The Philippines is fast becoming a popular destination in South East Asia. And rightly so! It has the warm tropical climate, beautiful beaches and friendly people. In addition, it has a fascinating history with Spanish/Asian/American influences, unique natural sights in all of its 7,000+ islands and a variety of cultures all at VERY reasonable prices.
As an Australian with Filipino heritage, I enjoy travelling back to Philippines to visit our much-loved family members and see as much of its beauty as I possibly can. With frequent flights and reasonable airfares from low cost airlines, more and more people are opting to holiday in the Philippines.
As with any destination, there are many tips one can offer. What I have here for you are the Do’s and Don’ts when travelling in this beautiful country, whether it’s your first time or even if you have been there a few times before.
Learn to speak a few key phrases
There are almost as many dialects as there are islands in the Philippines and even though English is widely spoken, it is greatly appreciated by most Filipinos that you speak a few key phrases of their national dialect… Tagalog.
Like in all languages a ‘Thank You’ spoken in their native tongue seems more sincere than one spoken in English. So here are a few key phrases to learn:
- Please = Paki (Pa-kii)
- Thank you = Salamat (Sah-lah-maht)
- Hello = Kumusta (Kuh-moos-tah)
- Good bye = Paalam (Pa-ah-lamm)
Tread lightly on its environment
In my opinion this should be a standard practice regardless of what country you visit, but Philippines in particular is one where this should ALWAYS apply.
Mainly because most areas outside of Manila are lacking the infrastructure to support the services that we are normally used to. For most westerners, adequate waste & collection services, community clean up programs etc. in public areas are present even outside major cities.
But what they lack in infrastructure they make up for in hard labor. So, we as visitors, have a responsibility to make sure we “leave behind only footprints” and don’t make it harder than it already is.
Also see DON’T: Encourage unethical practices point below.
Venture outside of Manila
There’s more to Philippines than Manila! And there’s more to Manilla than shopping malls.
The diversity of cultures, languages and cuisine across all the islands is what makes Philippines so interesting.
Boracay is to Philippines what Phuket is to Thailand (less developed). However, there are also a great number of other places that you can explore. Including areas just outside of Manila, that are easy enough to visit, even if you don’t have a lot of time. Some that I would suggest are:
- Head South to: Cebu, Palawan, Bohol
- Head North to: Baguio, Pangasinan,
- Just outside of Manila: Pampanga, Laguna, Tagaytay, Batangas, Quezon province (not to be mistaken for Quezon city)
Try the local cuisine
Filipino food is representative of its history, providing a fusion of European, Asian and American flavours. I will be the first to admit that at first glance, it’s heavy on the protein and light on the vegetables.
There are plenty of dishes that have vegetables in them and these are the ones we look for when we crave for vegetables.
I suggest either requesting for extra vegetables in the dishes you order, enlist the help of a friendly local or better yet, do a guided Food Tour and learn more about it for yourself.
Mention fresh coconuts, sweet juicy mangoes, slow-cooked suckling pig on a spit and the fresh seafood dishes, to any Filipino and they will immediately salivate. Eating is the unofficial national sport, well at least it should be, so you should also embrace eating 5 x times a day and get used to talking about your next meal before you even order your current one.
Just go with it. Don’t fight it. Whether it is a slick and shiny Karaoke bar in the heart of Manila or a corner grocery store, there are Karaoke machines everywhere! So just get up on stage and belt one out. In fact, you will probably gain more Filipino friends by doing so… even if you do sound like a dying cat.
But let me warn you now, do not even try to sing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”… this is a sacred song amongst Filipinos and unless you have armed bodyguards to protect you, should only be attempted by winners of The Voice/X Factor/Idol.
Buy into the fear factor
The myth that tourists are blindfolded, kidnapped and held for ransom is unfortunately, fuelled by over conservative foreign embassies and some skittish expats. Booking an all inclusive resort and vowing not to venture outside of it’s grounds, is the biggest mistake you can make when travelling to Philippines.
In general, with exception to certain remote areas of Mindanao region (far southern region), pretty much all areas of the Philippines is safe to travel and explore. Please don’t be stupid and go where the trouble is. It’s a poor country and you know that. So just be aware, but there’s no need to be alarmed.
Encourage unethical practices
With so many wonderful sights to see and do at such cheap prices, it is very tempting to pay for that once-in-a-lifetime experience, without consideration to whether animals are mistreated or if their practices are environmentally sustainable.
I get it. Like lots of other people, I rode an elephant in Thailand too when I didn’t know any better.
But now we are much better informed, so I urge you NOT to become patrons of such businesses. Understand that they are chasing the almighty tourist dollar and therefore are often willing to go against traditional and environmentally responsible practices.
If you haven’t done your research then let common sense be your guide and know that there are other options. Because whilst it may be true that no one knows why the whale sharks first came to that beach in Cebu, it’s clear that feeding them ensures these gentle creatures (and tourists) return.
Overplan / Overschedule
First rule of travelling in the Philippines? Nothing happens on time. So don’t bother planning everything down to the minute.
Bus and boat schedules with detailed arrival and departure times should be treated as a guide. They are notoriously late and can change at a moments notice. No one blinks an eye if the shops or banks open 20 minutes later than the trading hours indicated. In fact, silly you for actually turning up expecting them to be there with doors open.
And don’t you dare arrive at a person’s house on time, you’ll get dirty looks for catching them unprepared because you came too early. A fashionable 15-30 minutes late is perfectly normal.
So be flexible with your time and adapt the local “bahala na” (whatever will be will be) attitude.