|Currency||Philippine peso (PHP)|
|Area||total: 300,000 sq km |
water: 1,830 sq km
land: 298,170 sq km
|Population||84,525,639 (July 2002 est.)|
|Language||two official languages - Filipino (based on Tagalog) and English; major languages are - Tagalog (and Taglish: Tagalog and English), Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Bicolano, Waray, Pampango, and Pangasinense|
|Religion||Roman Catholic 83%, Protestant 9%, Muslim 5%, Buddhist and other 3%|
The Republic of The Philippines is a country in Southeast Asia. It is an archipelago of 7,107 islands and lies between Taiwan and Indonesia.
The climate is tropical, with March to May (summer) being the hottest months. The rainy season starts in June and extends through October. The coolest months are from November to February, with mid-January to end of February considered the best for cool and dry weather. However, locations exposed directly to the Pacific Ocean have frequent rainfall all year. The average temperatures range from 78�F / 25�C to 90�F / 32�C, and humidity is around 77 percent.
Although often bypassed by travelers due to its distance from the Southeast Asian mainland, the Philippines is one of a few places in the world that can truly be described as 'beautiful'.
- Luzon The northernmost and largest region in the Philippines. The interior of the country is mountainous and filled with dense jungle. More than half the entire population of the Philippines resides in Luzon, in and around Metro Manila.
- Mindoro A large island to the south of Luzon.
- Palawan A large island to the west, renowned for its beaches and unspoiled wildlife. It is also considered as the Philippine's last frontier.
- Mindanao The southernmost large island in the Philippines. Although marred by civil unrest for several decades, it is considered as a potential area of development by the Philippine government.
- Manila -- National capital. The Metropolitan Manila area includes several cities and municipalities to form one administrative body governed jointly by the local governments and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).
- Cebu -- Also known as the Queen City of the South, Cebu is the first established indigenous settlement discovered by the west in the Philippines. For a short time before the re-dedication of Manila, Cebu City served as the capital of the far eastern territory claimed by Spain
- Davao -- The largest city in the world in terms of land area. Relatively young when compared with Manila or Cebu, it has grown to become the economic and commercial hub of the southern island of Mindanao. Nearby you'll find the country's tallest mountain (Mount Apo), the endangered Philippine Eagle, and one of priciest orchids in the world (Waling-waling).
- Baguio -- resort city in the mountains, known for its cool climate, its Igorot culture and its strawberries
- Bacolod City -- The Cleanest and Greenest and the Most Livable City in the Philippines.
The capital of the Province of Negros Occidental which is the Sugarbowl of the Philippines. Bacolod City serves as the entrance of the sugar-rich cities and towns of the Province. Visitor's facilities abound, modern means of in-land transport can take guests for business or leisure to any point in the island of Negros.
Bacolod will charm you with the genuine warmth and hospitality of her people in harmony with their lilting melodious accent. The Bacole�os will delight you with food and cuisine that is as vigorous yet as subtle as the legendary Ilonggo gentility and taste for the good life.
- Banaue - rice terraces
- Bohol - beaches, Chocolate Hills, tarsiers, dolphin and whale watching, diving
- Boracay - famous white sand beaches, nightlife, great food
- Cebu - beaches
- Davao - beaches and durian
- El Nido, Palawan - beautiful beaches and famous dive spot
- Pampanga - hiking Mount Pinatubo
- Puerto Galera, Mindoro - famous white sand beaches, nightlife, great food, although at a lesser scale compared to Boracay
- Siargao - surfing
- Tagaytay - Taal volcano, People's Park
The people of the Philippines, or Filipinos, are descended from a mixture of Austronesians (related to Malaysians and Polynesians) and of the Southern Han Chinese. Many, particularly in the cities, have Spanish, Chinese, and American admixtures, whereas those living in the provinces are mostly of pure Filipino origin. The three largest foreign minorities in the country are as follows: Chinese (1st), Americans (2nd), and South Asians (3rd). Also of significance are the Australians, Indonesians, Arabs, Koreans, Japanese, and Britons. The pure Spaniards form a very tiny proportion in the country's population, however, Spanish contributions to ethnicity are not lost, since many Filipinos are partly Spanish.
Filipinos are very hospitable by nature. Guests will often be treated like royalty in Philippine households. This is most evident during fiestas when even virtual strangers are welcomed and allowed to partake of the feast that most if not all households within the town serve during the occassion. At times, this hospitality is taken to a fault. Some households spend their entire savings on their fiesta offerings and sometimes even run into debt just to have lavish food on their table. They spend the next year paying for these debts and preparing for the next fiesta.
Manila, Cebu or Davao.
Most visitors will fly in through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila. NAIA has two terminals, Terminal 2 is exclusively used by Philippine Airlines for its International and Domestic flight networks. Terminal 1 is used by all the other airlines. Major airlines that fly to Manila include KLM, which has daily connections to Amsterdam and other points in Europe; Northwest Airlines, which have various connections to the United States via Japan; Singapore Airlines with multiple connections each day to Singapore and Cathay Pacific which offers multiple flights a day to Hong Kong and further into the the Chinese Mainland.
From either international airport, passengers can connect to domestic flights. Philippine Airlines domestic flights leave from the same airport (Terminal 2), while other domestic airlines fly out of the old domestic airport.
The Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark, Pampanga is where budget airlines like Air Asia (from KL) and Tiger Airways (from Singapore) fly to. Clark is located to the north of Metro Manila, about 1 to 2 hours by bus.
The Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Cebu on the island of Visayas receives international traffic from Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea.
The Francisco Bangoy International Airport in Davao City on the island of Mindanao receives direct flights from Singapore and Manado, Indonesia.
Philippine Airlines and Air Philippines, Cebu Pacific, Seair, and Asian Spirit are some of the airlines that operate domestic flights. Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific serve most large cities, while smaller operators like Seair typically fly to popular resort destinations.
Metro Manila has three electric railways: the original Light Railway Transit (LRT or MRT-1); the Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3), often referred to simply as "the MRT", and sometimes called the MetroStar; and the Metro Rail Transit 2 (MRT-2). Plans are underway to begin construction of three more lines.
The MRT (MRT-3) runs the length of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), from Taft Avenue in Pasay until North Avenue in Quezon City. Costs are low - one can go from North Avenue to Taft Avenue (12 stops) for less than 20 pesos.
There is also a motor railway, part of the Luzon railway system, which passes through the metropolis.
The metropolis has an extensive system of highways connecting the various cities and municipalities. The major roads include ten radial roads, which branch out from central Manila and five circumferential roads which form concentric arcs around downtown Manila. Most of these roads are very important transportation arteries. One is the C-4 (Circumferential Road 4) also called Epifanio de los Santos Avenue or more popularly known as EDSA. Some other other important roads are R-1 (Radial Road 1) or Coastal Road/Manila-Cavite Road; R-3 or South Luzon Expressway (SLEX); R-7, which consists of Espana Avenue, Quezon Avenue, and Commonwealth Avenue; R-8 or the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX); and C-5 going from Bicutan to Libis (simply referred to as C-5).
Travel from Metro Manila to various provinces in Luzon will typically start off from either the North or South Expressways.
Taxi drivers are required to use their meter unless you get an 'airport taxi'. These taxi's have much higher (non-metered) rates. Usually you are given a slip of paper giving the name of the taxi company and driver when you take a taxi from the airport. Keep this paper in case of problems. Don't give it to the driver. Outside of the airport area (anyplace else), always notice if the driver starts his meter. If he doesn't and gives you a fixed price for your destination, either offer him the meter price plus a little bonus (okay if it is far), or ask to get out. There are plenty of taxis! If you find a taxi driver you like, you can sometimes arrange to rent the taxi for the day if you want to go sight-seeing, or arrange to have him pick you up for your next trip.
Provincial bus companies have scheduled trips from Manila to provinces to the north and south.
- Major Provincial Bus Companies:
- Five Star -- Ilocos Region
- Victory Liner -- Ilocos Region and Zambales
- Partas -- Ilocos Region
- Farinas -- Ilocos Region
- Dagupan Bus Co. -- Ilocos Region
- BLTB -- Southern Tagalog and Bicol Regions
- Philtranco -- Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Northern, Eastern, and Southern Mindanao
WG&A SuperFerry and a number of other companies operate interisland ferries. There is a convenient Friday overnight ferry trip to Coron, Palawan. This allows divers to spend the weekend in Coron and take the Sunday night ferry trip back to Manila, arriving around noon.
Ferry trips to other islands can take over 24 hours, depending on distance.
Other major ferry companies include: Sulpicio Lines, Negros Navigation,
The jeepney is by far the most afforadable way to get around most major urban areas. Remnants of the Jeep used by the American troops during World War II, the innovative Filipinos modified the jeep (by lengthning the body and adding horizontal seats) to seat as many as 20 people (10 per side). Adventurous travelers can get to just about anywhere in Manila by jeep and a little foot power.
Also worthy of mention are the tricycle and the pedicab (three wheeled bike), however this may not be to the liking of most foreigners, as these are cramped and quite open to the traffic.
The Philippines has two official languages: English and Filipino. Filipino is mainly based on the Tagalog language (a relative of Malay), with heavy Spanish and English influences.
Tagalog is the language spoken in the Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog regions as well as the National Capital Region (NCR) or Metro Manila. In the Northern Luzon provinces, Ilocano is the most common language spoken. The provinces of Pangasinan and Pampanga also have their own language. Further south of Metro Manila lies the Bicol Region where Bikolano is used. In the Southern Islands of Visayas and Mindanao, Cebuano is the most common language spoken. Other minor languages in the south include Ilongo and Waray.
Communication with the locals should not be a headache for the English-speaker since the Philippines is (arguably) the third largest English-speaking country in the world. It also has one of the highest percentages of truly bilingual and multilingual speakers in the world, surpassing other officially bilingual/multilingual nations and territories in Asia, such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. English is widely used around the country, particularly in big cities. It is also widely used in government, the media, and in commerce. Street signs and billboards will likely be in English, but public service messages may be in Filipino. English is a compulsory subject in all schools (public and private) from elementary school to university. Practically everyone you meet will understand English, even if s/he may not be completely fluent. In fact, English is the official language of business.
Many Spanish words survive in many of the local languages though mostly in corrupted form. (Some local languages such as Chavacano is entirely a corrupted form of Spanish.) Spanish is no longer widely understood but you can probably get around town with a little bit of Spanish, since about 45% of all the words used in everyday speech are of Spanish provenance. Nonetheless, Spanish is still spoken fluently by a select but declining population.
The Philippines offers plenty of regional festivals, often linked to the feast of the patron saints of the town or city holding the festival. Parades and processions, marching bands, floats and dance displays are usual activities. A number of important festivals include the following:
- Sinulog - held in Baguio every February
- Ati-Atihan - also held to commemorate the feast of the Sto. Nino, but this time in Kalibo on the island of Panay. Said to be the Filipino version of Mardi Gras.
- Moriones - held during the Lenten Season in Marinduque. These are passion plays meant to depict the crucifixion and eventual resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- Pahiyas - held every May in Lucban, Quezon to celebrate the feast day of San Isidro Labrador. There is a town wide house decoration contest held during the festival and the colors and designs used are a feast for the eyes.
Beaches aplenty on this nation of 7,100 islands. These beaches come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and fineness of sand. Some are in well secluded islands while others are just a short ride across a causeway from the city. Among the most notable are the following:
- Boracay - Boracay Island off the island of Panay has the White Beach. It has fine powdery sand stretching several kilometers and is an excellent spot for sun worshippers. Boracay also has several other lesser known beaches. Outrigger boats to Boracay depart from Caticlan Port which is a short flight from Manila.
- Puerto Galera - on the island of Mindoro. Ferries to Puerto Galera depart from Batangas Port, a couple of hours drive south of Metro Manila.
- Samal Island - off the coast of Davao
- Pagudpud - in Ilocos Norte, several hours north of Metro Manila
- Mactan Island - in Cebu, the Cebu airport is actually on Mactan Island
- Panglao - small island off the island of Bohol, a short ride from the capital of Tagbilaran. Tagbilaran in turn is a short fast ferry ride from Cebu City. From Panglao, you can easily schedule an excursion to the Chocolate Hills for which Bohol is most known for.
The Philippine peso is the official currency. One US dollar is equivalent to 52.822 pesos (20 Jan 2006).
Peso bills come in denominations of 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000. One peso is equivalent to 100 centavos and coins come in 5, 10 and 25 centavo variants in addition to the 1, 5 and 10 peso coins.
Money changers are not so common in the Philippines apart from some heavily touristed areas and most malls which usually have their own currency exchange stall. Banks on the other hand are widely available to exchange currency but have a limited time of operation, usually from 9 AM to 3 PM on weekdays. ATMs are so ubiquitous however and most are connected to the Plus and Cirrus networks. The BPI Express Teller network is perhaps the largest local ATM network and it is connected to the Mastercard - Cirrus chain. Equitable Fasteller ATMs are connected to both Plus and Cirrus and are also quite common in big cities.
Credit cards are widely accepted in large establishments. Mastercard, Visa and AMEX are the most commonly accepted cards.
The Philippines is one of the least expensive places to visit in Asia.
Here is a list of prices in Philippine pesos (P).
Flight from Manila to Singapore - US$115
Flight from Manila to Cebu - US$50
Typical 4-star hotel single room in Manila - P3500/$66.00
Typical 3D/2N hotel suite accommodation in Boracay Island - P14,000/$264.00
Air-conditioned dormitory in Manila - P240/$4.50
Single air-con room with private cold shower and cable TV in Cebu - P500/$9.45
Movie - P70-P160/$1.30-$3.00
Budget Meal - P40 (includes a cup of rice, assorted selection of meat, side dish of vegetables, and a bowl of clear broth soup).
Taxi - P30 (first 2.5km) P5 Php
Jeepney - P7.50 (first 4km; P6.00 for Students/Elderly/Disabled) P0.80 on the next kilometer
Elevated Train in Manila - P12-15 (LRT 1 and MRT 2), P9.50-P15 (MRT-3)
Internet use (1 hour) - P20-P30; depending on the Internet Caf�
7-Eleven: can of Coke - P16, 1.5 liter Coke - P35, Hotdog - P20, Donut - P16, serving of Spaghetti - P32, serving of Pork Adobo with rice - P35
Buffet in Cebu - P130
Buffet in Manila - P350
International Herald Tribune - P70
Economist Magazine - P160
Filipino cuisine has developed from the different cultures that shaped its history. However, the main ingredients stemmed from the things distinctly Filipino.
- Adobo (chicken or pork, but best would be a mix of the two)
- Bibingka (rice cake with cheese and salted egg)
- Halo-halo (fruit, sweets, crushed ice, milk, beans, and sometimes ice cream)
- Balut (not for the faint of heart--fertilized and half-developed duck egg -- boiled and usually eaten with a sprinkling of salt and vinegar)
- Penoy (same as balut, but unfertilized, with just the yolk)
- Green, ripe, and dried mangoes (Philippine mangoes are among the best in the world!!)
- Bangus na daing (fried dried milkfish, usually served for breakfast with garlic fried rice and fried egg.)
- Pandesal (small buns usually made fresh in the morning)
- Lechon de leche (slow-roasted baby pork)
- Sampaloc candy (salted and sweetened tamarind fruit)
- Buko pie (pie made with fresh coconut flesh)
McDonald's, Dairy Queen, Burger King, Wendy's, KFC, Shakey's, Pizza Hut, Kenny Roger's Roasters, Sbarro's, Starbucks, Seattle's Best, and other multinational fast food chains have established themselves in the Philippines.
Don't miss the bananas grilled, boiled, or fried that are sold in the streets. They taste very good. The kind of banana they cook (is short and thick) can also be eaten raw.
- Calamansi juice (a fruit drink made from a small, round, green citrus fruit)
- Fresh Buko juice (young coconut)
- Sago at Gulaman (a sweet drink with tapioca pearls and seaweed gelatin)
- Green mango shake
- Lambanog or Tuba (local alcoholic drinks made from fermented sugar cane)
- Taho (a sweet, warm soya snack usually served in the morning, with tapioca balls, soft tofu and caramelized syrup)
Housing for tourists are hotels, condotels (mostly in Manila), apartels and pension houses. Hotels are usually more expensive, condotels are furnished condos rented out for long or short term stays, apartels are set up for both short and long term stays, and a pension house is usually more basic and economical. These all vary in terms of cleanliness, availability of air conditioning, and hot water showers. Motels, inns, and lodges are for illicit sex, and are usually a small room with a connected carport, hidden behind a high wall which provides for secret comings and goings. You can distinguish these from reputable lodgings by their hourly rates.
The Philippines has a gun problem and a crime problem, and unless you are a Filipino you will stand out here. Use common sense. Don't wear valuable jewelry or anything else to broadcast your wealth. Be especially careful around downtown Manila (Recto, Quiapo, Avenida, Tondo District, Divisoria, and Ermita). Odds are you won't have any problems, but keeping a low profile in a developing country generally is a good idea.
See also common scams and pickpockets.
Drink the readily available bottled water. Buko (young coconut) juice is also safe if they have not added local ice to it. Buy and eat fruit that has not already been cut up. Cooked food from a karenderia (outdoor canteen) is okay if there is a fire under the pots and the food has been kept hot.
If you must drink tap water, water in Manila, Cebu City, Olongapo-Subic, and Angeles may be ok, but it is recommended that you boil tap water for at least 5 minutes just to be safe. Elsewhere drink bottled water. There is always the risk of contracting amoebiasis when drinking tap water in the countryside.
Malaria exists in Bataan and some rural areas, especially during the wet season.
Electricity and Electronics
Most of the Philippines is 220 Volt 60 Hz with the older 2-prong plug formerly used in the USA (not polarized or grounded). This is not a common voltage-frequency combination so nearly everyone will have to pay close attention to what they plug in to an electric outlet. Americans will need a step-down transformer, while Europeans and Australians cannot use electric clocks and heavy-duty 50 Hz motors. Downtown Baguio (northern Luzon) uses 110 V @ 60 Hz like USA, but doesn't go very far beyond the city center. If staying in the Baguio area, always ask first! If your equipment is 100-120V, merely crossing a street corner can cause it to be damaged or even catch fire. There are no signs in Baguio indicating where 110V ends and 220V begins.
Television and video use the NTSC format, which is the same as the USA. Televisions sets made for Japan (though the same format) will skip certain channels.
A little courtesy goes a long way. Filipinos are a very friendly and hospitable people, sometimes even to a fault. Take the time to smile and say "thank you", and you'll receive much better responses. You will receive an even better response if you throw in a little Tagalog, such as "salamat", which means "thank you". In the countryside and in some urban homes, footwear is removed when entering a home, though they may make an exception for foreigners. The key is to look around before entering any home. If you see footwear just outside the door, more than likely the family's practice is to remove footwear before entering. If you wear socks, you need not remove them.
Filipinos are known for not being on time, a trait inherited from the Spaniards, and it is acceptable to come to gatherings a little bit late. However, being off by more than 30 minutes might be considered disrespectful.
The country code for the Philippines is 63. The area code for Metro Manila is 2.
GSM cell phones are in wide use all over the country, however iDEN network is also somewhat present (service is provided by Next Mobile, a subsidiary of Nextel). In most urban locations and many resorts, cell phone service will be available. The average cost of an international long-distance call to the United States is 40 US cents per minute, with local calls ranging from 6.50 to 7.50 pesos. Text messages cost one peso.
The three major telecommunications companies are PLDT (wireless subsidiary Smart Communications for mobile phones), Globe Telecom, and Sun Cellular.
Prices are compared as follows:
|Service||Globe Telecom||Smart Communications||Sun Cellular|
|Mobile-to-mobile call on home network||P6.50||P6.50||P6.50|
|Mobile-to-mobile call to another network or landline||P7.50||P7.50||P7.50|
|International phone call||US$0.40||US$0.40||US$0.30|
|Local MMS message||P6.50||P5.00||P5.00 (confined to home network)|
|International MMS message (Globe charge the same amount for international sms)||P15.00||P20.00|
Pre-paid SIM cards of these networks are easy to acquire and cost as low as P 150 and provide a cheap alternative to (usually) expensive roaming charges on home networks. If your unit is locked to your home service provider, cellphone repair shops in various malls have ways of unlocking. If you don't have a phone to begin with, a complete pre-paid kit with phone and SIM could be had for as low as 2 to 3 thousand pesos (40 to 60 US$). Note that the phones that come with these kits would usually be locked to the local network provider. You would also need to have it unlocked before leaving if you plan on using it back home.
Reloading pre-paid SIMs is a breeze. Electronic Load (E-Load) stations are everywhere from small corner stores to the large malls. You can load as little as a few pesos but if you mean to call overseas would obviously need to load a lot more.
Due to the wide use of cellular phones, pay phones are increasingly becoming obsolete. Some malls and public places still do have them and they usually come in either the coin or card operated variety. Globe and PLDT are the usual operators. Phone cards are usually sold by shops which sell cellphone pre-paid loads and cards. Note that phone cards of one company can not be used with the other company's card operated phones.
Internet cafes are plentiful in city malls, much less so outside the cities, but are growing at a rapid pace. Some of these shops offer an alternative to the traditional overseas phone calls by use of their VOIP networks.
Apart from the Philippine postal service, FedEx, UPS, and DHL courier services are also available. Local couriers such as LBC and Aboitiz are also available.