Philippinestravel

Plan on Visiting the Philippines? Here are 10 Things You Should Know

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

Manila

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. 

Cebu

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. 

The Ferry

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.

Motorbike/Scooter Rental

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

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. 

4. Toilets

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.

Cell Service

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. 

Can Anything Good Come Out of Manila?

This is my first post from a series on the Philippines. There is just too much to write about, so I'll start with my first destination in this amazing country, which only lasted about 2 days: Manila.

Can anything good come from Manila? Ask anyone from Panglao island and they would either say no or "how the hell should I know I can't afford to fly there."

I think Manila is worth visiting, but only for a day or two. Believe me, it does have its own beauty, but there are thousands of islands to visit, so it doesn't make sense to stay unless you have a ton of time, are enamored with the place, or decide that your true calling in life is to be a Manilian (I have no idea if they call themselves Manilians, but it sounds cool as hell).

Initial Inpressions

It reminds me of Juarez, Mexico mainly because of the traffic, but also because of the smells and abundance of people. It does not have a kind smell generally speaking, at least where I stayed and ventured to, and  the air was warm with smog. *Note to my Filipino Manila friends: I don't mean to offend, I'm offering my honest impression of the city. I spoke with a very kind, intelligent, and gorgeous Cebuana (a Cebuana is a girl from Cebu) recently who informed me these things can be taken the wrong way. Much love to you and your country.

The place where I stayed is called La Verti residences, and it was pretty decent, especially at around $30 a night. It's an upper middle class (I think) high rise smack dab in the middle of craziness. Walking around that area could be somewhat of a nightmare with so many buses. I think there are just as many buses in Manila as there are dogs in Costa Rica, which may as well be called infinite. I had a pretty great view of the skyline. The ocean was usually obscured, though you could make out the outlines of boats in the distance through the oft orange-ish haze. Once I walked outside of the high-rise, reality and the way of life for many living in the city always struck me. There is strife and 7-11's. Yes, 7-11's are abundant in this city, for better or worse. American commerce knows no bounds, and neither does strife. Hi America! I love ya but damn you're everywhere son. 

The view from my Airbnb balcony

The view from my Airbnb balcony

I was surprised to find that the time change is not completely unpleasant, though for a couple of days it seemed as though I kept falling sideways to the left. Maybe my body was confused about being on the other side of the planet. The change in time induces a sort of haze, and taking a nap at any given time becomes the norm for a few days.

My other view, facing the sea

My other view, facing the sea

Shotgun Arm

What the hell does this mean? This is a note that I made while in Manila, and I have no idea what it means. You would the phrase "shotgun arm" would be a powerful enough mnemonic device.  

The Streets

There is a lot of poverty in Manila. Infants can be seen sleeping on cardboard a meter away from a sleeping homeless dog. There are quite a few homeless individuals and families scattered throughout the city. It's not the same type of homelessness that we often see in major cities in the states, if I may be so bold as to classify homelessness. In U.S. cities we get used to seeing many homeless persons in rags emanating a sewer-like smell and talking to no one in particular (yes there are exceptions and I'm generalizing/stereotyping here). In Manila, like other cities in developing nations there are many people of all ages lying around inert, sitting quietly as a family, or begging. This is not to say that every square inch of the city looks like this. Quite the contrary, however, it is substantial enough that it's worth noting.  

I won't sugarcoat it; much of the city is dirty, and no, children should not be sleeping on the sidewalk.

There are some things that I feel a city just shouldn't ever do without. One of these things is having trash cans made available to the public, trash service, and no infants sleeping on cardboard in the middle of a hot day. 

I spoke with a few native Filipinos later and found that, surprise surprise, many of the problems in the Philippines are a direct result of action or inaction by greedy corrupt politicians. I'm merely an outsider looking through an admittedly distorted lens. I would love to do a deep dive akin to what Tim Urban does in his ridiculously awesome site waitbutwhy.com, but I know I won't anytime soon. I have a very limited knowledge about all of this, including the social-economic state of things, as well as political. So take my initial impressions for what they are: fragmented, real, narrow, honest, and likely out of context.

Some things aren't easy to see while you travel. Questions enter your mind like: "should I stop everything that I'm doing in life and try to do something about this crazy shit?" In the end you become an Observer Of Society, an OOS if you will. One of the great things about travel is that it can open your eyes to things, and can act as a catalyst to get you involved in positive social change.

Okay, enough on that subject. I'm not ready to be a revolutionary just yet. Anyway if I did it would more closely resemble Don Quixote as opposed to a Che Guevara or [insert revolutionary of choice here]. 

Road Transportation

*I didn't try out the rail system, so maybe that's a better way to get around, I don't know.

In any case...

The buses are these little trucks called Jeepneys, which are very antiquated looking, but also cool in a cartoonish kind of way. They are ubiquitous in the Philippines, and especially so in Manila. There of course trikes and taxis, but be prepared to negotiate on the price. 

Uber is available in Manila, which is the way I recommend getting around the city. The ride rate is always going to be reasonable and you can trust the drivers (more than the taxi drivers anyway). Independent of the type of road transportation you use, know that it is going to take a while to get to your destination. The streets are just too congested AT ALL TIMES. This leads me to my next point, which is: fuck taxis in Manila. I just had one experience so it's purely anecdotal, but it certainly was asinine enough to stop me from ever taking one again the this city.

The Taxi Ride

I was trying to get to Paco Park. The driver that pulled up at the ATM kiosk I had just failed to use wanted to charge me 100 dollars to go a few kilometers (this was after I had already gotten in). I admit I made the mistake of asking him if he took U.S. currency. In response to his request for $100 I started laughing, thinking that he had to be joking. I told him fuck no, and he kept going down, all the way to 10 or 20 dollars. I wasn't even negotiating, I just kept saying no...to everything. Believe me, that dude wanted to get the Benjamins that I didn't have real bad. All the while he was pulling away at his cigarette that dangled from yellowish brown lips in front of a few brown rusty looking teeth. He kept leaning in as if proximity was going to somehow sway me one way or the other. After about 1 minute I told him to stop and let me off.

He didn't stop.

Instead, he offered to bring me to a whore. I told him to stop again.

He still failed to stop the car.

He wanted to take me to some bars. I told him to stop and let me out.

He. Kept. Driving.

By that point I was pissed off and told him to stop the fucking car and let me out. I gave the guy a dollar. He was incredulous at getting only a dollar. Whatever.

Filipinos are awesome, don't get me wrong, but there are always a few questionable characters anywhere you go. Evidently the taxi drivers are somewhat notorious in Manila for being a tad batshit crazy. It worked out though, as I found a cool restaurant to chill at, after which I used Uber. Thanks old smelly crazy taxi guy!

The Sights

To be honest, I just picked a few of the top Tripadvisor attractions and went with that. This included Rizal Park, Paco Park, and Intramuros. It was definitely worth seeing these places and exploring them. You can read up on them, but I'll relate just a couple things from my time at these places.

Paco Park

Paco park is beautiful, though the experience is somewhat sullied by the loud music playing through PA speakers around the entire little place. There were a couple nooks in the back that I decided to explore. When I went into one there was a group of schoolchildren hanging about. They started chanting "selfie, selfie, selfie." So the first selfie shot in the Philippines turned out to be a group selfie.

Group selfie with the Paco Park Crew

Group selfie with the Paco Park Crew

Rizal Park

It's a big park with cool things, and tons of people go there to hang out. 

Rizal park at dusk

Rizal park at dusk

Intramuros

From Wikipedia: Intramuros (Spanish, "within the walls") is the oldest district and historic core of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Also called the Walled City, it was the original city of Manila and was the seat of government when the Philippines was a component realm of the Spanish Empire. Districts beyond the walls were referred as the extramuros of Manila, meaning "outside the walls".

This is a must see if you're going to be in Manila. It's fun to wander around there and just soak it in.

When I'm traveling I usually end up talking with a number of different fellow travelers at tourist destinations, but that day turned out to be a bit different.

As I was walking out of Intramuros yet another group of school kids appeared. Instead of chanting for a selfie they asked if they could interview me.

I told those kids to scram and get a job or something, and work on Christmas in a coal mine.

Not really...of course I said yes. 

When I said "sure" they were ecstatic. I could tell right away that this was for a school project, and was happy to provide my uneducated answers.

They asked me a number of different questions about social and cultural differences between my country and theirs, you know, the kind of questions you'd expect from a homework assignment. They recorded the whole thing from a tablet and took notes. They were very kind and respectful. It was really really cool.

At the end of the interview every single one of them shook my hand and thanked me. They told me that I was the only one who even acknowledged them.

This is sad and kind of messed up.

I get it, you can't really trust anyone, and a lot of times anyone of any age might be trying to sell or steal something (read about how I got robbed in Buenos Aires). But come on, you can use some discernment and common sense. If a group of schoolchildren in uniform ask to interview you, don't be a douchebag. 

Isn't that what the golden rule really is? Don't be a douchebag, that's it. World problems solved. Ha! 

I have so much more to write about, but for now I've got an island called Palawan to explore.

Oh, and in case you haven't guessed, many good things come from Manila. I'm looking forward to seeing how this scruffy giant of a city turns out in a couple years. 

The school kids who interviewed me

The school kids who interviewed me

Paco Park entrance

Paco Park entrance

Baluster de San Diego

Baluster de San Diego

St. Agustin church

St. Agustin church

Philippines flag in Rizal park

Philippines flag in Rizal park