Published: November 24th 2008November 24th 2008
Good day all,
Welcome to Republika ng Pilipinas (Republic of Philippines)!!! I spent a total of 12 days in this beautiful country. The Philippines consist of more than 7.000 islands with a total population of about 90 million, excluding the ca. 1,5 million Filipinos working overseas. The currency is the Philippine Piso (PHP). US$ 1 = PHP 49 and € 1 = 62 PHP during my stay in the country. The president here is a woman, called Gloria Arroyo, who is in power since 2001. Philippines once had the second largest economy in Asia after Japan, but since dictator Ferdinand Marcos came to power in mid 1960’s the economy only went worse and worse. Today it’s growing at a fast pace again and belongs to one of the NIC’s (Newly Industrialized Countries). Ninoy Aquino, a politician (opposition) was killed at the Manila Airport in 1983 when he was coming out of the aircraft. The airport bears his name since then. After spending one night in Kuala Lumpur, I caught Air Asia which flies you to Clark (Diosdado Macapagal Int’l Airport). This airport, a former US Air Base, lies about 125 km north of Manila. With a nice, air-conditioned bus you
travel south to Manila. Manila
is the capital of the country and is home to more than 11 million people. Driving into the city you’ll already notice how huge and chaotic it is. It is VERY big and VERY chaotic, lots of traffic (mostly cars and jeepney’s, not so many motorbikes). Jeepney’s are the small “buses” they have here, which is very unique. It’s the cheapest way of public transport, although the LRT is very cheap too (max. PHP15 a ride) and I mostly used the LRT because it’s easy and fast. There is a lot of poverty around. You’ll see nice, high rise skyscrapers on one side, and shanty neighbourhoods on the other side. There are quite a lot of street kids begging for money and many homeless people who you see sleeping on a piece of cart board. There are also many kids sleeping near a LRT station alone, in the evening. These were all very sad views, but it’s the reality of Manila and everyone coming here will be confronted with it....except if you only stay around “posh” areas. Filipinos are very nice and welcoming, always ready to help if you have a question...generally their English
is pretty good. Filipinos are always interested to know where you’re from and why you came to Philippines. When they ask you those questions in Philippines, it’s because they really want to know. Not like in Cambodia, Thailand or Vietnam where they ask those things just to start a little conversation and then ask you to buy something. Filipinos are always asking if you’re married, if you have kids etc. Because I’m tall many people ask me if I play basketball....it’s very popular here. Due to their Spanish colonization past many last names and name of places and streets are Spanish descent and many Filipino words have a lot of Spanish in it. After the Spanish, the Americans came and in Filipino there is a lot of English too. Sings are over the country are in English only, or English and Filipino. That’s why most Filipino speak reasonably English. It’s funny when you hear a Filipino speaking his/her own language. You don’t understand anything, but suddenly you hear a Spanish or English word during the conversation. In 1898 Spanish emperors left Philippines and “gave” it to the USA (with Puerto Rico and Cuba) and in 1946 Philippines became totally independant.
The bus from Clark brought me to Pasay station, from where I caught the LRT line 1 (Light Rail Transit) to Blumentritt station which was 12 stops further. Here I took a tricycle (like a tuk tuk) to the guesthouse. This whole trip, from when I left my guesthouse in Kuala Lumpur to when I arrived to the guesthouse in Manila, took me about 9 hours.
A “must see” in Manila is the Intramuros area which is full of Spanish colonial heritage. Intramuros derives from the Spanish words “entre” and “muros” which means “between walls”. The whole area was originally surrounded by a thick wall, built by the Spanish. Today some parts of the wall still stand. I visited the Fort Santiago which was built by the Spanish back in the 16th century. The huge and impressive Manila Cathedral is also in Intramuros, was constructed in late 1500’s and partially rebuilt a couple of times due to earthquake damage. The San Augustin Church is also here, it’s the oldest church still standing here in the Philippines and was built in 1607. It’s also nice to stroll along Roxas Boulevard, which runs along the Manila Bay. Around here there is
an area where you can find a small theme park, convention centre, a theatre, a cultural center and the Metro Manila WTC. There is also a small shopping centre from where you can enjoy nice views of Malate (a part of Manila) and all the yachts and boats in Manila Bay.
Makati is the “posh” part of Manila, where most of the skyscrapers are located and there are still constructing many more. Many international companies have their offices here and there are a lot of high rise apartment buildings for the ones with the highest income. Everything seem to work well and to be nice and organized in Makati. The roads are all very good, they have many underground pedestrian passes to avoid people from crossing the busy and wide streets. The Philippine Stock Exchange is also located in this area. While in this area you might totally forget that you’re in a developing country (third world). What impressed me too were the shopping malls they have here. In Makati around the “Greenbelt area” they have several huge malls, it’s unbelievable. They’re very big, beautiful and modern. It’s a completely different Manila here in Makati. The ones who are addicted
to shopping will have the time of their lives in Makati’s malls. The malls are always busy, lot’s of people shopping. Sometimes I wonder why they have so many huge malls here...”who would buy stuff everyday here”? But the city has 11 million people and that maybe 2 million of them belong to the “upper class” with salaries much higher than the local average; only they represent a big market already. All over Manila I haven’t seen many foreigners, only in Intramuros and one time that I went out in Malate I saw a few. But in Makati you see all of them...eating in the posh restaurants etc. The mall of Asia is one of the largest in Asia but I haven’t been there, it’s not in Makati. When entering the malls all your bags will be checked...the same thing happens when you go to the LRT station. They are quite strict in order to prevent eventual terrorist attacks in the country.
After Manila I took the bus to Baguio
, a city of around 350.000 people of which about one third are students. It takes 6 hours by us to get there, it’s to the north of Manila. It’s
located at a height of about 1500 meters and has a less hot climate than Manila. Driving to the city gives you many beautiful views, too bad I couldn’t take pictures. My stay in Baguio didn’t start very well. I took a taxi to the hostel I booked online, and then found out that the hostel has closed down! The neighbours told me it closed down about 4 weeks ago. I was not very happy. The taxi driver took me to a few other places until I stayed at a house where they rent rooms to tourists. Immediately I filed a complaint to hostelworld.com, the website where I made the booking and demanding my money back (10% deposit, booking fee and cancellation protection), a total of € 7. They answered back, apologizing and said that I’ll get my money back.
The whole thing made me a bit angry and I wasn’t in the mood of exploring Baguio anymore. But short after I put the whole case behind me. Anyway, in Baguio, like Manila, you’ll have to find your own way to all the attractions and things to do. They’re not places like Bangkok or Hanoi where at every corner
you’ll see travel and tour offices etc. offering information about what to do. Through internet I found out about a few places that I visited. In the city I visited Burnham Park, where I had a little ride in a boat. Also the cathedral and the SM Mall of Asia, which is the biggest mall in the city and it was busy, although it was a Monday! I went to a place called Mines View, where they have a market and you can enjoy very beautiful views of the region. Here I bought small souvenirs. I visited the Lourdes Grotto, which was not far from where I stayed. It was built in 1907....it takes more than 200 steps to get up there. The Baguio area is home to the Igorot people, an ethnic group, who always hang around places and they charge PHP 5 to take a picture with them. I visited the Crystal Cave, which is in the middle of a neighbourhood. A local lady with a big torch offered me to guide me inside for just PHP 80. Around the entrance it’s quite dirty....dirty water from the neighbourhood flows into the entrance area and it smells a little.
Further in its ok. The cave has some stalactites and stalagmites covered with something that looks like crystal. The lady says it is crystal but I’m not sure if it really is. But it was nice to see. The cave was about 200 m long I think....it wasn’t “very” interesting I should say.
I went also to the Asin area which is about 20 km out of Baguio. It lies a bit higher than Baguio and there were supposed to be hot springs, but I didn’t see them. I followed a sign that said “Asin Hot Springs resort” and it turned out to be just an open air pool, which was not filled with water, and some jacuzzi’s. So that was a little bit disappointing because I expected something else. I decided to go for a walk through the village then, which was very nice and green. Many rice terraces and there was a family doing the harvest.....mom, dad and two little kids were all doing the work. All the places I went to were easily accessible with jeepney’s....very easy and cheap. Sometimes during the day and the evening I used to hang out a little bit at Akhie
and Adrian’s place. They’re a young Filipino couple who run a small shop close to the place I stayed. There’s also an internet cafe there, with a rate of PHP15 per hour!!! They are very friendly people and she advised me too what to do in Baguio etc. She’s good at English, she teaches basic English to Korean, Japanese and Chinese students that come to Baguio. She said next time I should come in February because they have the flower festival and a lot of other activities around the city. I stayed only 2 nights in Baguio, the third night I spent on the bus going back to Manila. This day in Manila I didn’t do much, just relax, write a little bit on this blog, do laundry and preparing luggage to go to Boracay. Only 10kg check-in baggage allowed so I left one bag at the guesthouse and pack the other one very light, only with necessary clothes for 4 days.
After a 1 hour flight from Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila I arrived in Caticlan, from where you have to cross over to the island of Boracay
. It’s a tiny island in the province of Aklan
and is home to just over 10.000 people. It’s one of Philippine’s most popular tourist destinations. The island is only about 8 km long and 1 to 2 km wide. The main part is the White Beach on the west coast of the island, where I stayed too. It’s a 4 km long beach. Along the beach there are dozens of palm trees....it’s like a true paradise. Along the whole beach there are many bars, restaurants, clubs, shops etc. To have a better idea about how the area looks like, just imagine it being like Sea Aquarium Beach in Curaçao....but here it’s maybe ten times longer, the water is ten times better, the beach itself is so much better, it’s cheaper, it’s more fun....everything looks better here....and above all, it’s all natural, created by mother nature! On the rest of the island there are more beaches. On the east coast I’ve been to a beach which they mostly do kite surfing. What I did in Boracay was.....basically “nothing” particular. I’ve been travelling for quite a long time now. Normally when visiting places, you always try to wake up early and go visit attractions and sites of interest. But I was
a little bit tired of doing this, so in Boracay I always woke up late, go hang around at the beach, sleep under a tree, take a swim, play beach volleyball with the locals...that’s the only thing I did for four days. I met a lot of locals here, they introduce you to other locals etc. but too much people to remember all the names. I hung around mostly with Leon who also does the tour selling thing and sometimes he does henna tattoo’s on the beach. Together with him and many other of the locals we went out one night, to Cocamangas (one of the most popular places) which was a good place. There were many locals here and many good looking girls. But the negative thing is that most of the girls are only interested in your wallet....a pity! So it’s hard to find one that really likes you without thinking about money. When I saw several foreigners (white, mature men in their 40’s) with young Filipina women in their 20’s then I knew already what’s going on. On the beach it’s a very usual sight too....you see them all the time. Like many other south east Asian
countries also Philippines has a reputation as a sex tourism destination. I met a very nice girl called Joy but she turned up to be one of those too so I had to “get rid” of her after buying her two drinks and having a conversation. It reminded me of when I went to Ukraine....in Kiev’s clubs you encounter the same kind of girls all around.
On Boracay they play a lot beach volleyball for money...everyone puts an amount of money in for the game. When you put PHP250 and you win, you will get PHP500. I lost more than I won but it was fun. The locals are very friendly and always ready to help or suggest you places to go out and eat etc. On the beach you will be ALWAYS approached by people trying to sell you stuff (ice cream, massage, sun glasses, watches etc) and also trips on jet ski’s, parasailing, banana boat etc. Those ones are VERY expensive....ridiculously expensive. I wasn’t interested to do any of the things they offered in the first place, and I told them that they apply prices that are as high as back home (Curacao)....maybe even higher!!! Half an
hour on a jet ski costs you US$ 40!!! The guys selling these things get a 10% commission and that’s their income. Some of them come from other parts of the Philippines and try to earn some money here, and they send money to their parents and siblings. It’s not an easy life and they live by the day. For example, they sometimes bet up to PHP 1000 each for volleyball....some guys lose PHP 2000 in a day! I couldn’t believe that, especially because they don’t earn a lot...well sometimes they do, but certainly not everyday. But anyway, all I can say is that I had a “very” good time here....really liked the place!
After Boracay I flew back to Manila where I stayed just one night to go to Clark the next day and leave the country. Back in Manila I caught up with Ian and we went to drink some beers. I met him at a food stall close to a LRT station one day. I thought he was a tourist (the first one I’ve seen in Manila since I arrived) so I just said good day and then we just started talking a bit. Then I
found out that he’s half Filipino/half Polish, born & raised in France and living in Manila. He suggested me some places to go out which should be fun. He invited me to a party he was going to that night and I really wanted to go, but it was too far and complicated to get there. So I blew it, I texted him to say I’m not going and I went to Malate instead.
Philippines was definitely a good choice, I liked it a lot. Mostly because of it’s people, they’re very very friendly. I found them friendlier than the people in other South East Asian countries I’ve been to. Although the (young) women are mostly interested in your wallet so you have to be careful and don't trust everyone. To sleep it’s not the cheapest I think, but you can eat here for VERY cheap! Just look for the local owned food stalls...that’s the best option. In Manila I ate everyday next to my guesthouse, where a lady cooks here food in her house and then puts the pots on a table just outside the door. Of course you have to be careful when choosing to eat at
places like this due to hygiene reasons, but this one seemed ok....I'm still well and didn't get sick. Even in classy restaurants the hygiene can be bad so you actually never know what really happened to the food before they serve you.
Right now I'm writing the last bits of the blog from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I'll stay one night and after here one night in Bangkok, Thailand. K.L is one of my favourite cities in south east Asia and I'll definitely go for a stroll in the city again....visit the Menara Tower and the China Town among others. From Bangkok there I’ll take a Cathay Pacific flight to Amsterdam with a short stopover in Hong Kong. I’ll stay two weeks in the Netherlands and I’ll catch up with some family and friends. I’m looking forward to that, but not looking forward to the cold!! Hate that!
Take care and have a nice day,
There are more photos below