Southeast Asia is a booming tourist region with Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia vying for top dog honors.
Emerging nations such as Vietnam and Cambodia are also worth visiting, as both have wonderful beaches and century’s old historical structures such as Cambodia’s Ankor Wat.
But there is another country in the region known for the warmth and hospitality of her people and beautiful, white sand beaches – The Philippines.
A FEW DAYS IN MANILA
When you choose to visit the Philippines, spend a few days taking in the sights and sounds of Manila before heading off to the beaches because you’ll see and feel the disparities of life in an overpopulated city versus the peace and laid back life in the beaches and provinces.
If you love old churches, Manila has a lot of them. The Manila Cathedral, Sanctuario de Santo Cristo and St. Pancratius Chapel (Paco Church) are among the top churches to visit for their rich history and beautiful architecture. You can visit the old Spanish Fort in Intramuros before heading off to Manila’s Chinatown called Binondo.
There are also pretty good hotel-casinos in the area; most notable are Resorts World Manila, Solaire Resort and Casino and the Robert De Niro/Leo DiCaprio backed City of Dreams – Manila.
If it gets too hot (the Philippines is very humid) you can always step inside the many sprawling malls that litter the city.
In Pasay City, there’s the humongous SM Mall of Asia where you can easily spend the whole day exploring all the restaurants, shops and bayside attractions. In Makati City, you can drop by Greenbelt 5 and Rockwell, two posh and luxury malls that have a lot of designer shops and fine places to eat.
Image via jojo nicdao
Going up in altitude will help you cool off and escape the heat of Manila. Head up to Tagaytay, where the climate is cool and the food is pretty good. There’s not much to see in Tagaytay other than great views of Tall Volcano – the world’s smallest active volcano. There’s also Skyranch, which boasts of several rides and good restaurants.
I find that Tagaytay is more suited for R&R, so it would be a good idea to book a spa and spend a day being pampered. There’s also a casino if you want to gamble away your vacation money. You can always go to Baguio City way up in the north, but it’s much further away than Tagaytay, which is only 55 km from Manila. You’d need a few days there at the minimum, so plan ahead.
OFF TO THE BEACH
The Philippines is surrounded by water – 7,100 islands and all – so finding a nice beach wouldn’t be a problem. Most notable are the world famous beaches in Boracay Island and El Nido in Palawan. Then there’s Pico de Loro in Batangas and Puerto Galera in Mindoro. All of these beaches have large tourist populations in the summer, so avoid the peak season if you can.
Boracay and Palawan can be reached by plane, while Pico de Loro is accessible by land. Puerto Galera is a bit tricky. You’d have to go by land to the Port of Batangas and take a scary boat ride to get to Mindoro. The boat ride is one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had, especially in bad weather. Bring a barf bagand always wear your life jacket.
Manila is generally safe, but always keep any eye on your stuff and keep your passport and wallet close to you at all times. Cab drivers are a pain in the ass to deal with, and the only major trains (LRT and MRT) are extremely overcrowded. You can always take the bus or jeepney to get around, but the traffic will slow your progress.
IN A NUTSHELL
The Philippines is a happening place and there’s a lot more things to do and see here other than the ones I mentioned earlier. A 5 page mega article would probably cover most of them, but we just don’t have the real estate for that kind of article right now, hence the “short” nature of this one.
The country has a rich history, excellent food, warm people and pristine beaches, many expats and foreigners choose it as a retirement destination. So, what are you waiting for? Come on and jump in! The water’s fine.