Feb 062012

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. ~ Saint Augustine


The Philippines is a place where the Asian, Spanish and American cultures meet. The climate is great, the people are friendly and hospitable, and everything is very affordable for tourists. Whether you want to sip cocktails at the beach, taste the delicious food, enjoy the nightlife, or go on a shopping spree – it’s all there.

What are the Philippines?

The Philippines are a group of islands near the shores of South-East Asia close to Taiwan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Named after Philip the 2nd it had been a colony of Spain for over 300 years since the 16th century. In the 20th century it became an American colony, and after the Second World War it was given its independence. Because of its colonial history most people are Catholic. I’ve seen Jesus inside of pretty much every cab, tricycle, and jeepney while commuting in the metropolis of Manila.

From a social and economical view there’s a big gap between the rich and the poor. On one side Manila feels a bit American with its thriving commercialism, of which the huge shopping malls are a perfect example. Then again it’s also very normal to see big families packed into small houses, and people on the dirty streets struggling to get by. Because of the huge social-economical differences there’s a lot of crime, and there are definitely some areas you’d better steer clear of as a tourist. I myself never encountered any trouble though, and most places I visited were quite safe.

When I was in the Philippines it was raining season, meaning that most of the time the sky was clouded. This was fine with me, because I didn’t have to rub myself in with thick layers of sun block. However, one day the sky was clear with the hot sun burning on my skin. I figured I could do without sun block for 15 minutes, but at the end of the day I was as red as the raw looking sausages that we would eat for breakfast.

Friendly atmosphere

I went together with a friend, who has a large part of his family living there, so we stayed with them in the suburbs of Manila. We were welcomed with the greatest hospitality. The warmth and kindness towards foreigners is definitely something I’m not used to in Western Europe. I felt like I was part of the family. Of course, the Philippines are very different from Western Europe socially and economically. There is no such thing as a welfare state, and I believe that is also one of the reasons why families in general have much stronger cohesion than in Europe, where we live in a more individualistic society.

The size of Manila was also something completely new to me; there are roughly 16 million people living in the metropolitan area. That’s like all of the Netherlands packed into one huge city! The different districts are connected through highways and skyways. Basically the skyway is a highway that gives you the luxury of avoiding traffic jams during rush hours for a small fee. It’s very easy to waste hours in traffic, so it’s definitely not a bad idea to drive the skyway sometime even if only for the view.

During non peak hours it’s easy to get around by commuting and it’s a lot of fun too.Whether you take a tricycle of a jeepney, it doesn’t cost anything, and you get to experience life in Manila. A jeepney is like a tin can on wheels. These vehicles characterize the street view and act as small busses. A tricycle is a motorcycle with a small cart on the side attached to it. Both jeepneys and tricycles are decorated with bright colors, which make the street view very lively and playful.

Appetizing cuisine

There are also food stands on every corner of the street where you can buy local delicacies. The people love sweets so there are plenty. For example, you have these bananas that are dipped in some kind of sugary substance. Or if you’re more into popcorn or donuts, there are stands with American type of food in every mall with more flavors than you can imagine. I myself like fruits, and I can tell you it’s very nice to eat a fresh mango or drink the water of a coconut under the tree that it was just picked from. Most of the mangos in Holland are actually imported from the Philippines, and here I pay at least five-fold of what they cost there.

If you’re fond of rice, then you’re in the right place, because it’s served with pretty much every meal. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner all consist of rice with meat. Of course, there are many variations, but for a vegetarian it may be a bit more challenging to enjoy the cuisine to its fullest. Fortunately, I only became a vegetarian later, so I was still able to enjoy pork adobo, which is pork marinated in soy sauce and vinegar. Also fish is quite popular, although it’s more expensive. The cuisine is not spicy at all, especially not compared to nearby countries such as Thailand or Vietnam.

Busy city life

The city of Manila is a very lively place and there’s always something going on. There are many shopping malls – including the biggest in the whole of Asia – where you can get anything for a good price. So pack light to keep luggage space for the many bargains you’ll find there. Entertainment is also abundant in the malls; there are arcade halls everywhere, which is great for nerds like me. There are many places to chill out, have a drink, and meet some new people. However, be careful with randomly chatting up girls; they will like the attention, but their boyfriends don’t.

In the evening we would go out most of the time, and there are many places to go. In our street there were plenty of bars where they poured beer and cocktails the whole night long for virtually no money. They even served tapas, such as roasted pork and squid amongst many others. Because of the light nature of all alcoholic beverages, I would only realize the extent of my drunkenness the next morning, after my friends told me about last night. Priceless memories; if only I could remember them!

In the center of the city there are also plenty of clubs, although there’s much more tourism there. My friends and I spent a lot of time at pool cafés, where we could rent a pool table for next to nothing and play for a few hours while having some drinks. Pool is actually very popular in the Philippines, so you can bet I got my ass kicked. Basketball is also very popular, and I believe the Philippines have one of the strongest national teams in Asia.

Beautiful nature

If there’s anything that caught my attention, it’s the beautiful tropical environment. Even though we spent most of our time in and around the city, we also went on small trips to various places in the more rural areas of the country. It’s simply amazing to overlook a bay with azure blue water from the top of a hill, while you’re surrounded by jungle and see a volcano in the far distance on the other side. The big city of Manila is lively and colorful, but also dirty and busy. When you leave the chaotic city, you suddenly find yourself surrounded in profound beauty that I myself experienced as a complete paradise.

One of our trips took me to Lago de Oro, which was a kind of resort where you can relax, swim, and have some nice food, but also it’s a cable wakeboarding park! It wasn’t something I had done before, so I decided to use a kneeboard which was quite a challenge already. After a few laps I got the hang of it and managed to complete the course. I remember there was this old man who went at the end of the day, and pulled off some spectacular tricks. Definitely proof that age doesn’t mean anything.

Another time we rented a villa on the shore in Calatagan Batangas, where we stayed with pretty much the whole family. It had a pool and was right next to the beach. We had an amazing weekend there. During the day me and my friend took a boat and ventured a bit into a heavenly blue sea with its warm and crystal clear water; perfect for a bit of a swim. In the evening we would start popping bottles after a delicious dinner. I had also prepared a camp fire, so we all sat around to have a wonderful evening. Eventually we all ended up drunk in the pool!

Coming home

Unfortunately, time passes quickly when you’re having a good time. On my last night we went out hardcore, and I only had like 2 hours of sleep before I had to go to the airport to catch my flight back to Amsterdam. I suppose that’s not a bad place to call home, but I have to admit that I missed the Philippines as soon as I left. It’s been 3 years now and I’ve always wanted to go back sometime. Whether it’s the climate, the beautiful natural environment, or the atmosphere, it all just mixes down into something very joyful and lively.

Truth be told, I would probably start missing parts of Holland as well if I would decide to live in the Philippines; if you’re used to speaking your mind bluntly, then you’ll be sure to encounter some resistance. On the other side, you can live like a king with only an average Western paycheck. There are many people who move to Asia when they feel like retiring to a warm country where you’ll get bang for your buck. It’s a great place to visit to get a good taste of Asia on a beautiful island for a guaranteed unforgettable experience.

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