Essential Insider Information For A Trip To The Philippines

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Planning a trip to the Philippines? Be ready for an adventure that will open your eyes. The Philippines' influences have merged into a culture unmatched anywhere else in Southeast Asia, much like the nation's signature dessert, halo-halo, which means "mix-mix."
Indigenous tribes' long-standing customs coexist here with deeply ingrained Catholicism, Hispanic fervor, and American pop culture. Under the cover of the big buildings, food stands on the street sizzle. And whether you're in the hipster neighborhood of Manila or the furthest reaches of the countryside, a karaoke session seems to be the answer to all of life's troubles.

Our Philippines specialist, who was born in Manila, offers some excellent insider advice for seeing this magical archipelago.

The best travel advice for the Philippines? Adopt the "bayanihan spirit"

In the Philippines, a sense of belonging is essential. The concept of bayanihan refers to group efforts to improve the lot of fellow Kabayans (countrymen). And not only during emergencies; in the past, whole communities would assist a family in moving their nipa hut (lifting them using bamboo poles).

Today, this takes the form of neighborly friendliness. renovating your home? After a long day of tuk tuk driving, are you thirsty? Your kabayans will defend you.

It is beneficial for travelers to consider how the "bayanihan spirit" may affect their journey. For instance, if you paid an admission charge to an attraction, keep in mind that your guide's tips are probably what pay their wages; the money you spent to enter is put back into the neighborhood.

Naturally, larger tour operators are exempt from this, which is why it is a good idea to promote smaller, independent companies in this situation.

Like a local, take the jeepney

The simple jeepney, made from converted Japanese cargo trucks during World War II, is a national symbol of the Philippines. These are the most prevalent form of public transportation in the nation, and you can find them chugging along everywhere transporting locals.

Despite its intimidating appearance, it is a proven method to save money (a single trip costs around eight pesos, or 12 pence), as well as get an understanding of local culture.

You'll need to use a little bayanihan spirit to pay for your journey. Pass your cash down the line of passengers to the driver, paying the precise amount so they don't have to multitask.

It's a bit more difficult to get where you're going since there aren't any official timetables or maps; chatting to people is your best choice. If there are no "barkers" at the jeepney station, simply ask one of the other passengers; the majority of Filipinos can converse in English.

Say "para po!" (please stop) to signal a halt, or pull the rope along the roof to activate the "stop light." At first, it could appear difficult, but trust the process!

Include island time

The Philippines operates on "island time," sometimes referred to as "Filipino time," which is a more loose timetable. Therefore, while planning a vacation, travelers should be adaptable and nimble and prepare for delays in transportation schedules, particularly in distant places.

When you find yourself waiting for too long, glance up, take in the scenery, and think to yourself, "When else am I going to be sitting on a beautiful tropical island?"

Respect your seniors

The Philippines has a strong regard for elder generations, believing that the more life experience someone has, the better. Mano po, a customary gesture, is used to honor this.

Filipinos will lower their heads, take their elder's hand, and put it on their forehead when they come across an old person.

Make sure to do this and pay your respects if you ever find yourself visiting someone's grandparents; if you're fortunate, you'll receive a hard squeeze on the cheek as my lola (grandmother) used to.

Generally, while addressing persons in more senior positions, people employ the phrase po at the conclusion of their statements. Elderly folks fall under this category, but it also includes bosses, parents, and relatives. You'll also note that service personnel utilize it while speaking with clients.

Suffix "po" to your words while speaking Tagalog to get more street cred.

Traveling sustainably begins with you

The Philippines has restricted the import of garbage in recent years, joining other Southeast Asian nations in doing so. In 2019, the Philippines notably returned more than 1,500 tonnes of trash to Canada.

Mountains of trash that threaten animals and local residents are a consequence of the area's long use as a landfill by the Global North.

You'll need to travel wisely if you're heading to farther-flung regions. Bring extra trash bags, particularly if you're going to a beach where there may not be trash cans.

Don't steal or purchase seashells because they help clean the ocean by filtering out pollutants and serving as homes and food for marine life.

Keep an eye out for neighborhood bottle collectors who are paid to take your used beer bottles to recycling facilities after you're done with them.

The simplest travel advice for the Philippines is to eat like a Filipino!

You're really losing out if your aim is to subsist in the Philippines on a diet of chicken and rice. Filipino cuisine is distinctively sweet, salty, and sour, and is as varied as the 7,000 islands that make up the archipelago.

When in Cebu, go straight for Leslie's Lechon's lechon kawali: slow-roasted pork with golden-crisp skin. If you ever find yourself in Angeles City, Pampanga, be sure to taste the calamansi-seasoned pig cheek and liver sisig at Aling Lucing Sisig, which is where the delicacy was created and made popular by Anthony Bourdain's Explore Parts Unknown.

Try the sinigang at Corazon while you're in Manila; it's a flavorful stew of fresh fish and veggies that's soured with tamarind or tomatoes.

Observations on proper dining behavior: Filipinos normally use a fork and spoon while eating (better to scoop up that rice), but they sometimes use their hands to truly blend the flavors. Don't be reluctant to get started since most restaurants provide hand wipes specifically for this purpose.

Take a shot like a Filipino, na!

Filipinos like nice drinks, and this is evident in the country's thriving drinking scene. On weekends, crowds of people throng videoke halls, posh pubs, and fiestas to party till the early hours of the morning with their pulutan (drinking snacks).

The alcohol here is potent, with Red Horse, a typical beer, having an ABV of 8%. If there's one beverage to watch out for, it's Tanduay Rum: a potent concoction that burns your throat yet mixes too readily with coke.

In the Philippines, "cheers" truly isn't a word-for-word counterpart. For a straightforward "chug," "shot," or even the Japanese "kanpai," most people clink their glasses (a taste of the national love for all things J and K-pop).

But things take a distinctly Filipino turn when booze is involved. If you're with a local group, someone serves as the tangerro, who is responsible for serving beverages.

The "tagay" tradition involves everyone taking a shot sequentially from the same glass. By raising this glass together, friends get closer and the world is made right.

Courtesy is expected

It's not a coincidence that the Philippines' tourist slogan, "It's more fun in the Philippines," is known for its amiable locals. If you ever find yourself under someone's kind care, there are a few things to remember.

If a local extends an invitation to eat with them, they could feel obligated to cover your portion. Therefore, be clear about how you intend to share the cost before meeting.

If you've extended the invitation, on the other hand, you could be expected to pay for the event (and if you're out celebrating your birthday, people will think you're paying for everyone, which can become pricey pretty quickly, take it from me).

They may not immediately let you know if you've offended them. In the Philippines, there is a strong emphasis on "saving face," and some individuals may refrain from being bluntly honest if it means avoiding conflict or humiliation. Therefore, take the effort to apologize and relieve them of that burden if you see anything is amiss.

Watch out for additional costs

The Philippines is a fantastic location for travelers on a tight budget, but always remember to bring extra cash just in case. These include annoying airport terminal fees, which for international flights may cost up to 750 pesos (£11). (and usually between 150-250 pesos for domestic travel).

Fortunately, this is covered by the cost of your aircraft ticket in Manila and Boracay. However, if you're sending money from places like Cebu or Iloilo, you'll have to pay cash (literally; there is no card payment option).

Additionally, be aware of ATM fees while withdrawing cash. The best rates may be obtained by withdrawing money from BDI, BPO, or Metrobank cash machines. It pays to withdraw a sufficient sum to prevent frequent trips to the ATM; 10,000 pesos (about £150) should be enough to keep you comfortable for a few days.
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