Philippines

Picturesque Philippines by CC user globetrotteri on Flickr

Introduction

A spread out nation consisting of 7,000 islands (giving it the longest coastline in the world, much to the delight of beach-goers) in the middle of the South China Sea, the Philippines is a place unlike any other in the whole of Southeast Asia. Over the years, this country has endured many slights, man-made and natural, ranging from volcanic eruptions and cyclones to the embarrassing ordeal of colonialism and corruption.

Despite all this, the resilient Filipinos have still retained their trademark smile and sense of humour.  Filipinos are an amazingly happy people, with travelers that steer off the main tourist track in Asia to come here being the fortunate recipients of a brand of hospitality that rivals the best nations in the world.

Aspects that have influenced Filipino culture include its history of being colonized by Western powers for the better part of the last half millennia.  The Philippines had been colonized by the Spanish for 377 years and for 49 years by the Americans, influencing its architecture, traditions and its food.

Additionally, the Philippines is the largest Christian nation in Asia, with over 90% claiming various brands of Christianity as their religion.  This stands in stark contrast to the rest of the nations of Southeast Asia, which are predominately influenced by Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam.  As such, one can expect cultural monuments that differ greatly from what you’ll find in the rest of Asia; this will be discussed in further detail below.

Long impoverished by corruption, a new drive to stamp it out has borne fruit.  As an indirect result of this, the excellent English proficiency and work ethic have led to a recent economic surge in the country, leading to a new optimism in the nation.  All in all, it is high time that you come to experience the kind spirit, tantalizing beaches, and unique food and culture of this intriguing country.  Is it more fun in the Philippines?  There’s only one way to find out!

Currency: Philippine Peso

Languages: Tagalog, English

The Banaue Rice Terraces by CC user bigberto on Flickr

What To Do

The vast majority of trips to the Philippines begin in Manila, so let’s begin with the major sights here.  One of Asia’s most heavily populated megacities, Manila has approximately 20 million people, making for a plethora of sights to see and things to do, all of which are covered in depth in Manila’s city article.  If you are on your way up or down the country for the majority of your trip though, do at least make time for Manila’s historical district, Intramuros.  Surviving the bombardment of World War II to a miraculous degree, Intramuros stands out as the best preserved piece of the Spanish colonial period in the entire region.  Within this area lie cobblestone streets, spectacular Spanish architecture, museums, the massive walls of Fort Santiago and many fabulously designed churches such as San Agustin and the Manila Cathedral.

Leaving the big city by bus to explore sights further north on the island of Luzon, the UNESCO recognized Banaue and Sagada Rice Terraces will stun you at their scale, with thousands of feet of terraces dazzling you with the neon green rice plants contained within their pools of water.  This is truly a feat of ancient civil engineering that shouldn’t be missed by any traveler to the Philippines.

Heading back to the ocean from being inland, take in the colonial charm of the town of Vigan, regarded as one of the only successful master planned settlements in Asia.  Those who fancy themselves a carver of waves can tackle the breakers of the west coast of Luzon at many excellent surfing beaches nearby, as the Philippines location in the middle of the South China Sea garners it some excellent swells.

Those who like to interact with the deep blue sea underneath its waves will like diving off the shores of Puerto Galera on the island of Mindoro, which is located in the middle of the Coral Triangle, where the majority of viable coral reef species in the world are found today.  Many bars in Sabang will keep you entertained here, and drop by White Beach for a beach resort with a strong Filipino influence, as it’s the getaway of choice for beach craving Manilans.

philippines el nido by CC user karochkin on Flickr

If you are the beach bumming type that is seeking out pure white sand and amazing views, the best spots in the Philippines for lazing on the sand next to an aquamarine sea can be found in Boracay, which has all the tourist facilities you could ever want or need, and El Nido in Palawan takes care of the backpacker set, which asks that you forego reliable internet and 24 hour electricity for some of the most mind-blowing vistas that can be found in the tropical oceans of Southeast Asia.

Want to see rare species?  The Philippines has that too, with the wide eyed Tarsier occupying the uniquely shaped Chocolate Hills on the island of Bohol.  Want to climb the highest peak in the Philippines, in Mt. Apo?  Head all the way south to the Philippines largest island, Mindanao, and savour the view of the roof of this surprising country, one you won’t soon get bored with!

Chicken Adobo by CC user arndog on Flickr

What To Eat

Philippine food is distinct from the rest of Southeast Asia, just the same as the other elements of its culture.  Filipino food is not spicy, but it is still very attractive since it is flavored with agents such as garlic, onions, and ginger, and so on.

Adobo is one of the most common and best love forms of Filipino food, consisting of pork or chicken cooked in soy sauce and vinegar with garlic, which is then served over a bed of rice. Lechon is often served at large gatherings, as it is a pig roasted over a charcoal fire.  It is served up hot and juicy, so do try to order some before leaving the country!

Balut is considerably weirder, as it is the stuff of gross out legends for Westerners.  It is a fertilized embryo inside an egg that has been aborted before hatching, leaving the consumer to eat the partially developed chick as a snack. Finally, Buko Pie is a common dessert among Filipinos, and an incredible way to end your meals in the Philippines.  It is made filled with young coconut, making it a light and sweet finish to a decadent dinner.

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