Philippine or the land of smiles

Located in the north of Malaysia and consisting of more than 7000 islands, the Philippine archipelago is definitely one of the last paradises on earth preserved from the drifts of tourism. This insular state , today democratic, knew as many others the colonization : first the Spaniards and then the Americans. The only Catholic state in Asia , the country is full of entrenched Latin influences, and the church still plays a leading role in Filipino life.

Certainly the destination has long had an image of “unsafe”: a capital ultra-poor, dirty, dangerous, and perverted by sex tourism (Manila), thousands of islands torn by political and religious tensions, and corrupt seas by pirates, ready to do anything to rob any living soul.
Today the archipelago has evolved and although some areas are still sensitive (some islands in the extreme south), there is plenty to discover in peace of the thousands of places where the beauty of the landscape jostles to the kindness of Filipinos .

While it is still not very advisable to walk everywhere in the evening, nose to wind in Manila, but we find today extremely modern and supra Americanized neighborhoods like “Makati” , which gather in the countless malls of the city, Thousands of wealthy locals (and some tourists), in shopping frenzy, dressed in Gucci or Dior from head to toe.
And then the variety of low-cost companies allows today to move very easily from one island to another and appreciate sometimes the sublime rice terraces of the north, sometimes the most beautiful diving spots of the islands of Southern dream.

In the Philippines, the traveler will quickly realize that he is one of the “happy few” who are lucky and privileged to discover such a diversity of natural wonders!

It will leave the archipelago with the memory of a banca sailing on the clear waters of Palawan , the memory of the small village of Batad, lost in the middle of an amphitheater of rice fields , or with the memory of all these faces illuminated by permanent smiles , that he will cross everywhere and permanently.

Of 87 million people, there will be 87 million who will smile. This is one of the magics of this country, incredibly endearing.
And then as another asset there is also the cost of living, very much lower than Europe . Here is a country where you can enjoy a hearty meal with wine for less than 5 euros, a taxi ride in Manila for 3 €, or a room with air conditioning for 30 € .
Here is finally a country that can boast a total diversity of activities , from diving to trekking, climbing to golf, all in an idyllic tropical climate all year long, with temperatures rarely below 25 degrees.

Here is an idea to stay  : The main island of Luzon to the north and the island of Palawan to the south, still very unspoiled, unlike islands – it seems very touristy – that are Boracay, Bohol or Cebu.

The island of Luzon and its inevitable

1. Manila

It is not essential to stay more than one night in this megalopolis, more considered as transit point before joining the other islands of the archipelago.
Polluted and noisy she does not attract attention at first. However the neighborhoods: Intramuros (historic district), Malate (tourist concentration of hotels, restaurants, bars and small shops) and Makati (dynamic business center, a reflection of modernity and hipness with its density of scrapes and luxury shops), represent real opportunities for escape and first integration into Philippine culture.

. Rice fields around Banaue and Badad

Admittedly, departing from Manila it takes 10 hours by bus (a little less by car) to make the 380 kms needed to get there. It is true that the approach can be discouraging but it is essential! It is totally inconceivable to go to the Philippines and confined to the southern islands! It’s like coming to France without seeing Paris!
Located 1,200 meters above sea level , where the temperature is always fresh, Banaue is a small town surrounded by the most beautiful rice fields in the world, classified as World Heritage by Unesco . The best time to contemplate the most beautiful gradations of greens, from the darkest to the apple-green, spread from March to May, just before the harvest.
At dawn, when the mists are caressing the mountains, and the silence invades the relief, it is simply of unheard-of splendor. From Banaue, join the small village of Batad, located 16 kms. To do this, take a jeepney for about 10 km to a junction called Junction, then walk for 2 hours, via mountain trails. The village is immersed in the heart of an amphitheater of rice fields. The show is edifying beauty!

Northeast of Luzon (250 kms from Manila, at least 5 hours drive) do not miss Bagio .

Nestled in the Cordillera Valley and 1500 m above sea level , Bagio is the summer capital of the Filipino fortunate . The freshness of the altitude and the scent of the pines makes this place ( one would think in Switzerland ) a very pleasant resort and a step almost obligatory before going to Banaue.

Source: Flickr (by Stefan Munder)

Palawan Island

This wild island par excellence, stretches for 425 kilometers long, and its small populationgives it an appearance of untapped paradise . A veritable ecological reserve covered with an impenetrable and intact tropical jungle, it is also – and above all – appreciated for the splendor of its seabed . The crystal clear waters of the Bacuit Archipelago, off El Nido village, located north of the island, are enchanting. This is also where the Koh-Lanta 2007 version was filmed , and for several years have been filming the countries that have bought the concept of the famous reality game “The Survivor”.

Away from industrial progress and modern tourist infrastructure in view of its remoteness with the other islands of the country, the slightest journey is a small adventure.
You can choose to land in Puerto Princesa, the capital of the island, the main point of departure to go to Sabang and discover the underground river of St. Paul, where you can get directly to El Nido airport, from Manila, where are concentrated the most beautiful islands and lagoons bathed in turquoise water.

Source: Flickr (by Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJ)

Good deals and info in bulk:

> For your treks in Banaue :

Low-cost airlines :
The largest service on the Philippines + some flights to the rest of Asia with Cebu Pacific .

The jeepney : it is the means of local transport, customized and often kitsch, true symbol of the
Philippines which is the only country to hold this means of transport. These machines are in fact Jeeps left by the Americans after the 2nd World War, and which were rebuilt.
We see it everywhere in the cities and the countryside.

Karaoke : Must-do , everywhere in the country! Everyone sings without shame and restraint, whatever his vocal talents!

Sari sari : Small family shop that is everywhere and sells everything until very late at night.

Tagalog : official language of the country, but the national language is filipino, a mix of Tagalog, English and Spanish ! However it is easy to be understood everywhere because the majority of Filipinos speak English.
Also do not hesitate to thank your interlocutors a nice “SALAME”, you will then be guaranteed to have a big smile of appreciation in return!

For the lucky and fortunate, treat yourself to a night at Lagen Island Resort El Nido, the only place “inhabited” of a totally wild island!

Camille L.

Passionate about foreign languages, cooking and writing. I wish to share with you the places, the meetings and the gastronomic discoveries which gave relief to my travels.

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