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
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
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!
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
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
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!
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