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Travel Obsessions: Philippines

Published April 28th, 2014

An archipelago suspended between the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea, the Philippines comprises 7,107 islands. An overpopulated and underrated Asian gem, this country is often touted as the next best backpacker destination although somewhat overshadowed by warnings of terrorist threats and serious crime in the region both in the media and from a government perspective. Most travellers who have ventured here will tell you to skip the capital and head straight to the idyllic islands like the Visayas.

 

Sailing around the Philippines islands

 

And it’s little wonder.  The Philippines is a renowned diving hotspot where azure waters and powder-white sands yield to technicolour marine life. Head to the Visayas and Southern Negros for the backpacker-friendly Apo reef, beautiful beaches of Boracay, rugged Malapascua island and the coral triangle of Cebu.   It’s also a surfing mecca (head east to the Pacific Ocean and west to the South China Sea for beach breaks with reef breaks throughout the island chain) with pounding surf and big waves in the north. The 4 metre-high typhoon waves are best left to the pros with the rolling breaks of the in-between seasons better suited for board novices.

 

 

But for the epitome of the gritty city, you’ve got to do a Muhammad Ali and have a thrilla in Manila. Located on the island of Luzon, the Philippines capital is buszay with quite the colourful past. Over 300 years of Spanish rule, appropriated by the US in the late 19th century after the Spanish-American War and then destroyed in 1945 has left quite the mark on Manila.

 

 

In a country where half the population is under 23 and 96 percent are on social media with 2 billion text messages sent daily, not to mention influential fashion bloggers (oh hello, Bryanboy!), the Philippines is on the brink of something big. Our advice? Go for straight-up culture clash with a trip in a graffitied jeepney, taste the rainbow of fruit flavours of the halo-halo dessert, and just ride the wave of tradition and trends that is the Philippines.

 

Taal Volcano and Lake near Manila

 

Travel snapshot:

Best time to visit: The wet and typhoon season is from June to November and the dry season is from December to May. The best beach weather is during the dry season with warm waters and ideal visibility for snorkellers and divers, however surfers will find the biggest waves in the wet season.

 

Know: While you may not know much about Filipino politics, you’ve probably heard of Imelda Marcos, the widow of the former president Ferdinand Marcos. And her shoe collection – said to number around 2,700 pairs. A symbol of the ‘80s excess of the Marcos regime, you can view a selection of the former first lady’s designer footwear (749 pairs, to be precise) at Marikina Shoe Museum in Marikina City, most of which were spared from the Philippine floods in 2009.

 

 

Places to go:

Get amongst 25 million people in the Greater Manila area, which comprises 16 separate cities including Manila and Quezon City – the biggest metropolis. Check out Ermita and Malate for nightlife, Divisoria for markets and bargain buys, and Quezon City for live music.

Manila’s San Agustin Church is the oldest in the Philippines and pretty much the only thing left standing in 1945. Make sure you head inside to see the Baroque masterpiece.

Banaue Rice Terraces – Nicknamed ‘Stairways to Heaven', check out the giant carved steps of Ifugao.

Chocolate Hills – Sadly not edible, but these great mounds on the ground in Bohol do look like choc drops, hence the name.

Tagatay – Immerse yourself in the Taal volcano within a  lake within a volcano right near Manila.

Boracay – If you only do one Filipino island, do do Boracay – this tropical paradise offers lush jungle, turquoise lagoons, sugary sands and craggy caves galore.

 

 

 

Cassandra Laffey

Consumed with unrequited wanderlust, I get my fix in 24/7 cities and hippie retreats. I'm still looking for the ultimate combo of secluded beach and major metropolis, and my happy place is a 5-star hotel room all to myself - sigh.