Over 7,000 islands and not enough time. I was in the Philippines for three weeks and barely scratched the surface of this complex nation. It is a country that is as heartbreakingly beautiful as it is heartbreaking — from the famous beaches of Boracay and the cliffs of El Nido, to the slum-towns and poverty that affects roughly a quarter of the population. The Philippines is not somewhere I’ll soon forget.
For a short trip, I’m lucky to have seen the natural beauty, experienced many Filipino smiles warm hospitality, ate lots of delicious new foods and heard firsthand stories about the reality of poverty.
Here’s a brief itinerary of how I spent my time — where I went, what I did and where I stayed.
October 1 — Left Toronto airport in Canada. Head to Manila via Seoul with Korean Air.
October 2 — Arrived in Manila late at night. Headed to Manila International Youth Hostel for the night (There were four dead cockroaches in our room, plus the live ones outside. Would not stay again.).
El Nido, Palawan
October 4 — Do Island Hopping on Tour A. Kayak, snorkel and swim around Miniloc Island lagoons, Simisu island and Seven Commandos beach.
October 5 — Tour island inland. Watch the sunset from Republica Sunset Bar near Corong Corong beach with new hostel friends.
October 6 — Flew from El Nido back to Manila, then Manila to Tagbilaran Airport in Bohol with Air Swift. Take a bus to the Nuts Huts trail entrance and hike down into Nuts Huts.
October 8 — Take a kayak up and down Loboc river. Walk into town.
October 9 — Hike and taxi back to Tagbilaran airport. Catch a flight back to Manila with Air Swift. Kill some time in Mall of Asia then head to the Ohayami bus terminal where we catch the ice cold overnight bus to Banaue.
October 10 — Arrive in Banaue in the morning via the overnight bus. Check into our Banaue Homestay and hike the Banaue rice terraces.
October 11 — Rooftop jeepney ride to Batad entrance from Banaue. Hike around the Batad rice terraces.
October 12 — Tricycle to Ha Pao. Hike the Ha Pao rice terraces to hot spring. Come back to town in the afternoon and spend time in town. Catch the night bus back to Manila.
October 14 — Photowalk around Intramuros, Manila’s old Spanish colonial city. Opening night party hosted by the Philippine Department of Tourism and Tourism Promotions Board at The Blue Leaf Filipinas, Aseana City.
October 17 — Pick up from Belmont and head to a Gawad Kalinga NGO village in progress in Quezon City. Spend the morning helping move gravel for home foundations and hanging out with people in the village. Get back on the bus and head to the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm in Bulacan in time for dinner. Stayed onsite at Oasis hotel.
October 18 — Spent the day at Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm, meeting entrepreneurs and seeing their different ventures, looking around the farm, meeting people and asking questions.
October 19 — Spent more time around the farm, meeting people and catching baby goats. Leave the farm around lunch time. We’re back in Manila by dinnertime and check in at the Henry Hotel for dinner. After dinner, I repack my bag and catch a 9pm taxi to the airport.
October 20 — With the time change, I arrive back in Halifax at 6pm on the 20th. 33 hours later. I flew Manila, Seoul, Toronto with Korean Air and Toronto to Halifax with Westjet. I booked my flights with Skyscanner.
Tourism and the Philippines
During one of the morning sessions at TBEX, the secretary from the Philippine Department of Tourism, Wanda Corazon Tulfo-Teo, addressed us attendees. She said that for every tourist who visits the Philippines, five jobs are created for three days.
There is an argument to be made about the negative impacts of tourism on the Philippines. In El Nido and Boracay, there’s the overload on the waste management system and negative environmental impact that comes with loose policies. In Banaue, the rice terraces are not kept as well as they once were because people would rather be in the well-paying tourism industry than tending rice.
Tourism can also be hugely positive. Tourism dollars can pull people out of poverty and create jobs that people are proud of.
Some people would say the natural beauty of the Philippines is its most attractive feature, but really it’s the people. People everywhere met us with hospitality and kindness. I couldn’t turn a corner without someone saying, ‘Good morning, ma’am”. In the slum I visited, the kids called me ‘Ate Mel’, big sister Mel, and asked to see whether I had Pokemon Go on my iPhone.
The Philippines are beautiful, friendly and affordable. One day you’ll be swimming through a hole in a rock to a secret beach and laughing with your guide as he cooks red snapper on the back of your boat, the next you’ll be brushing up on your colonial history and acknowledging your tourist privilege. If you ever get the chance to go, you should take it.
My travel partner for this trip was Lauren Marinigh over at Twirl the Globe. She’s Canadian too! You can find some great itineraries on her blog.