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.

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:

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

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:

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:

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:

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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