I recently went to the Philippines and literally had the time of my life there! Being half Filipino and usually going there every few years to visit family in my mother’s town in Bukidnon, however I decided to travel around and see some of the amazing and unique places with my fiancée.
Situated in the south, Davao is probably the most organised city I have visited in the Philippines, and with a mayor who is currently running in the presidential election it was easy to see why from a visitor’s perspective. Compared to the other major cities Cebu and Manila, the crime rate is much lower to the extent which the mayor has zero tolerance towards troublemakers. Unlike Manila, rubbish and traffic is far lower and If you’re not a smoker like myself, you’ll be pleased to learn that there is a smoking ban throughout the city with the exception of just some miniature smoking areas (something I wish our British government would enforce).
We were able to have a great day tour of the city and some of the highlights included the following:
- Eden Nature Park – A resort set in the mountains with a beautiful terrain which is 95% man-made. The park is segmented into different attractions but my favourite was the view of the city.
- Davao Crocodile Park – Home to such a large crocodile farm and diverse range of other wildlife. We were amazed at the amount of nurtured crocodiles and the tropical animals some of which were so colourful I joked that they looked like someone had painted them!
- Japanese Tunnel – A very short tour about 10 – 15 minutes about a tunnel built by Filipino and American POWs during WWII. Although it was a short tour, my grandfather served in the Filipino army and I’ve taken a natural interest in learning the history from that period and found it of interest even though I had to prompt the tour guide with questions.
- Pearl Farm Beach Resort – The highlight of our time in Davao. Situated just outside on Samal island we stayed here for one night due to approximate price of £135 / $188 which was more expensive than the other accommodations. The resort is immaculate and view was well worth the price. We just missed out on meeting Manny Pacquiao by a few minutes when we caught a glimpse of him and his family when we were leaving on our boat. What I wouldn’t give to meet that man!
The longest land trip I’ve had in many years. We travelled about 9 hours from my families’ home to Dapitan which included a very hectic transfer for a 15 minute barge trip. We stayed at Dakak Park Beach resort which features a very nice cottage accommodation with a wide range of inclusive activities to do, but we opted to just enjoy a visit to the beautiful exclusive beach. The seafood there was also very cheap being sourced locally so we took the opportunity to make the most of it! We also had the following trips:
- The Rizal Shrine – This was my introduction to the Filipino nationalist, José Rizal. He was a highly patriotic man who rebelled against the Spanish rule and someone who is one of the Philippines’ most highly regarded national heroes and to put into perspective I can understand him to be the Philippines’ equivalent to what Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi are to their respective countrymen. What amazed me and set him apart was the plethora of skills he possessed by being an accomplished journalist, poet, activist and doctor amongst other professions. Skills which he developed from his travels from which the Filipinos bestowed the phrase of the most travelled Filipino during that period by having studied in many countries such as the USA, Austria and Germany. He is still an inspiration to Filipinos today and has an entire module in the education system devoted to him! In addition to the shrine, this location also features a museum, reconstruction of five houses which were built by Rizal, a dam which he constructed and a large rock where he wrote his poems.
- Fantasy Land – A very nice theme park, which although I would say is targeted predominantly to children, it still offers plenty of entertainment to people of all ages. In addition to the fun rides what I enjoyed most was the grand night parade; ‘festival of colours’, ‘fireworks’, ‘parade of cultures’ and my favourite the ‘fire and thunder show’.
We spent 4 days in Palawan which was divided between Puerto Princesa and El Nido and the highlight of our trip with the following standout activities:
- Puerto Princesa
Palawan Special Battalion WWII Memorial Museum – I was very impressed with this museum which included a detailed tour and diverse range of artefacts, for only 50p / 50c entry, which is used for maintenance. The tour guide provided a detailed description about American and Filipino POWs who were used to create an airbase and the Palawan massacre, but it also covered the sequential events until the end of the war.
Sabang Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour – On our way to the underground river we had a slight diversion which was worth the 15 minute bumpy dirt track! Although we enjoyed the tranquillity of the boat ride, it was also a very educational experience which explained the sustainable eco-tourism project by preserving the mangroves and also providing employment to the locals. The ride lasts about 40 minutes and in addition to learning about the ecosystem there, we were fortunate to see two snakes hanging from the trees which made for a great photo opportunity!
Underground River – My cousin who lives there said that the underground river was previously limited to 300 daily visitors but has now been increased to 1,500. This might not seem so significant however, having learned that this is to reduce the level of carbon dioxide which will damage the cave, it was a little disappointing that the government had allowed this increase. I can however understand considering the increased demand for tourism since the underground river became one of the designated New 7 Wonders of Nature in November, 2011 which of course has provided more local employment. We were glad to learn that precautionary measures have been taken to reduce to the environmental impact by having prohibited talking during the 1.5 km tour which takes 45 minutes and instead visitors are issued with an audio device which narrates the tour. Despite being a little disappointed with the huge swarm of tourists at the underground cave which slightly ruined the scenery and resulted with a 1 hour wait for our group’s turn, I guess I shouldn’t really complain because we contributed to it also! We were completely blown away by the entire experience with the abundance of things to see in the mysterious atmosphere. These included stalagmites, stalactites, bats (don’t look up!) the cathedral and unique rock formations to the extent which they’ve been given names such as the ‘giant candle’ etc. the river spans 8.2km but It is possible to have a 4km tour which would take up to 4 hours which requires a government permit taking up to three days to obtain.
- El Nido
It took us close to 6 hours to travel to El Nido in a van packed with 7 other tourists but it was well worth going through the countryside with just one major stop. Despite the town being small there was an abundance of variety of food to choose from and we were very surprised with such diverse nationalities of other tourists, clearly El Nido is booming with tourism and with the island hopping tours and opportunity for snorkelling it isn’t hard to see why. There are 45 islands in the area with four island hopping packages. We opted for package A which focused on the most popular locations. The tour lasted for the most duration of the day and went to five locations which included; ‘Secret Lagoon’, ‘Shimizu Island’, ‘Small Lagoon’, ‘Big Lagoon’ and ‘Seven Commandos’. Every location has a unique beauty; I couldn’t help but make a comparison to the film Cast Away because I could really picture being stranded there in heaven! I can honestly say with no exaggeration that it was the most breath taking natural place I have ever visited, straight out of one of those dream places you must visit and you see at work on your break on Instagram!
Our last place to visit was the capital of the Philippines. On previous visits I normally just passed through on my connecting flight without taking the time to see what Manila has to offer outside of a brief shopping trip, but we gave it a go and I was pleasantly surprised:
Intramuros tour – Starting and finishing at Fort Santiago built in 1571 during the Spanish regime. Rizal was sentenced and executed here and today the fort features a dedicated museum to the life of Rizal and it was very nice to see the school trips here, to inspire a sense of pride in the Filipinos. The base was also used by the American military during WWII, where US General MacArthur was based for six years and was the GM of Manila hotel 1935-1941. Popular celebrities have since stayed in the MacArthur suite such as Mohammed Ali, the Beatles and Hillary Clinton among others. At intramuros you really feel the Spanish colonial theme which has been preserved such as maintaining the cobble streets and the police still dress in the union from the Spanish period. We also had brief stops at the Manila Cathedral and Saint Augustina Church.
PBA final – Hosted at the SM Mall of Asia Arena, San Miguel made history by coming back from three losses against Alaska to win the PBA Philippine cup. Despite not being a follower of basketball, my fiancée is a huge fan and combined with the importance of the occasion, the enjoyment was definitely contagious! Despite not understanding the rules I could definitely appreciate the competitiveness and the win made for such an amazing atmosphere amongst the 23,616 attendance.
So that’s the places we saw, I hope to enjoy another trip in the future because there are still so many places I have yet to see.
Have any of you guys visited the Philippines or are you a Filipino who have seen some nice places? Please share your recommendations.