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First Encounters of the Philippines

Posted by on Aug 1st, 2009
Filed Under: Walkabout Pinas

Tourism Philippines Walkabout Pinas ColumnistThe Philippines is quite a complicated country. Just try to figure out all of its history of colonizing powers, dictators, guerrilla movements, revolutions, etc. With that said, the Philippines is actually quite a gem and offers some of the most beautiful scenery and people I have ever encountered. Before I first travelled to the Philippines, the first thing that people said to me was usually along the lines of, “Isn’t it dangerous there?” or “You better be careful.” So on first landing in Manila my guard was up. The grittiness of Ninoy Aquino International Airport, and the heat of Manila in February after coming from a Korean winter didn’t do much to help me think of the Philippines as a welcoming, safe place. I went straight into the Asian Spirit domestic terminal and jumped on a plane to Boracay. I was surprised that certain metal objects I have carried on planes in numerous countries were not allowed onto Asian Spirit flights. After depositing said objects in my suitcase I went aboard, only to find that during the whole flight the door to the cockpit was left wide open. It was then that it started to dawn upon me that people here were not too concerned about this ‘ever-present’ danger that people of many other countries believe exists in the Philippines.

Philippines Bacuit Bay

Bacuit Bay, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Photo by yougottadance

On Landing in the tiny Caticlan Airport I experienced its basic but friendly service. After a quick ride to the port and a short boat ride I landed on Boracay. Still alive and safe. I then made my way to station one. Walking onto Boracay beach I found myself on the whitest and finest sand I have ever encountered. It was truly paradise! However, I was soon to learn that this paradise like most others has been over-commercialized. Taking a walk on the beach I was continually approached and asked to buy sunglasses, boat rides, parasailing trips, and girls. The beauty of the place was constantly shattered by the sound of jetskis and touts. And that wonderful long stretch of beach was impossible to photograph properly because of all of the tourists walking into my shot. While I enjoyed the beautiful beaches and waters of Boracay, I was ready to leave after 3 days. So I headed back to Manila to catch a connecting flight to El Nido, Palawan.

It was my second time in Manila that I was scammed. As the Manila airport is so huge, it is necessary to catch a taxi between terminals. Beware that many taxis have cards with prices that appear completely legitimate and bear the stamp of the Transport Department. For the western tourist these prices appear a bit steep, but they are not going to break the budget. Between terminals I paid $20 for about a 15 minute trip. Apparently taxi drivers have these same cards with cheaper prices in pesos for Filipinos. Don’t get scammed by them, ask for them to turn on the meter or just get another taxi. But with that experience out of the way, I headed off to Palawan.

Forget Halong Bay, it pales in comparison. El Nido offers the most pristine scenery I have ever encountered. El Nido opened my eyes to the fact that the Philippines is really one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. The people are very friendly and you can experience something that is hard to do in most part of Asia, you can have a beautiful beach all to yourself.

I had not even planned to travel to the Philippines; at the time all the tourism commercials sowed was shots of Manila, jeepneys and smiling people. Also with the CNN stories of devastating poverty and danger (which I am still yet to really encounter, hopefully not, fingers crossed), I was a bit deterred. However, like many foreigners after travelling here I became hooked on the country and have been here for a year now. The beauty of the Philippines is not just in its people or its scenery but also in its secrets. It is the ultimate place to get off the tourist trail and experience the feeling of seeing somewhere most people have never heard of.

Walkabout is an Australian aborigine term which means a short period of wandering bush life engaged in by an Australian aborigine as an occasional interruption of regular work.

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Scott M. Allford has lived and worked in Australia and South Korea and has travelled extensively throughout Asia- Mongolia, China, Tibet, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia and Japan – fell in love with the Philippines and decided to allocate at least two years to comprehensively cover the country. Learn more about me [+]

Tourism Philippines thrives on the knowledge of the community. Got a tip, photo or even a guide on a place you been to in Philippines? We will love to hear from you!

19 Responses to “First Encounters of the Philippines”

  1. Diane Wuthrich says:

    Hi! Thanks for this, great and inspiring article on Philippine tourism! :)

    • Scott says:

      Hi Diane.

      Thanks for the comment. I will be contributing more articles as the months go by giving tips for expats and tourists coming to or living in the Philippines. I hope it inspires many people to see more of this beautiful country.

  2. J.Crawford says:

    Hey Scott,

    Nice insight. I am thinking of migrating to Philippines, so is definitely keeping a look out on your future articles!

    keep writing!

    • Scott says:

      Hi J,

      Good idea. The Philippines is a great place to live. Stay tuned for my future articles. I’ll be writing about visas, bringing pets into the country, places to avoid and misrepresentations of the Philippines in Western media among other things.

  3. hannah jhoanna says:

    looking forward to read more about your experiences and impressions on the philippines =)

  4. Ryan says:

    Good stuff! I bet that your articles on the Philippines would be helpful for would-be expats and foreigners traveling to these islands.

    Congratulations and looking forward for your future articles on the country as seen through the eys of foreigners!


  5. Russell Ri says:

    It really makes me smile everytime a foreigner comes here and realizes what I’ve known for quite some time now- the Philippines is a beautiful country. No doubt about it, we have our share of dirt and grime but so does most countries.

    But more than that, once you get to see the real Philippines, you’ll see why we are called the Pearl of the Orient Seas.

  6. jan racky masa says:

    I am a filipino and I am glad of your reviews in the philippines. I was looking over to get something to write in my research paper in the philippine tourism right now, I just want to ask, if your to consider philippines to visit anew.

  7. Scott says:

    Are you asking if I want to come back to the Philippines? Well since that trip I came back on another holiday and am now living and travelling in the Philippines.

  8. amira says:

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for choosing our country and for having you here. Philippines is really a great place to live in. People here are very friendly and hospitable. You will surely enjoy every trip you’re having. I am very thankful and happy that people like you, in the other country love our place. Thanks for making an article to show how beautiful Philippines is. It is really a good place for tourism. A lot of spot your surely enjoy most of your time staying here. God bless and welcome to the Philippines. Thanks a lot.


  9. Olivia says:

    Wow! It’s nice to know that you are enjoying your stay here. I got goosebumps while reading your article. :) It is inspiring to know what foreigners think of their travel here in the Philippines.

    The Philippines is indeed a very beautiful country and I’m not saying this because I am a Filipino. I am also planning and hoping to travel and experience our 7,107 islands, the culture, the dialects, the food. It is really a blesssing to be able to see all of these wonderful creation! God bless you po.. ^_^

  10. Aina says:

    Hi Scott;

    read your article, and it has put my mind slightly at ease. I was born in the Philippines, but left for Vancouver, BC at the age of 2, and have not been back to visit. My husband and I just got married. He’s an American, but we both now live in Toronto, Canada. I’ve read a few articles about terrorist groups targeting tourist destinations such as Palawan, since they are more secluded. Is there any truth to this? It does kind of make sense, since tourists would be easy prey for a hostage taking.

    I know I probably sound ridiculous, but can’t help but read what the media has written. Unfortunately, there have been quite a few articles written up. We have a scheduled trip to the Philippines this year from Dec. 1-17th. Ideally, we’d like to visit Boracay for about a week, then visit Palawan. My husband is a huge diver, so I would like this trip to be as memorable as possible.

    Also, with the recent typhoons, have either Boracay or Palawan been affected? If not, has Manila been affected dramatically?

    Look forward to hearing from you.


    • Ryan says:

      Hi Aina,

      Let me answer some of your questions.

      1. Palawan is very safe. The last attack on tourists there was in Dos Palmas in 2001 and that was over eight years ago. If you still have qualms about this, bear in mind that multiple terrorist attacks happened inside the United States as well as UK, Spain, Israel and many other countries which has resulted to thousands of lives lost. That did not stop people from traveling there. Boracay is safe too. The no-go areas are some of the provinces in the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao like Basilan, Sulu, Lanao del Sur and some parts of Zamboanga (although I know a lot of people would contest this observation though). We have been to Palawan and we will be going back there again this December.

      2. Luzon (Northern Luzon and some of the coastal towns along the Laguna de Bay) was only the most affected by the recent killer storms. Metro Manila bounced back quickly from the typhoons. Only parts of Pasig, Quezon City and Malabon is still affected and the nearby towns of Rizal Province. Visayas, Mindanao and parts of Bicol escaped virtually unscathed. Palawan and Boracay was largely spared. No worries about those places.

      3. Diving wise, there are a lot of stunning dive sites in the Philippines. The Philippines is in the top 3 of the best dive destinations in the world – along with Palau and Maldives. Also in a travel expo in Europe, France named the Philippines as the Dive Destination of the year. Apo Reef, Tubbataha Reef, Verde Island, Puerto Galera, Boracay, Coron, Subic, Malapascua, Bohol. Apo Island, Sarangani, Davao Oriental, Camiguin – these are just some of the many dive sites in the country.

      The Philippines is a very beautiful place, and maybe it’s also time for you to get to know your country better more than the biased headlines you see on the news. If you are up for it, it is ready to be discovered.


      • Aina says:

        Hi Ryan;

        thanks so much for clarifying things. I read your response to my husband, and we’re both thrilled about our upcoming visit to the Philippines in the next 5 weeks….minus the hang-ups we had due to the negative press.

        It has put my mind at ease, and I’m sure once we experience all that the Philippines has to offer, we’ll be able to make future visits after this one.



        • Ryan says:

          Hi Aina,

          I am glad that you decided to go ahead with it. Seriously, we have encountered journalists (especially from Europe who literally look for and they said so themselves to us that they only want to feature terrorism and poverty in the Philippines). Tourism helps communities and it also builds community pride. Of course, like I always say to every traveler not only for people going to the Philippines but to everywhere else – a good dose of street smart is always healthy wherever you go. Always trust your guts and your common sense wherever you go, be an informed traveler for better experience. If I could be of any help for your trip, just post it here. Also take a look at other destinations in the country on our destinations pages. Remember, the Philippines has 7,107 islands to choose from! Always have fun, safe and memorable travels to this country.

          Cheers and welcome back to your country!


  11. bbbil says:

    hey mate i love this shit

  12. taz jonson says:

    I am becoming of fan of you! Love reading your blogs… Im so inspired to invite more tourist and my countrymen as well to travel and enjoy our country!

  13. khris says:

    Hi guys,

    a friend of mine whose been to boracay, told me that bantayan island is as beautiful as boracay but without the over commercialized thing.

    ive been to bantayan island and its really beautiful. i cant compare it to boracay though. havent tried it yet.

    if you want the metropolitan setting of makati but with the beach of boracay and the beauty of palawan. go to CEBU

    CEBU has a little bit of everything…

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