Travel Tips in the Philippines
Originally this started out as a description about the islands but the travel advice got so long that I split it into two blogs, you’ll have to read about the islands later you loser. You don’t like it? IDGAF :).
Some quick advice and notes about travel to the Philippines. Any small bills in american currency you brought as tip money is useless here as they use the philippine peso, so you’ll want to cash in at least 400$ at a time and keep at least 200$ on you (8674$ in pesos at current rate of about 43pesos/dollar) with a lot of 20 peso bills handy (maybe 200 pesos worth in 20 peso bills). Like in mexico, the peso exchange rate varies from town to town and hotel to hotel (most hotels will change currency for you but you will get better rates at banks/money exchange places in town). I’m not sure about Manila, but every single place we went to in the PI was safe, I was at ease all the time.
(Yah brother, I’m a baller in the Philippines! This is only about 300$ us so don’t get excited. The money there is really pretty and colorful, unlike our ugly money in the US.)
When I exited the airport and we began traveling through town there is a distinct correlation between the way the philippines looks and the way mexico looks, I’d say it’s like a cross between baja and china. The only difference is that although both are third world countries, the people in the Philippines have a certain amount of pride. They are not what you’d exactly call poor, although they make about 8$/day on the average but you don’t see a lot of them trying to hustle you for cash, rob you, or even beg for money. I only tipped the bell guys about a buck when they moved our bags and they were really happy with that, and the few times when I was somewhere and didn’t tip they didn’t stand around waiting for a tip like in other third world countries I’ve been to. Everyone here is polite and refers to you as sir/mam, and there is a strict no littering policy in a lot of small towns with an enforced fine. It was amazing to go thru some obviously fairly poor towns and not see a speck of trash on the ground, I sure wish someone would start fining assholes in southern California for the same offenses!
(Note the lack of trash on the ground or in the gutter. If they just work on smog laws it would be pretty clean. The stores look like shantys because they don’t have earthquakes or cold weather so they don’t need as sturdy structures).
I didn’t take any pictures but besides a lot of tourists of either korean, japanese, chinese or filipino decent I saw a lot of older white guys with 18 year old girlfriends. I thought that was pretty cool at first but I under closer scrutiny, I also saw a lot of native girls down there that were actually guys! Keep this in mind if you visit places (like when we were in Boracay) where I was surpised that there were a lot of chicks roaming around looking for dates. I’m sure it was even more a surprise to the dudes who dated them later on because not all of them were chicks!!! Well I guess they were kinda like chicks in the fact that they looked like chicks with adams apples. Luckily I’m no heavy drinker like a lot of you guys out there, don’t say I didn’t warn you when you go partying in the PI and get your surprise later!!!
There are a few things that bummed me out though, one is the lack of western toilets in the rural areas. I was going to take a pix of some of the restrooms but I figured it would bum you out even more and make you not want to visit here! The nicer bathrooms in the airport have toilets with toilet paper and lids.
(This is one of the advanced bathrooms, note the current style toilet water reservoir on top. Please don’t judge the yellow water, you don’t waste water in the PI. See that trash can? I’ll explain that later in case you don’t know).
Most people in third world countries do not flush toilet paper down the toilet so you’ll see trash cans nearby. A dead clue even in southern California that you are in a shitty area (no pun intended) is if you see a trash can right next to the toilet. That’s how you know Santa Ana is a ghetto, if you walk into a taco bell and use their third world looking toilets you’ll see a trash can because the people who live around there don’t know any better because that’s how it is in their native country. (Before you claim I am racist, I never said they were from Mexico which is what you probably thought. I was going to say they were from uhhh Alaska ;). You think I’m being racist? Go to a nice area of Laguna Hills and tell me you see the same thing in their public restrooms! Anyways I digress, if you go to a rural bathroom in the Philippines you’ll see what resembles an old toilet bowl with no seat/lid/toilet paper/water reservoir. It’s basically a bowl only with a barrel of water nearby with a big one gallon tupperware container in there. Without being too graphic you are supposed to do your business and use the community tupperware to wash your dookage down the toilet. I have no idea what you are supposed to wipe with unless you are supposed to douche with that community water which is why I NEVER, EVER, EVER used the toilet anywhere except where I knew it was a western toilet. Which also reminds me, I only eat things that I have a feeling won’t make me violently ill in third world countries. That means skipping out on eating a lot of things that are suspect in origin. Better plan now than be hunched over that rural toilet later brother!
My world wide “oak’s test” is to first flush a toilet when I’m there, this goes for anywhere I’m at, airport, restaurant, friends house etc. If I gauge the flow to be strong enough to take paper down I’ll use it. Nothing will bum you out more than making a dookie in a toilet and then finding out you can’t flush it and there’s some hot chick out knocking on the door behind you. Enough said. Anyways I pretty much only used the toilet in our resorts and even then I used “oaks test”. There aren’t a lot of public restrooms laid out so a lot of times I’d see guys taking a leak right on the side of the road in public, so much so that they put up signs that say “no pissing here”.
The other thing that really bummed me out was all the stray dogs in the PI. Instead of writing Philippines every time I’ll just call it the PI because I’m getting lazy of typing this long ass essay. As you may or may not know, even though I slay a lot of fish, I care about a lot of animals. Especially dogs since I always have had one and currently have two. Nothing bummed me out more than seeing starving dogs come by when we were eating in town at little places, it absolutely broke my heart and I tried to feed them as much as I could. The dogs in the PI walk sideways kind of just like the ones in Mexico and I’m not sure exactly why. Most of the dogs are really skittish of people and wouldn’t want you to pet them, although once they saw I was no threat they’d often sit and want to be petted and then push their heads against my leg, I wanted to take all of them home when that happened. Some of the locals would frown but IDGAF I fed the dogs anyways.
You do not want to drive in the PI. If you can, I’d highly recommend going through a tour company and arranging rides from the airport to your hotel etc. This is because the traffic in the PI is CRAZY. You think LA traffic is bad? Think again brother, even in the small towns it would take us a half hour to go five miles sometimes. Passing on the right or the left going head on in traffic or dodging pedestrians/bikes/dogs is the norm.
(Check out the bitchin trike doing the perpetual wheelie. The trike is a major form of transport in the cities).
Many many times I though my sphincter would crack from being held so tight as we barreled at light speed towards another car. The weird thing is that I never ever saw an accident, it seems like the PI folks are way more aware of what is going on than many of the dumb drivers back home. The other reason you want to arrange transportation ahead of time is because you don’t want to end up packed in a jeepney. A jeepney is this gigant ass jeep that fits like twenty people and if it is packed you will have to hang on OUTSIDE the jeepney too.
You also can take these tricycles in town, they are like 250 cc motorcycles that they have fashioned some wheelchair looking cart next to it.
I mentioned before it’s hot and I’m not kidding, it was HOT and HUMID at least in June. Plan on drinking a lot of water, I bought this water bottle that had a built in carbon filter in it in the states and would dump any purified water in restaurants thru it. It doesn’t gurantee you won’t get any germs and I would not use it on any water that is suspect but it seemed to work out well and it kept me from having to buy a shitload of water. There are a lot of different bugs that drove me crazy here, and the number one was mosquitos. These mosquitos here are different, they are very fast and fly very erratically so they are hard to slap at. Those things chewed us up at a lot of places because I would only use the bug spray when I absolutely had to because it grosses me out to be sweaty with cancer bug be gone dripping all over me. I came back with about a million bites on my legs, arms and back. There are also things called “nic nic” which are no see ums in the mangrove areas. No see ums are these tiny flying insects that you can hardly see and bite like a MOTHER FUGGER, it feels like fire almost. The last annoyance are the little houseflies that are EVERYWHERE outside. If you are eating outside get used to having the little bastards land on your food, your legs, ears, etc. I often wished I had my little bug zapper that I have at home to teach those bastards a lesson.
(You are going to want to stock up on this stuff if you are prone to getting bit by bugs)
Food wise, PI food is a bit different than any kind of food I can think of. It’s fairly asian but consists of a lot of fried foods and a lot of stews. My mom will be the first to tell you that I hate stews of any type, I’ve never liked any stew I’ve tried so I starved myself a lot if there wasn’t any other types of food available.
(Some kind of stew and then two very interesting fish dishes. I say interesting because I didn’t try any of this stuff. Mainly because of the whole toilet thing I was talking about earlier).
The fried foods are okay but fairly greasy and the chicken is different tasting because most of it is free range chicken so its really lean and sometimes gamey because they walk around backyards and eat bugs. I prefer fat chickens that are fed hormones and kept in cages so they can’t move around and get fatter and jucier.
(Very lean fried chicken. It takes getting used to.)
I really like lumpia (fried PI eggrolls) and pancit (PI noodles) and ate a lot of that and there is also a lot of grilled or bbqed seafood and if you know me you know I love seafood! One place we found had grilled oysters, I had never had them before but man were they good! Another thing to remember is that the portions are usually smaller as well (this is pretty standard in a lot of other countries, people in the US overeat a lot which is why you see so many giants at the hometown buffet near you), they eat about half of what we eat in the states so I’d order double orders at any chain restaurants we visited. You can find the normal McDonalds in some towns but the smaller ones have a chicken chain called “Jolly Bee” that is okay I guess. One of my favorites when I could find it is Shakeys pizza, I got a craving for that once a week. Other than that I’d suggest going to buffets if they are in your price range. Which leads me to another point, food and most of the stuff in the PI is really cheap. I got a haircut with shampoo in one town for the equivalent of .81 cents! Shit at that rate I’d get my haircut ever two weeks in the states if I could!
One day we decided to go zip lining with lea’s family. Because I knew we’d be in a tropical climate I left my shoes at home but you can’t zip line with slippers! Rather than miss out I went to the department store and picked up a pair of shoes. If I didn’t say it before, I’m a giant in the PI but not in the US. I’m 5’11” and towered over most of the locals there. This made it tough to find shoes because they have tons of 6-7’s but 10.5 is hard to find!! I finally found a pair, I don’t even know wtf they were called but they were made of pleather (fake leather) and had some resemblance to Nike running shoes. I think I spent a whopping 8$ on those beauties.
(Check out my new PI shoes, I called them “Wike’s, due to the double swoosh. These are probably doubly better than Nike’s since they have two swooshes instead of one. My guess is they are obviously the “Wair Jordan” type. Don’t clown me, otherwise I’ll wrap them up and you’ll get them for your next bday or xmas gift).
Most of the buffet places were about 350 pesos, and most of the meals at fast food places were about 60-120 pesos. If you went to any higher end westernized restaurant then it would be about 500 pesos per person. What I quickly found out was PI people are good at doing anything with noodles. So their pancit, chowmein, italian food, spaghetti etc rocks. Their burgers absolutely sucked, it was very apparent that no one here has rocked a In and Out burger because their burger was mushy, unflavored, and lacked any good sauce on it. You want to make a million dollars? Open up a nice burger chain in the PI!
(You see this one a lot, sometimes it was a whole pig. Note the fly on the snout of the pig, get used to this because you are going to have some on your food at some point in time. If you are grossed out I might point out that in the US you have roaches, mice, etc on your food at some point in time during transport or preparation. I’m not even counting the guy who probably spit on your food in the fast food restaurant you were at in the US because he was pissed about working for “the man”)
A last word about airports and boats. One of the bummers about traveling to one of the thousands of islands in the PI is that the only major airport is in Manila. From there you take smaller jets or turbo prop planes to the different smaller islands. That means when you fly to another small island you have to board your plane and go back to Manila and then take another small plane to the next island (i.e. you are looking at two plane flights per island). It’s not bad, the flights are an hour or less between islands. However to board the planes you will have to go thru two to three metal detectors and xrays. There is also two lines at each of these detectors, one that says Male and the other says Female. That’s because they frisk you as you go through, its a great way to make sure things are safe but it’s a little weird having random guys feeling me up each time.
The other thing is that there are a lot of smaller boats that you take between the islands sometimes. Most of their boats are like gigantic outrigger canoes with stabilizers built out of bamboo on the sides. You have to walk up a rickety ramp to get onto the boat, sometimes it’s a bit challenging but we always made it on with no problems.
I hope this didn’t scare you away from taking any trips to the PI. If it did then you’ll want to read my upcoming blog on what we actually did there because it will take all your fears away. The people in the PI are very friendly and super duper polite, the most polite people I’ve met in my life. The islands are absolutely beautiful with white sand beaches and crystal clear water. Most everything there is fairly inexpensive and sometimes outrageously cheap. The food takes some getting used to but there were some things I still miss today, Like buko shakes (fresh young coconut shakes). I hated coconut before but man those shakes were killer, its like a slush with juices, ice cream, a bit of mango all mixed up!
(One of my favorites from the PI. Fresh buko shake. Note the bottom picture with the icy goodness mixed up!)
I’ll try my best to work on a island blog on what we did on each island and the beautiful things we saw. I also have to upload a bunch of videos of the freediving I did there. Don’t be impressed, most of the depths were very very shallow, under 30 feet!