Philippines

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Philippines.

cebu-city

White Sandy Beaches and Spectacular Dive Sites – Cebu City

Cebu is a splendid place. Home to over three million people, the island offers something for everyone, from centuries- old buildings to white sandy beaches, majestic corals and breathtaking marine life – not to mention the perks of being in a modern city coupled with island-vibe living. Centrally located in the heart of the Philippine archipelago, Cebu is a cultural melting pot shaped by centuries of tradition. I’m proud to call it my home.

Whenever I visit, I make a point to enjoy some downtime with my friends and family in Compostella, a municipality just north of the city. In my opinion, this is where you can find the best Filipino hospitality in the country. Make sure you schedule time to check out one of the local markets where you can sample the  freshest seafood you’ll ever taste. Cebuano cuisine is also famous for its Spanish- influenced dishes. Menus are packed with everything from adobo to paella and kare- kare – try it all.

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Traditional Filipino Kare-Kare dish

Next, drop by Carbon Market to pick up the freshest Carabao mangoes and get a taste of Cebuano street-food – the tasty chicken barbecue and puso is a must.

Cebu is also blessed with a wealth of diverse natural resources, which keep tourists flocking to the island. From the gorgeous corals off  Moalboal to the thresher sharks of Malapascua and the amazing whale sharks of Oslob, there is plenty to admire.

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Scuba Diver on Coral Reef in Moalboal, Cebu

Adventure seekers can try a spot of canyoning in Alegria and Badian, or be brave and take a wild plunge into the majestic Kawasan Falls. Alternatively, take it to the extreme with a skydive on Bantayan island.

Kawasan Falls

Kawasan Falls

Nature lovers will delight in the mountains of Osemena Peak or by taking a trek around Mount Manunggal, the highest peak, in Balamban.

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Manila with Zest

Sour Finds Big Fans in the Philippines

At this very moment, a good number of the 12 million people in Metro Manila are craving sour. Manileños bite into a tart, crisp slice of green mango dabbed with fermented shrimp paste for an afternoon snack. They slurp a hearty bowl of tamarind soup at a Sunday after-church lunch. They crunch fried fish dipped in chilli-spiked palm vinegar at a cafeteria-style turo-turo, where customers simply point (turo) at their dish of choice.

Sour appears on menus everywhere in the Philippines. Each dish has a distinct taste and degree of tanginess based on the region and the season. In Manila, sour can be found both at a design-centric restaurant in the financial district of Makati and at a Baclaran carinderia, a food stall where jeepney and pedicab drivers sit on benches for a meal and a break from the city’s paralyzing traffic.

When nature handed this Southeast Asian country lemons—and a tropical bounty of other acidic fruits—the Filipinos made lemonade. And ceviche. And sour fried chicken.

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Filipino specialties offered by Kafé Batwan

That last dish appears on the menu at Kafé Batwan, in Makati. Chef J.P. Anglo pays homage to his roots on Negros, the fourth largest of the Philippines’ 7,107plus islands, by featuring the native batwan, a hard fruit smaller than a lime. Anglo marinates the chicken in batwan juice, coconut vinegar, and lemongrass salt, then fries it crisp for a surprisingly delicious twist. The stairs leading up to a second-floor dining room showcase bottles of spicy homemade vinegar and Don Papa, a small-batch rum named after the shaman and revolutionary who in 1896 freed from the Spaniards the island of Negros, where this sugarcane product is distilled.

“Sourness is the main flavour that distinguishes us from other Asian cuisines,” says Amy Besa, cookbook author and co-owner of Purple Yam in Manila’s buzzing retail district of Malate. Located in Besa’s ancestral home, the restaurant displays original artworks by acclaimed Filipino modernist Botong Francisco, Besa’s godfather.

Besa and her husband, chef Romy Dorotan, alternate between Manila and Brooklyn, where the original Purple Yam has drawn fans of the couple’s fresh and elegantly updated Filipino dishes since 2009 (and before that at their now shuttered SoHo restaurant, Cendrillon).

“The holy trinity of native Filipino foods,” says Besa, is adobo, sinigang (a tamarind soup or stew), and kinilaw (a cured seafood dish similar to ceviche). “All three dishes are cooked and eaten by all classes of society from the very rich to the very poor,” she says. Dorotan’s recipe for chicken adobo—meat braised in rice vinegar, garlic, pepper, and coconut milk—is possibly the most published and shared of all Filipino adobos.

Many Filipinos believe that imbibing a steaming sour soup, such as sinigang, helps cool the body—and whet the appetite. Chefs Isaiah Ortega and Korinne Lirio-Ortega believe in the power of sour soup so much that they opened Sinigang restaurant in BF Homes Parañaque, a well-off Manila neighbourhood that has seen numerous restaurants open in the past year.

Prior to the restaurant’s launch, Ortega read up on all things sinigang and travelled the provinces. He says he found “more than 20 different souring agents used for sinigang,” including pineapple, herbs, tree bark, and others he’d never heard of such as libas (hog plum), bignay (Chinese laurel), and katmon (elephant apple). The Ortegas had the sour fruits shipped to Manila in sacks.

Patrick Roa’s food awakening happened during his search for the best ceviche. “I can make you 50 kinds of ceviche, if you want,” Roa says. He and his wife, Pia Temporal Roa, opened Patricio’s Cevicheria in Fort Bonifacio to share his findings. The Roas also serve Hawaiian poke and regional Filipino kinilaw. Their superstar dish: kinilaw de Oro, fresh tuna cured in coconut vinegar with fruits and roots indigenous to the region around Cagayan de Oro, where Patrick grew up.

Whether you’re dining at Harbour Square with a view of Manila Bay or meeting for lunch in the posh Rockwell Center area of Makati, it’s perfectly natural to ask the servers for some fish sauce (patis) to accompany your meal. This will come on a small plate with a sweet-sour calamansi (Philippine lime) and one little red hot pepper slit in the middle to let you temper the heat.

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Chili’s Restaurant – Rockwell Center

“The ritual of sawsawan (dipping sauce) is an important part of meals,” says Pia Lim-Castillo, who teaches cooking at her home kitchen in Forbes Park, Makati. “By adjusting the sauce, the eater partakes in the cooking.”

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BORACAY, PHILIPPINES

  • POPULATION 12,000
  • SIZE 4 square miles

Despite being one of the smaller islands in the archipelago, Boracay is the Philippine island that makes the most noise, stays up latest and has the groggiest voice in the morning. The epicentre of the party is White Beach (pictured), a 2V&-mile strip of soft white sand that has — over a few decades — morphed from a laid-back hippie hangout to an energetic nightlife capital of Southeast Asia, with countless bars beneath the seafront palms.

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Boracay, Philippines

There’s plenty to keep hungover souls busy too: try the easy climb to the viewing deck atop Mount Luho (more of a hill really) for views out to the neighbouring islands of Carabao and Tablas, or charter a ride on a paraw – a type of outrigger sail boat that sweeps gracefully along the island’s shore. Set sail at sunset to stand a chance of spotting large fruit bats crowding the skies of Boracay just before crowds of revellers make for the watering holes of White Beach.

  • GETTING THERE – Fly from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia to Manila before taking a 35-minute flight on Philippine Airlines to Caticlan-Boracay. A fleet of small boats makes the 15-minute crossing to Boracay itself (from US$4).
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The Philippines

It’s officially Visit Philippines Year, and if there’s one thing Filipinos know how to do, it’s throw a party – expect street parades, food festivals, sports tournaments and live music shows.

Essential information:

Population: 99 million

Foreign visitors per year: 4.6 million

Capital: Manila

Language: Filipino (Tagalog)

Major industry: agriculture

Unit of currency: peso (P)

Cost index: bottle of San Miguel beer P50 (US$1.15), double hotel room P1000-2000 (US$22-44), one-tank dive P1500-1800 (US$33.50-40.20)

Why go ASAP?

Many would say the time is well overdue for the Philippines to be recognised as the next big travel destination in Southeast Asia. With more than 7100 islands (compare that to Thailand, with a paltry 1430), the Philippines has one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines, fringed by dive-tastic coral reefs, sprinkled with sunbathe-ready white sand, backed by swaying palm trees and dotted with simple resorts of nipa-palm thatched huts, like Thailand used to be when the Beach Boys were still top of the charts.

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Dumaluan Beach – Philippines

Officially, 2015 is Visit Philippines Year, and the government is laying on all sorts of special events to raise the profile of the archipelago. And if there’s one thing Filipinos know how to do, it’s throw a party ¬expect street parades, food festivals, sports tournaments and live music shows, with lavish sponsorship from powerhouse brands like San Miguel and Beer Na Beer. In fact, thanks to the Filipino love of live music, a cabaret atmosphere prevails almost every night. Now that Philippine Airlines has gained approval for direct flights to Europe, America and Australia, what are you waiting for?

Festivals & Events:

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Ati-Atihan, a colourful festival, will give you the best vibes

Indigenous costumes with extravagant modern embellishments take centre-stage at the Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo, Aklan, from 17 to 19 January. On the last Sunday of January, Iloilo City goes crazy for the Dinagyang Festival, with pulsing street parades and some of the most outrageous floats this side of Mardi Gras. Every Holy Week (29March to 4 April in 2015), locals dressed as Roman centurions scour the island of Marinduque in search of Longinus, the soldier who pierced the side of Christ, as part of the Moriones festival.

What’s Hot…

Peace, thanks to the signing of a historic treaty between the Philippines government and the unfortunately abbreviated MILF, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front

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The Moro Islamic Liberation Front celebratinh the treaty

What’s Not…

Climate change: 2013 saw one of the worst typhoon seasons in living memory, culminating in the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan.

Life-changing experience:

Jeepneys in Metro Manila - Philippines

Jeepneys in Metro Manila – Philippines

There are plenty! Try clinging to the back of a jeepney speeding through the crowded streets of Metro Manila. Based on US Army jeeps left behind after WWII, these stretched wonders are part public bus and part art installation, adorned with extravagant chrome trim, custom upholstery, hundreds of decals and dozens of superfluous lights. Boarding and disembarking from these supercharged vehicles is conducted at break-neck speed, then it’s back into the traffic, horn blaring, music blasting, and on to the next stop.

Current craze:

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Makati (The selfie capital) – Philippines

Gosh, what isn’t a craze in the Philippines? Filipinos love fads, and everything from the yoyo to the sellotape selfie (yep, that’s a portrait of your own face bound up with sellotape) has had its moment in the sun in the Philippines. Indeed, the city of Makati was recently feted as the world’s `selfiest’ city. One craze that never goes out of fashion in the Philippines is karaoke – alone, or in company, Pinoys love to sing, and no social gathering or business meeting would be complete without a swift rendition of the latest hits on the karaoke machine.

Trending topic:

Flesh-eating bacteria and apocalyptic prophecies, apparently. In 2014, a news story about a new skin disease in Pangasinan province sparked a social media panic, as locals linked the outbreak to an end-of-the-world prophecy made by an Indian holy man. Within hours, the hashtag #PrayForPangasinan had been tweeted by more than 80,000 people. While officially Catholic, many Filipinos are extremely superstitious, embracing everything from faith healers to kulam (old-fashioned witchcraft).

Random facts:

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Flag of Philippines

  • The colours of the Philippines flag are officially reversed in wartime – if you see a red band on the top of the flag, beware…

  • The modern yoyo was invented by a Filipino ¬the word `yoyo’ means ‘come back’ in Tagalog.

  • 1.39 billion SMS messages are sent every day in the Philippines.

Most bizarre sight:

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The reproduction of the biblical Crucifxion on the Good Friday – San Fernando de Pampanga

Live crucifixion. But don’t worry, the devout Christians who offer themselves up for real, but temporary, crucifixion in San Fernando de Pampanga every Good Friday do so on a strictly voluntary basis. Regarded as the ultimate sign of religious devotion, this gruesome practice can be habit-forming – former construction worker Ruben Enaje has been crucified every year since 1985!

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Amanpulo – Pamalican Island, Philippines

Garboesque Isolation on a Private Isle

Of the Philippine’s 7,000-odd islands, Pamalican is a very special getaway, a minuscule speck in the Sula Sea on which has been created a sibling of the Aman Resort, the archetypal luxury Asian getaway.

Roll out of you immense bed, pad across your enormous private casita, and awaken with the day on the Amanpulo’s footprint-free talcum-powder beach, surely the most dazzling in the Philippines. Leaving your airy home will be the day’s biggest challenge; the forty exquisite casitas are mod­eled after traditional bahay kubo houses, built of local materials, and decorated with gallery-quality crafts.

If you do make it outside, you can engage in a host of enticing water activities including windsurfing, sailing, fishing, and most especially scuba diving – a coral reef encircles the 220-acre island only about 1,000 feet from shore, in some of the purest water you’ll ever see.

The hillside swimming pool seems to have no edges, a trademark of the Aman aesthetic, and it commands spectacular views of the surrounding islands, all framed by the multiple aquamarine, peacock, and tur­quoise blues of the sea.

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Taal Volcano – Tagaytay, Luzon, Philippines

A Lake Within a Volcano Within a Lake Within an Island

Pack a picnic lunch and head south out of traffic-jammed Manila to Taal Volcano, one of Asia’s most beautiful panoramas.

Among the world’s lowest and smallest volcanoes, Taal is filled with water, creating a lake, yet the volcano itself is located within a larger lake. (As the tour guides are wont to chant, “a lake within a volcano, within a lake, within the island of Luzon.”) The blues and greens of the vista from forested Tagaytay Ridge have for generations made this a favorite getaway from the heat and chaos of downtown Manila.

Boat trips across the crater lake and to Volcano Island are easily arranged, and there’s horse­back riding and a lovely hotel and casino too.

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Banaue Rice Terraces – Banaue, Luzon, Philippines

Earth Art, Millennia Old

Banaue’s rice terraces were carved out of the Cordillera Central mountain range more than 2,000 years ago and are still maintained as a way of irri­gating the area’s steep slopes, which rise to more than 5,000 feet above sea level.

Access is difficult, since the roads are roughly paved, but the effort rewards you with gorgeous views of one of the lesser-known wonders of the ancient world, covering more than 4,000 square miles. Bring a sweater, plenty of film, and good hiking boots, as Banaue is the perfect base from which to visit the villages of the Ifugao, the region’s tribal people.

The quality of light, the mountain air, and the drama of the ancient earthworks may make you leave your heart in the highlands. The modest Banaue Hotel is the nicest operation in the area, offering balconied rooms and commanding views of the rice ter­races. Staff can organize trips by car or by foot into the surrounding country.