Thoughts on the Philippines

The Philippines is one of those places I’ve always thought about going but didn’t have the mad passion I usually have for a new country I haven’t been to yet.  Over the years though this has been fuelled by other tales from other travellers and given that it’s also a top dive destination it makes sense that eventually I would find my way to this part of the world.

There’s been a change in travel in the last 20 years. Places that were usually destinations for hardy backpackers with time to spare due to remoteness, lack of roads and infrastructure, has now become accessible to everybody.  Small local airports with connections to big cities are springing up everywhere. More cultures that didn’t travel before due to money and/or political constraints, the Russians, Koreans and Chinese for example, are now able to afford and get to cheaper holiday destinations quickly and cheaply than before.  Glampacking and knowing that in most destinations there will be hot water, western food and aircon is attractive to those that don’t want to leave their luxury at home and carry a pack – I see more wheelie cases now than I do backpacks.  The Philippines, like most travel destinations, is taking advantage of this and the tourist industry is booming, and so those remote corners of paradise are quickly changing, with hotels and restaurants springing up quicker than the surrounding infrastructure to support it, and with little thought for the environment. 

Diving, which at one stage would have been world class, may be disappointing due to the cyanide and dynamite fishing which has destroyed so much marine life and coral.  I didn’t see a lot of plastic which is heartening, but whilst cyanide has been banned I believe, dynamite fishing is still in full force with no signs of stopping, and the effects are visible.  Few rays, turtles, or sharks, and dead coral everywhere – that might also be from warming oceans but either way it is heartbreaking to see.

The Philippines is a mix of both the best and the worst of travel destinations.  From quiet towns with white sandy beaches and turquoise waters to places that are over-crowded and completely unable to cope with the overwhelming amount of people that arrive day in and day out.  Boracay is such an example, a small island that once would have been unbelievably beautiful has been ruined forever, and it takes effort to find those tucked away places that will still generate a feeling of being the first and seeing somewhere in its glory, and even whilst revelling in that feeling the sounds of construction are insistent, heralding that irreversible change-to-come.  Sometimes I find it hard to distinguish whether it is the sound of doom or the sound of progress – either way it is happening fast.  What is the point of this long-winded observation?  Go, and go now. 

Some people plan their route, some prefer to book as they go, changing their route as they find out about places by word of mouth.  It’s still possible to turn up in small towns in the Philippines without booking if you are happy to walk around, some accommodations aren’t online yet.  There’s a small thrill to doing it old school I think.  Did I? No – I’m an online booker these days as I just like to get somewhere and get sorted so I can go explore, plus booking by credit card is better for me at the moment. I also think as a solo female traveller it is the slightly safer option as I’ve been in situations where I just get taken to wherever the taxi driver gets a commission, and whilst that was part of the adventure in the old days, it is always risky.  The great thing about the Philippines is that there are so many travel options there’s always a route to somewhere, particularly if you can handle small aircraft and don’t mind flying, but you do need to love boats and planes because you do a lot of both.
I didn’t really do anything of note in Manila or Cebu City so haven’t included those in the blog.

Get a Smart or Global SIM.  They are cheap and the best way to access the internet – wifi often doesn’t work in the Philippines.  I ended up using both as coverage varies on where you are – Smart works better in Cebu and Global better in Palwan.