Quick Guide to The Philippines

It’s more fun in the Philippines! This quick guide to the Philippines covers all your basic traveling needs to Southeast Asia’s number one beach destination!

IN A NUTSHELL

Hold up. Wait a minute. Did you just say you’re headed to the Philippines?

quick guide to the philippines

The reigning Miss Universe 2015 is none other than Filipina Pia Alonzo

There are few things in life I would claim expertise in. However, a lifetime of knowledge being Filipino has granted me a certain authority on this subject matter. For those of you are headed to the Philippines/thinking about visiting the Philippines/love Filipinos… Why you are in luck! This guide will help you learn the ins and out of this culture and its people, which will no doubt make your stay in this archipelago (aka a group of islands-7,107 islands to be exact) all the more fun!

quick guide to the philippines diving

Some of the world’s best diving can be done in the Philippines // Courtesy of Shutterstock

The Philippines has risen in popularity over the years, becoming a well-known destination in Southeast Asia for beach bums. The island chain, made up of three main island entities: Luzon (the largest island) to the north, Visayas in the middle, and Mindanao to the south, boasts large lengths of continuous coastline with white sand, as well as prime diving locations such as the frequently visited congregation of twelve sunken WWII Japanese battleships in Coron Bay. The country’s capital, Manila, is an urban mecca for shopping enthusiasts, boasting three out of the world’s top ten largest mallsSM Megamall, SM North Edsa and SM Mall of Asia. For those looking to swim with whale sharks, the largest fish in the sea, head on over to Donsol Bay in Cebu.

But aside from its call to nature lovers and urbanites, The Philippines also entices tourists with the unparalleled hospitality of its people. The locals refer to themselves as ‘Pinoys’ and ‘Pinays.’ Call me biased, but there is no populace in the world that compares to Filipinos in terms of generosity and good manners. Plastered on most faces is a relentless smile, full of warmth. There is no Filipino I have come across who isn’t willing to share their joie de vivre, a love of life and of living, with any stranger they cross paths with. For Filipinos, its about family, food and friends in that order. It’s a society centered around fun: the “unofficial” number one sport in the Philippines is watching beauty pageants and our favorite form of feasting is called a boodle fight or kamayan, where food is served across a table laid with banana leaves and partakers eat with their hands. Just don’t take offense when Filipinos don’t show up on time as lateness is a national epidemic.

quick guide to the philippines

Seriously, our national airline carrier whose acronym PAL (Philippine Airlines) has cheekily been altered into “Plane Always Late”

Some fun facts about the Philippines

  • The Philippines has the longest Christmas season, with celebrations starting in September and lasting until the first week of January.
  • Divorce is illegal in the Philippines.
  • The Philippines has won the title of most emotional society in the world.
  • The Philippines is the 5th largest Christian country in the world.
  • The Philippine flag is the only flag in the world that inverts its colors during warfare.
  • During Manny Pacquiao fights, the crime rate in Metro Manila drops to zero. And yes, for those who don’t know, the famous lightweight boxer is a full-blooded Filipino.
quick guide to the philippines manny pacquiao

Did you know that world-renowned boxer Manny Pacquiao is also a politician?

For those planning on visiting the Philippines, some things to take into consideration

  • Transportation: Metro Manila is one of the most heavily congested cities in the world with traffic jams so bad, it’s enough to deter anyone from ever wanting to be in a car again. A supposedly 20-min ride can take upwards to an hour if you’re caught in rush hour. While there is an MRT line, it is more comfortable (and still fairly inexpensive) to opt for Grab Taxi or Uber (just make sure you have an active SIM card). Traveling around the country is a bit of a headache as well and is quite hard for DIY-ers. The most trustworthy method to get around is by plane. Cebu Pacific is the number one domestic carrier. Buses come in close second although be careful of your belongings while doing long overnight rides. Taxis are fine but make sure the meter is on and you jot down the license plate first if alone.
  • Climate: Located in a tropical region and on the ring of fire makes the Philippines quite susceptible to natural disasters. That being said, make sure you plan accordingly lest your dream vacation gets derailed by an incoming super typhoon (Haiyan 2013 anyone?) The two main seasons are the dry and wet seasons. The best month to come during the dry season (Nov-May) is January; come April-May, you’d have heat stroke being outside for more than 30 minutes. The wet season (Jun-Oct) promises daily spurts of showers and the unpredictable nature of tropical storms wreaks havoc all throughout the season. Bring mosquito repellent and plenty of sun block.
  • Food: Filipino cuisine remains relatively unfamiliar due to its insular nature among Filipino communities. This is not a vegetarian cuisine so chances are you will be struggling to find something without meat but have no fear, there are SOME options. Just not a lot. Why is eating more fun in the Philippines? Read my argument here.
  • Currency: The Philippine unit of currency is the peso with paper note denominations that come in 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 PHP. Coins are still used in the currency and range from 1, 5, and 10 pesos.

    The current exchange rate is $1 USD = 48 PHP.

quick guide to the philippines

A popular mode of transportation is called the Jeepney // OlegD / Shutterstock.com

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HOW DO YOU SAY?

learn tagalog quick guide to the philippinesHow are you? – Kumusta? (koo-moo-stah)

Thank you (very much) –  (Maraming) Salamat (ma-ra-meeng sah-lah-maht)

Yes – Opo (oh-poh)

No – Hindi (hin-deh)

learn tagalog quick guide to the philippines

You’ll here this phrase a lot around Filipinos. Courtesy of Buzzfeed.

Let’s eat– Kain tayo! (kah-een-tah-yoh)

Let’s go!Tara na! (tah-rah-nah)

I don’t know– Hindi ko alam (hin-dee-koh-ah-lahm)

Where is… – Nasaan ang… (nah-sah-ahnh-ahng…)

How much is this? – Magkano to? (mag-ka-know-toe)

Delicious – Masarap (mah-sah-rahp)

Older Man/Older Female – Kuya/Ate (koo-yah/ah-teh)

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NAVIGATE A MENU

filipino food quick guide to the philippines

Rice is the central starch in the Filipino diet. It is not considered a meal without rice.

Adobo

Every household has its own recipe and it would be a shame if you left the Philippines without every trying a plate of adobo. Adobo is a type of marinade consisting of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, oil and bay leaves. Braise your meat of choice be it pork, chicken or beef, and you’ll get this intensely tender meat that has a beautiful flavor profile. You can also adobo vegetables like spinach (also known as morning glory) or add potatoes to the pot or some more balance to the richness of the marinade.

filipino food

A hot plate of sizzling pork fat, ready to be added to be transformed into adobo!

Pancit

This dish was originally introduced to the Filipinos by the Chinese, coming from the Hokkien word, “pian e sit,” meaning “something convenient cooked.” Today, it is the centerpiece of every Filipino fiesta. There are two main versions: pancit bihon, which uses thin cellophane noodles, and pancit canton, which uses thick egg noodles. The most savory preparation is pancit palabok using a shrimp-based sauce and garnished with crushed chicharon (deep fried pork bits), chopped shrimp, slices of hard boiled eggs, boiled pork and scallions.

Want to learn how to make Pancit Bihon? Check out my ‘Food Finds’ post featuring a video tutorial with my sister Mira.

pancit bihon recipe filipino food

Now watch me whip (Kill it!) / Now watch me nae nae (Okay!)

Silog

‘Silog’ is the standard three-part Filipino breakfast. You get the word ‘silog’ from the garlic fried rice (sinangág) and a fried egg (itlog). These two are always served with a protein and you can order any type of breakfast you want by tacking the meat’s name to the beginning of silog. My favorite is paired with tocino, which is pork belly that has been marinated for several hours in a sauce of sugar, salt and garlic, and then fried until it caramelizes and forms a shiny, crunchy coat around the meat.

Here are list of the most common silogs:

  • Tapsilog – made with tapas, a Filipino beef jerky
  • Cornsilog – paired with canned corned beef (that usually comes peppered with onions or cubed potatoes)
  • Toscilog – paired with caramelized pork ** my favorite!
  • Longsilog – made with longganisa, a cured sausage
  • Hotsilog – made with hotdog, ask for the red hot dogs while in the Philippines if you want a juicier type of hot dog
  • Porksilog – paired with pork
  • Chicksilog – paired with chicken, either grilled or fried
  • Litsilog – paired with lechon, roasted pork (see below for more details)
filipino food quick guide to the philippines

Any protein + silog = traditional Filipino breakfast

Lechon

The most famous of all Filipino pork delicacies, lechon is the king of every potluck. This whole pig is roasted on a spit over an fire pit for several hours before being paired with Mang Tomas, a local all-purpose condiment with a very complex taste. The brown sauce, made from liver, vinegar, sugar, pepper and bread crumbs goes perfectly with the crispy skin of a perfectly cooked lechon. Bourdain named lechon the “best [pork] in the world” in a blog post entitled “The Hierarchy of Pork.” The best lechon can be sampled in Cebu.

filipino food quick guide to the philppines lechon

A full roasted pig best eaten in Cebu // Author unknown

Sisig

A bar food for the masses, sisig is a mixture of pork bits (i.e. head, liver, cheeks, snout) served in a sizzling hot plate and mixed with onions and chilis. Squirt some calamansi over the mix, a citrus fruit used to garnish almost every Filipino dish, and top with an egg. The egg cooks over the meat making this the perfect meal to counteract that San Miguel beer you’ll be drinking on the beach.

sisig quick guide to the philppines

If you can, order sisig served with a fresh egg cracked over the meat // Courtesy of Chef Pinoy Recipes

Lumpia

Filipino-style spring rolls. These little fried cigar parcels are the perfect bite-sized treat but be warned, you’ll be an addict before you know it! The finger food was brought over by the Chinese and the most popular variation, the Lumpiang Shanghai, is delivery of pork pureed with mixed vegetables wrapped in rice paper sheet, coated with an egg wash, and then deep-fried. The outer shell is extra crunchy when served fresh and is often complimented by a sweet and sour sauce. There is also a non-fried version called Lumpiang Sariwa, which is more like a crepe.

lumpia filipino food quick guide to the philippines

While it may look easy, wrapping lumpia is an art to master // Courtesty of Kitchen Confidante

Halo-Halo

A party in a cup! Halo-Halo is the most outlandish of desserts. Ingredients like sweet beans, jackfruit, tapioca balls, chunks of leche flan (Filipino egg custard) and nata de coco (jellied coconut) are piled high on a bed of shaved ice, doused in evaporated milk, and garnished with pinipig (toasted rice.) The crown in the jewel of this delightful dessert is the vibrant purple ube ice cream, which has been called “The New Matcha” by Elite Daily.

filipino food halo halo quick guide to the philippines

Halo Halo means “Mix-Mix” // Courtesy of Juan Paulo on Flickr

***BONUS***

Jollibee

There isn’t a Filipino person you will meet that doesn’t LOVE Jollibee!!! Jollibee is the only fast food restaurant that domestically outsells McDonalds, the world’s most popular fast food chain. The signature dish is the Chicken Joy, fried chicken coated in a thick batter that means there’s so much more of “the good stuff” in every bite. A Chicken Joy meal is served with white rice and gravy. There’s also JollySpaghetti, Pinoy-style spaghetti dotted with sliced hot dogs and drenched in a sauce infused with banana ketchup (meaning its a tad bit sweeter than what you are used to) and the Yum Burger, a hamburger served with a slice of pineapple. If you think you’re about to skip out on dessert, you clearly have never tried Mango-Peach pie, with a molten filling of mango-peach fusion. OH MY WORD!

Filipino Food Jollibee Quick Guide The Philippines

filipino food jollibee quick guide to the philippines

The Philippines is the only country in the world where the local fast food chain outcompetes McDonalds. Courtesy of Pinterest.

blog-dividePLAN YOUR JOURNEY

Manila

The capital city of Manila is located on the island of Luzon. A bustling metropolis, the traffic can be maddening but don’t let it ward you off. Manila its full of surprises such as the world’s oldest Chinatown, Binondo, and well-preserved Spanish colonial enclave, Intramuros. Manila is actually a mega city called Metro Manila comprised of sixteen smaller “cities.” The main city is Quezon City. Most tourists tend to congregate in Makati, the financial hub of the capital and known for its awesome nightlife. One thing you wouldn’t think about doing but realy should is visit one of the malls in town. Did you know Manila is home to three of the world’s largest malls? If you want a taste of local life and an escape from the oppressive humidity, pop into a mall. It will seriously be a sight to marvel. For a more extensive post on Manila, check out my ‘Whereabouts’ guide: Top Five Things to Do in Manila.

Best method of transportation: Stick to Uber or GrabTaxi. You’ll see tricycles and jeepneys but unless you are versed in the local tongue, it’ll be hard to convey where you need to go properly. Taxis can be somewhat sketch, especially at nighttime. A railway line does exist but its very uncomfortable and almost always crowded at all hours of the day.

manila intramuros san agustin quick guide to the philippines

Golden hour at San Agustin Church in Intramuros, my favorite neighborhood of Manila

Boracay

Only a few days ago was Boracay named ‘The World’s Best Island” in Condé Nast Traveler’s 2016 Readers’ Choice Awards. The island getaway has been greatly transformed by the effects of tourism within the last decade but you can’t beat the beautiful sunsets that paint the sky come dusk. Also, Boracay boasts predominantly white sand beaches, which means seriously Instagram-worthy shots. Check out Jonah’s Fruit Shake and Snack Bar for the best milkshakes in town that come served in water bottles. This is a party island so if you’re looking for some peace and relaxation, you’re better off jetting to Palawan.

How to get there: No direct flights are available so you must fly to to either Caticlan or Kalibo. Caticlan is closer to Boracay, only a 10-20 minute boat ride from Caticlan Jetty Port, while flights to Kalibo are cheaper but the airport is 60-km away.

boracay quick guide to the philippines

The most vibrant sunsets can be experienced on the white sand beaches of Boracay // Courtesy of Flickr 35173034n04

Cebu

The capital of the Visayan islands, Cebu is the best jump-off point to kickstart your island hopping adventure in the Philippines. The island is known for hosting a number of festivals such as the Dinagat Festival, celebrating the fishing heritage of the Cordovanhons, and the Kabkaban Festival, a festival in honor of the patron saint of Carcar, St. Catherine. The highlight of this festival is a ritual dance meant to drive off bad spirits. There are a number of first-class diving spots and insanely beautiful waterfalls, like Kawasan Waterfalls. You can also swim with whale sharks in Donsol Bay, the world’s largest fish. Just make sure to do your research and go with the most ethical company.

How to get there: A one-hour flight from Manila. The country’s largest budget carrier, Cebu Pacific, operate several direct flights throughout the day to Cebu City. You can also reach Cebu directly from a number of Asian destinations.

quick guide to the philippines swimming with whale sharks

Swimming with whale sharks in Donsol. Research an ethical company first! // Courtesy of Shutterstock

Palawan

It is my personal suggestion that if you have time t experience only one place in the Philippines, make sure its Palawan. This island chain is home to Puerto Princesa Underground River, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’ longest underground river, the gorgeous limestone karsts of El Nido, and the perfectly isolated Coron famed for its incredible collection of WWII-era shipwrecks that one can admire not only as a certified diver, but also as a snorkeler. The conservation efforts have been so rigid that the nature offered by Palawan is so pristine and unaltered. Throngs of tourists have yet to invade the island, which is why it has been hailed as “The Last Frontier” in the Philippines.

How to get there: Fly to Puerto Princesa by way of Manila, Cebu, and Iloilo. about an hour and a half flight. El Nido is a six-to-eight hour drive from Puerto Princesa depending on roadside conditions. If you are thinking about heading to Coron or El Nido only, it’s better to simply fly there from Manila to save time however, the prices are a bit more inflated compared to flying into Puerto Princesa.

quick guide to the philippines

Limestone karsts in Coron Bay // Courtesy of Shutterstock

The Cordilleras

Postcard-perfect beaches are almost the first thing that pops up in people’s minds when thinking about the Philippines has much to offer for the intrepid spirit. The Cordillera highlands in northern Luzon are home to some of the most culturally-vibrant ethnic minorities, such as the Igorot, “the earth people” who guard the famous Banaue rice terraces carved into the mountainside. Popular tourist destinations such as Baguio, a perfect summer retreat due it relatively cool climate (for being in the subtropics) and Sagada, the site of Echo Valley’s mysterious hanging coffins.

How to get there: The road to the north from Manila is incredibly strenuous overland, with the journey taking anywhere between 8-10 hours to Banaue and 12-14 hours to Sagada. The route to Sagada is filled with hairpin turns so pack that anti-motion sickness medicine if you’re sensitive. You can fly to Tuguegarao, the nearest commercial airport to these locations and proceed on a road trip by bus. From Tuguegarao to Bagiuo, it’s about a 600 PHP (approx $13 USD), 5-6 hour bus ride and Banaue and Sagada are along the way.

banaue rice terraces quick guide to the philippines

The beauty of the Banaue Rice Terraces during rainy season // Courtesy of Shutterstcok

Want to add more stops to your itinerary? Visit my ‘Wanderlist: The Philippines’ post.

For more quick guides, check out my ‘Quick Guide to Korea.

I’m proud to be a Filipino and wouldn’t have it other way. Any other Filipinos in the house with something more to share? To people who have already visited, what did you think? Leave a comment below! xoxo Izzy

Give me a shout-out on Pinterest pretty please?

A Quick Guide to Korea via @thenextsomewhere

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Izzy Pulido is a Bostonian by way of the Philippines who loves to vagabond. At twenty-seven, she's traded in gallivanting around Europe for the 9-to-5 grind... but don't count out the vagabonding! With a new long distance relationship, she's bringing American travel to the forefront. She lives for good times, good food, and good peeps.

RELATED POST

  1. Laura Nalin

    27 October

    This guide is awesome! I was a bit bummed that I missed the Philippines recently but I’m grateful for this guide and realize that it must not have been the right time!! I am super intrigued by Filipino culture as it seems so different and tight knit globally. I can’t wait to get there. Thanks for sharing this – you rock!

  2. This guide is SO good and so chock full of info! I can’t even decide what about the Philippines I’m most excited about because there’s so much good stuff! I had to LOL about Jollibee – there’s one not too far from where I live and that was how I found out it’s the only chain that beats out McDonald’s abroad in ANY country. I would love to visit one day!

  3. Mimi

    27 October

    What an amazing guide, with so many options. The Philippines is such a huge place to visit and much travelling is needed too. I never went to its islands and I just can’t wait!

  4. This is perfect timing as I am heading to the Phillippines in just two short weeks. I have yet to figure out how to get around so this is ideal. Thanks and I am sharing to my Flipboard

  5. Hallie

    27 October

    That is a ton of super interesting info. I didn’t realize how little I knew about the Philippines. I have seen amazing photos out of the country though and it’s definitely on the list to visit.. hopefully soon. ^^

  6. That’s crazy that there’s 7,000 islands approximately in the Phillipines! Also, love the fact that they’re the most emotional society in the world. I wouldn’t picture an Asian culture to be so emotional! Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Ivy

    27 October

    This post brings back so many memories! We were in Cebu and Palawan earlier this year and had an absolute blast. I gotta say I wasn’t a big fan of the food though, but Mother Nature did an incredible job with these islands 🙂 And yes Manny Pacquiao! My husband’s a huge fan of UFC and he was so stoked when we saw Manny’s campaign posters everywhere after landing in Cebu lol!

  8. Carmy

    27 October

    Amazing post! I have heard amazing things about diving in the Philippines and I definitely have this on the list of places I need to see. The Cordilleras looks so cool but I’m not sure how I feel about hanging coffins!

    • Carmy

      27 October

      Also that Jollibee gif? Um now I want fried chicken. LOL! I don’t even know how I feel about a molten filling of mango and peach but I feel like I need that dessert in my life now.

  9. Candy

    27 October

    O, how I love the Philippines. I went a couple of times about 15 years. I think I’m due for another visit. I love Filipino cuisine. I try to cook it myself, but it’s just not the same. And I had no idea that divorce was illegal in the Philippines!

  10. Kevin Wagar

    28 October

    This was a great read! I’m heading to PH in 2018 and I’m so excited about getting to spend time there and experience all the great Filipino sites and culture!

  11. Hanani

    28 October

    This post is on-point! So many great stuff, Izzy. And you’re right – it’s more fun in the Philippines. I’ve been wanting to visit since, like, forever. But haven’t had a chance to. And oh. Jollibee. I tried this in Brunei. Love love love.

  12. Emre

    29 October

    They should put Manny Pacquiao in an endless loop of fights. Problem solved! 😉 This post is amazing and makes me want to travel to the Philippines. I hope I get the chance someday.

  13. Alla Ponomareva

    30 October

    Pretty cool guide, but I must say the food that you’ve mentioned looks a lot more appetizing than what I’ve got in the Philippines. A lot of the food was incredibly bland, which resorted to us having some ramen noodles for the salt/cancer packets. There was that one dope grilled chicken from a street vendor, which still haunts my dreams but I would rather go to Thailand for the 6th time than the Philippines, honestly.

  14. Rocio Cadena

    30 October

    Wow, Izzy, what a great post! So detailed and full of useful information. I am actually considering paying a visit to the Philippines for winter vacation, so thank you for your guide! I agree with mostly everything you said about Filipino culture of kindness and genuine spirit. I have a few good Filipino friends and that is exactly how they are – kind-hearted. Also, kudos on your blog. Loving what you are doing. I am trying to also make it as a writer on the road 🙂

  15. Samantha

    30 October

    Love this guide! I’m bookmarking for later reference. I went to the Philippines (Manila and Boracay) last year and it was sooo fun! I saw those Jollebee’s everywhere!! PS love your style of writing and your vibrant photos/blog in general! Keep it up!

  16. Kayley Chislett

    30 October

    LOve this post! We went to the Phils in January this year (Moalboal and Siquijor) and we LOVED it. I giggled at so many of your references. I’d love to go back one day and explore other islands. I love the beach and the water in the Philippines was amazing. Love your blog by the way!

  17. Wendy

    1 November

    This is amazing, Izzy. Such an extensive guide and I see all the effort that goes with it. Thank you very much for featuring the Philippines. My sons couldn’t do without Jollibee in each and every visit to the country. And the lechon! My sons’ grandfather would always have a lechon night for them because he knows how the boys love it.

  18. don

    1 November

    With Korea being so cold I want to jump on a plane and go right now. We were just doing a photoshoot with a nice filipino couple today.
    +1 fact about the Philippines is they have prenup photoshoots! Thought had nothing to do with divorce.)
    Any filipino we’ve met has been a joy to be around so I certainly believe that about the kindness of the people.
    It’s hilarious about when the boxer is fighting the crime rate drops to 0. The criminals are all learning to box with the TV.
    Very lovely, The food photos also made me hungry. +I’m dying to try Jollibee now too

  19. Larry Nguyen

    13 December

    My next somewhere to visit in Southeast Asia will be definitely The Philippines. I love the way Izzy shows us about her beautiful home country. What a great article with awesome travel tips! Thank you for the definitive guide, Izzy 🙂

  20. Claire

    25 January

    This is epic! You’ve put this together so well. I just returned from my 2nd amazing trip to the Phillies but still learnt something new in your blog! 🙂

  21. Stephanie

    6 April

    The Philippines are on my bucket list for sure. Those are some pretty amazing facts, especially about changing the flag during war. The Philippines have some beaches that are definitely on my bucket list. Bring it on!

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