The Philippines could be called the ‘renaissance man’ of Asia, offering roads less travelled as well as comfortable resorts; fun for families as well as nightlife for singles; pristine beaches for honeymooners as well as bustling cities for bargain hunters.
It is a place where colonial Spanish culture mixes with US influence and Asian allure, where the smiles are welcoming and the delights unexpected. Flight Centre travel experts Stephen Perry and Deborah Nicholson recently explored the Philippines and agreed the island of Boracay in the Western Visayas was a standout.
“I just liked the vibe of Boracay,” Stephen, from Flight Centre Westpac Plaza in Sydney, says. “It’s the beautiful beaches, the island hopping, the nightlife, and it’s good for families.”
Boracay is famed for its White Beach, a powdery stretch divided into three sections – Station 3, catering for budget travellers (with a few upscale resorts sprinkled in); Station 2, full of shops, restaurants and bars; and Station 1, home to high-end resorts.
Deborah, from Flight Centre Mobile Travel, loves the adrenalin rush of cliff-diving at Ariel’s Point, a 35-minute boat ride from Station 1. Here, you can leap into the blue-green water from a series of planks jutting out from the cliff, ranging from three metres up to more than nine metres.
The capital, Manila, on the other hand, is an adrenalin rush of a different kind – a frenetic city filled with crazy traffic and huge shopping malls to rival those anywhere in the world. “Restaurants are super cheap, taxis are super cheap and the brand new massive Mall of Asia is really cool, too,” Deborah says.
For a change of pace, find a glimpse of times gone by at Intramuros, the Spanish colonial core of Manila. The 16th-century stone citadel boasts a fort and cannons, plus Baroque churches behind its thick city walls.
The smaller but just as busy city of Cebu has its share of colonial architecture, too, such as the fort of San Pedro. But it is the spectacular diving opportunities that draw most people to the province. Stephen’s pick? “Go down to Oslob, where you can dive with the whale sharks.”
For travel expert Kent Haines of Flight Centre 545 Queen Street in Brisbane, it’s the wildlife of Bohol that remains close to his heart. A snorkelling trip to Balicasag Island saw him come face to face with some giants of the deep. “They were big, big loggerhead turtles that were the length of my body – three or four at once – and they’d come right up next to you,” he said.
At the other end of the scale are Bohol’s big-eyed tarsiers, which can be seen at the Tarsier Sanctuary. “Tarsiers are the tiniest little creatures,” Kent stays. “They’re so cute and they’d fit in the palm of your hands. They’re one of the smallest primates and very endangered. The Tarsier Sanctuary was my highlight.”
Eclectic Culinary Experiences
No trip to the Philippines would be complete without filling up on the eclectic cuisine of this nation of more than 7,000 islands. High on the list would be chicken adobo, where chicken is cooked in vinegar, salt, pepper, soy sauce and other spices. Also look out for sisig, a sizzling pork dish; and bicol express, a fiery pork dish cooked in coconut milk.
Kent praises the ubiquitous pork barbecue: “You’d see entire pigs roasting on spits, and each little area had its own way of doing it. For example, it’s really salty down in Cebu but more sweet back up in Manila.”
With so much to offer, the Philippines is a country that defies categorisation. Our travel experts agree it’s on the cusp of becoming as popular as Thailand, and when asked which kind of traveller it suits, the verdict is unanimous: everyone!