I have a limited experience with the Philippines. Out of 7,000 islands, I went to a number I could count on my fingers and maybe include a toe or two. I was in Manila for a couple days, spent most of my time on Panglao and Bohol Island, and 1 week in Palawan. That’s not enough for me to give you the most comprehensive list ever, but I'm still going to dish some knowledge out. Ready? Cool, let's do this.
1. Make Sure You Know Your Visa Requirements and Book Your Flights Accordingly
I say this because it’s what I completely failed to do.
If you’re American you get a 30-day visa stamp on your passport when you land in this great country. This varies from country to country, so check out your own government site to make sure you know how much time you have. If you don’t plan on staying past the initial 30-day visa (or whatever it is for you), then make sure you don’t book your flight 2 days after your initial visa expires. This is what I did, so I had to cough up $60 and go to one of their immigration offices. At least, you don’t have to wear pants at the immigration office in Puerto Princesa, which is where I went to get my extension. I was initially going to try and get it in Cebu and read that you had to wear pants.
So I went in nothing but a loincloth, which raised some eyebrows and made some people vomit. Just kidding, I wore pants because I thought maybe you had to there as well. When I say "you have to wear pants" I mean that in some immigration offices you can't go in wearing shorts. In Puerto Princesa they just don't give a _______, in more ways than one.
Anyway, my mistake was something you’d expect a 2nd grader to make (or not, I really don’t know, they’re probably more advanced in math than I am). You can see my error by examining the dates below. Evidently I thought I could change the number of days in January.
I guess it can be a pretty bad deal if you try and leave the country and they find out you’ve been there illegally for a while. Here's a good tip: never do something that could get you in legal trouble in another country. Ever seen "Locked Up Abroad?" Just check out some TripAdvisor info on the subject.
2. Be Assertive and Bargain
With most things, unless you’re in a mall or a grocery store, you can bargain for the price of a product or service. If you buy something from someone on the street, get some offer counter-offers going. If only I could have bargained with the clerks at the Tarsier Botanika by Alona beach for their yoghurt. It was the equivalent of $1.50 per small container of not-that-great yoghurt. That’s what happens when Ronas runs out of yoghurt. I was at Ronas pretty much every day, which is a convenience store across the street. They only charged 38 pesos or so per thing of not-so-great yoghurt. That equals about 80 cents, which is much better. Hey, I’m on a budget ok?
3. Transportation: Have an idea of how you'll be getting around
In Manila, I recommend taking Uber to get around, though there are a number of other options: the rail, Jeepneys, trikes, taxis, walking, floating (if you know how to do it), etc.
In Cebu, you can take Uber as well. Because I didn’t have a cellular connection there I had to rely on cabs a lot. Here're my two cents regarding cabs in Cebu as a foreigner: have them run the meter. Otherwise, they’ll ask you at the beginning of the ride how much you want to pay. Or worse, some guy on the street will ask if you need a taxi, and when you say “why yes, I do indeed kind sir,” he goes and finds a taxi that will overcharge you like a mofo (because he'll get a cut from the overcharge). Thank you very much, kind sir on the street, but I can hail my own taxi thank you very much.
Taking the ferry between Cebu and Bohol can be pretty cool, but the ticket lines can be confusing as hell, especially from Tagbilaran to Cebu. I always took the “fast ferry” with Oceanjet. I wish I had taken pictures to help explain, but that ship has sailed. Once your taxi, trike, helicopter, or whatever, drops you off, you’re going to go to the first of three lines outside so that you can enter the ferry terminal. First you go to the middle line to purchase your ticket. Next you go to the left line to get your seat number. Then you go to the far right line to pay the terminal fee.
On the way from Cebu to Tagbilaran, there aren’t 3 ticket lines, but there’s usually a pretty hefty line to get your ticket. You then go to the terminal across the street, pay the terminal fee, then get your seat at the desk within the terminal.
Renting a motorbike is pretty easy. In Alona, you just need to walk down the street and someone will offer you one. You’ll find either automatic scooters or semi-automatic scooters, for the most part. I didn’t see any normal sized bikes for rent, but I’m sure if you looked hard enough you could find one.
In Palawan, I looked online and found Palawan Days. Their rates are very reasonable and they gave me a cool Yamaha YBR125G with knobby tires. Granted, it wasn’t powerful at all, but it was cheap and it got me through whatever terrain I needed to get through (which included dirt, mud, rain-slicked streets, and many long winding steep roads.
You can totally bargain with the guys who rent their bikes on the street. I paid around $7 a day for 3 weeks. With a shorter time you will probably pay a bit more, but not necessarily.
Private transport on Bohol Island is awesome with Ms. Lilette and company if you need it. You can book here: http://www.boholtravelbuddy.com.
Using Maps Apps
If you're like me, your brain just doesn't retain all the turns that you need to take on your journey. In fact, I would say that my brain has weakened in that area substantially, as I'm ridiculously dependent on either Google Maps, Maps.me, or (rarely) Apple Maps. Maps.me is rad because you use it offline. Just make sure you download the map before you go out on the road. How to use the maps while on a motorbike? You can use some sort of attachment to have your phone visible with the road, or what I've been doing recently is just use one earbud to hear the audio directions.
Sometimes there is no toilet paper, and sometimes there is no handle, button, automatic sensor, etc. to flush the toilet. Who doesn't like a challenge right?
When I first experienced the absence of any mechanism to flush the toilet was at a restaurant in Panglao, and I had no idea what the hell to do. Not to mention it was hot and humid, and I was already sweating in there.
I lifted up the toilet lid…nope, nothing that was going to help me there. There was a large bucket filled with water that had a small bucket inside it next to a faucet on the wall, so I kind of just thought I’d try and dilute the pee-water with the water from the wall faucet. As it turns out, this is almost what you’re supposed to do. Evidently you’re supposed to fill the bucket up with water and pour it in so that gravity takes care of the flushing. I never did get the hang of it so as some other blogger put it, I mainly just ended up diluting my pee-water.
Now, the main use for the toilet bucket is to wash your starfish after you poop. I never did have to do this, but the people from the following blog explain how to do it pretty well: http://www.wowasis.com/travelblog/?p=347.
Don't worry, though, most touristy places have toilet paper. Oh, and my friends from the Philippines, please correct me if I'm wrong about any of this.
5. Mismatched Couples and Ladyboys
This isn't exactly pertinent information, but I'm including it anyway.
You will see plenty of very Mismatched Couples. By plenty, I mean enough to make your mind spin a bit. Don’t get me wrong, anything that goes on between 2 consenting adults is totally cool. It's their business as long as they aren't messing with anyone else's life.
[Begin Diatribe Digression] To digress a bit, when I hear about people comparing gay sex or marriage (between two consenting adults), to bestiality or pedophilia I'm astounded at the utter lack of logic associated with that line of reasoning. Is having sex with a rabbit something the rabbit has consented to? Can a barracuda agree to marry some guy? It’s just idiotic. Get over it. [End Diatribe Digression]
What I mean by mismatched couples is that there are more than a few instances of indeterminately aged old men with very young Filipinas. Usually these dudes have a double buddha belly as well, for some reason. I believe it was a taxi driver that told me that it had something to do with money, but who knows. Maybe it’s true love. Just be prepared to see it when you go.
Another phenomenon that is ubiquitous in the Philippines is “ladyboys.” They're male transvestites, and yes, even if you're heterosexual or whatever, there's a good chance you'll catch yourself with a thought like this: "Oh, wow, what an attractive young woman...wait, is that an Adam's apple?"
6. Wifi and Cell Service
The Wifi In Most Places Is In No Rush to Load Your YouTube Video
Wifi will be somewhat elusive and slow for the most part. It’s just how it is, though there are some exceptions here and there. Consider it a practice in patience.
I was still able to text and call from pretty much wherever, but I had no data outside of Manila. It just wasn't working, so you may want to get a prepaid sim if you experience the same thing. I read about others who ran into the same thing, and they had the same model of iPhone.
7. Many Things are Inexpensive Compared to London
Stuff is pretty cheap, but it depends on where you go and what you buy. See yoghurt example above. It’s pretty easy to convert dollars to Philippine pesos, with one dollar equal to roughly 50 pesos. At the time of this writing, it’s 47.64 pesos to the dollar. This is much more manageable than the Indonesian rupiah which is 13,430 to the dollar.
8. English is an Official Language
English is one of the country’s official languages, so that’s cool. Just like anywhere in the world, including countries where English is the primary language, some speak better English than others. Cebu is pretty phenomenal because a lot of people speak excellent English.
9. Not Everyone is "Out to Get You"
You don’t have to worry about being swindled all the time. Just use common sense and assert yourself when you need to, and protect your belongings like you would being a tourist anywhere. Not everyone is “out to get you.” My friend from the Philippines was telling me about someone from a European country who had a complex about getting swindled all the time by everybody in the Philippines. I won’t say his name here but it rhymes with bantonio. He was also extremely judgmental against the Filipino people, putting his country above the Philippines in a condescending manner.
Do not do this.
This makes you a complete asshole. Look, I have some critiques of the Philippines, just like I have critiques of every damn country including my own.
But I don’t go into someone else’s house and talk about how much better my house is. That's what this guy was doing, and that’s the essence of douchebaggery. When you go to someone else’s house, you respect their house rules, even if you don’t agree with all of them, and you don't insult the family who built it. Got it? Rule number 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5: don't be a condescending asshole.
How Are The People Really?
Most Filipinos are very warm and accepting. Some Filipinos are also assholes. Sorry, this is the bitter truth about every nation or group of people everywhere. I get tired of reading blogs that sugarcoat everything saying that every local is like a unicorn with poop that smells like butterscotch (wouldn’t that be cool?).
That’s not reality. There is NO country out there that doesn’t have its share of assholes. If you believe otherwise, then you are completely delusional and need to stop taking ecstasy for a while.
So go there expecting a ton of exceptional people who are kind and giving, but don’t be naive and think that everybody just wants to pinch your cheeks and make sure your stay is a field of rainbows and unicorn kisses with free butterscotch candy.
10. Drive Safely
This is one of those no-brainers, but hear me out.
The reason I included this is because at any point in time on the road there may be a dog, schoolchildren, a whole family on a scooter, a truck coming at you, or anything under the sun. I can’t even tell you how many kids waved and said “hello!!!” as I passed. A LOT of people walk on the sides of the roads. Sometimes a group of school kids will take up half the road. There are tons of schools along the main roads in Bohol. Unless you're a complete sociopath, I'm sure you don't want something like running someone over on your conscience.
One thing that I’ve gotten adept at is making sure to honk my horn to alert other drivers, people, or animals on the road to my presence.
Seriously, the dogs know to stay on the side of the road at the sound of a horn. It’s almost comical. If I spotted a dog starting to wander onto the road I would honk and he or she would go back to the side. On that note, there are many dogs that will just sleep on the side of the road.
I first experienced the honking phenomena in Costa Rica, and wondered why in the hell people were doing it all the time. Now I get it, and do it all the time. It really works, and you should do it too.