Laura Barry from Tasmania discovers that the Philippines offers plenty to entice travellers away from the more traditional South East Asian tourist destinations… The first thing I toiled with when I arrived in Manila was the flabbergasting juxtaposition of poverty against wealth. Ramshackle shanties were built against the walls of grand houses, and designer clad fashionistas strolled past begging children in the streets. It’s a common misconception that the Philippines are the under-developed, tourist-lacking cousins to the holiday hubs that are Thailand, Bali and Malaysia, but I discovered that this just isn’t true during my six week adventure in the Philippines, when I paid a visit to Manila, Cebu, Bacolod and Ma-Ao, progressively transitioning from cosmopolitan city to tiny town.
The most astounding phenomena witnessed while there was the unfailing warmth and generosity of the locals. I was particularly easy to spot in a crowd: a gal with skin so white I practically glow in the dark, surrounded by bronze-skinned beauties with the deepest tans I ever did see; the only genetic trait we shared was our height. This said, I was always greeted by the friendliest smiles, the warmest welcomes, some occasional skin patting and continual offers of dinner!
I was staying in Cebu for five days, but the owners of the hostel I chose only had rooms available for three of them, so for the remaining two nights they put us up in their own homes, something I’m positive you’ll never see happen in Australia. While in Cebu we visited San Pedro, a Spanish memorial fort with a market just outside. Inside the walls was a serene and beautiful garden. We had our inner questions answered at a Taoist Temple and celebrated Sinulog with festivals, dances and pageants. Although pirates are still rife in the waters of Sulu Sea and the Gulf of Aden and the occasional stall holder tries to sell you an overpriced nic-nac, or while the local pick-pocket might hit the unsuspecting traveller, the Philippines are generally a friendly and hospitable place, full of beautiful sights like Taal Volcano and Tagaytay Reserve. The waters of Sipilay Beach are awash with tropical fish, giant velvety clams and sunken statues, perfect for snorkeling or scuba diving and days spent lounging on a catamaran or digging your toes into the warm white sand. In fact, there’s only one thing that I personally don’t recommend you see: cockfighting, known locally as Sabong, a sport where two roosters have razor spurs attached to their legs, then thrown into a pit to battle to the death. Both legal and illegal versions take place in the Philippines, and for me it was possibly one of the most traumatic spectacles I’ve seen in my life… and we always ended up with chicken for dinner.