“I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.” ~Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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.
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 and most places I visited were well secured.
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 and so the sun was intense. 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 they love to eat for breakfast.
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 side car attached to it. Both jeepneys and tricycles are decorated with bright colors which make the street view very charming and playful.
There are also stands everywhere 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. If you’re more into popcorn or donuts there are stands with American type of food on basically every corner in 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.
I myself love rice and that’s a good thing since 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 for me I only became a vegetarian later on 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.
- 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 room 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 (Starbucks anyone?) and meet some new people. However, be careful with randomly chatting up girls; we found out the hard way that Philippino guys can be quite territorial.
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 would serve San Miquel beers and other drinks the whole night long for virtually no money. They even served snacks 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 when my friends told me about last night. Priceless memories – if 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 cafes 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. Talking about sports; basketball is also very popular and I believe the Philippines have one of the stronger national teams in the world.
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 wakeboard 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 the heavenly blue sea which was crystal clear. The water was warm and perfect for a bit of swimming. 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 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. On the other side you can live like a king with a moderate Western salary. There are many people who move to Asia when they feel like retiring in style. It’s a great place to visit sometime to get a good taste of Asia on a beautiful island for a guaranteed unforgettable experience.