Whether we like it or not, our generation is a product of the Lonely Planet guidebook industry. So this is not a list of tourist “Things to Do in The Philippines”; this is a list of local “Must Share” experiences. A compilation of images, tastes and opportunities that are indelible to one place, and – unlike museum entrance fees and hostel names – won’t change over time. These things, the obvious and the unassuming, are so distinctly Filipino, they make the islands different from every other country in Southeast Asia.
“Mabuhay”** = Welcome to the The Pearl of the Orient Seas! **Tagalog is one of the most common of over 120 languages spoken in the country.
While visiting, you should:
- Sing karaoke- No matter the time or place, someone in the Philippines is crooning an 80’s love ballad, loudly and proudly. Whether you pop into a bar and karaoke hall, or join the neighborhood kids at a corner karaoke hut (one palm roof over a few speakers and tv screen), you’ve got to do it once. Don’t worry about the tone of your voice- no one else does!
- Spot a tarsier- The world’s second smallest primate is critically endangered and populations only remain on a few Philippine islands. To make sure your funds support their conservation, visit the Tarsier Foundation on Bohol.
- Get your diving license- The Philippines not only has some of the world’s best diving spots but also the cheapest licensing courses. Don’t be disillusioned by rumors that dynamite fishing has destroyed the country’s coasts; there are over 1,700 islands, and you will find something to dive for off of most of them.
- Sample the national cuisine- Travelers joke that the only true Filipino food is fast food, but there are still a few unique plates to try. Order adobo- pork marinated in vinegar and soy sauce, then browned in an oven; lechon- spit roasted pig; or, garlic rice- the typical side dish steamed with crushed garlic.
- Take a bangka boat ride- These traditional boats are balanced by two bamboo wings; though they look rickety, they’re the safest ride on the South China Sea. Just bring a rain jacket with you- they’re the wettest ride, too!
- Watch a cockfight- Roosters are pitted against each other in bloody battle for high stake wins. Most villages hold weekly or monthly events; but, if you can’t find a live fight, the latest cock classics can be purchased from any corner DVD stand. Or, you can watch one of the cockfighting channels on Filipino TV.
- Swim at a public beach- Not the public tourist beach on the map, but the wooden sign-marked sandy strip where the locals go to picnic. You’ll hear the karaoke from down the road; though it’s culturally best to swim with your clothes on, you can always join the adults for Tanduay rum and coke,l if you prefer to stay dry.
- Catch a jeepney- The brightest, loudest, most convenient form of public transport, these WWII-era Jeeps have been re-painted with holy images and prayers, swathed in rosaries and ribbons, and usually blare the latest karaoke tune. They are a cheap way to reach your destination- just flag one down and wedge yourself into its crowded back end.
- Try halo- A Filipino desert of crushed ice and condensed milk topping; depending on the vendor, it may come with sweet corn, soy beans, gummy candies, tortilla chips, yam shavings, cherries, chocolate chips, or whatever else was in the cupboard that morning…
- Go through a security search- Often compared to the United States in terms of liberal gun-ownership laws, it is
common to see metal detectors inside buildings, and security guards with automatic weapons strapped to their chests. Signs asking customers to “leave their handguns at the door” are also prevalent.
- Buy a bottle of Boracay Rum- For 60 pesos per 2 litres, it’s the sweetest and cheapest spirit on the store shelf; in two delicious flavors, cappuccino or coconut.
- Visit a shopping mall- An overwhelming example of America’s influence in the country; but, with 4x the greasy food stalls and cheap clothing stores. These tend to be over-staffed and under-shopped, and clerks demonstrate an amazing ability to find every item on your list. The malls are also festively decorated for Christmas, from October through September.
- Attend a church service- With over 80 % of the country following the Roman Catholic faith, this is a unique way to witness Filipino religious fervor. Whether you’re a Christian or not, the locals will welcome your interest with hugs and blessings.
- Eat streetside bbq- For 20 pesos, or about 50 cents, you can pick your own piece of chicken and watch it barbequed in front of you. Other options usually include hot dogs, longganisa (sweet sausage), or various chicken and pig insides.
- Catch a Manny Pacquiao boxing match- Professional athlete, politician, singer and national hero, this 34-year-old native was declared “The Fighter of the Decade.” When Manny has a match, it’s a national holiday. He’s the Filipino Chuck Norris.
Try the national brew: San Miguel, originally produced in Spain but now the dominate beer on the market; “The only beer that nurtures true Filipino friendships.” Not surprisingly, Manny Pacquiao is also the face of this alcohol.
Beer Na! Beer, slightly cheaper and locally brewed; difference in taste is barely noticeable.
**Recycle your bottles! A deposit fee is included on every glass bottle of beer you buy; return the bottle to get your deposit back, and clean up the environment.**
Try the market oddity: balut, a hard-boiled duck or chicken embryo, sprinkled with garlic, chili and salt. Believed to be an aphrodisiac, these are sold from little Styrofoam coolers on the street.
Volunteer in the Philippines: These are three opportunities to support the local community, which you won’t find in your guidebooks.
- Palawan- Oring, guesthouse owner from the capital city of Puerto Princessa, has started her own coffee farm, cafe and community library in the beach town of Sabang. She’s starting out with over 1,000 English books, especially picture and children’s books. She’s looking for volunteers to stay in a traditional Filipino house and help her build up the farm. Contact Oring, at Dallas Inn, www.dallasinnpalawan.com
- Apo Island- Roughly 800 people live in a fishing village on this tiny island, off of Negroes, which is also the world’s largest community- organized marine reserve. If visitors are willing to teach subjects at the middle school and high school level, they may be eligible for free accommodation and dives at the dive school. Contact Liberty, at Liberty’s Lodge and Dive, www.apoisland.com
- Camotes- The three islands of the Camotes, in the Vasaya region of the Philippines, do not have the same economic support as other, more traveled, islands. Volunteer to teach English to school children, living with teachers and immersing in village life. Cost is approximately 500 pesos (a little over 11 USD) per week, paid directly to the teacher for providing your room and three daily meals. Visit www.volunteercamotes.org
Other posts about the Philippines: Siquijor: Where the days disappear…
Have you been to The Republic of the Philippines? What experiences do you think are a distinct part of any visit to the Pearl of the Orient Seas?
*Last updated June, 2012*