Philippines Over View

Country Description:

The Philippines is an archipelago in South-East Asia. The nation consists of 7,107 islands located between the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea, east of Vietnam, and north of Sabah and Borneo, combine all its beaches it forms one of the world’s longest coastlines and it takes about 2 to 3 decades to visit and experience every island. Since Spanish colonial times, the country is considered to be Asia’s largest Catholic country. Over a hundred ethnic groups, a mixture of foreign influences and a fusion of culture and arts have enhanced the uniqueness of the Filipino identity and the wonder that is the Philippines.


Manila skyline

A beach in Cebu

The Philippines for me is contradiction.  The filth and stench of the cities compared to some of the most amazing natural beauty.  Poverty which is in your face at all times compared to the hundreds of 5 star hotels and gold gilded Casinos.  Some of the worst infrastructure, crime and corruption in Asia compared to the warmth, caring, family, artistic nature of the Filipino people.  You either love or hate the Philippines, I don’t think there is any middle ground on this.  For me, I love the Philippines, cause with all the problems it has, the Filipino that you meet everyday, that always greats you with a sincere smile and warm heart, trumps all.


Getting there

By Plane:
Since the Philippines is an archipelago in the middle of the ocean, most visitors will arrive by plane. So getting to the Philippines section will only talk about entering by plane, once here there are many options to get around and will cover those in the separate city reports.International travelers can fly into airports in Manila, Cebu, Davao, Clark (Angeles), Kalibo, Laoag, Subic (Zambales), and Zamboanga. The Philippines, being an archipelago and therefore not connected by land to any of its neighboring countries is the usual reason why this paradise destination is skipped by many uninformed travelers. Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines , Zest Airways , South East Asian Airlines are among the national carriers, other carriers include Interisland Airlines that serves inter-regional flights and Pacific Pearl Airways that serve charter flights. If you plan to travel around the various islands, it is best to get an open jaw ticket. This can save much time back-tracking. Most common open jaw combination fly into Manila and out of Cebu. The best option, I’ve found, getting to the Philippines by air is to get a inexpensive flight to one of the major Asian hubs like Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur or even Bangkok.  Then taking one of the smaller regional Airline into the Philippines.  The last time I went I flew into Bangkok, and then  flew Philippine Airlines into Manila. Philippine Airlines is a nice and the ticket compared to other airlines can be as much as half the price. In fact on this last trip I received a business class ticket on Philippines for the price of an economy on Thai Airways.  The service and food is much better on Thai Airways but I fly business class for the bigger chair and leg room so the Philippine Airline fit the bill just fine.

Visa/Entry Information
Nationals from the vast majority of countries can enter the Philippines without a visa for a period not exceeding 21 days, as long as they have a return ticket, as well as passports valid for a period of at least six months beyond the period of stay. Nationals of Brazil and Israel are allowed to stay at the Philippines without a visa not exceeding 59 days. Holders of Hong Kong Special Administrative (SAR), British National Overseas (BNO), Portuguese Passports issued in Macau and Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) passports are allowed to stay in the Philippines without a visa not exceeding than seven days. Visit the website of the Bureau of Immigration and Department of Foreign Affairs for more information. If intending to stay longer, you should apply for a visa extension. Each visa extension is valid for 59 days, except the first which is 38 days. Effective 27 May 2009, all passengers regardless of citizenship or residence must fill-out the new machine-readable arrival-departure card which is issued by the airline. Unlike the previous scheme where arrival and departure cards are filled-out separately and independently from each other, the new card has a portion for arriving passengers, which will be given to the passport control officer and another part to be retained in the passport until departure. If you  overstay, you can pay on departure a fine of 1000p per month of overstay plus the 2020p fee.
Health and Safety Issues
Stay Safe;

WARNING: A heavy conflict is going on in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Basilan, Lanao Del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) between Muslim militias and the Philippine government. In 2009 this region was declared the world’s most hazardous area for journalists by the Committee to Protect Journalists, with 18 reporters dead in a massacre that claimed the lives of almost 60 people. Travelling to this region is dangerous and strongly discouraged. If it is necessary to visit, inform your embassy, remain cautious at all times and avoid public gatherings.
Use common sense when traveling to and around the Philippines, as with traveling to other developing nations. Although the people of these islands are generally friendly and accommodating, one must be aware of the prevalence of poverty (especially in big cities) and the things that, unfortunately, come with it. You must not flash your valuables (especially Apple iPods and iPhones) because they pose a pick pocketing threat. Carry small change and don’t flash large bills. Pickpockets are common in the big cities. Don’t expect any reprisal from the police and must also sometimes be wary of them as they can be easily bribed and might be entangled in their own scams. Women are advised to travel in large groups and must use caution when out at night. Do not enter alleyways and remote areas at night.
Hookers and Drugs;
Prostitution is thriving but officially illegal in the Philippines, although hostess bars, massage parlors and other opportunities abound which offer this service. The age of consent is 18. The Philippine National Police treat sex-offenders, child-molesters and people involving in prostitution harshly, catching you in an act associated with prostitution and child sex abuse will result to long term jail sentences, penalties and deportation to your country. Marijuana and shabu (crystal methamphetamine) are widely used in the country however it is also Illegal and Penalties are very harsh, you might as well get long jail terms and get deported back to your country.
Stay Healthy;
Eating and drinkingAnything except bottled water in the Philippines is UNSAFE to drink. This also includes ice cubes except at major hotels or chain restaurants like Jollibee (the Filipino equivalent of McDonalds).  Also be careful of the Buko (young coconut) juice stands, it is unsafe if already opened with local ice put into it.  The safest way to have Buko (which is delicious) go to a vendor that chills the coconut then have him cut it open in front of you. 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. Be careful of drinking pampalamig (cold drinks like Sago’t Gulaman) as some of the vendors might be using Magic Sugar(formally called Sodium Cyclamate); an artificial sweetener, which has been banned by the Philippine Government because of its adverse effects on health such as higher risk of getting cancer by consuming Magic sugar, it has been used as an alternative to ordinary sugar as it is much cheaper, call 117 (Philippine National Police) if you encounter such situation. Street food isn’t so safe to consume in the Philippines, hygienic standards aren’t enforced much. It is better to eat street food as well as pampalamig inside malls and shopping centers than in streets as stalls in malls and shopping centers have better enforcement of cleanliness.
Diseases
I have to say that even though I love going to the Philippines it has to be one of the filthiest countries I have been to in Asia. Sorry I hate saying that about this place but it has to be said and with that said there are numerous nasty diseases to be had here.CDC advises that risk of malaria exists in areas below 600 meters, except for the provinces of Aklan, Bilaran, Bohol, Camiguin, Capiz, Catanduanes, Cebu, Guimaras, Iloilo, Leyte, Masbate, northern Samar, Siquijor, and Metro Manila.  Chloroquine is no longer a recommended malaria preventative for anywhere in the Philippines. Dengue fever is common in the Philippines and cases rise every year, it is advisable to apply anti-mosquito repellents and wear long sleeved clothes whenever possible. Rabies is also common among street animals in the country, get a vaccination for rabies if you haven’t done so, if you’re travelling with children vaccinate them as soon as possible as they are of high risk of getting rabies because they tend to play more with animals. Hepatitis A and B is of a high-risk in the country, get a vaccine if you haven’t had one, as having exposure to food, water, sexual contact, and blood among the local people. If you plan to visit rural farming areas, Japanese encephalitis is common, it is recommended to get a vaccine to avoid this disease. Avoid swimming in fresh water (chlorinated swimming pools are exceptional) areas are you will have high risks of getting schistosomiasisLeptospirosis is often contracted from recreational water activities in contaminated water such as Kayaking, it is common in the tropical areas of Southeast Asia.

Also please note the tuberculosis is very common in the countryside, it is advisable not to stay in certain villages in areas you are not familiar with for a very long time. It is also highly advisable that if one coughs or looks weak in strength it is highly advisable to avoid contact with that person.

Bring anti-diarrheal drugs with you, as unsanitary conditions present a high risk for traveler’s diarrhea.

Although the Philippines is a low HIV prevalence country, it still pays to take precaution.  And even though HIV is not prevalent here other STD’s are epidemic among the working ladies, such as Syphilis and Gonorrhea, don’t be stupid, use a condom.


Currency and Banking

The official currency in the Philippines;Most hotels will except payment in USD or most of the major currencies but be aware they will do a exchange to the PHP at a very unfavorable rate.  It is better to get your money exchanged at a bank then pay all your bills in PHPs.  The other option is to pay with your Credit Card (only at the larger hotels) then you will be getting the bank exchange rate.The Philippine Peso(PHP) is the official currency. 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 tourist areas and most malls which usually have their own currency exchange stall. Banks on the other hand are widely available to exchange currency but usually impose a minimum amount and have limited hours of operation, usually from 9 AM to 3 PM on weekdays except Bank of the Philippine Islands and  Banco De Oro which have longer hours of operation.  Don’t exchange money in stalls along the streets as some of them might be exchanging your money for counterfeit money, contact Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas if you suspect if your money is counterfeited or not.
ATM’s in the Philippines;There are ATM’s everywhere in the Philippines, even in the smaller towns.  Last count 6,000 ATMs nationwide to withdraw funds or ask for cash advances. The three major local ATM consortia are BancNet, MegaLink and Expressnet. International networks, like PLUS and Cirrus, are accessible with many ATMs, however Cirrus is more predominant than PLUS; however, withdrawals are often limited to 5,000 pesos. An exception is HSBC where up to 50,000 pesos is possible. Visitors who have a  MasterCard/Maestro/Cirrus cards can withdraw funds or ask for cash advances at ATMs that display their logos. The most prominent MasterCard ATMs are the Express Tellers by BPI (Bank of the Philippine Islands) and the Smar tellers by Banco de Oro. PLUS ATMs are not available locally as a complement by itself, but instead it is available along with Cirrus. Prominent examples include the Fasteller by Equitable PCI Bank and the Electronic Teller (ET) by Metrobank. Most MegaLink ATMs are linked to PLUS and Cirrus.Credit card holders can use VISA, MasterCard, American Express and JCB cards in many locations in the Philippines but merchants would usually require a minimum purchase amount before you can use your card. Cardholders of China Union Pay credit cards can get cash advances at many BancNet ATMs (particularly of Metrobank) but cannot use their cards in point of sale transactions at the moment.


Food

Ok lets get this out of the way, the infamous balut
Have I ever eaten one, no will I ever eat one, no. I just can’t get past the embryo, crunchy bone and feathers, sorry.  But for those who are interested here is some Balut information.A balut is a fertilized duck (or chicken) egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell.Popularly believed to be an aphrodisiac and considered a high-protein, hearty snack, balut are mostly sold by street vendors in the regions where they are available. It is commonly sold as street food.

Balut with visible chick

Eating a balut with a pinch of salt
With the exception of the balut I really enjoy Filipino food below are some examples;

Pork Adobo Kare-Kare
Two of my favorite dishes, Pork adobo and Kari Kari.  I think these two dishes show the diversity of Filipino food.  The food to me is kind of like the culture, heavily influenced by the west but under it all is some Philippine flare. They might use very eastern ingredients with western cooking methods or vise versa.  The food has Spanish and Chinese influence mixed with local methods and ingredients. Currently there is also a huge infusion of western style chain restaurants invading major cities.  This could be a good or bad depending on your outlook.  For me its ok cause I’m away from home for years, not just one or two weeks. So to find a Taco bell in Manila, something I hadn’t seen for 10 years, made me shamefully happy.  Just about any chain restaurant that you could find in the US you will find in Manila (they have cinnabuns too)

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