The Filipino Government’s marketing campaigns tell us that everything is “more fun in the Philippines”, but I am not so sure.
The Philippines was the last country in South East Asia that I got to visit, but once I was there I had a great time! First landing in Boracay, and the heading north to Manila, I got to appreciate the beauty of the country, as well as check out some tantalising street food! With large scale tourism campaigns in full swing to entice more and more visitors to the country (as seen in the slideshow above from stuff I found online), it is no surprise that a lot of backpackers are now choosing the Philippines over the usual Thailand/Cambodia itinerary.
Getting around the Philippines is not easy. It is time-consuming to use passenger ferries from one island to another, and flying domestic routes can be pricey. The Philippine archipelago sprawls over a lot of land (or should that be sea?) but really the main tourist spots are located in the north and central parts of the country, as well as Palawan to the west. The southern area of Davao is beautiful, but usually off tourist limits, at least for now. But the common advertising slogans will tell you that wherever you go in the Philippines, you are guaranteed more fun here than in other countries. Yet what exactly do these slogans mean?
First and foremost, your first point of contact will be in Manila, as this is where the main international airport(s) are located. Manila is a bustling metropolis with fairly little to offer the traveller, although it is a very good place to get used to Filipino cuisine and observe the sheer number of churches and cathedrals in what is the only Christian country in Asia. How does Manila compare to other capital cities in South East Asia and is it more fun? Well, in my opinion, the likes of Bangkok and Hanoi are more interesting, whereas Kuala Lumpur is more fun. A stay of a few nights is good enough in Manila, before you head away to more fun areas of the country.
One thing you are certain of in the Philippines is an array of natural wonders. The Banaue Rice Terraces, the Chocolate Hills, and the perfectly conical Mayon Volcano are just three of these wonders. However, they are very spread out across the archipelago, with Banaue being far north of Manila, with the Chocolate Hills of Bohol being located close to Cebu. These natural attractions are really cool, but are they unique in the Asia-Pacific region? You can find great rice terraces all around Ubud, Indonesia, and Yuanyang in Yunnan Province, China (not to mention Sapa in Vietnam). That said, the Chocolate Hills really are unique (I reckon they must be among the top 5 most mesmerising landscapes on the planet). If you can find the time to visit Bohol, you will be astounded at the natural beauty of the area, and that includes these brown-coloured grassy mounds. Mayon Volcano is also great to look at, but there are plenty of scalable volcanoes in Indonesia – not to mention Mount Fuji in Japan, which is almost identical in shape to Mayon.
I guess the “more fun the Philippines” advertising slogans must refer to the watersports and beach life that is prevalent across the archipelago. Wherever you go, you will find amazing white sand beaches, such as at Siargao, Boracay, and El Nido. Some of these places (such as Boracay) are now becoming very touristy, but there is still a lot of fun to be had there, with diving and snorkelling being high on the priority list. Closer to Palawan, you will find the Tubbataha Marine Park, which is one of the top national parks in the region and a pure paradise for underwater expedition! Also in Palawan, you can find the amazing underground river of Puerto Princesca and of course El Nido, which many people now consider to be on par with Boracay for ecotourism and beach relaxation. If extreme watersports are your thing, the best places to surf in the Philippines can be found in Siargao – and it is a great place to learn to ride the waves even if you are a novice like me!
Perhaps one of the unique things about the Philippines that really is more fun than anywhere else is the methods of short-distance transport available to tourists (and locals) across the country. Forget trains and traditional buses, in the Philippines it is more common hop aboard small and colourful vans known as jeepneys. For island-hopping, so-called ‘Banca Boats’ are similar to outrigger canoes (powered by diesel) and are used even by local fishermen!
Filipino food is certainly fun to investigate, but I don’t think it is more so than the food of other countries. There are, however, a few snacks and desserts that I would recommend to everyone: Kwek-Kwek, which is a deep-fried quail egg; Buko Pie, which seems to be on the menu of every café or restaurant that I visit in the Philippines; and Lechon, which is whole roast suckling pig and considered one of the favourite dishes of Filipinos.
I don’t know if I can say for sure that the Philippines is “more fun” than other nations, but there is certainly a lot to do here. My main gripe with the Philippines is the lack of tourist infrastructure to transport people from island to island (for example, no direct ferry from Boracay to Palawan). I think everybody needs to experience the Philippines for themselves at some stage of their life, as the people here are very friendly and will do all they can to make your stay as fun as possible!