in Manila. So let’s find a way to have that beer and sunset in one of those places! 😀 Look forward to seeing you again!

  • I love what you wrote…you basically summed it all up…glad you were able to my city. I hope you enjoy your next visit as much as you did on your first trip. Thank you for writing this.

    • Hi Gen! So happy to see you here! 😀 It makes me so happy to hear that you liked the article. I really fell in love with the Philippines and am now probably its biggest fan and advocate for people to visit! I’m already planning another trip back for Dinagyang Festival in January! Can’t wait to go back! 😀

  • thanks mam devz for visitinG ouR counTry! it is indeeD a beautiful and home sweet home to live in 🙂 thanK you foR shaRing your greaT experiences 🙂 very nice arTicle and i enJoy readIng it… but not just enjoy i also felt the feelings and excitement you had in every line 🙂 hope you can consider visiting palawan in your next trip 🙂

    • Thanks, Allan! I’m so happy you enjoyed the article and that you could feel my excitement and enthusiasm. There were so many things that I loved about the Philippines that I couldn’t fit them all into one article, so I will be writing several more articles about it in the near future. 🙂 And yes, I definitely plan to visit Palawan as soon as I can! 🙂

  • It is indeed a surprise that Filipino cuisine is influenced by several other cuisines.
    Good to know that Spanish history is preserved well, I would like to see that.

    • Hi, Indrani! Oh my gosh, Filipino cuisine is absolutely amazing, and probably one of the biggest surprises! I never expected such flavor, variety, and yes, the influence of so many other cuisines. How is it that we never hear about it?! The Spanish history is really awesome too! So surprising and wonderful to find beautiful cathedrals and churches in Southeast Asia where one would expect only temples and mosques!

  • I am so happy that you loved the Philippines Deborah, I say better late than never! There are still so much to see in my country. Wait til you get to Palawan. 😉

    • Hi, Marge! Yes, I totally agree! Definitely better late than never, and I loved it so much that I can’t wait to go back. I’ve heard so many great things about Palawan. I’m looking forward to going there sometime in the (hopefully near) future too. As you said, there’s SO MUCH to see, and I’m definitely up for the challenge! 😀

  • Awesome! Can’t wait to visit the Philippines in January. Especially with that food and beaches 🙂

    • I’m planning to go back in January too, for the Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo! Just booked my ticket, in fact. 🙂 Yes, definitely the food & beaches… and also lots of new Filipino friends I met. So many reasons to go back. Enjoy your time there!

  • Fantastic post. I completely understand where you are coming from. Thanks for sharing and hope to see you in the Philippines soon!

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