Our short guide to the Philippines based on our month long stay.
Was this enough?
Quite simply – NO! We only scratched the surface of the country and could easily spend another month there without getting bored. Our biggest regret is not making it to Palawan.
With so many islands spread over such large distances, a variety of transport is required in the Phillipines. The quickest and most expensive of course is to just fly. Getting to and from Manila is easy and cheap enough, but not all routes have direct flights, affordable ones anyway.
We spent a lot of time on ferries of varying quality getting between islands. The main companies are Supercat/2Go, OceanJet and Weesam Express, who offer very fast boats, with soft seating, air con and movies, but with prices to match. Much cheaper options on more basic boats with local companies are available if you turn up at a pier and ask around – generally only one company services a specific time. Also don’t rely on schedules online, we frequently found them to be incorrect. Finally expect to pay terminal fees at most departure points.
We took a few buses using Ceres Liner which were fine but some stopped at every opportunity to pick up passengers until the aisle was full, making the bus hours late. You expect this on a local bus but not a VIP long distance coach.
On one occasion we took a minivan from Iloilo to Caticlan which worked out cheaper and far quicker than taking the proper bus.
Within smaller towns and cities trikes are the best option to get around short distances. Negotiate but generally they are quite cheap. Cheaper still are Jeepneys, the most recognisable being the Manila variety but different designs are used in Cebu and other cities.
We hired motorbikes in Siquijor and Bohol, both were cheap at around 300PHP per day, however most bikes are semi automatic (gears but no clutch) so if you want fully auto you may have to pay a little more. Personally I loved riding the Honda XRM, which is a cross between a dirt bike and a scooter – perfect for the bumpy roads.
Don’t even think about hiring a bike on Boracay, the rates are extortionate and the island so small and gridlocked it would make little sense – just use trikes.
Taxis are widespread in Manila and Cebu but as with elsewhere in Asia it may be a while before you find one willing to use the meter.
Most nationalities do not need a Visa for entry to the Philippines. As British citizens we received a 30 day visa exemption, but we could have purchased a visa to stay up to 59 days.
We were required to produce evidence of an onward flight before checking in for our flight from Hanoi to Manila, so this is one where you should have one arranged, especially as there is no possibility of leaving the country by land.
There is also an international departure tax of 500PHP which is rather steep and quite unusual these days.
What Did We Spend?
These costs are over 28 days.
Accommodation – £428.05
Eating Out – £283.01
Transport – £314.57
Groceries – £93.98
Attractions – £32.62
Shopping – £29.97
Alcohol – £49.74
Coffee/Drinks/Snacks – £31.06
Petrol – £7.29
Misc – £12.98
Laundry – £4.57
Total – £1287.85
Per Day – £45.99
Over our £44 per day but not by much! 2 flights (Manila – Cebu and Kalibo – Manila) mainly put us over budget.
Standard Filipino meal at a small restaurant – 90-150PHP
Set meal at a local fast food chain – 70-120PHP usually including unlimited rice
Small beer from a 7-11 – 27-35PHP
Beer at a bar – 30-80PHP (never saw a beer selling for more than 100PHP even in pricier places)
Average room cost in a city (Manila excluded) – 380-700PHP
Average room cost on an island – 800PHP – 1600PHP and up
Haircut in Boracay – 50PHP
Short Taxi Ride – 70PHP
Very few problems, since English is one of the national languages of the Philippines! 95% of printed language on signs, labels, menus etc is in English. However you’ll rarely hear English being spoken as Filipino (Tagalog) is the other official language and is used for conversation, as well as some newspapers and adverts. But because of it’s official status almost all Filipinos speak incredibly good English.
This isn’t always as easy as you’d think, we did have a surprising amount of trouble sometimes being understood in restaurants and shops at times. We can only think it is down to our British accents, in the same way we have trouble being understood in America sometimes.
Filipino food is widely unknown outside the country, but is a great cuisine in our opinion.
Initially we weren’t hugely impressed with the cuisine as it is very meat based and doesn’t seem the healthiest. But we soon grew to enjoy the wonderful succulent slow cooked or cured meat and complex flavours. Eating enough vegetables was a challenge though!
Street food is nothing to write home about, aside from some decent BBQ meat the most common seems to be hot dogs and fried chicken, it is certainly different to most of Southeast Asia in that respect. So venture into the restaurants for some home cooked food.
Fast food is ubiquitous in the Philippines, both home grown brands and American. Jollibee is the Filipino version of McDonalds and is everywhere. Despite being fast food, it’s worth a visit. Other brands, such as Mang Inasal, do proper Filipino food in a fast food setting. So personally I had no issue eating in these places from time to time.
Lechon Kawali – deep fried pork belly. Not the healthiest dish (!) but it tastes unbelievable
Inasal Chicken – described in more detail here, this is one of the best BBQ chicken dishes I have tasted
Adobo – Slow cooked pork and/or chicken in soy sauce, vinegar & garlic
Sinigang – a very sour tamarind soup, ofter with pork
Oh, and before you ask, we didn’t try Balut (fertilised duck egg). We like to eat local but it was just too much for us.
Is it safe?
This is something I was unsure about before we went, especially with Manila. One of those situations where you read the guide books and get unduly worried. Honestly though we never felt unsafe in the slightest, even in the capital. As with any large city keep bags close to you and don’t flash money or cameras around.
The smaller islands such as Siquijor feel so safe and sleepy crime is probably virtually non existent.
A danger other than crime in cities is traffic! Cars rarely stop at crossings so be careful.