The Philippines: The hidden gem of Southeast Asia

With its 10,000-odd islands offering beaches galore, geological wonders like the Chocolate Hills, an abundance of endemic wildlife, a turbulent but fascinating history, and astounding rice terraces that are considered by many to be the 8th Wonder of the Ancient World, there is no shortage of things to do and see in the Philippines.

Like in so many Southeast Asian countries the prices are dirt-cheap and the people couldn’t be nicer. Yet due to its isolated location away from mainland Asia, the Philippines is often left off many travel itineraries, therefore making it an ideal destination for those in search of a country not yet spoiled by the wrath of tourism. Travelers to whom this unique experience appeals should book their tickets to the Philippines now – before the secret gets out and tour groups flock to this Southeast Asian treasure. Then, 20 years down the road you can boast about ‘What the Philippines used to be like’.

Here 5 Hiroshima residents share their top tips on how to make the most of your time in the Philippines – once you manage to drag yourself away from your beach towel.

Josh Zimmerman says:
Take a trip under the sea

With thousands of islands it’s no wonder that the Philippines has become one of the most popular scuba diving destinations in the world. With a wide variety of dive sites surrounding most of the major islands, there are opportunities for divers of all skill levels to enjoy the underwater scene year round. During Golden Week I traveled to the Island of Bohol, close to Cebu, where I spent a week studying and diving. I was pleasantly surprised by the wide range of plant and animal life, as well as the relaxing atmosphere of the beach. If you want to give diving a try the Philippines is an excellent place to visit. Basic certification runs at about $250 USD and takes about three days.

Barbara Lewis says:
See chocolate mounds and monkeys all in one day

On their own, I didn’t feel that the chocolate hills were unmissable, but they are on the general ‘must-see list’ while in the Philippines since it’s the only place this natural geological phenomenon exists in the world. They are located on the island of Bohol in the group of southern islands referred to as the Visayas. In the summertime these grass-covered granite hills turn brown, hence their name. There are two viewpoints of the chocolate hills where tourists can get a “postcard” view. For me, though, the hills were at their most majestic when viewed from amidst them, driving between the 1200+ mounds. For those wanting a real challenge, try hiking one!

If, like me, you don’t feel that the hills alone are enough of a draw, I recommend combining them with a visit to the nearby tarsier sanctuary – together they make for a great day trip. The tarsier is the smallest monkey in the world and is predictably cute!

Marc Milsten says:
Step back into WWII

Roughly 48 kilometers from the city of Manila, at the entrance to Manila Bay, lies Corregidor, an island full of intrigue and wonder. A visit to (the island of) Corregidor has the incredible ability to transport one back to the thundering explosions and harsh realities of World War II. The 1942 Battle of Corregidor resulted in Japanese forces taking control of the ally-occupied island. This takeover was short-lived, however, as less than three years later U.S. Forces returned and successfully recaptured the island.

Today, tours take visitors all over the island, telling the incredible story of Corregidor and its strategically important place in the Pacific theater of World War II. Bombed barracks, 12-inch mortars, anti-aircraft artillery, war memorials, and the Malinta Tunnel sound and light show highlighting life on the island during the war, are a few of the many attractions. Educational and interesting, Corregidor will surely provide visitors with a tangible and unforgettable understanding of World War II history.

Larissa Kirkland says:
Indulge in some daring local cuisine

A common favorite eaten by virtually all Filipinos is adobo (it was even referred to in the Black Eyed Peas song “Bebot!”). It is made with either chicken or pork, cooked in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, black peppercorn and ginger. It’s a simple but delicious dish that is commonly eaten over rice. Despite having been a vegetarian for over a decade now, my mouth still waters at the thought of my mother’s chicken adobo! If you’re looking for more of a culinary adventure, keep your ears open for street vendors at night selling balut. Balut, a Filipino delicacy, is a duck egg that is fertilized and given about 15-20 days to develop before being boiled and consumed. It is paired well with a beer – both for courage and to help wash down any stray feathers.

Jeff Niemetschek says:
Get in with the locals at a cockfight

If you’re looking for fun and excitement with some locals in the Philippines, definitely ask where you can watch a cockfight. Cockfights are not for the weak-hearted or squeamish. This fowl sport promises an exciting after-Mass activity for you to win back your Sunday tithings. You can easily find cockfighting anywhere in the Philippines from the large city arenas to rural neighborhood backyards. La Libertad stadium in Manila is my personal osusume. Although you don’t have to bet, it’s worth putting down a few pesos on either the favorite or the underdog – you may even come out on top as I did. But while no cocks were harmed in the writing of this article, the same can’t unfortunately be said for this battle to the death.

TRAVEL TIPS

Getting there

There are flights to the Philippines from Hiroshima and Fukuoka that go via in Taiwan. There are direct flights to Manila from Kansai and Tokyo International airports.

Getting around

Boats: If you like boats, then the Philippines is your country! Departure times vary and change frequently so go to the ferry terminal to check schedules and buy tickets.

Air: If you are going longer distances, more often than not flying is cheaper (and of course quicker) than taking a long distance ferry. Philippine Air is the largest carrier in the country. Also check out Cebu Pacific, and Air Philippines (website addresses below).

Jeepneys: Jeepneys are by far the most interesting way to get around town. After WWII the US military had no use for their jeeps, so gave them to the Filipino government. They have become the backbone of Manila’s intercity public transport system. With their bright colors and crazy drivers, they’re a fun and cheap way to get around.

Buses: Buses are another great mode of long-distance transport. Make sure you carry some warm layers with you as some of these buses turn into iceboxes.

Safety

Although most of the Philippines is very safe and Filipinos go out of their way to help foreigners, there are still frequent terrorist threats and there have been bombs placed in tourist areas. Check your home country’s travel warning before going – most recommend avoiding the southern Muslim islands where tourist kidnappings have occurred.

Helpful Links

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