An adventure in The Philippines – Manila & Cebu
2016 has been a challenging but rewarding year until now. So it was fitting that I had a long break from everything. I took 4 weeks to explore the archipelago nation that is The Philippines. I covered 7 islands, stayed with locals, hit up beach bars, did a lot of diving, spent a lot of time on the road, saw some stunning sunsets and much more. I’ve broken my trip in to a few posts so it’s easier to digest. It’s taken me a long time to write.
I had a lot of frustrations during the trip, many of which are down to the still relatively infant state of the tourism industry in The Philippines. Yet, it’s one of the first developing countries which I already want to go back to because I feel I have unfinished business there. As a Digital Nomad, I would not recommend The Philippines! The speed of the Internet is a nightmare.
A little history of The Philippines
The Philippines was first colonised by the Spanish in 1521 and stayed that way until 1898. Interestingly it was a Portuguese explorer named Magellan who first sailed there. He then could not get permission to disembark and to explore from his own King, so he sailed under the flag of Spain instead. Probably quite a big deal back then! In 1898 the American-Spanish war occurred which resulted in a large American presence in the country until 1946 when they gained independence.
First stop: Manila
If you’re going to The Philippines then the chances are that you will be flying into Manila. I’ll be frank: personally I don’t see how anyone could like this place. It’s a huge sprawling city, famed for its traffic jams. Some journeys can take 20 minutes and then same journey could take 3 hours on a normal day. There is a huge poverty problem, and I’d say it’s very intense and intimidating if it’s your first trip to south-east Asia. Another thing that you’re introduced to there is the huge amount of colour everywhere though. This was intensified because I arrived in the run up to a massive general election. All the posters for the candidates were out, doused in colour.
I was staying in Makati for a couple of nights which is one of the closer districts of Manila to the airport.
Getting from the airport
Having been to developing countries before I knew it could be quite intimidating when all the taxi drivers and touts are clamouring for your business, so I researched as much as possible. I took an Uber which was 3 months old in Manila at the time, but this isn’t recommended (see below). You have taxis in 3 different styles: coupon taxis, yellow taxis, and white taxis. Each with their own level of reputation. Then you have GrabCar, an Uber-style cab app. This would be the most recommended choice for first timers. I will do a post on getting into Manila city to detail the options.
One of the first things you notice is that all the signs, be they street signs, posters or shop fronts, are in English. English is one of two official languages in The Philippines, with Tagalog being the other. Children learn in English at school but from what I gather this is where it ends. So I was quite surprised with how much the people sometimes struggle to understand what I was saying. They simply are not that used to our accents and our speed of speaking. Manila was also the first place I was introduced to the Filipino way of greeting you or getting your attention: “HELLO SIRRRR”, or “HELLO MA’AM”. It’s very funny how it is pronounced and will stick with me as something truly identifiable with The Philippines. At first I considered it incredibly polite but now I know that the “sir” part comes with “hello”. It’s a package.
Safe Haven of 7/11
Perhaps it’s silly to say but when you’re in a chaotic, hot city, you need to seek refuge from both these things during a sightseeing walk. The 7/11 convenience stores have become this for me since arriving in Thailand in 2010. In Manila, especially on your first day, it’s either the malls or 7/11. There are plenty of them around. They also offer a good selection of local delicacies! I’ll leave it to you to rate the quality.
Disembarking in Cebu you feel that you can breathe a bit easier. Of course, we had a little flight delay. Something I was prepared for. 1 hour or so is very normal in The Philippines.
Upon getting on our bus to the hotel, Mango Park, we were given an overview of Cebu. Cebu City is the capital, and the airport is actually on an island called Mactan. This island is connected to Cebu by a very long bridge. The language spoken on Cebu and other islands in the Visayas region is Cebuano (think Kinder Bueno when pronouncing that bu sound – Sebwano).
The love of colour was clearly a national trend as the jeepneys (the most common form of mass public transport) here were made from different vehicles from the ones in Manila. They seemed a lot more compact. Colour combinations were inventive and they always have a name! I think this simply reflects the happier mood of people from Cebu than that of the people of Manila.
We headed on to one of the jeepneys (mind your head!) to go and get lunch. We ended up at a Filipino chain restaurant called Zubochon. I imagine it’s a play on words of one of their national dishes: lechon. It’s basically roast pork cooked in a number of a different ways. It was like the pork Nando’s but you don’t have to serve yourself, haha. Also, it doesn’t taste as good as Nando’s. My first impression was that it was a very slick, and modern restaurant. We shared a platter of lechon and garlic rice (the other item that’s everywhere!). which was pretty good.
We also visited a food court where we could choose whatever we wanted to eat and have it barbecued. We also got to try the “hanging rice” which the locals keep wrapped in bamboo leaves and take with them when they go and eat with friends. Tasty, and all the BBQ sauce covered meats were great but really sweet! Shouldn’t eat that every day!
Stay tuned for part 2!