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Bye bye Philippines

View 2012/13 Myanmar, Malaysia & Philippines on alexchan's travel map.

Today I leave Philippines after more than two weeks. Because the hotel breakfast was stodgy and unappealing, I went to the supermarket and bought some mini-muffins, mangoes and milk. It was a much better choice.

After lunch, I flew to Manila with a self-connect to Hong Kong where I met with Kim staying at his hotel while on a work trip.

Here are my thoughts on the Philippines …

Observations and Quirks

1. Private security carry big guns and there are weapons shop around Manila. Some travellers have been in for a look and play but I haven’t.

2. Often when I order food for myself, eg. a fried rice, I would be asked “How many, sir?”. I look around me and conclude that I’m by myself, then I look at my tummy and see that I’m not fat. So I still haven’t worked this one out.

3. In my first few days in the Philippines, I’d be met by a spray of water from above. Looking up, it appears the power lines are squirting water. But actually, plastic water pipes are overhead rather than underground.

4. Tagalog has many words in common with Malay, eg. putih, bulan, tahun, balik, kambing, biawak, asu, manok, buaya, tanggal, kanan, mahal, murah, sayang, payung, tolak. But it has diverged too much over the course of history to be comprehensible.

5. A lot of Filipinos sound the same, especially women in customer service roles. They have that pseudo-American Filipino accent.

6. I was surprised to see so many Protestant churches since I always thought it was a largely Catholic country. The Iglesia Ni Cristo churches are very prominent. They don't believe in the divinity of Jesus or the Holy Trinity. Sounds like the Muslim belief of Jesus and the Trinity; as some would say "Three in One is for coffee, not for God".

7. I grew up conditioned to speak to people in their language, ascertaining this through their skin colour and facial features. This doesn't work in the Philippines, especially in the south when they look very very Malay.

Things I liked

1. It is a relatively clean and litter-free country apart from a few parts of Manila.

2. Outside of the couple of large cities, the remaining cities are small and the surrounding areas very green and unspoilt.

3. It doesn’t have the oppressive heat and humidity that the rest of the region has (during February anyway).

4. Tourism is on a relatively low scale compared to say Thailand and its neighbours. And outside of Manila, sex tourism isn’t evident.

5. Long distance transport proved to be easier than expected from my guidebook readings. I chose daytime travel up to the north which included a combination of bus and jeepney changes. These proved seamless due to the frequency of both the bus and jeepneys.

6. I like the fact that Filipinos of all colours (fair-skinned down to very dark people) all identify themselves as Filipinos. It is a well-stirred melting pot and they don't think of themselves as full-blooded natives, half-casts, part-Spanish or part-Chinese.

Things that disappointed

1. Bad luck with the weather in Banaue and also Donsol (part of the time), but one cannot come up winning all the time, right?

2. Bad luck with no sighting of mantas at Manta Bowl. There is a bit too much hype, compared to say Komodo where things like that aren’t highly publicised or promoted. Then you get pleasantly surprised.

3. Diving in general was a disappointment because I had recently been at Sipadan. In fact, it was downright a waste of time and money at El Nido. I may sound spoilt, but most people have limited time and money for doing these things each year. So why not spend it at a place that’s more like an aquarium, eg. Sipadan or Bunaken.

4. The underground river near Puerto Princesa was yet another disappointment, possibly because I’ve been to many other caves before. Again, too much hype (American influence, perhaps).

5. Eating is quite expensive due to the lack of a suitable street food culture (unlike in the rest of Asia). One often ends up eating in the hotel or guesthouse, or nicer establishments. Typically a main course would be PHP100 to 150 (NZD3 to 4.50).

Something missing

I feel that the Philippines’ appeal is largely centred around island and beaches (plus a little bit of the highlands in Luzon). It doesn’t have the ancient kingdoms or ruins that others in the regions offer.

Together with the English-speaking locals, a clean and litter-free environment, it just doesn’t seem as intrepid. Local cuisine isn’t the most appealing to many and there isn’t much of a street-food culture.

Despite speaking English, locals aren't quite as chatty and inquisitive as say Indonesia. They are friendly and reserved. Where as in Indonesia, there seems to be a more two-way exchange (even for those who don't speak Indonesian).

For me something feels missing. For others, it could be the perfect introduction of the real Asia (after Singapore, which isn’t really “real” enough for some).

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Hong Kong

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