I do not need to elaborate on the reasons why traveling in the Philippines is a unique, probably the most exciting, experience. With its natural wonders in the form of white sands, crystal clear seas, extraordinary stalactites and stalagmites, stunning waterfalls, breath-taking rock formations, including colourful living aquaria and corals, the Philippines never run out of something to offer for tourists from all walks of life. And probably, the best asset of the country is its people.
The Filipinos survived hundreds of years under colonial rules. The ever-smiling and resilient people are evolving and answering the calls of development and progress. The world is elevating the nation to the pedestal in various aspects: usage of Business English; BPO industries; and even, singing. The country has this rare condition of economic resiliency that other nations are talking about. But behind these positive attributes, the country is still plagued with the eternal curse of corruption and mentality that its conquerors might have brought.
In the field of tourism, the Philippines has not yet reached the peak. Its isolation from the mainland Asia makes it an easy target for exclusion from the itinerary of tourists from around the world. However, some found it and declared it as their best destination. For those who are still exploring the country, may I present my Top Ten that can define traveling in the Philippines and what you need to include in your travel bucket list.
Manila (National Capital Region). A recent report tagged Metro Manila as the worst in terms of traffic jam, in addition to old reports on having the world’s worst airport (a recent report has removed the nation’s prime airport in the world’s ten worst airports). The region is the centre of the Philippines. Ninety percent of government agencies and major establishments are located here. You can go to the National Museum for a view of the world-class Spoliarium, painted by Juan Luna, or go through old buildings and streets of Manila. Try the hopia of Eng Bee Tin, ham at Excelente, and dine at Wai Ying. If you have time, you can try paddling with the fastest dragon boat crew in the world at Manila Bay.
Siargao (Caraga Region). If you are a pro-surfer or learning to be one, Siargao is the ultimate surfing destination in the country. With its popularity not only to local surfers, but also to all the surfers in various part of the globe, the place has improved when it comes to accessibility and hospitality. For your trainings, you can try Baler in Aurora, Bagasbas in Camarines Norte, San Narciso in Zambales and San Juan in La Union.
Albay (Bicol Region). The place can brag its Mayon Volcano, the world’s most perfect natural cone. Hikes up to the summit of this treacherous volcano were allowed in the past. No information this time if they have lifted the ban on mountaineering and related activities. You can also try the spicy ice cream in the capital of the province.
Cordillera Administrative Region. The place is mountainous and proud of the world-famous Banaue Rice Terraces. You can drive all the way to Sagada for its hanging coffins and retreat places for broken hearts, as popularised by a blockbuster movie. Sea of clouds (yes, I know, you can take a plane for the same purpose) can be seen when you hike up to the peaks of Mount Pulag, in addition to the sight of the dwarf bamboos. If you are daring enough to take the challenge, then you can hike up to the monolith Carrot Rock near Mount Kabunian.
Calamianes (Mimaropa Region). The group of islands is made popular by Coron. It’s a small town, but gifted with natural wonders. It’s the country’s ultimate getaway if you would like to experience shipwreck diving. It also has the country’s cleanest lake, the Kayangan Lake. From the town centre, you can rent bancas and go to one of my popular beach destinations, Malcapuya Beach. There are also high-end resorts here, including the Huma, designed similar to those that you can find in Bora Bora.
Lake Sebu (SOCCSKSARGEN). I can say that this is the ultimate zipline experience. Imagine flying and seeing seven falls in the Lake Sebu region from above? Now that’s what I call a legit adrenaline rush.
Vigan (Ilocos Region). The city has been declared as one of the World’s Seven Wonder Cities because of its old Spanish houses that are still intact today and survived three centuries of harsh tropical climate and harsher anthropological factors. Vigan and the two provinces of Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte make up a great vacation destination, especially during the Holy Week when Catholics need to visit and pray in various churches. Almost all the churches in the area were established during the Spanish colonisation period, including the UNESCO-listed Sta Maria Church, Paoay Church and the Vigan Cathedral. Aside from historical lessons that you can gain while visiting the area, everyone can be delighted with the awesome beaches and waterfalls. Well-known from this old city include the bagnet, longanisa, empanada, kornik, bibingka and pinakbet.
Tawi-Tawi (Autonomonous Region for Muslim Mindanao). Due to news concerning security in the region, the whole ARMM region has really been not a favourite among the locals and foreigners. But word-of-mouth on the grandeur of its beaches has all been positive. Local officials have to do something about the peace and order situation of the island.
Cebu (Central Visayas Region). Cebu City is touted as the “Queen of the South” rivalling the national capital of Manila in terms of restaurants, night life, shopping havens, and celebrities. Furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue hails from this region. Monique Lhuillier, the fashion designer of Hollywood celebrities, is also from this place. Popular destinations like Bantayan Island (which, I think, is the best beach destination in the Philippines), Badian for canyoneering, Oslob for the unique whaleshark experience, and the city itself is a mirror of the old city of Vigan.
Batanes (Cagayan Valley Region). When you ask Filipinos for top Philippine destinations, Batanes is always mentioned, if not the top, one of the three favourite destinations or form the core wishes of every Filipino travellers. Its inaccessibility might have prompted people to put it at the top of the list. As the northernmost place in the country, it can be reached by small commercial planes at a cost similar to when going to nearby countries. Its green rolling hills have made it the Scotland of the East. Since the place is frequented by strong storms, the Ivatans have built stone houses, its kind can only be seen here. It has also the only coffee shop managed by “no one.” The owner opens the store and leaves a box for payment. Transactions are based on honesty. The province has zero crime rate.