Philippines Summary

8 April – 7 May 2010, The Philippines

A long time ago, in a country far, far away I published a summary of our travels through New Zealand. Clearly a high priority, I’m just now getting around to slinging out the summary for country numero dos. We knew next to nothing about the Philippines when we bought the tickets that would take us there, and we didn’t know a whole lot more when we landed in Manilla. Over a year later and several months after wrapping up our round-the-world trip, the Philippines is always one of the first places mentioned when we’re asked about the highlights of our travels.

Unlike New Zealand, there’s no natural backpacker circuit through the Philippines. The archipelago’s seven thousand odd islands are connected by a spider web of ferry routes, and there are about  a million ways to get from point A to point B. We spent several hours in Manilla aimlessly flipping through our guide book before somehow deciding to start with a tour through the Visayas, the middle of the three major groups of islands that make up the Philippines. We split our time between three islands: Negros for a few days on the beach, Cebu for SCUBA diving, and more diving in southern Leyte. From there we flew back to Manilla and traveled north by bus, stopping along the way for some surfing in San Juan, good food and caving in Sagada, and a relatively unimpressive visit to the rice terraces around Banaue.

The Highs

  • The Philippines is easily the best diving destination we’ve ever visited. The reefs around Moalboal and Padre Burgos were healthy, colorful, and swarming with fish. Both spots are dirt cheap. We especially loved Padre Burgos because there were hardly any other divers. Sogod Bay Scuba Resort seemed genuinely committed to conserving the local reef and our dive master was very knowledgeable about the underwater fauna.
  • Swimming with the whale sharks near Padre Burgos was an awesome experience. Looking down on a fish the size of a large car is a sight you don’t soon forget.
  • The food in Sagada was local, fresh, and delicious. Unfortunately, Sagada is the exception to the rule in the Philippines. See below.

The Lows

  • Bus rides in the Philippines can be long, cramped, and generally miserable. Many roads are rough and winding. Although Allison and I managed to keep our lunch down, nearly all of the buses along the route to Sagada are streaked with vomit.
  • NO ONE has change in the Philippines. To draw a domestic analogy, picture purchasing some snacks for $2.50. You pay with a $5 note. The shopkeeper asks if you have anything smaller, and when you say that you do not, he runs off to find his brother, cousin, or friend who owns the shop down the street. Five minutes later he returns with a handful of change and two $1 bills that look like they’ve been through the wash and then chewed up by some sort of farm machinery.
  • The accommodation is Banaue is abysmal, and the rice terraces we’d come to see weren’t that impressive. In hindsight we might have skipped our entire trip to the north and spent more time in the Visayas.
  • Unless you like eating chicken and rice with every meal, the food in the Philippines is not that good.

Cost Summary

Category Daily Average (USD) Notes
Transportation $15.41 Two internal flights make up about half of this category. The remainder is for buses, ferries, and local transport.
Accommodation $17.04 We always stayed in private rooms.
Food $21.24 All of our food was from restaurants or street vendors. We didn’t cook in the Philippines.
Entertainment $30.50 Mostly diving. Also surfboard rental and tours in Sagada and Banaue.
Visas $4.71 Free 21 day visas are issued on arrival, but we spent $136.70 to extend our stay.
Other $2.74 Internet, laundry, everyday items and cost to ship things home after we decided we’d overpacked.
All $91.64 Daily average for all expenses in the Philippines.

Philippines total: $2,657.61 over 29 days.
Conversion to USD based on 1 USD = 44.33 PHP.

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