Why the Philippines?
Images of the Philippines always look so iconically tropical and idyllic. It is still an affordable budget destination to travel to, and despite the lure of white sand beaches and coconut trees, it still seems to be a less popular tourist destination than other parts of South East Asia. Plus, there are over 7000 islands in the Philippines; and that alone made it sound appealing!
What we loved…
Embracing the madness!
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?!
We definitely swore a few times under our breath and looked back and forth from each other to the view of absolute chaos out the window in Manila. What had we done?!
Arriving in Manila is an assault on all the senses. It’s loud, busy, dusty, dirty, and the traffic is not for the faint-hearted. It was a timely reminder again to take it easy on arriving at a new location, and give it time. We have decided that for us, it takes us 24 hours to adjust to a new place; and in Manila it did. We ventured out timidly on our first evening, deciding it was safer to NOT cross the road, and to instead find dinner on the side we were already on…
But by day two we were ready. We decided we were here, and we better embrace it.
It was a good choice! We took a GrabTaxi into downtown Manila (an adventure in itself!) and explored the old Intramuros, Fort Santiago and San Augustin Church. Sights aside, we were on the hunt for Halo-Halo; the most famous of Filipino desserts…
With regards to the public transport, and embracing that; we decided we had nothing to lose, and it was now-or-never… We spent the rest of the day hopping on and off the old Jeepneys – just buying a ticket to anywhere – and riding them until it was time to change on to the next one!
Tricycles were next! Slightly terrifying in midst of most of the 4.5 million tricycles in the Philippines; and I have to confess we sent Gavin out as a trial run first to figure out how they worked and what it was like!
He came back beaming, and with a new friend. After that, I lost count of how many tricycle trips we took… Picking anywhere random on GoogleMaps as a destination to show to the driver and off we went!
Kalibo was a great choice for us! Perhaps it was a bit of a stepping stone between the big smoke of Manila, and the beaches of Boracay, but Kalibo surprised us in a good way!
Kalibo Markets were basically on our doorstep. Size-wise, the markets were perfect for a fun introduction to Filipino markets without being overwhelming (as some SE-Asian markets can be!). Gavin made friends with some of the men making flat breads, and the boys wandered around getting free samples from all kinds of different food stalls.
What else is there to do in Kalibo?
The Bakhawan Eco-Park is an admireable project set up by various NGO’s and government agencies, with the goal of restoring the mangroves and educating people about the value of estuary eco-systems. The boardwalks are made almost entirely of bamboo, and are well-maintained and sign-posted with information. A great day out with kids and a good example of a successful attempt at local eco-tourism.
PS. Getting to Kalibo was ‘interesting’… It was only two hours, and as cheap as chips, but did you know you can indeed fit 19 passengers in a Toyota Hiace Van and drive at breakneck speeds and overtake?! We survived! But did learn from our experience and pay the cheap ticket price to book two extra seats for our next Filipino bus journey…!
We were in two minds about visiting Boracay. It had become renowned as an over-developed tourist trap, and we were on a mission to find places that were off the beaten track.
It was by chance that in one of my AirBnB browsing sessions that I stumbled across a family-owned apartment for rent that was right on the other side of the touristy White Beach of Boracay, in Tambisaan, and it led me on to do a bit of research about the different sides to Boracay. It wasn’t all white sand and resorts!
We spent a week in Tambisaan, and felt very attached when it was time to go. From Tambisaan it was a five minute ride by e-trike to White Beach, or about a 45 minute walk (with kids!). We spent our days walking or getting a lift to town, buying vegetables at the market, drinking coconuts on the beach, paddle-boarding and swimming. Each evening we met up with the local kids and wandered down to Tambisaan Beach, or to the little private beach right in front of our apartment.
Where we stayed
- Manila: Zen Rooms Sunshine City Suites, Mandaluyong
- Roxas City: San Antonio Resort
- Kalibo, Panay: Ati-Atihan Festival Hotel
- Boracay: AirBnB Nene’s House, Tambisan
MANILA: We stayed in Mandaluyong, and although the price was kind on the budget, it was somewhat a shock after flying in from Singapore’s friendly and clean streets. The hotel itself was extremely basic, and borderline with levels of cleanliness. We arrived in the evening and were tired, and did question what to do. However, we decided that we had no idea where to begin looking for something ‘better’, and that right at the moment we were safe and had somewhere to sleep. The next important thing was heading out to find food, and the hotel was in a good location with various (convenience store/fast food/food court) options within a few minutes walk.
It definitely took us time to adjust, and for Manila, its just as well we did because we ended up coming back to Zen Rooms for another two nights on our way out of the Philippines… Breakfast was questionable, but by then we had adjusted to the chaos, and found comfort in the familiar; chaotic it may be!
(Perhaps, better the devil you know!?)
ROXAS CITY: The San Antonio Resort was a great find! Only 5 minutes by tricycle from the airport, and literally across the road from the beach. The kids loved the swimming pools. A great choice for a couple of nights and an easy gateway to buses that will take you in the direction of Boracay…
KALIBO: Ati-Atihan Festival Hotel was simple but spacious. The family room was enormous, and the location of the hotel meant it was a one minute walk to the central Kalibo markets… and, it was in a road that doubled as a parking lot for tricycles and tuk-tuks! A good choice to explore Kalibo from.
BORACAY: We can’t rave enough about Nora and Markus’s AirBnB Nene’s House in Tambisaan. Staying here really gave us a taste of the Philippines, and we loved it. Not to mention Nora organising a birthday party for Oscar’s 4th birthday, inviting all the neighbourhood kids for cake and spaghetti!
We had two and a half weeks in the Philippines and spent an average of $142 NZD per day.
- Average spend: $70 NZD per day
- Average accommodation: $72 per day
One thing we’d do if we went again…
I am not sure if we would recommend Manila as a stop in the Philippines. We read that before we went, but wanted to try it anyway, and are glad we did. It was certainly an experience! But with hindsight, next time we would fly directly to whichever island we chose to explore.