Wednesday 27 March 2019

I think the Philippines has to be one of my favourite places in Asia now, and I would love to go back in the future to explore areas we didn't get to cover.  The Philippines are made up of more than 7,000 islands and whether you're looking for adventure, tranquility or history; you'll be able to find it here.  After spending a week in slightly more expensive Japan, we went all out at meal times since we could get a 3 course meal for under £15. Here's my guide to spending 10 days in the Philippines.

tea with gi philippines guide


When we told other travellers we were spending two nights in Manila we were mostly greeted with the same reaction, why? The Philippines has so many beautiful places that Manila doesn't really top the list, but it was the easiest place to fly into and after all the flying we had been doing we didn't want to have to catch another flight the day after to one of the islands. So we took these two days to recharge at the Hop Inn Hotel, finding great places to eat and doing a few more laid back activities.

manila guide


This place was incredibly cheap, we paid £20 each for two nights and I'd compare this hotel to Ibis Budget. All the rooms are ensuite and modern, have comfortable beds and working Wi-Fi which is all you need really. The hotel is in the Makati area, which is the business district of Manila so you can expect plenty of sky scrapers, malls and fast food chains here.

hop inn hotel


Ayala Museum - Up until this day we hadn't done anything that cultural on our trip, and with the 35 degree sun hitting us outside we decided to go learn a bit about the history of the Philippines. The museum highlights a collection of archeological artefacts  (such as the golden gush etc), a display of indigenous textiles and crafts and 'Diorama' woodcarvings and miniature paintings. There was a temporary display which I found of particular interest, which told the story about the 'Comfort Women' of the Philippines who survived the rape and abuse of the Japanese soldiers during WW2 and how decades later they were still fighting for justice.

Manila Baywalk - We rented bicycles and rode down the baywalk at sunset, and it was definately one of those 'I can't believe we're here all together in the Philippines' life moments. There are a lot of cafes and restaurants in this area as well as live bands, so it's a good place to spend the evening in. 

Fort Santiago - If you want to see some famous landmarks then the most notable is Fort Santiago. A Spanish fortress that was also used as a jail and now a museum highlighting its history and changing architecture.

Escape Room - If you're finding the heat unbearable or find that you have more time on your hands, then there are over a dozen escape rooms to choose from at Mystery Manila at Century City Mall. For some bizarre reason we went for the 'Annabel' themed doll one and from the moment we got into the room we were already shitting ourselves in the dark and would all scream in unison every time there was a jump scare. We were one clue away from completing the puzzle, I think next time we'd choose something where we could actually concentrate on the clues, instead of being scared to go back alone into a room with all the scary dolls. 

Z Hostel Rooftop - This was our first 'night out' after two weeks of travelling and it was pretty chilled and lovely. The Rooftop bar is full of travellers so if you're looking to meet people it's the perfect spot. The drinks were only £4 and the views of the city were breathtaking. Some nights there are DJs playing and others there were live musicians. The duo that were playing when we were there did a great rendition of Michael Jackson's 'Human Nature' which will stick with me. 


Even though we didn't get up to that much, we made up for it with eating. Manila has a lot of great restaurants and everything is so cheap compared to the UK. 3/4 of these were GF and vegan friendly (since two of my friends have those dietary requirements). 

Corner Tree Cafe - This restaurant has a wide array of vegan dishes (and non-vegan) as well as a bunch of local 'pinoy' dishes. I had the Kare-Kareng Gulay which is a traditional Filipino stew made with garden-fresh veggies and a zesty organic peanut sauce. I did stay a bit hungry, so as soon as I saw there was a salted caramel chocolate torte on the dessert menu I ordered that after. It was a 15 minute walk from our hotel in Makati. 

Le Petit Souffle - This wasn't very cultural of us but we were in Century City Mall and I had been craving mac and cheese for a long time. Luckily mac and cheese with mushrooms and Hungarian sausage was on the menu. I ordered this and a mason jar of cold matcha latte for a grand total of £10.

le petit souffle

The Wholesome Table - This was probably one of my favourite places we ate at during our whole trip. The atmosphere and decor of the place, the attentive staff, the cheap cocktails and desserts all made it a wonderful experience. The menu is so varied and 'healthy' I had trouble decided on just one thing and would have loved to have gone back. I went for the immune booster soup (because I had a cold) which included ginger, turmeric powder, spinach, kale, coconut cream and lots of types of seeds. For dessert I wanted to try something local so had guinumis - a mix of tapioca, gulaman, pinipig, coconut milk, seeds and ice in a jar.

the wholesome table

Hummus Elijah - Hummus Elijah was a stone throw away from our hotel so was the perfect option after we woke up at 1pm and needed food pronto. They advertise themselves as the 'best hummus and falafels in the Philippines' and I can't confirm that as I didn't try them anywhere else, but they were pretty darn good. We all had Elijah's Combo which came with hummus, 3 falafel balls, a small salad, yellow rice and a pita bread - it was more than enough and only cost us £6. 

hummus elijah


For our time in Cebu we mainly used Cebu Tours to coordinate our tours as it took the fuss out of finding transport and arranging everything separately. You may notice I don't have any suggestions for places to eat here, and that's because most of the tours also had traditional meals included and aside from that we ate in Pizza Hut. When staying in Cebu there are generally two areas to stay in - Cebu-Mactan (where the beaches are) and Cebu City. We stayed in the latter just because all of our time was going to be taken up by tours so we weren't looking to explore the nearby areas.  



As the name of the hotel might suggest, they are known for having 'great pillows'. They were no match for Premier Inn but we were so tired from the days activities that they could have been the best pillows I'd ever slept on. The hotel is 300m from Fuente Osmena Circle and has a gym, an on-site restaurant and all rooms are air-conditioned and have free Wi-Fi.

pillows hotel


Whale Shark Diving - We had to get up nice and early (3am) for this tour and had a 3 hour drive to Oslob, where all the whales sharks like to party. We had a light breakfast near the beach and then waited for our number to be called. You go out in little boats of 8-10 and then jump off to swim with them. We had two whale sharks around us and let me tell you, the first time you go under water and see that massive thing right in front of your face your first reaction will be, AHHHH!!!! They are harmless and just go about their business. You can hire an underwater camera for £10 and one of the guides will take your photos for you, 380 of them to be exact. 

Canyoneering - So, my stupid ass thought we were doing canoeing, so imagine my surprise when after being up and about for 10 hours we were now going to spend 4 hours jumping off cliffs, climbing and doing a lot of walking on slippery rocks. After all, it was probably the highlight of my time in the Philippines. After spending a week in cold Japan, a couple of hours away from technology and thrill and adventure was just what we needed. Our two guides Albert and Rafi were a laugh and made the whole experience fun and entertaining. I don't know what came over me but for that time I thought I was Lara Croft and was brave enough to jump over a 50m waterfall and swing about like Jane and Tarzan. 


Kawasan Falls - This place was beautiful and lunch with a view doesn't get any better than this. A lot of people come here to spend the day as you can swim by the 3 layered waterfall and the whole area is just very pretty and laid back, with crystal clear water.

kawasan falls

Pescador Island Hopping - We had another 3 hour drive to Moalboal for this island hopping adventure and here we got to snorkel to see sea turtles, thousands of sardines and a lot of pretty corals and reefs. We also came across a very cute puffer fish (you're not allowed to pick anything up but our guide did it anyway and handed it over). 

Skywater Park - This 'waterpark' is located on top of JCentre Mall and is made up of your usual park activities - waterslides, climbing nets, jacuzzis and a swim up pool bar. Aside from that, the park opens at night on the weekends with live DJs and barbecues. 


As soon as we arrived in Puerto Princesa Airport you could tell it was the most popular destination for tourists as the baggage claim area was full of Osprey backpacks, tanned Westerners in flip-flops and there was an aroma of Hawaiian Tropic in the air. It felt good to be out of the city and see a bit more of the Philippine way of life, which of course meant getting 'tricycles' everywhere we went as things were a little spread out.  



Marianne Hotel was probably the most 'out of the city' hotels we stayed at and it was good to just be surrounded by nature. The hotel had a restaurant which we ate at every evening and had a complimentary buffet breakfast included. We arranged most of our tours through Marianne when we arrived and they even provided transport services to El Nido (a 6 hour drive).


City Tour - Our hotel offered a city sight-seeing tour and since we got there after lunch we thought we might as well do something that didn't require too much planning and hassle. The air-conditioned (thank god) van took us to the Crocodile Farm, Mitra’s Ranch, Baker’s Hill, Binuatan Weaving Center, Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral, Plaza Cuartel and Baywalk. 

Firefly Stargazing Tour - We had the best home cooked food here, we all went for 3 rounds. There was chicken and potato stew, a coconut, green been and pumpkin curry, and a whole lot of other yummy stuff. We went out in twos on a rowing boat with a guide to see the fireflies, and it kind of felt like I was on a blind date because the guide asked us 100 questions about our lives. His laser/torch was broken so we only learnt about two constellations in the sky, and then I told the story about how I have beauty spots on my chest shaped like Orion's belt and it must mean that I am the chosen one from another galaxy or something. 

Underground River Tour - The UNESCO World Heritage Site is the world's longest navigable underground river and flows beneath a mountain before emptying into the South China Sea. You enter through a cave and then you're surrounded by natural beauty, flora and fauna. Lunch is included in this as a Philippine buffet.

buffet palawan

Honda Bay Island Hopping -  We visited 3 islands on this trip, the first being Starfish Island where we sadly saw no starfish. It did however give us an hour to take our best 'look at me I'm on an Island' photos. The guide told us it depends on the day and if the starfish choose to come closer to shore. The second place we visited was Cowrie Island where we got massages on the beach, drank coconuts and lay like potatoes on the sand. Finally we went to Luli Island - I slept on a hammock and did my best attempt at gracefully jumping off a diving board. 

honda bay

DAY 9 - 10: EL NIDO

Everyone who I'd spoken to who had been to the Philippines said that if we didn't go to El Nido, we'd be missing out big time. As beautiful as it was, I enjoyed Cebu and Palawan equally as much (maybe a bit more because by the 10th day all islands start to look the same to be honest). We took a 6 hour car ride from Puerto Princesa to get here, and in hindsight we would have probably taken the 1 hour flight as it felt like we were riding in a Flintstones car and we were a tad on the cramped side. Nevertheless it made for a funny story looking back. 

el nido


Despite the name, you can have the privacy of your own room at Frendz Hostel but it still has the atmosphere of a hostel where you can meet fellow travellers and save on accommodation costs. The hostel is less than 1km from Big Lagoon and a 6 minute walk from Caalan Beach or Paradise Beach. There is also a pool and a rooftop bar. 


Island Hopping - There are 4 tours that are the most popular in El Nido - simply known as Tour A, B, C and D. We went with tour A which took us to 6 different islands. The Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Helicopter Island, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island and 7 Commando Beach. I'd love to go into detail about each one, but they all seem kind of a blur as I did this trip over a month ago and after a while everything just starts to look the same. The most memorable one to me was Helicopter Island (which gets its name because it is shaped like, a Helicopter) - probably because this is where we had lunch, and I drank a piƱa colada straight from a coconut. The Secret Lagoon was also pretty cool except it's not really much of a secret anymore as it was covered with tourists. I would do your own research into each one and see which one is more appealing to you. 

honda bay

If you're staying here for a couple of days, you could also choose to spend more time in one island etc. and do things at your own leisure. As with most of these you also have the option of kayaking, snorkeling and other water activities. 

Zip-lining - If you're looking for some thrills and not just being a beach bum, then try zip lining over Maremegmeg Beach. You'll have a birds eye view of the turquoise waters and palm trees and unlike the zip lining I've done in other countries, at least if you fall you fall in water right? There's quite an uphill walk to reach the start of the zip line, and then once you've done it you can make your way to Las Cabanas beach and spend the rest of your day there.

Go to a beach party - If you have the energy after a day out of activities, then the lively bars on Maremegmeg Beach and Corong Corong beach are great places to have a drink and reminisce about your trip or share stories with complete randomers. 

el nido

Have you ever been to the Philippines? What else did you get up to during your time there?

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