The Philippines: More than the usual* (Introduction to a series)

Batad Rice Terraces in Banaue, Mountain Province. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Philippines is a country blessed with amazing natural wonders. However, tourist arrivals don’t even come close to that of Thailand. I have read several round-the-world blogs yet a visit to the Philippines is almost always not included.

Clear blue-green water and limestone karsts in El Nido, Palawan

Why is that so? I have spoken with backpackers from all over the world whom I’ve met when I traveled around Mainland Southeast Asia last year and asked this question several times. One obvious answer is that the Philippines is not part of the mainland. Honestly, I half-heartedly believe that. Indonesia is also an archipelago, farther than the Philippines from the mainland yet tourism statistics is better?

The most amazing sunset I've seen in the Philippines. Saud Beach, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.

The main reason is definitely the security concerns in the Philippines. With all the news about kidnapping and terrorist attacks, who would want to fly in? But then, the same things happen all over the world, even much worse!

Fish pens in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato

I am also almost a victim of my ignorance and almost didn’t see the beauty of Mindanao. When we were planning a 6-month backpacking trip around the Philippines in 2008, I was adamant in not including Mindanao. I’ve never been to this infamous island yet I believed all the things people have been saying that the whole of Mindanao is unsafe and that the Muslims are not kind-hearted people. Though it’s true that foreign and local tourists need to avoid very few places with continuous political instability in Mindanao, but just like everywhere else, being alert and common sense is necessary.

Bongao Peak, Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, Mindanao

Looking back, I was glad to make that trip to Mindanao. We even ended up staying for 2 months! It was in Mindanao where I met honest tricycle drivers and strangers who welcomed us to their homes expecting nothing in return.

The old city of Vigan, Ilocos Sur. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yes, one have to be truly adventurous enough to book a flight and hop on a plane to visit the Philippines. Those who do are pleasantly rewarded.

The magnificent Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I’ll be sharing my photos and (mis)adventures during my 2008 backpacking trip in the coming posts. From way up north in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, all the way down south in Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi. Exploring most of Southeast Asia intimately for more than a year gave me a deep appreciation of my country and being Asian. It was a pleasure to see the Philippines first and I would love to share its beauty as I see it.

*More than the usual.. This line was part of Wow Philippines Tourism campaign which was successfully launched in 2002. Several well-made 30-seconder plugs were aired in CNN and other international channels. The line perfectly described what Philippines got to offer. More than the typical Asia that everyone knows.

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6 thoughts on “The Philippines: More than the usual* (Introduction to a series)

  1. JH says:

    I will be looking forward to your sharing on your beautiful country Philippines, I have seen many beautiful photographs of the natural beauty, islands and beaches of Philippines !

    Looking forward to plan a trip there to visit the natural wonders and take lots of photos 🙂

    JH
    http://www.photojournalist-tgh.tv

  2. Geoff says:

    Speaking as a British backpacker who has travelled around both mainland south east Asia and the Philippines, I’d really have to disagree that security concerns are the reasons for lack of tourism – it’s just not reported in the news all that much back home, and in fact far less than problems in countries like Mexico, Indonesia and Colombia, all of which hae lots more backpackers than the Philippines.

    I’d blame the lack of tourism on several other factors – first of all it is more remote than the other south east Asian countries. After arriving in the subcontinent in e.g. Bangkok or KL, you can reach all the other countries cheaply overland. The Philippines is a further three hour flight away – and that makes a difference. Secondly, I have yet to ever see any tourism marketing for the Philippines in the UK. The country just isn’t on most peoples radar. In fact there is also a bit of a vicious circle going on here too – people don’t go, and therefore peope don’t get to hear about it via word of mouth either. Thirdly, the weather. My perception is that the typhoons and rainy season are both longer and more severe than in neighbouring south east Asian countries. That puts people off, as travel gets harder.

    All in all though, whatever the reason it’s a teal shame, it was my favourite Asian country during my round the world trip, and it’s a shame more people don’t know how great the country is

    • H Geoff! Thanks for visiting my blog and it’s great to hear that the Philippines was your favorite Asian country during your RTW trip. I don’t hear that often.

      Philippines really have a long way to go in terms of tourism, not even comparable to Vietnam. When I was in Vietnam, you don’t even need a guidebook as there are several travel agencies who can arrange trips for you from north to south. Even if you don’t book from an agent, it is very easy to go from one point to another.. not like in the Philippines where the bus/ boat/ plane schedules can be very irregular.

      Yes, the weather. When I was in HK, the locals would always mention typhoons coming from the Philippines once they learned where I am from. However, the typhoon season doesn’t last the whole year and one who knows this can plan a trip to visit on non-typhoon months! Well, as you’ve said, a lot of people haven’t heard of the Philippines, much more knows the best time to travel (which is October – June by the way)

      I still think it is safety reasons, for those who have actually heard of the Philippines, which is the main reason why most backpackers don’t include the Philippines in their itinerary. Arriving Malaysia just 2 weeks ago, one of the first things I was asked by a local was the security situation in Manila, in connection with the HK tourist hostage crisis which happened last August. I don’t even think of that anymore and don’t even feel the same thing would happen in the next 5 years. Of course the main issue here is the incapable security officers. Who and what will guarantee tourist safety?

      It is a shame a lot of foreign backpackers skip the Philippines. I hope I get to read more round-the-world blogs with entries on the Philippines in the future.

  3. I so agree with you. I’m guilty as well. I came to appreciate the beauty of my own home only lately so I’m catching up and hopefully I get to your backpacking level soon. I love your pictures!

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