Top Tips for Your Trip
=> If you’re comfortable on a motorbike, it’s often the best way to experience ordinary rural life. You’ll likely receive friendly smiles, waves and shouts to stop and chat.
=> Basketball players rejoice. Nearly every village, no matter how small and remote, has a court, although many consist of nothing more than an iron hoop nailed to a palm tree. Call next and be ready to compete.
=> Schedule at least half a day, preferably a full one, for connecting flights back to Manila or Cebu. Missing that flight out because of domestic delays and cancellations isn’t unheard of.
What to Wear
Because of the tropical climate the Philippines by necessity is a casual place. That being said, despite the heat most Filipinos look fairly unfazed – of course they’re used to it – and tend to wear long pants in urban areas (offices of course) and for trips to the mall. In villages, rural areas and beach towns, flip-flops or sandals, shorts and T-shirts are all you’ll need. For women, outside of beach settings, it’s best to avoid wearing revealing clothing that might attract unwanted attention. Otherwise, lightweight and comfortable is the way to go.
During the high season, reservations are recommended, especially at popular tourist areas like Boracay or El Nido.
=> Resorts These range from ultraluxurious, the rival of any in Southeast Asia, to basic fan-cooled nipa huts (dwellings made from the leaves of nipa palm trees). European-owned ones tend to be more aesthetically sophisticated.
=> Hotels Many cater to the domestic market, which means generic concrete construction and air-con, whereas five-star hotels in Manila are over-the-top palatial affairs.
=> Pensionnes Sort of a catch-all term referring to less expensive, independently-owned hotels.
=> Hostels Those that focus on foreign travelers tend to be more comfortable than ones for primarily young Filipinos; beds in the latter are generally shorter.
Tips for Saving Money
Several ways to reduce your expenses:
=> Pack as light as possible since most domestic flights charge extra once you exceed a fairly conservative luggage weight limit.
=> Some hotels and restaurants provide free purified water; fill up your own bottles when you can.
=> Hop on ‘communal’ tricycles for only P8 rather than taking ‘private’ trips.
=> Frequent modest restaurants where local Filipinos eat.
=> Go for instant coffee rather than brewed and certainly not the quality P90 to P110 variety offered at high-end coffee shops.
=> Always go for the less expensive fan rooms; can be just as comfortable as air-con ones.
A modest amount of negotiating is expected in many outdoor markets, however, prices for some food commodities are usually set. Bargaining is expected anywhere tourist handicrafts are sold. Same applies for hiring motorbikes, taxis for the day and chartering bangkas (wooden boats), though official rates might be posted.
=> Restaurants A 10% service charge is automatically added to the bill at some restaurants, but leaving a little extra is always appreciated (perhaps P40 to P50 per person if service is not included).
=> Taxis At minimum, round up taxi fares, but consider tipping more (say P20 to P50).
=> Transport Don’t lose your temper – Filipinos will think you’re loco (crazy). It generally takes quite a lot, unless alcohol is involved of course, to rouse someone to anger. Especially for transport frustrations, adopt the Filipino maxim – bahala na (whatever will be will be).
=> Karaoke When singing or witnessing karaoke – and you will – refrain from catcalls or disparaging remarks regardless of the timbre of the voice.
=> Jeepneys It’s no use complaining when squeezed together with strangers on jeepneys – it’s best to grin and bear it instead.
=> Restaurants Filipinos hiss to gain someone’s attention, often in restaurants to signal the waitstaff. It’s not considered rude.
=> Betel nut Chewing betel nut is common (and subsequent puddles of red spit frowned upon) in places such as the Cordillera.
English is widely spoken in urban centres and areas frequented by tourists. Even in the most rural areas, a few basic expressions might be understood. Along with English, the other official language is Tagalog (or Filipino). The country’s unique colonial history means Spanish speakers will recognise many words. While Filipino is the lingua franca, there are 165 other languages spoken throughout the archipelago – Cebuano and Ilocano are two of the most widespread.