The Philippines is probably not one of the most popular tourist destinations in South East Asia but undoubtedly the most beautiful. It is characterized by its turquoise blue waters, emerald rice paddies, towering limestone cliffs, diverse beaches, beautiful flora and fauna (both underwater and on land), and of course, its people.
Just like with any other country though, a thorough research and planning is required before you visit. No matter how beautiful and fun the country is, if you come unprepared, you are still bound to experience some mishaps and worse, lack of preparation can ruin your entire vacation.
Sometimes, foreigners also have some misconceptions about the country and there are those who have no idea at all about Philippine culture and society that they end up getting disappointed. Only with proper planning and research can you ensure that your vacation will be one you would remember so fondly for the rest of your life.
So here are 10 things that you must know before coming to this paradise.
- Never Ever Visit a Family or a Friend Empty-handed
“Pasalubong” is a Filipino term for a gift or a souvenir bought in some place for loved ones. Whenever you visit a family or a friend (especially if you are a foreigner) it is important to always remember to bring something from your home country to the people you visit in the Philippines. It is very common for Filipinos to buy loads of souvenir items from places they visit and bring them home to their loved ones and so they kind of expect others to do the same for them.
“Pasalubong” can be just anything. It can be a shirt (printed with your country’s name etc.), food items, wine, fridge magnet, or a key chain. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s the thought that counts.
- Filipino Cuisine is probably the least favorite among Asian Cuisines
Foreigners going to the Philippines often end up disappointed with the food because they thought that since Philippines is an Asian country then it must have that distinct Oriental taste that other Asian nations are famous for. Well, Philippines is probably the only Asian nation without that distinct taste. The heavy western and American influence in the country made it impossible for Filipinos to come up with their own distinct national flavor. Filipinos do have their own dishes however; foreigners often find it too sweet or too fat for their liking. Filipino dishes are a mix of Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and American.
There are also no world class eateries (small places by the roadside for eating) in the Philippines. Most foods have already been prepared and you just need to select which one you like to eat unlike in Thailand where you can just sit in one of the eateries by the road and they will serve foods hot and newly prepared. There are also numerous fast food restaurants in the country and quite a few superb restaurants where you can enjoy a decent meal. Most of these restaurants are in the cities, in touristy areas and inside expensive hotels.
Needless to say, when it comes to fresh seafoods, you can never go wrong in this country. This is seafood paradise where you can get fresh fish and seafoods altogether for a very low price.
- Sarcasm is not tolerable in the country
Filipinos are happy-go-lucky. They are generally easy going and easy to please but Filipino sense of humor is different from European or American which is often sarcastic. Filipinos appreciate a good laugh, a light-hearted humor and they don’t like jokes with a hint of insult to them especially coming from foreigners.
- Filipino’s Concept of Time is strange
Filipinos are notorious for being late and often foreigners regard this behavior as insulting or offensive but it is just the way it is in the country. Maybe it has something to do with the situation on the roads or maybe it has been inculcated in the culture. Always keep this in mind whenever you are meeting Filipinos. Similarly, if you arrive late, you will not offend anyone in the Philippines unless it is an official invitation by the government or for work.
And if you ask Filipinos how far a place is, they will not give you answers in distance. For example, how far is Makati from Manila? Filipinos will answer you “it is about 30 minutes away” instead of 20 kilometers away. Foreigners find it weird sometimes but the reason behind is that, even if Makati is only 5 kilometers away from Manila for example, due to heavy traffic in the area, often it will take you 30 minutes to an hour to get there.
- Always bring a toilet paper with you wherever you go
Shopping malls do not always have toilet paper in each cubicle. Often you will find a roll of toilet paper near the sink outside the stalls so make sure to grab some before using the toilet. It is also true with restaurants and other public places so never ever forget a tissue wherever you go. Filipinos do not usually use tissues but instead they use water for washing in the toilet that is why don’t be surprised if you see a bucket and a dipper instead of a roll of tissue in the toilet cubicle.
- Safety in the Philippines
The Southern Philippines and Mega-Manila
Due to blown-up media speculations, foreign travelers feel reluctant to visit the country for fear of their safety. The truth is the country is generally safe just like the other Asian neighbors. It is important however; that before visiting the country, make sure to research and read travel advisories especially if you wish to visit the South. There are specific areas in the South that are not recommended especially for foreigners. 85% of the country is relatively safe. For tourists, using a local travel agency might be a good choice as they can help you stay in safe hotels.
In the metro cities, avoid showing-off your luxurious goods. Always be vigilant and stay low-profile and always keep your valuables properly to avoid getting attention or being targeted by pickpockets etc. Stay away from dark alleys either and don’t walk in dark places alone.
Foreigners are also the favorite target of scammers so beware of scammers at the airport. Always take metered taxis whenever you go somewhere. Always ask the assistance of the hotel reception for booking taxis etc. because the hotel security always writes the plate numbers of each taxi so it helps to keep you safe from scammers as these taxis can be easily traced and reported. Beware of people who also offer tours with foreign tourist price. These are often scammers because tours are supposed to be the same for foreign and locals except for terminal fees at the airport and some official fees where locals generally pay a lower fee of course.
No big bags inside supermarkets
If you happen to shop for groceries with a big empty backpack, it is best to deposit your bag first at the counter for security purposes (even if the bag is empty). You can claim it back after you paid for the groceries. Filipinos also do not use paper bags for groceries so do not be disappointed if all you see is plastic. There are places though that already started to ban plastic usage but if you happen to have no shopping bag with you and you don’t like to carry paper bags because it is raining outside, then you have to pay for a plastic bag.
- Concept of Family
Filipinos are family-oriented. You will see that in their everyday lives. Their world revolves around their family which most of the western visitors cannot fully grasp. It is normal for children to still live with their parents even if they already have their own family. Kids in school also often end up going to universities and taking up courses that their parents chose for them. The parents always have a say in every important decisions. So, if you wish to marry a Filipino for example, you do not only marry the person but you also need to get the blessing of the entire family.
Moreover, Filipino family does not only consist of the immediate family members but also the relatives. It is therefore common to hear stories from Filipinos working abroad that they are helping their cousins or nephews in their schooling etc. In the Philippines, if you visit a Filipino’s house, expect to be greeted not only by the family but also by the relatives and don’t forget to give respect to the elders.
- Street Life is More Fun in the Philippines
Filipinos love their street foods. Every afternoon, wherever you are in the country, always expect a lot of street foods stall lined up and serving different kinds of street foods. The most popular street foods are grilled innards, chicken feet, grilled blood, fries, quail eggs, sweet corn, dumplings, chicken bites, Shawrma, and the Filipino favorite, Balot (a developing duck/bird embryo boiled and eaten from shell). Foreigners usually find “balot” revolting though. If you are a foreigner, it is best to avoid buying drinks from these street food stalls as they might have used tap water instead of purified. Nevertheless, it is also common to see coconut vendors on the street so you can take advantage of the fresh coconut juice instead.
- Cash is Important
Shopping in Metro Manila is fun with your credit cards. Some of the biggest malls in the world are in the Philippines so shopping options are limitless actually. However, if you go to the province, your credit card is basically useless. Always make sure to have cash with you all the time. It is also important to note that not all ATMs will accept your card or dispense cash so choose the ones with bigger bank names or banks with international names.
The situation is especially dire the smaller islands, even popular ones such as El Nido for example. Since resorts are quite far apart, you might find yourself needing to drive 20-30 minutes just to find an ATM. Some smaller tourists spots, such as Apo Island for example, have no banks at all.
- The Filipino People will definitely win you over
The landscape of the Philippines is rugged and beautiful but other countries also have that. What makes the Philippines really special is the kindness and hospitality of its people. Ask every foreign traveler why they love the Philippines and they will say it is the people. Filipino service is world-class so it is quite common to feel very special when you check in hotels. Even when you stay in a local Filipino home, you will be treated like a king or a queen. Locals will give their visitors the best room in the house to sleep in.
Filipinos are the best hosts in the world. When they have a visitor, they will throw a huge feast just for that person. Filipinos are happy people. They love to sing. Despite the hard life, Filipinos still have a smile ready for you. That is why it is really justified that when you are happy with the service, you typically give a tip. And your tip will go a long way knowing that your tip will usually benefit not just that person but the whole family as well.
Try the Philippine Mango. It is the best in the world.