Possibly my last Philippine post, this information is aimed at Americans thinking about visiting the Philippines. Anyone traveling to a different country will find some unusual or foreign occurrences that may or may not disrupt your trip. These are items that caught my attention, at least caught my attention to the point that I feel they are worth mentioning.
There are, in my opinion, three ways to visit the Philippines. 1. Spend a lot of money and stay with the manicured resorts, restaurants, and motels. Pay for “sightseeing” trips around the area and back safely to your motel at night. 2. Budget travel to smaller resorts, restaurants, and motels that cater to Americans and Foreigners. Take a map and catch the local transportation to see the sights. OR…3. Take your map, then turn your back on the previous two and stay in hostels or with the locals. You will find cultural immersion in the most fascinating country I have ever visited.
Number 1 takes a lot of money. You can figure $80-250 USD per night plus food. Places you will visit will be the major cities; Manila, Cebu, Tagaytay, Bacolod, Tacloban, and of course Boracay. Ride around in air conditioned comfort in a van or taxi cab. Some of the prime places will require a bit of number 3 to get there, but take photos and call it “your big adventure”. You don’t need to read any farther.
Number 2 takes a lot less money. Rooms run from $5-20 USD, a little more if you want air conditioning that WORKS and a hot shower that WORKS. Public transportation is cheap but confusing, plan on getting sidetracked and occasionally down right lost. Travel by jet, propeller airplane, buses, jeepneys, multicabs, tricycles, and pedicabs. Read on.
Number 3. Ahh, number three. My trip has deliberately been a mixture of all three. Just what can you expect? I’m going to take a closer look at things that Americans should be on the lookout for while traveling in the Philippines. This isn’t necessarily deliberately negative. The cultural shock can be so large, you should know these things. If I ran into them, you could as well. It could mean the difference between an enjoyable adventure and a miserable surprise.
First off, roll with the punches. Things are not always going to be peachy keen. Keep a positive attitude and a smile on your face. Remember, the thing that is irking or disturbing you is someone else’s way of life. Be generous and forgiving to situations.
This list is by no means complete!
Noise-Dogs- Dogs run semi-wild around most places and can be incredibly noisy at times, especially early in the morning when you are trying to sleep in. There are certainly more dogs in this country than any person has patience. Wear earplugs if they get too annoying. Some people have guard dogs and for good reason. Almost everyone with anything worth stealing has such a dog in Manila.
Fireworks- Christmas and New Year’s Eve is the time for fireworks and the din could wake Rip van Winkle. Mactan is particularly noisy as there are firework factories everywhere. The workers build their own “special” ones for the big nights. Earplugs will only soften it; although I found that being very sick with food poisoning is a solution, albeit not one that I recommend. Best thing to do is join in the celebration.
Music- Hardly a morning goes by where someone doesn’t turn on a nearby stereo full blast at 5:30 in the morning. The locals don’t seem to mind and sleep right through it. In the evening, karaoke will be common and that noise can get irksome as well. Earplugs, complaining is a waste of time and air. I will ask the workers in a restaurant to turn down the music if it is too loud. They usually comply.
Fighting cocks- Everywhere there is a little flat open ground, often crowing all night right under the window of the room you are trying to sleep in. Don’t even think about complaining to the owner, he will be very insulted. You will be degrading his prized possession. After a few weeks, you’ll be wishing that cockfights were held every day to reduce the rooster population. Wear your (now precious) earplugs.
Accommodations- The saying “you get what you pay for” is certainly the key. I’ve seen beds from luxury king size mattress to a wooden table with a sheet on it. Lavish splendor to a concrete frame with no glass in the windows. I carry a reliable air mattress in my suitcase and it gets used. Always check the room at the motel before accepting it. Good luck getting your money back once you have paid.
Bathing- A few places have showers in the walls. Less than a quarter of those places have enough water pressure to get the water through the pipe! So you will see a large bucket filled with water and a smaller dipper inside. Welcome to the bucket shower. Dip water out of the larger bucket and pour it on top of your head. Lather, and work your way down. Rinse. It’s quite refreshing! Hot water? HAH!, but you really don’t need it. This shower has a practical application for me when I’m working in the Idaho back country.
Water- There are places in the Philippines where it is safe to drink the tap water. But I sure wouldn’t trust the tap unless a foreigner that you trust says that the water is safe. Remember, domestic water supplies can become unexpectedly contaminated. Bottled water is usually safe and always inexpensive. The larger jugs are refilled at filtering stations; these stations can be found in any larger town in the country. SCAM ALERT! There are some places and/or people that will refill used water bottles from who knows where and try to sell them as originals. Two ways to beat this. Either check the plastic seal carefully or, better yet, buy your water from larger, more prosperous establishments. Be careful when buying from street vendors or kids if they only have a bottle or two.
Food- Cooked food is generally OK, although occasionally even the most careful of travelers can get a rude surprise. Restaurants that cater to foreign tourists are safe. They HAVE to be, otherwise their business will go elsewhere quickly as word gets around. Away from the tourists? Ask around for good, safe places to eat. By yourself with no one to ask for advice? Look all the nearby restaurants over closely. There will be one that is busier than all the others. It’s busy for a reason. Get in line and eat there. Major fast food chains are about as sure a bet as you will find.
Insects and other pests- The Philippines is in the tropics and the bugs are alive and well.
Flys- These little packets of flying vermin are everywhere there is garbage. Curiously, they land mostly on your lower legs unless food is around. They land on your legs because of the geckos patrolling the walls and ceilings.
Cockroaches- Yep, la cucaracha is here as well. You frequently see them in bathrooms and around plumbing. One evening, I met up with a flying type almost 3 inches long! The locals hate them and do their best to keep them under control. It’s a losing battle.
Spiders- Didn’t see many.
Ants- About the worst. They are everywhere; there is a very tiny type that can get into the tightest of containers. Seal your goodies well or you will have a choice; throw it away or clean out the ants and eat it anyway. Grrr!
Rats- Common, but you don’t see them often. They are a fact of life in the Philippines as they are throughout the world.
Mosquitos- Get their own heading rather than being under “pests”. Extremely dangerous in some areas, although Praxy and I did not travel to any of those areas on this trip. I’m not going into details; there is more than enough information on the internet. Malaria, three types of Dengue Fever, Japanese Encephalitis, Hepatitis, and there may be more I don’t know about. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Reptiles- Poisonous snakes-It is said there are cobras around and I haven’t seen or heard of anyone seeing one in the 3 1/2 months I’ve been in the Philippines. Just to be sure, if you see a snake, leave it alone. Geckos- Two types, tiki and toko. Tikis are grey and smallish. They hang around lights at night eating flying insects. Harmless, you frequently hear their little birdlike chirping. Very shy. Tokos are much larger, greyish with spots. They can be quite aggressive if cornered. I heard of a lady getting stitches from being bit by one, but other reports dispute that. She may have been hit by a young water monitor. Most times the only way you know a toko is in the area is by their loud call…TOKO TOKO TOKO TOKO! They eat tiki, roaches, birds, anything they can catch. Other lizards- Water monitors live in the far south. You mess around with these and you will get bit. And deserve it. Flying lizards are around, count yourself lucky if you see one. About impossible to catch without the help of a tree climbing local.
Pollution- Water, air, garbage, and noise in Manila. Enough said about that. Careful about where you swim in the outlying areas. Most sewage goes into the sea throughout the country. Trash is everywhere, an unfortunate fact. Some areas are kept clean, those are in the minority. Exhaust fumes are bad in almost all cities, mainly because of diesel buses and two stroke tricycles.
Driving- Don’t plan on driving in the Philippines until you have observed for a while, rent a driver. The rules are quite flexible; the only hard fast one seems to be with working overhead traffic signals. I’ve described the ducking, dodging, racing, braking, etc. in my blog and it doesn’t do justice to the reality. An American Driver license from any state is good for 3 months in the Philippines.
Disease- I’m not qualified to give medical advice. I prepare by visiting the Travel Clinic at Pullman Regional Hospital in Pullman, Washington. Contact me directly for medical information, I will not post it. Pay strict attention to your personal hygiene. Use bottled water to brush your teeth outside of good motels.
Restrooms or CRs (Comfort Rooms)-Nearly all are smelly, many are downright disgusting. No lids, no seats, bucket flush. Fortunately, larger businesses generally have decent facilities. I try to pick and choose, and that works reasonably well unless you get the scoots (diarrhea) or get out in the boondocks. Bring your own toilet paper; it is very rare indeed to find any at a restroom. Many people make a living from cleaning restrooms and charging a small fee, 5 to 10 cents, for their efforts. Sometimes you wonder if they are making any improvements. That price may include a couple of squares of paper. Remember; carry your own bung fodder.
Unusual customs to us Americanos- Filipinos eat with a spoon and use it like a knife to cut meat. The fork holds things in place for the spoon to cut. It works great! Strict dress codes in the Catholic churches. Paying while traveling on jeepneys is on the honor system, rarely does someone cheat.
Transportation– Jets, buses, ferries, jeepneys, vans, tricycles, pedicabs, horse carriages, All are inexpensive when compared to the United States. Prices vary, ask the locals for the fare if in doubt. On jets and reservation ferries, pay in advance if possible. You can save hassle and money. Don’t ask the tricycle drivers or you will pay the special “Americano” rate rather than the going amount. Try to ask a local before you hail the tricycle.
Legal stuff– Too much to list. Contact me on my comments section and I will do my best to answer your questions. I can help with arrival and passing through customs, visas, and other basic information. I have had no problems with any of the police or guards in the country.
Wives-girlfriends I met several ladies of various ages that would be delighted to swap emails and Facebooks with an American man. One was 18; another was 20, and three that are in their 40’s to 50’s. If you are interested, contact me in the comments section of my blog. Those comments have to be “approved” by me before they are posted. Therefore, if I’m contacted in that way I WILL NOT post that you are interested in meeting someone. I will guarantee your privacy on this end, to the extent that I will have to have Praxy help me with the contacts. Remember, I don’t speak Tagalog.
Addition 7/3/2012. I was reading my story and realized I had missed something very important. Here we go.
Terminal fees. This one is a GGRrrrrrr until you get used to it.
There are two types of transportation “terminals”. Privately owned Small bus companies, van companies, and such may have their own rented building. The cost of running that building may be included in your fare. Don’t count on it, though.
Publicly owned. This opens a can of worms, pay attention. Almost all publicly owned terminals charge a terminal fee for upkeep and maintenance. Even though a travel agency may “claim” that the fee is included, don’t count on it. Each and every passenger has to have the cash in hand for the payment to get into the building. This is always required in Pesos. Sometimes you have to pay when you make connections, even if the connection is to the same company.
In smaller towns, their jeepney terminals, bus terminals, and small ferry terminals, are inexpensive. But… Woe if you do not have enough money. You will have to leave the terminal and find an ATM. In small cities this can be a wretched problem and you can very easily miss your ferry/bus/van. Some terminals (Tacloban bus/jeepney and Siqujor ferry for instance) are a long, long ways from the nearest ATM. Fees can run from 50 to 200 pesos, depending.
Airports, I’ve only got a little experience with this. I flew from the domestic terminal in Manilla to Tacloban. The fee was 200 pesos per person. I was expecting it and had plenty of money as we were heading deep into Eastern Sumar. Starting in August 2012, the fee may be included with your ticket. Don’t take a chance, have the money ready. I’ve flown international out of Cebu twice. The fee is 550 pesos, and you WILL NOT pass unless you pay. Here’s the hassle. You go through security, then get to the terminal fee kiosk. And there is no ATM in the secure area. So, back out, get the money, go back through security. I warned a US passenger, but he insisted firmly that all “fees” were included in his ticket. I shook my head ruefully and let him find out the hard way. Then he ended up with a bunch of extra unneeded pesos for the trip back to the US. He was lucky that there was an ATM in the building, Cebu is an exception. PLAN AHEAD, readers.