The Philippines has to be Asia's best-kept secret but ssshhhhhh - don't tell anyone. What I will tell you though is that there are the pristine white sand beaches of Boracay, awe inspiring volcanoes like Mt. Mayon, the elegant waterfalls of Luisiana, the mind blowing mountain ranges of Benguet in the Cordillerra region, the mysterious caves of Biak Na Bato National Park, the epic scuba diving of and island hopping in Palawan, the graceful rivers of Siniloan, the fearsome jungles of Laguna, the volcanic lakes of Tagaytay, the majestic rice terraces of Banaue (some more than 2,000 years old), the bustling shopping malls of Manila, the sensational restaurants of Greenbelt in Makati – you name it, this country has it all. There is definitely no shortage of things to see and do.

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Best Places In The Philippines

In my view, from a nature and tourism perspective, the Philippines is the complete country. The best places in the Philippines are among the best in the world. However, a write-up about the best Philippines destinations wouldn’t be the same without a little cultural lesson, to begin with. As the saying goes, all sunshine and no rain make a desert!

Before I continue, I would just like to say that what I’m about to write is in no way about denigrating Filipinos, or the country. Even though I have been living here since 2003, I still very much class myself as a guest in this country. I think it’s important for other foreigners to do the same. This is regardless of whether or not you live here, or are a tourist.

Like any place you visit, you must respect the local law and customs, whether you agree with them or not. Therefore, what I’m going to write about is the need to understand Filipinos. You need to understand the way they communicate, and the way they think. This will help you work out what motivates them to do what they do. With that in mind, this should help to make your stay here, and your relationship with Filipinos, that much more enjoyable.

Best places in the Philippines and peopleCommunication in the Philippines

There are estimated to be between 120 to 187 languages in the Philippines, depending on the method of classification. Tagalog and English are the official languages and for the weary traveler, in a foreign land, there is there is no better feeling than when you are lost and asking for directions, to stumble across a local that can speak English.

However, this can also lull you into a false sense of security with regard to Filipinos. Just because they can converse in English, it doesn’t mean they fully understand what you are saying. As I often say to people, Filipinos might be able to speak English, but that doesn’t mean they think in English. They do not think the way us westerners do.

Quite often you will ask a question that requires some level of explanation only to be answered with a “Yes Sir”. This is often accompanied by a look of confusion or misunderstanding. That “yes” means that they have heard you, and are acknowledging you, but they may not actually understand what you are asking them.

The fault can be with us

Please don’t get me wrong here, as when I say this, the fault can actually lay with us, the foreigner. Knowing Filipinos can speak English, certainly much better than Chinese, Thai or Japanese, I think we tend to relax a bit and especially as an Aussie, our accent and vocabulary can confuse them. However, as they are trying to be helpful, they don’t want to be embarrassed when they don’t understand us. Therefore, they often answer with a “yes ma’am/sir”.

When you travel to the provincial areas, where all the best destinations in the Philippines are, this is where you will find the real beauty and fun of this country. However, the literacy standards in these areas can be lower than the larger urban areas. This can lead to a lot of misunderstanding, confusion, and frustration.

Speak to be understood

Filipino English, generally, is very good. However, they do use a different vocabulary because, in reality, they are translating out of their natural tongue, into English. They also tend to have an American influenced vocabulary. For example, they say vacation instead of holiday, gas instead of petrol, flashlight instead of torch etc. This can also lead to further confusion.

As mentioned earlier, there are up to 187 different languages in the Philippines so oftentimes, they might not speak the same dialect or language as each other, so you can’t totally rely on Filipino-to-Filipino communication either. Patience is the key!

Transport to the best places in the Philippines

When I’m traveling overseas and using public transport in other countries, I often find myself asking “if only the Philippines had a bus system, or rail system, or airport like this country”. I’m not going to sugar coat the public transport system in the Philippines. I will be open and honest in saying that it really isn’t up to international standard. It can be frustrating, time-consuming and take the gloss off what otherwise is a fantastic country to visit.

Unlike the bullet trains of Europe and China or the ferry systems of Hong Kong and Sydney, the public transport system here can be very inefficient and confusing. If you are traveling to the provincial areas, in most cases, you will find your mode of transport is a bus, then jeepney, then tricycle and then maybe a boat, and then a tricycle to get you to the resort.

It’s the journey, not the destination that matters

Unless you are part of an organized tour package, which may cut down on a couple of these modes of transport, or at least make the journey a little more efficient, there really is no other way. It may sound complicated, but that’s the way the locals do it! If you want to see the best places in the Philippines, some sacrifices need to be made. Don’t let it turn you off as the end destination is always worth the effort!

Best places in the Philippines Jeepneys

The good ole Filipino jeepney (above) is the most popular form of public transport in the Philippines. Jeepneys were originally left over by the Americans from the Second World War. However, now they are made from other surplus vehicles. They are mostly used for transporting people but are also used to transport anything from fresh produce and animals, through to lumber and whatever else can fit.

Philippines signage – what signage?

One of the most frustrating things about the Philippines, particularly in provincial areas, is the lack of directional signage.  These days with Google Maps, Waze and other apps, it is a bit easier. However, you will often find yourself having to stop and ask locals for directions. This can be a very frustrating experience but you need to keep your cool on your quest to find the best places in the Philippines.

Tipping in the Philippines

Please be aware that Filipinos expect to be tipped – taxi drivers, tour guides, baggage handlers, passerby’s, boat captains, golf caddies, door openers, bar staff – basically anyone offering a service expects a tip regardless of how good a job they have done.

There is no real set amount to tip, however, in my view, it’s more the gesture that counts. Therefore, always make sure you have some spare change in your pocket. It’s very rare that a price is “all in”. On many occasions, there are always “extras” which can be frustrating, so just be prepared for the “plus plus”.

Beggars in urban areas

Particularly in the urban areas, you will find yourself being approached by children and adults simply with their hand out. If you are Caucasian, you will stand out more, so will become more of a target for beggars. I am one for handing out to those in need, but it can become annoying after several approaches in a short period of time. So just be mindful of this.

Pickpocketing – be vigilant at all times

Of all the places I have been to, not just in the Philippines, but in the world, I have only been pickpocketed once. This is amazing considering all the places I have traveled to. My one episode happened in Makati here in the Philippines. Luckily for me, the offender was apprehended and my items returned to me. Pickpocketing can sometimes happen whilst beggars are distracting you, so please be vigilant. Like anywhere in the world you travel, just make sure you keep your personal belongings secure. This is more so if you are taking public transport or are in crowded areas.

Best places in the Philippines Pick pocketer

This is the guy who picked my pocket. As you can see, he has a severe deformity with his arm. It’s about one and a half times longer than his other arm and has an unusual angle. This is his special tool for pickpocketing. The cops told me he is the best pickpocket in all of Manila and has been apprehended on numerous occasions. However, as he is a minor, they are unable to jail him without making contact with his parents. Of course, being a street kid, who knows where his parents are. It’s a sad state of affairs for this kid.

Pickpocketing can happen in all sorts of ways. However, it mostly happens whilst beggars are distracting you. You really need to be vigilant at all times and don’t let your guard down. Like anywhere in the world you travel, just make sure you keep your personal belongings secure. This is even more so when you are taking public transport, such as buses or jeeps.

Get out there and enjoy the best places in the Philippines!

Hopefully, the tips I have provided will help you negotiate the obvious challenges that will confront you.  No one country is perfect as we can see. This country can be very frustrating, but it can be immensely enjoyable and so much fun. As far as I’m concerned, the positives outweigh the negatives. There are so many wonderful places and people here. You just need to get out there and experience the magic and beauty this country has to offer. So get out there and enjoy the best tourist destinations in the Philippines!

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