Banaue Rice Terraces, the Philippines

Falling for the Philippines

Ever since we left the Philippines it has been haunting us; we just can’t shake the nagging feeling that we have unfinished business there – that we simply left too soon.  We may have only spent three short weeks there but the wildness and the beauty of this incredible country, the challenges it presented us with and the adventures we had there have stuck with us in a big way. Of all the countries we’ve visited so far, I find the urge to return to the Philippines is the strongest – but why?

Banaue Rice Terraces, the Philippines

Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines

What we Loved about the Philippines

I have to admit that I’d been dreading our trip to the Philippines. We’d heard from other bloggers that the food there was difficult to stomach, that getting from place to place was often a challenge and that the living conditions were more of a return to what we had experienced in Indonesia. At the time I was feeling pretty comfy in Kuala Lumpur and almost wished we could skip our visit entirely, but I’m so glad we didn’t.

Yes, it’s true that travelling in the Philippines was challenging at times; it doesn’t have the established tourist infrastructure or attract the amount of visitors that nearby countries like Thailand or Malaysia do. The country isn’t well connected and getting around can be long-winded and laborious, there isn’t a well-trodden tourist path to follow, nor are there hundreds of hostels or tour operators around. However, this actually made our journey more enjoyable. We could use local transport, we weren’t hassled or conned and we could walk into a village and hire a local person to be our tour guide. In comparison to Thailand, where we are now, the Philippines felt relatively untouched and we can’t help hoping it stays that way.

Cute Kids in the Philippines

Some of the cute kids we met in the Philippines

There were things we found hard to stomach about the Philippines though; the poverty we encountered in parts of Manila, the starving and abused dogs wandering the streets and the number of middle-aged Western men we saw walking around with Filipino boys. I was also sick for almost half of our trip and the physical trials we put ourselves through during the last week of our journey left my body aching everyday in a way I cannot remember it ever aching before.

Despite all this I reached new levels of happiness by the time we left the Philippines. I was physically exhausted after taking on the toughest treks of my life and pushing my body further than I thought possible but oddly, I also felt mentally rejuvenated and at peace with myself and with travelling. I’m not sure why; maybe it was the kind, polite people we encountered or the extreme beauty of the country that made me fall for the Philippines. Perhaps it was the fact that travelling there feels wilder, the path less tamed, or maybe it was realising that I love being up in the cool of the mountains so much. Whatever it was, my love for the Philippines, although far from instant, crept up on me and has left a lasting impact.

Trekking the Batad Rice Terraces

Trekking the Batad Rice Terraces

I’ve got so much to write about our adventures in the Philippines over the next few weeks; from exploring the jungles and Chocolate Hills in Bohol to visiting ancient caves in Sagada, trekking through the beautiful rice paddies of Batad and finding peace in our mountain retreat – I can’t wait to relive our time in the Philippines here on the blog.

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  • Kellie
    Posted at 17:42h, 16 September Reply

    Those kids are so cute!

    I’ve always quite fancied visiting the Philippines and I really like the fact that less touristy. You’ve made me want to visit 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:18h, 17 September Reply

      I would highly recommend the Philippines Kellie; if you’re going to travel through South-East Asia it would be a great shame to miss out on this beautiful country.

  • Heidi Wagoner
    Posted at 19:58h, 16 September Reply

    I think I need to educate myself more on the Philippines. I didn’t realize there was so much hiking available, “bad me”. I always just pictured a tropical island and beaches. Now I am a little more interested for sure.

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:22h, 17 September Reply

      I’m sure there are plenty of relatively untouched islands in the Philippines Heidi but we actually only visited one beach for a few short hours during our entire trip. We absolutely fell in love with the mountains and could have stayed in Sagada for months; if you like to hike, the Philippines has some really challenging treks for you to take on.

  • Alyson
    Posted at 20:08h, 16 September Reply

    Next year we’re going to the Phillipines! I’m hearing nothing but good things and it looks really beautiful..

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:25h, 17 September Reply

      Great news, you will have a brilliant time there Alyson; you’ll also find it cheap in comparison Thailand and Malaysia.

  • Emiel
    Posted at 21:33h, 16 September Reply

    Wow…after Thailand and Cambodia, you just put the Philippines on our bucket list. I know the feeling when you find it hard to describe why you love a place that much. It’s a combination of things….or just the way a place makes you feel…

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:26h, 17 September Reply

      Glad to have put the Philippines on your bucket list Emiel 🙂 We have so much more to explore there ourselves and can’t wait to return.

  • Charlie
    Posted at 02:28h, 17 September Reply

    A place that made such a deep and positive impression on you you’re sure to go back and visit again. Everything looks so lush and green! Can’t wait to read about your adventures there!

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:28h, 17 September Reply

      Yes, it was a pretty special place Charlie; I would definitely recommend visiting when you’re on your RTW trip.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 02:55h, 17 September Reply

    I am so glad that you guys loved the Philippines so much! Even after a year of travel, it’s still one of the places we loved the very most, even though—as you point out—it’s not perfect. For us, the biggest stumbling block there was the food, though certainly the infrastructure for getting around is not quite as convenient in some other places. That said, we found transport to always be comfortable and pretty reasonably priced and not too difficult to figure out, which is a far cry from how things are in Indonesia! There are certainly similarities between the two countries, but the Philippines stole our hearts right from the get-go and it doesn’t seem like Indonesia can compete (though ironically given your own experiences, we like Java best of any of the places we’ve been in the country!). We too really want to return to the Philippines again and again and again. We spent 2 months there but even that was not enough!

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:39h, 17 September Reply

      Hi Steph, thanks to The Buzz restaurant in Bohol and The Yoghurt House in Sagada I actually managed alright for food in the Philippines. However, we did spend more on food than we would have had we stuck to local dishes, which would have been tough for me since everything is so meaty. We also found transport more difficult in Indonesia with the exception of the awful, freezing overnight bus trip from Manila to Batad. There didn’t seem to be any other alternative to getting that bus and I was suffering with a cold which made the journey even more miserable. I’m surprised to hear that you liked Java the best, it’ll be interesting to read how your experience there differed from ours; we’re also looking forward to hearing what you guys got up to in Flores and Komodo since we didn’t make it there ourselves.

  • Jessica
    Posted at 04:45h, 17 September Reply

    Looking forward to reading your posts about it! I’m so torn about whether we should go there this year. It definitely sounds like it might be more of hassle to travel through compared to a lot of other countries, but it also sounds like it might be worth the extra effort!

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:42h, 17 September Reply

      I would so recommend visiting the Philippines Jessica; it’s only a hassle compared to countries with really established tourist infrastructures like Thailand. Any extra effort you do have to put in will be well worth the effort, I hope I can persuade you further with my upcoming posts about our adventures in the Philippines 🙂

  • Patti
    Posted at 02:55h, 18 September Reply

    “Perhaps it was the fact that travelling there feels wilder, the path less tamed, or maybe it was realising that I love being up in the cool of the mountains so much.”

    I love this sentiment, Amy! And I love those precious faces in the photo of the children. Looking forward to reading more!

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:23h, 18 September Reply

      Thanks so much Patti! The kids in the Philippines were really cute; some were also quite savvy and offered to be our tour guides (more about that later!).

  • Becki
    Posted at 08:58h, 18 September Reply

    I spent a month in the Philippines 11 years ago and found it a wild and beautiful place! the chocolate hills of Bohol were awesome. The beaches in Boracay were pretty spectacular too. Am looking forward to reading all about your adventure!

    • Amy
      Posted at 09:38h, 18 September Reply

      Thanks Becki; wow, the Philippines must have been ever more untouched 11 years ago.

  • Jessica
    Posted at 20:05h, 18 September Reply

    Nice!! We’re heading to the Philippines in Feb 2014, can’t hardly wait!! I’m looking forward to the upcoming stories. Keep up the good work. Cheers, Jessica

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:44h, 19 September Reply

      Thanks Jessica! You will have a great time there I’m sure; we’re actually tentatively planning a return to the Philippines ourselves in March 2014!

  • Nina
    Posted at 07:55h, 21 September Reply

    It truly warms my heart to read about travelers who thoroughly enjoyed their time in the Philippines. Yes, our country is far from perfect, I don’t know when it will really be ready for tourists, but it’s thanks to travelers like you guys who made the effort to come here that helps the community to realize the value of tourism and hopefully, the value of preserving our natural resources. Looking forward to reading about your adventures!

    • Amy
      Posted at 08:29h, 21 September Reply

      Hi Nina, thanks for your kind words, we absolutely loved your beautiful country; it might not be as tourist-friendly as other places in SE Asia but that actually made it all the more special for us. We can’t wait to return next year!

  • Mig
    Posted at 03:24h, 25 September Reply

    I’ve heard from other travelers as well that it’s still untouched and an up and coming destination. This would make exploring the Philippines more exciting. While I’ve been there as a child on family trips, I’d love to go back and explore my roots. Congrats on pushing yourself to your personal limits to grow.

    • Amy
      Posted at 04:28h, 25 September Reply

      Thanks Mig, I would definitely recommend you revisit the Philippines – I hope it stays as untouched and beautiful as it is now.

  • Frank
    Posted at 21:47h, 03 November Reply

    Enjoyed reading your post. The Philippines has been on my list of places to go for a long time. Actually, the thing I worry about the most is food – my wife is a vegetarian and it’s not the most vegie-friendly country around. But I’ve met a lot of Filipinos both on my travels and at home and have always found them incredibly friendly.
    Nice job on the blog!

    • Andrew
      Posted at 03:02h, 04 November Reply

      Thanks Frank! Don’t worry about the food in the Philippines, it may not be the most veggie-friendly country but we actually had some of our bed meals there (at the Buzz in Bohol and at the Yoghurt House in Sagada). It is an amazing country; don’t miss out! 🙂

  • Ito Rapadas
    Posted at 16:49h, 11 January Reply

    After the earthquake in Bohol and the devastation left by Typhoon Haiyan in Central Philippines, reading your thoughts about my country gave me so much happiness. Thank you for visiting us and seeing the “inner beauty” of my people, the Filipino people.

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:47h, 12 January Reply

      Thanks for your lovely comment. We had such an amazing time in the Philippines and were so saddened to hear about the earthquake and typhoon. We’ve already booked our flights back to the Philippines for April though and we hope to explore more of your beauty country as well as volunteer in the relief effort to repay a bit of the kindness shown to us by the Filipino people.

  • Lee
    Posted at 12:02h, 12 January Reply

    Hi Amy and Andrew! So glad you loved the Philippines so much that you are going back for more! I have only spent two weeks there – and came back to Australia married! 🙂 We met several months before, when Ros came to visit her brothers here. I also found the country to be amazingly varied and beautiful, and the people are so friendly and helpful! The fact that most of them speak English to some extent, makes life easier for us English-speaking travellers. Ros and I are planning to go back soon as we can, so she can show me more of the wonderful sights. Ros recommends Palawan and Mindoro beaches, and Taal Volcano in Tagaytay. Please do more blogging of your return visit!

    • Amy
      Posted at 14:53h, 12 January Reply

      Hi Lee, thanks for commenting. Sounds like you had a great time in the Philippines; you’re lucky to have a wife who can show you the sights and give you a more in-depth understanding of the culture. You’re right, the language is another benefit to travelling in the Philippines. Thanks for the recommendations, we’ll have to try and check those out and we’ll be sure to write about our experiences here on the blog 🙂

  • Micah Suarez
    Posted at 04:02h, 10 June Reply

    Hi I’m Micah Suarez, a travel enthusiast from the Philippines, aside from the sites you’ve mentioned above. Please also check what the metro has to offer. I higghly recommend you check this one out. 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 08:14h, 10 June Reply

      Thanks Micah 🙂

  • tidge
    Posted at 04:47h, 23 June Reply

    Hi Amy thank you for loving the country, I’m a Filipino and I really love Philippines, I live in the Metro. Me and my wife love to travel here in the Philippines, as you have said you love trekking and mountains, have you been in Mt. Pinatubo? Have you heard the trekking to Mt. Pulag? you will fall in love with these places. Mt. Pinatubo is located at Zambales and Mt. Pulag is located at Baguio (drop off point). Try Coron too in Palawan, the most beautiful corals you’ll ever see and book your stay at Coron Village Hotel very friendly people. How about Puerto Princesa in Palawan, check the under ground river there one of the 8 wonders of the world. Try Anawangin in Zambales, lovely beach and nature. =)

    • Amy
      Posted at 09:02h, 23 June Reply

      Hi Tidge, thanks so much for reading our blog and commenting. We do love the Philippines and hope to return there when we go back to Asia later this year. Thanks for all the recommendations, we’ll have to check those places out as they sound beautiful – we haven’t been to Mt. Pinatubo Mt. Pulag, we did stop in Baguio on the way to Sagada though. Palawan is definitely on our list, we’ve heard great things about it 🙂

  • Cebu Safari and Adventure Park
    Posted at 03:16h, 19 May Reply

    Amazing article! So interesting to read and the photos are just stunning. I am so glad that you guys loved the Philippines so much! Even after a year of travel, it’s still one of the places we loved the very most, even though—as you point out—it’s not perfect. Thanks for sharing your awesome experience!

    • Amy
      Posted at 20:31h, 21 May Reply

      Thanks for reading – we still love the Philippines and dream of returning one day 🙂

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