Category Archives: Philippines

Why I miss the Philippines

 

Alona Beach
Alona Beach, Bohol

I often get this question time and time again.

“So tell me. What is your favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?”

There is usually a long hesitation of silence after this question on my end followed by a lengthy “ummmmm”. Bali, Taiwan, Korea, and Greece all come to mind  immediately when I think of some of the best things I have experienced abroad such as yoga, kimchi, and drinking frappes in a cozy cafe in Oia but then my mind changes and my memories take over me and before I know I am blurting out “The Philippines!”

My first adventure out to the Philippines was back in 2013 on a curious solo adventure to see the Chocolate hills down in Bohol. It was a backpack, a Lonely Planet, and a few airbnb’s booked with no agenda in mind. It was an adventure within itself taking the ferry from Cebu to Tagbilaran and answering to all the curious locals as to why on earth I was alone in the Philippines in the first place and where my husband was.  In the end I loved what I saw and I was anxious to see more in the future.

Located in southeast Asia consisting over 7,107 islands the Philippines has something for everyone’s taste. Whether you love hiking, swimming in waterfalls, sprawling on a beach, people watching in Manila, or getting deep into the culture this is a place where genuine experiences and curiosity always slip out of nowhere.

White Beach Bohol
Alona Beach-Bohol
Chocolate Hills
Chocolate Hills
Tappiya Falls
Tappiya Falls
Coron
Coron, Palawan

 

Fast forward to 2017

The Philippines. I know, I know what you are thinking. “But Alana, I thought you told me that you hate the heat there, the pollution of Manila, the poverty you saw everyday, the lack of green spaces all throughout the city, lack of living space and the lifestyle of “malling” to get out of the heat. I know, exactly. I agree with you. I agree with you completely. I did say all of those things. But in my experience of knowing for myself what the Philippines has to offer I still sometimes miss traveling there.

But I’m not including Manila as my favorite travel destination.  It’s the Philippines in all of it’s entirety that I’m talking about. It’s the food. It’s the garlic fried rice that I would eat every single morning for breakfast. Its the fried lumpia! I’m salivating just thinking about eating lumpia right now soaked in vinegar sauce. For all of you who don’t know what lumpia is think about an egg roll. It’s kind of like that but with fresh ingredients inside and you can order it fresh with a doughyness or have it fried (my preference).

Filipino cuisine
Filipino cuisine

You go to a mega mall and the options of foods you can eat still astound me. I compare that to my local mall here in Connecticut and I shake my head as I list off the limited options I have: Subway, Chinese, McDonald’s, and what else? Back in these mega malls especially in metro Manila and Baguio City you have endless options of all different kinds of Asian foods, western, pizzas, and ramen! It’s the warm mountains of rice on my plate along with yummy veggies, shrimp, and an egg topped over my rice that heals any pain I might have. And best of all it’s so cheap! I can literally eat out everyday and not worry about my budget.

It’s the landscapes. Places like Banaue way up north (12 hours north of Manila) where I soaked in the wandering rice terraces with my boyfriend watching locals live their daily lives in pure simplicity while drinking a cold coconut that made me want to just quit life and take a chance at being a professional vlogger in the Philippines. No seriously, I deeply contemplated that option a few times this year.

Batad Rice Terrace
Batad Rice Terrace

Filipinos are very curious about foreign travelers in their turf. Well maybe not sacred places like Sagada where the over traffic of tourists has taken over this quiet town famous for the hanging coffins, caves, and homeade yoghurt, but still. Filipinos are easy going people who are very prideful of their culture, land, and family life.

Leslie's in Tagaytay
Leslie’s in Tagaytay

It’s the smiles and kind regard that I’m not use to each time I visit the Philippines. When you walk into any grocery store, shopping mall, hair salon, restaurant a stammering of workers cannot wait to assist you in the Philippines. “Hi ma’m. Can I help you find something?” “Not really,” (I reply back) (But in my mind I think “But I’d love to chat!”). The last time I was in the Philippines I had a long “heart to heart” with one of the workers in the SM department store as he was very curious about my being in Manila and what brings me here. The long and short of it was that we exchanged a nice conversation and I hope I didn’t p*ss off any of his co-workers by his long chat with me.

Back home I’m usually not greeted by sales people on the floor of a store. Them assisting me is like them doing me a huge favor.  Seriously. That’s the attitude at least I feel when I return home from my travels.Nobody actually comes up to me to ask if I need help. Last week when I was trying to find a box to mail back to Air Canada (broken luggage) I was in Toys R’us and I had to hunt down sometime to assist me. Finally when I spotted a lady with a name tag walking past me I had to turn around and start following her and walk with her around the store to ask my question. Really!  When I sit down and think about it, it’s kind of refreshing to know the care and genuine assertiveness I get whenever I’m out and about in the big cities in the Philippines. That’s something you won’t find in the States. If so, I would love to know where you live and what kind of service you get.

After four visits to the Philippines I know that I still have more than 7,000 islands to visit. That’s the truth of it. In my lifetime or in anyones lifetime for that matter would they ever run out of places to discover, people to meet, and new foods to try. That’s why I’m excited to go back one day when the time is right. I know haven’t even seen 2% of this exquisite country yet.

Puerto Galera
Puerto Galera, Mindoro

For more about life in the Philippines check out one of my favorite blogs written by Amber who has created a very creative life in the metro Manila area with her family here. For more about creative living, delicious recipes, and lifestyles check out my favorite Filipino celebrities Stephanie Zubriri here.

Baguio Cathedral
Baguio Cathedral

Malling in the Philippines

Welcome to Manila

With more than ten million people in the Metro Manila area malling has become a growing cultural habit of most of it’s population. Still considered a developing country the Philippines is packed with hypermarkets and major names such as the Mall of Asia, SM and Ayala. With the high humidity and heat most of the populations pass time by strolling through malls to stay cool.

Manila is full of surprises if nobody forewarned you about them. Intense heat, loads of traffic, jeepneys galore, lots of honking, lots of sweating, and your body begging you for more cold buko juice. In the metro Manila area part of the lifestyle of living here is to go “malling” to stay cool and get your errands done in one place. When I visited the Philippines for an extended period of time two years ago I was shocked by how often my boyfriend wanted to go to the mall to “cool off”.

“Malling” in my family happens usually during the holidays when we are shopping for gifts and usually this isn’t done as a family. We usually go on our own and at our own pace. So when my Filipino boyfriend asks me to go strolling to get out of the heat I have to understand how way of living too. Here in the Philippines you have to stop comparing to how things are done at home. Some people go to malls for window shopping or just to browse around while others go to malls to tackle many tasks at one location. Malling in the Philippines is how Filipinos come together to share a meal, go grocery shopping or have a break from the heat.

Malling Culture

Whether you’re visiting the metropolitan Manila area before heading to another destination keep in mind that you are going to do some serious people watching while strolling. If you head over to Starbucks or Bo’s Coffee you will find many students with their books open and a frappachino studying for endless hours. Security will greet you at the door and even open it for you with a lovely “Hello Ma’m or Sir”. Back home we usually go to Starbucks to meet up with friends to catch up. Starbucks is usualy a good meeting place for business or quick coffee dates. I think that any traveler will be surprised by the security greeting you from all entrances of the mall with wooden sticks briefly checking through your belongings making sure you aren’t carrying weapons. But how carefully are they really checking through your bags?

What is Malling?
It’s sometimes overwhelming to discover which mall you actually want to visit because there are too many to choose from; SM Manila, Mall of Asia, Robinson’s, and so forth. In the Philippines, shopping malls offer so much more than just shopping. For many people in western countries going to the mall isn’t an everyday habit to “kill time”. We actually go when we literally need to buy something or window shop. But in the Philippines you go to the mall to eat meals with family and friends, pay bills at SM, do some grocery shopping, browse for home goods at Lowes, get a massage or foot spa, mail or send parcels, drop off the kids at kiddy play zones for a designated amount of time, watch a movie in the theater and also for other entertainment purposes.

Why do Filipinos spend a lot of time in malls?
Some families walk the mall together to just simply get out of the house because in some cases they don’t have Air Con in their dwellings and want a change of scenery. I find this phenomenon and way of living mind blowing compared to the reasoning for malling in the west. Back home I never go to the mall unless Macy’s is having a sale and I have a surplus of coupons to shop around and buy what I need getting unbelievable deals to show my mom when I come back home. Strolling through the mall in the Philippines is for multipurpose task running where you can get a lot of errands done in one place instead or driving around the city trying to find parking spots for all of the individual places you need to visit to get your errands done for; massage, mailing a parcel, grocery shopping, eating a meal, buying a lightbulb, and finally breaking for a coffee with friends or family.

Snacking your way through the malls
I always work up an appetite for something delicious while trolling through the malls. Be sure to sample some of most typical Filipino snacks such as buko juice, brownies, bibimka bread, and lumpia. I have come up with the conclusion that the reason why you will be paying a quadruple cost for the lumpia (usually 10 php each) in the malls is because you are essentially paying for the aircon that comes along with it! Take note at the salespeople in the store as you browse around. They usually greet you with “ma’m and sir” followed by “what are you looking for today?” as they follow you around the store. One thing that I like about retail in the Philippines is that you are never ignored! I can’t even come up with how many times I actually had a question or couldn’t find an item in the mall and could not find one salesperson to assist me or one that looked like they were interested in assisting me. Get ready for plenty of pleasant greetings, some good people watching, and oh..some Air Con!

My best Mall picks

  • MOA (mall of Asia in Pasay) is the biggest mall in all of metro Manila. You can easily spend a day here if you need to do grocery shopping, eat, and stroll some more. Located on Seaside Blvd next to the sea this mall offers an indoor ice skating rink, a huge food court, plenty of restaurants on the first floor and fireworks each Saturday at 7 P.M.
  • Robinsons Place in Ermita is my favorite mall because you don’t feel the crowd as much and the lights aren’t as bright compared to SM Manila Mall. Mr. Choi is my favorite restaurant there with delicious dumplings, noodles, and smoothies. You can check out the menu here.
  • SM City in Baguio is a open air mall up in the norther region of Philippines (about a seven hour drive north of Manila). What I like most about this mall is the cool air and the less crowded feeling. There’s a really great Korean restaurant (Wood Nymph) nearby Starbucks.

Keep in mind that most malls open at 10 A.M. When I first arrived to the Philippines last September I was super jet lagged. Wide awake at 6 A.M. my boyfriend took me over to MOA to begin our day malling only to find ourselves starting our day with a warm bowl of lomi at Chowking outside the mall.

Travel Guidelines in the Philippines

Mabuhay!

puerto-galera
Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental

If you love exotic beaches, landscapes that vary from the capital to the provinces, a cuisine with plenty of variety, and meeting very friendly locals who can speak English very well then maybe the Philippines is a place that is next on your list of destinations to visit. As the Philippines is a developing nation with plenty of resources and wonderful things happening in and around Manila the right precautions should be taken as with any place you plan to visit.

As I have spent about three months in the Philippines between all my visits combined I have seen many places near and far. From the Intramuros fortress in Manila to the rice terraces in Banaue, down to Chocolate Hills in Bohol, I am truly in love with all the sights in the Philippines. I believe that I have the authority to share my top tips of advice for the traveler interested in the Philippines because from first hand experience I know what expats are going to face when finding their way around the first time. And one piece of advice concerning my two favorite things you must try; buko (coconut) pie and lumpia(spring rolls). They are my favorite. Enjoy!
1. Travel with Local Currency
As you go on your journey around the Philippines it’s important to keep in mind that you really need local currency on you because outside of the big malls credit cards are not going to get you very far. Compared to other Asian destinations where paying with a credit card is everywhere like in South Korea where I recently traveled to, it’s better to know this now before you are in for a big surprise in the Philippines. When taking public transportation such as jeepneys, tricycles, and buses not only do you need pesos to pay but you need small change and even sometimes exact change to pay. You don’t want to be paying for a tricycle ride with a 1000 Peso bill. You especially don’t want to hand your jeepney driver 500 pesos when getting out to pay. Traveling with smaller bills is especially going to help you when you find yourself on Session Road at the Baguio Market paying for a bag of apples.
Unfortunately, there are so many thieves and pickpockets around so have small change on you preferably in an easy to reach purse or even in your front pocket. This happened to me when I was at the Baguio Market last month and the shop owner actually tipped me off saying how many pickpockets there are so better I have coins on me and small bills on me that I can easily reach to pay and go.
2. Watch your belongings
Like anywhere you travel to around the world you always want to keep your eye on your things. With the growth of terrorism more recently you especially don’t want to keep multiple bags unattended for a period of time. This itself could set you up for some trouble. You always want to use your common sense whenever you travel but make sure that your electronics and cash are literally in plain view so that you know where they are. Don’t leave behind your phone next to your meal and get up and go to the bathroom. Don’t walk around busy areas including malls and public markets with your phone or a large stash of cash in your back pocket. These are all basic safety measures to ensure that you are taking ownership and care to your possessions.
3. Taking Precaution when exchanging money
I was tipped off by my boyfriend and his sister in Robinsons Manila Mall that I could get the best exchange rate for my USD to PESO conversion. However, I received some tips that I want to pass on to the next traveler who may need this. Really, I mean really, keep an eye out when exchanging money in the malls and outside. You many not be aware of who is watching you to see where you go next after you just exchanged $500 and now you have 23,250 pHp on you. Be critically aware of your surroundings for real. Sometimes people get followed without any idea that they are being followed. Also when walking around Manila try not have a lot of cash on you because it’s really not safe. If you are planning on going for a walk to get some coffee or a meal in the mall or nearby, realistically you don’t even need 2,500 PhP on you. It’s better to have small denominations on you such as 20,50,100,500 so that the cashier can make change for you to make the payment paying smoother. Going to Starbucks? Just pay with your card.
4. The reason for carrying PhP cash on you as backup
I had been paying with pesos the whole time I was in Manila until I literally ran out and decided to use my credit card this one time to pay for my Vietnamese meal in the mall. I was having lunch at Pho Ha at Robinsons Otis in Paco, Manila when suddenly the electricity went off for about ten seconds. Taking my time slurping on my pho noodles and enjoying each bite I had no idea that the credit card machines went down and only cash was being accepted at this time. With only 40 php in my wallet I was about the get myself tied up in a mess.
I asked for the bill and took my credit card out. “Oh, I’m sorry ma’m we are only accepting cash at this time because the credit card machines are currently not working because of the electricity outage”. I didn’t even have the equivalent of $1 to pay for my meal. “Better you wait a while for them to work again,” my waiter explained. With no USD in my wallet to exchange upstairs I waited the first hour watching time pass. Finally I explained to the staff that I understand the situation and that I have no pesos to pay for my meal but I can’t wait all day for the machines to magically begin working again. “Ma’m we talked with our supervisor and it’s ok if you come back later or tomorrow to pay”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This has never happened to me before and I couldn’t believe that the entire staff was letting me “walk off” without paying while trusting me enough to come back. “My name is Alana. I am currently staying at Peninsula Gardens. You can find me there if you don’t see me by tomorrow afternoon”. Was I really just telling the restaurant my current address?
Owing the restaurant 700 php I felt a heavy weight on my shoulders to hurry the hell up and exchange my dollars at Robinsons Manila A.S.A.P. When I returned the next day with my receipt in hand and the exact amount to pay I swear, the staff looked so proud and relieved to see me with big smiles. I felt like I had proved to them and to myself that I am a trusting dignified human being and that I would never take off from a restaurant without paying them back. Words of advice, it’s always best to have local currency on you for the unexpected.

For more information on the Philippines check out my vlogs on Youtube where I cover the places I visited along with travel advice, and much more!

 

batad
Batad Rice Terrace; UNESCO World Heritage Site

#Choose Philippines: Why I keep coming back

img_9488
Intramuros, Manila

Mabuhay!

I’ve traveled throughout the Philippines on four separate trips now and to this day I still recommend the Philippines as an excellent travel destination in southeast Asia. Why? Because Filipinos are warm and embracing people. Food is cheap and delicious. You can never run out of destinations to visit. The landscapes vary as you travel around. Nothing looks the same. You can ride a caribou in Puerto Galera. Come on people! There are 7,107 islands to be exact.

The Philippines offers cooler environs outside of sticky Manila such as delightful getaways such as Baguio, Sagada, and Banaue where you can enjoy caving, hiking, and explore the different cultures that the northern mountainous lands offer.

banaue
Hiking in Banaue

Okay, so maybe I have a boyfriend who is from the Philippines but there must be a reason why I keep coming back and making travel arrangements near and far.

My first trip there was to the island of Bohol and it was this venture that I traveled there alone back in 2013 with one intention in mind: to see for myself Chocolate Hills. Bohol exceeded my expectations beyond measure. It is a place I hope to return to.

In July of 2013 I set off to Bohol because I was dying to see the beautiful mounds of Chocolate Hills and the tarzier creatures with the big bug eyes.  After a short flight from Manila, Bohol greeted me with the dreaminess of Alona beach and all of the beautiful people, surroundings, and foods on  “White Beach” similar to Borocay. I fell in love with it at first sight. Dining solo with tea lights on my table I never truly felt alone. In fact, all of the waiters kept asking me where my husband was. The Philippines is a bit obsessed with coupling. Don’t you think?

Chocolate Hills

Why I keep coming back! (Travel longer-travel cheaper)

Compared to many other southeast Asia destinations the Philippines offers cheap travel around the country through ferries and buses, exotic and tasty food, and beyond affordable accommodation throughout the country. Think cheap massages, simple food (very inexpensive), beaches never too far away, many English speakers, and sincerely kind people. I’m pretty sure that when I was in the Philippines last September I was getting some sort of spa service on a daily basis for under $5 per hour. Back home it’s at least $60 minimum for an hour massage. Imagine that.

Tagaytay
Lunch @ Leslie’s in Tagaytay

Just a short list of my reasoning alone makes me want to plan my next trip to the Philippines because there is always something new to learn about Filipino culture, new places to explore, and unlimited foods to try. There are still regions even more north of Sagada that I haven’t explored yet.

It is the Philippines as a travel destination that I highly recommend to anyone who is thinking about jet setting to southeast Asia. If you are searching for something off the beaten path from what many tourists have done include the Philippines in your future travel plans.

Batad Rice Terrace
Batad Rice Terrace

Fast Facts

Culturally speaking the list of what you can experience in the Philippines is endless. From the delicious cuisine with exotic fruits to yummy street foods such as lumpia, ice cold halo-halo, loads of smiles from the locals (especially upon walking into a store) fried bananas, and buko (coconut) juice.

The landscapes of the Philippines drastically change as you travel from the overpopulated capital of Manila to the outside provinces and to the islands. The Philippines consists of  7,107 islands! With these many islands you are never bound to get bored or run out of places to see. If you thought that seeing Borocay was all the Philippines has to offer guess again.

What truly has highlighted my experience of traveling the Philippines has been caving in Sagada and walking through Echo Valley to witness the Hanging Coffins up on the mountain  to quiet Alona Beach in Bohol . The Filipino people have truly made each trip to the Philippines of mine very special to me. Oh gosh, now I am salivating thinking about lumpia.

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Enjoying a birthday celebration in Bohol

The dark side of paradise

It’s very easy to let the negative side of stories of  getting scammed, robbed, or getting a bad first impression of Manila upon arrival (the traffic, air pollution, and the overwhelming poverty). I can admit that yes I have been scammed by taxis and tricycle drivers before but that has not deferred me from wanting to keep coming back to the Philippines to see what else is out there.With that said, I’m here to shed the light on what the Philippines really has to offer as a travel destination. There are all good people in the world near and far. I have met all different kinds of people throughout the world and all throughout southeast Asia, however I haven’t met such  accommodating people in all my life since discovering it in the Philippines. The people of the Philippines has stuck with me as my main reason for what sets this destination apart from other places.

Mt. Tapyas
hiking in Mt. Tapyas

With every destination you visit of course there is always the good and bad parts. For example someone can love the cuisine in India but the traffic and pollution in the cities could be the deal breaker from coming back. I loved cycling around Kyoto on my own but I felt very frustrated by my two trips there when I really couldn’t find my way around Kyoto because there really weren’t many English speakers to talk to. In Manila the traffic, overpopulation, poverty, and smog that fill the capital is such a pity and downer to me but I still love the people. The Philippines truly has to much to offer in terms of sightseeing, landscapes, diversity, languages, and cuisine. It’s been four trips now and I am starting to think when I will be back. As much as I have been offered the chance to live there it is much better for me to visit. The Philippines will always be a place that I can visit and I have many reasons why I can keep coming back.

For more information about travel and life in the Philippines check out my vlogs on Youtube here.

Borocay
In love with the Philippines