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2 weeks in PHILIPPINES for 2 first times

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Me and my wife are planning a short trip to the Philippines at the end of February early March. We are planning about 14 days (2 weeks) including flight time. Since its our first time there, we want to get a good taste of all the islands have to offer - City life, markets, good food (local eats), beach time, & shopping. In order to not cramp our short time too much we are planning either one of the following combinations:


Does anyone have any suggestions on activities, accomodations, must sees, must eats, and/or itinerary additions or changes. Which combination of the above would be best on a modest budget given our alotted time? Any suggestions on inter-island flights/transport? Any input would help us out tremendously as we have only a couple of weeks to plan. THANKS IN ADVANCE!

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    I would be careful about Palawan - there have been incidents over the years there regarding the rebels in that area. If I were you I would do - Manila- Borecay-Baguio. Baguio is in the mountains so it will be cooler there. Baguio - maybe 2 days, Borecay - maybe 4-5 days if you are beach people and the remiander in Manila. There are a number of day trips- once you are based in Manila. See below for my trip report from our trip there a few years back. I would recommend you stay at the New World in Makati as its walking distance to many to shops, restaurants etc.:

    Departed on 2/27. Houston to LAX (on Continental). LAX to Taipei (EVA Evergreen Deluxe Class). Taipei to Manila (EVA).

    Airfare - $1025. Continental miles accrued for the entire trip. Evergreen Deluxe Class- this is a class between true Business and coach. The seats are wider and there is enough legroom for me (6’2”) to cross my legs. At the front of the plane the seating is 2 by 2, al little further back it is 2 by 4 by 2. We always had the two seats together. Meals- a cut above coach meal service, hot towels, amenity kit, wine and beer free, individual entertainment system in the seat backs, etc. There is not separate boarding for Evergreen Deluxe class unless you have their premium elite card- you board with the coach class. EVA boarding procedures need a little help- sometimes it works fine and other times they foul it up.

    Day 1- March 1st.

    We arrived at Manila airport at about 11:30 am – right on schedule. The airport is old and is probably one of the few in the world that has not been renovated or is not under expansion/construction. As we left the gate area and approached the immigration point- there was an immigration officer holding a sign with our name on it. Our relatives had arranged for us to by pass the line at immigration. The officer took our papers and whisked us around the lines to the baggage area- he even got a luggage cart for us and wished us well on our vacation. We were then met by my wife’s aunt and her husband (a CEO of a local bank). They loaded our luggage and drove us to our hotel. They also exchanged our US$ for pesos. The exchange rate is 54.6 Pesos to the US$.
    Upon arrival at the New World Renaissance Hotel we were met in the lobby by a cousin of my wife. She had already checked us in and presented us with our keys.
    Our room rate was $50/day, which included buffet breakfast for two each day. (This is the rate for locals) Actually what we had was 825 Pesos per day each of food credits to use. Breakfast for two amounted to 1625 Pesos. (Inclusive of tax and service charge) This is a four star hotel in my opinion. The room size was fine- a bit smaller than what we had in Bangkok at the Peninsula. Décor was modern; bathroom had the separate shower and bath but only one sink. It was showing a little age. Working desk and sofa and chair with a view of the city. Safe for valuables with a mini bar, etc.

    The hotel is located in Makati- the central business district of Manila. It is by far the best-located hotel as there are a number of shopping malls across the street as well as a super market and lots of restaurants. We had considered the Peninsula, Mandarin, Shangri La- but these were not located well in relation to the shops and restaurants. (The famous Manila hotel was too far away to consider)

    Manila is a city where you are either with a tour group, or you have access to a full time driver. Traffic is as bad or even worse than that of Bangkok. There are really no transit options except for taxis. The locals use what are called Jeepneys- not recommended for tourists- these are not air conditioned for the most part and are jammed with locals- as many as ten per Jeepney. Cost to ride the Jeepney is 5 pesos.
    The taxis are metered- we did not take them so I cannot relate costs here. English is spoken everywhere by everyone so language is not a problem in the Philippines.

    You will also see the Philippine equivalent of the Bangkok Tuk Tuk. These are motorcycles with a sidecar attachment. Some are bikes with sidecar attachments.
    I have seen as many as 8 people riding in these things- you have to see it to believe it!

    Security- the hotels, malls – all have very tight security arrangements. They check the cars as they approach the hotels and you pass thru metal detectors and all packages are searched as you enter malls and hotels. We felt very safe in our stay there.

    After we dropped our luggage in our room we were treated to lunch by the relatives at a local restaurant in the mall (Greenbelt Mall) across the street from the hotel. We had local Philippine cuisine. Weather seemed to be the mid 80’s with little humidity. Although the water is safe, we were advised to dink only bottled water.

    After lunch we were taken to our relative’s seamstress across town. My wife had brought her own material. She had 5 pairs of pants, 1 blouse, 1 shirt, and 1 blazer ( a Cheong-sam) made. The pants and blazer were lined. She also had her trench coat sleeves shortened and the waist taken in a bit. For all of that we paid $110. One fitting was all that was needed.

    Dinner consisted of my getting some fast food at a food court/supermarket close to the hotel. The wife had had a big lunch and was not hungry for dinner.

    Jet lag was setting in and we slept at 8pm.

    Day 2 March 2nd

    Breakfast at the hotel. This was a breakfast buffet. Aside from the usual eggs, omelets, pancakes, bacon, sausage, they had a variety of Philippino dishes such as Adobo, Menuedo, Pancit (noodles) also Shomai (steamed dumplings). Not quite the top of the line buffets offered by 5 star properties but very good. This turned out to be the only time that my wife and I had time to ourselves!

    After breakfast it was off to Quiapo. An area Northwest of Makati. As usual we had a group of Aunts/cousins taking us there. Picture Hong Kong’s street markets with food stalls, souvenir shops, crafts etc and you get the picture. This is the nitty gritty world of Manila. If you like visiting such markets- then you want top pay a visit here. There is a place there called Balakayan Handicrafts (sort of like Nara Phand store in Bangkok) where in air-conditioned comfort you can shop for all sorts of interesting handicrafts from the Philippines. In this shop (they also have other branched around the city but we suspect that one would get the best prices here because of its location) you will find items made out of batik, shells, and a lot of embroidery work. That day they were giving us a 36% discount on items purchased.
    Everything in this store is quality and the prices were very reasonable. We also walked the market and did some shopping from the stalls there.

    After Quiapo we headed back to Manila. We had lunch at the Aristocrat- a restaurant chain famous for its barbeque. The location for this was Rojas Boulevard, which is the main drag that fronts Manila bay. At night the sunsets here are magical.

    After lunch we went back to the hotel to rest. The a bit later we were picked up for a dinner at the home of one of the relatives in Pasay – another part of Manila. This was the first of several family reunions.

    After a long evening we were taken back to the hotel.

    Day 3 – March 3rd.
    Breakfast at the hotel. Then we were picked up by my wife’s uncles (his driver and them) and we headed over to the waterfront to board the boat for Corregidor- the island fortress of World War II. I believe the cost for this excursion was 1,350 Pesos ($24). This included an hour-long boat ride over to the island and back, a fully escorted tour of the island and a buffet lunch. You should buy your ticket ahead of time as reservations are suggested. The boat leaves as I recall about 7:30 am. The boat has several decks and you are assigned your seats. I think the boat can hold about 100 people. For history buffs this is a must do.
    The island played a key role in the battle for the Philippines during World War II.
    It was here that General MacArthur and the US and Philippino troops battled the Japanese during the invasion of the Philippines.

    After the boat ride over you are met by a guide and ride in an open-air trolley with a group of about 12. You tour all of the facilities of the island. The guide is an expert on the island’s history. I learned a great deal about the island and its role during WWII. The island housed some 20,000 US and Philippino troops. You tour the ruins of the barracks and other buildings as you traverse the island. Numerous gun emplacements and war memorials are visited. The highlight of the tour is a tour of the Malanta Tunnel. This is a huge tunnel in which MacArthur and the troops operated out of during the bombing of the island. The tunnel has a vast array of laterals off the mail tunnel, which is built into the hills of the island. As you walk down the main tunnel at each lateral entrance there is a display and story being told about the battle for the island. This part of the tour ends at the far end of the tunnel. Back on the trolley you also visit the point on the island where MacArthur left the island via a PT boat before the island surrendered to the Japanese.
    We then proceeded to have a buffet lunch at a restaurant there. There was a three-piece band that played while we dined on local specialties and fried chicken.

    After lunch the tour resumed finishing up with a visit to a museum where there were a number of exhibits of war items, pictures, etc.

    We were back on the boat at 2:30 for the ride back to Manila. This was the first time the 2 uncles of my wife have been to Corregidor and they were born in the Philippines and are in their 70’s- they enjoyed the tour.

    The driver picked us up and we were back at the hotel by 4. Dinner that evening was with my wife’s best friend – who lives in Manila. We had Chinese at a restaurant in the Greenbelt 1 mall across the street from the hotel.

    Day 4- March 4th
    Breakfast at the hotel. Picked by our relatives for some shopping at Greenhills Shopping Mall. This is about a 20-minute drive from the hotel. Greenhills is sort of like MBK in Bangkok only on a smaller scale- 2 floors. On this day they has a lot of vendors selling designer knockoff bags and other leather products. In addition to these vendors which apparently stay for a period of time and then move on to another venue, there are about 75 stalls selling all manner of pearls- fresh water, south sea baby, Mikkimodo, you name it they sell it in pearls.

    The wife likes to buy the knockoff bags for fun and gifts. We have come to understand over time that when women observe other women carrying designer bags more often than not the first thought that comes to mind is…Oh that’s a knockoff… so why buy the originals, pay hundreds of dollars, when people will just assume you have a knockoff anyway (yes its illegal but the practice is widespread and I don’t think we will see any designer on the breadlines any time soon)… ok I’ll get off the soap box and back to the trip report. The wife was looking for particular designer bags- in certain designs/colors. There were dozens of vendors selling these bags of all types and designers. We have come to learn that the best quality knockoffs come from South Korea and the knockoffs are actually rated as 1st class to 3rd class- pertaining to the quality/workmanship. The vendors would identify their bags as 1st, 2nd or 3rd class.
    You can tell the differences if you have been shopping these products over time. You look closely at the stitching, the lining, labels, fittings etc. The wife was able to get 4 bags- Prada and Ferrgamo and was able to negotiate these for about 450 Pesos each. Not bad based on our experience in BKK, Hong Kong, and KL.

    Lunch was at a Korean restaurant across the street from Greenhills. After lunch it was back to shopping at Greenhills. The focus now was on pearls. Folks trust me when I tell you that if its pearls you want this is the place and the prices are nothing short of amazing. First of all most of the customers shopping here are locals- hardly a white face in sight- so you know that it is no tourist trap. The vendors are all Philippino Muslims. Most of the pearls come from the southern islands of the Philippines. These are all real pearls with either gold (10k) or silver fittings. They also sell turquoise and coral jewelry.

    The approach used here was that my wife and her relatives would circulate about and negotiate with the vendors on what they wanted. I stayed away from them – the reason being that if these vendors see me the price goes north. (Read – rich American). The wife was able to buy some fresh water and south sea baby pearls as well as some coral and turquoise items. Now the pearls- she was able to buy a set of earrings, matching necklace, ring and bracelet for about $18. Not only that but the bracelet and necklace were fitted for her- they were also able to size the ring as well right there on the spot. Folks we have shopped many places in the US and in Asia- I have not found deals like this anywhere!!!!
    She also purchased a turquoise piece, which has an interesting feature to it. It’s a long necklace with small magnetic beads of some sort. The magnetic beads allow the necklace to be worn long, or double wrapped, or can be worn as a bracelet- all made possible by the magnetic beads. They also have this type of item set in pearls. For this I believe we paid around $4. Other items purchased were a set of 4 single pearl bangle bracelets set in silver- we paid $1.90 for this set. Folks I’m not making this up- it’s the real deal. The competition in this place is so stiff (remember 75 vendors) that prices are low to begin with and some bargaining takes it even lower.
    South Sea Baby pearl earrings set in silver went for $2, coral set- set in either 10k gold or silver- earrings, bracelet and necklace went for $5. You can go to BKK a dozen times and not find these deals!!!!!!!!!!!

    After shopping was concluded we went back to the hotel. Dinner that evening was at the Banana Leaf- across from the hotel in the mall- it features Singaporean and Malaysian cuisine. We had Nasi Goreng (an Indonesian dish) with Beef Curry and Satay- pork and chicken with some Malaysian bread- it was fabulous.

    Day 5- March 5th

    Breakfast at the hotel as usual
    Then we were picked up by the wife’s aunt- a Neurologist who is in her 70’s and other cousins. Today we were going to visit Villa Escadero- about a two-hour ride south of Manila. You travel on some highway but after a short time you are in the country and meandering thru coconut and pineapple plantations. You get a very good picture of life in the province outside of hectic Manila. This is a privately owned coconut plantation/destination. At Villa Escadero there are a number of activities. You buy your tickets when you get there- I don’t believe you need any reservations. As we were guests of our Aunt I cannot tell you the price of admission.

    The estate/plantation is very lush with coconut tress and other exotic plants. From the main pavilion you ride in an open-air trolley pulled by a caribou (water buffalo). About 10 people to a trolley. The trolley takes you to the museum, which is an old church, which houses the vast collection of artifacts collected over generations of the Escadero family. There are ornate religious floats that are used in a number of festivals/parades during the year. There are two floors of exhibits- many items from around the world too numerous to cite here. A guide escorts you thru the museum and adds commentary on each area/item. It takes about 30-45 minutes to tour the museum.

    After touring the museum it is lunchtime. At this location there is a lake and a waterfall. You go down some stairs to get to the picnic/lunch area. It’s an outdoor buffet. The unique thing about this venue is that it’s located at the base of the falls.
    Before entering this area you take off your shoes and socks and store them. You then walk out in the picnic area where the water from the falls is flowing. Its about 6 inches deep. There are picnic tables set up in this water as well as the buffet line.
    You eat lunch with your feet in the water flowing from the falls. Your food is served on a banana leaf (that’s your plate). It’s very refreshing- and different to say the least! The food consisted of local Philipino specialties as well as BBQ chicken and fresh pineapple (and since this is a coconut plantation right in the middle of pineapple plantations- its as fresh as fresh can be!). Also there is fresh coconut juice served in coconuts (cut out the top and insert a straw!).

    There are maybe 100 people or so picnicking in this fashion. Our table was right next to the falls.

    After lunch we proceeded to the main building for a cultural show. This show consisted of a number of dancers and singers performing native songs and dances in native costumes. This went on for about an hour with many different arrangements including the stick dance. (Picture two people one on either end with two long bamboo poles on the ground held about 12 inches apart. Dancers step in and out of these poles to the beat of the music. As the tempo increases the poles are tapped together and opened to the beat. The dancers then must step in and out quickly so as not to get caught when the poles are tapped. There are several sets of these poles- its quite a feat.)

    After the show the group can wander the grounds for picture taking. This concluded the activities and we headed back to Manila.

    Dinner was with the wife’s aunt and best friend at a place called Singing Cooks and Waiters located on Rojas Boulevard near the waterfront on Manila bay. This turned out to be one of the most entertaining events of the trip! Its not a big place and has two floors- we ate on the first floor. They serve Philippino cuisine. There is a three-piece band there. We sat near the front where the band is located. All of the cooks and waiters in this place sing- and I mean they bang out those tunes for our entire time there. I was the only “American” in the place and so needless to say we attracted a lot of attention from all of the staff. These guys/gals were highly animated and very very good singers- they got us into the action at times, put funny hats on us and generally entertained us for a full 2 hours. The headwaiter seemed to have a crush on the wife- good-natured fun. They said they were dedicating the “show” for her and that they usually don’t put on a show on the first floor but they made an exception for us! The wife was up dancing Cha Cha with him and I was singing tunes as well with the staff. It was a great evening that I will long remember.
    And oh yes the food…. Not bad either I had BBQ and rice.

    Back to hotel to sleep by 9:30.

    Day 6- March 6th

    Breakfast at the Hotel. Then we were off to Tagatay with another bunch of relatives.
    Again we head south towards Batangas- it took about 2 hours or so. The major attraction here was a view of the smallest volcano in the world- Taal Volcano. We were headed for the Highlands- an exclusive private resort that again one of the relatives belongs to. Visitors to this area can visit some public areas that have horseback riding and get closer to viewing the volcano- which is situated in the middle of Taal Lake- it is a beautiful site. After viewing the volcano from the Highlands we moved down to Dasmarinas Village for lunch. The kids accompanying us went swimming at the pool.

    After a leisurely lunch we headed back to Manila.

    Dinner that evening with another set of relatives.

    Day 7- March 7th

    The previous day we had spent at Tagatay – the weather up there was cool and breezy. It seems I may have caught a slight fever, as that evening I was not feeling that well. The next morning I seemed to have gotten over it and was ready for the day’s activities.
    Breakfast as usual but this time we had one of our cousins join us for breakfast.
    This was to be a day of shopping with the cousins. After breakfast we headed back to Greenhills for more shopping- mostly to get more bargain on pearls. Again the approach was that I was distant from the group while they bargained for the best deals.

    Lunch- we crossed the street and had lunch at Max’s. This is a famous chicken chain in Manila. They are famous for their fried chicken. We all had fried chicken and it was really good. After lunch we decided to strike out for Market Market- another big mall somewhere in Manila- without a map I really was not sure exactly where we were heading!

    At Market Market we purchased a number of local sweets- I even found some sweets that I discovered one time in our trip to Singapore. Its called vegetable chips- a somewhat spicy/sweet crunchy chip like confection that tastes nothing like vegetables but is really good. This item is made in Indonesia. We purchased it at Mata Hari- a sweet stand in the mall. I bought 300 grams for myself and another 300 for one of our relatives in New York who is Indonesian.
    There was a trade fair ongoing at Market Market (you will notice over time that the Philippinos have a habit of repeating words to describe certain things/food etc.). At this trade fair I was able to buy some unique key rings- these were hand made by tribes from Baguio (a mountain resort area north of Manila - about a 6 hour drive). These were really different in that they were made from small burls of wood with little totem pole characters carved/painted on them as well as some sayings written. My cousin asked about the price- she then told me they were 8 pesos each.
    I said you mean 80 pesos, no she said 8- then I motioned a figure 8 in disbelief. She said yes. Folks 8 pesos is about 15 cents! I bought a bunch to say the least.
    There were plenty of really nice bags made form local materials but at that point we had been loaded up with bags from a number of the relatives- the wife said NO MAS to getting any more bags!

    Back to the hotel to freshen up and then dinner was at another of the wife’s uncle’s house- big family reunion there well into the night.

    Day 8- March 8th.

    Breakfast as usual and then we were picked up by a bunch of our cousins for a day at Punta Fuego. This a private beach resort located about 2 hours south. (Notice how everything seems to be located two hours south of Manila- strange huh!). I think it is on the South China Sea if my geography serves me well. This was middle of the week so when we got there and cleared security we had the place to ourselves. We had the beach to ourselves as well as any cabana we wanted. The beach had soft sand and the water was warm and clear you could see the bottom. The cousins and wife relaxed in the cabana while I took a swim in the sea. After that I beach combed for a while picking up interesting shells and coral. The wife and I are not ones to spend days on a beach- so having an afternoon to enjoy the beach scene was just right for us. This is a very picturesque area. The private resort is bordered by public resorts/beaches so access is available to everyone.

    After my swim, it was lunchtime. We headed to the restaurant we dined while enjoying the view of the beach/sea from our table.

    After lunch we drove around the area visiting some other locations where there were spectacular views. The weather continued to be in the mid to high 80’s by my calculation and on this day the humidity was a bit higher.

    We headed back and arrived at the hotel in the late afternoon.

    Dinner that evening was to be at Manbanteri- a Japanese restaurant in the greenbelt mall across from our hotel. We were treated by our relatives once again- I tell you the hospitality we received was second to none- they really took care of us during our stay. The food here was delicious- we had pork, asparagus, chicken, fried rice- it was all-good.

    After dinner we all (there was about 10- of us) headed downstairs to a very nice place for ice cream. I had Chocknut ice cream- an ice cream version of the popular chocolate made in the Philippines.

    Back to hotel.

    Day 9 – March 9th

    Breakfast as usual
    We were then picked by my wife’s Aunt- the seventy something doctor- and headed for a day on the river- Pagsanjan Falls to be precise. Located …. You guessed it two hours south. (remember the saying all roads lead to Rome- well I guess all things worth doing here lead south- about 2 hours!). As we approached the area of the river/falls we were approached by a man on a motorcycle. He was trying to steer us to an area where there were – shall we say scalpers- who would take you for a “ride” at a much higher price. We told this person we were not interested. He was persistent and would not leave us. We pulled over once he drove on ahead of us thinking that we would lose this character- but he doubled back and found us and stuck to us like white on rice. We could not lose this guy. Eventually we found the Hotel where we would purchase our tickets and start the journey. Avoid all of these characters and stop only at the Hotel to buy your tickets. Our tickets were paid for by our Aunt. I remember a sign indicating that the cost is about 600 pesos per person.

    You board a long canoe- with a guy at the front and a guy at the back who paddle you up river. You wear a life preserver and the boat holds two passengers. You will get wet on this journey so be prepared. Wear sunscreen and a large hat and maybe take a large towel along. This river is the same river that they filmed Apacolypse Now with Brando and Sheen. I felt like Martin Sheen- there we were going “Up River looking for Charlie- only you don’t find Charlie, Charlie finds you! And remember never leave the boat”
    OK back to real life- we set out on a very leisurely river ride. The ride will last about an hour. The river meanders along- you get to see river life as there are water buffalo, kids swimming, women doing their laundry in the river etc. Its very peaceful and scenic. There are a number of these boats on the river in both directions. At times you go thru some rapids- very gentle ones- more like eddies than rapids. Also the day we went the water level was not high so at times the boat men would navigate rock formations by picking up the boat over the rocks (with you in the boat!). A portion of the journey takes you thru some 300 foot high cliffs on both sides with vegetation growing down the sides. It was shady there at times so
    It is very relaxing. The ride up river culminates at the main falls. Here you disembark the canoes and board a bamboo raft. All us were on one raft.

    The raft takes you out in front of the falls for some nice picture taking then it begins to draw you closer to the falls. There are ropes that the raft people use to pull you along. OK we are going to get close to the falls and then maybe go around it for a better view right?- wrong! They take you through the falls- yes you get soaked head to toe. Needless to say you stash all of your things to protect them (in my belly bag in this case). It was refreshing to get soaked – the wife had an umbrella which protected her head and shoulders- but the lower half gets drenched! To say that it was an experience is putting it mildly! Then the raft brings you back to the dock.
    We tipped the raft folks as well as the canoe people as they do not make a lot of money from this line of work- about 100 pesos each.

    Now you get back in your same canoes, same drivers, and head back down river (with the current this time so it takes only about 30 minutes). The ride back allows time to dry out- almost!

    This was the high point of the vacation by far as it was really a wonderful experience- you must do this if you come to Manila.

    For lunch we were back in the car and continued south for about 10 minutes until we came to the “Exotic Restaurant” on the right hand side. This place was a really unique place, up on a hill you had views and it was wonderfully landscaped. They had many exotic dishes on the menu- we had typical Philippino fare.

    Dinner with the relatives again.

    Day 10- March 10th

    Breakfast as usual and then we were picked up by the relatives. Today we would tour Intramuros and Fort Santiago in the heart of Manila.

    Fort Santiago is located at the tip of the delta where the Pasig River meets Manila Bay. It was named in honor of Spain’s patron saint James- Slayer of Moors. This fort served as military headquarters of the Spanish, British, American and Japanese regimes. It has massive stone walls and is surrounded by a moat.

    We had a guide to take us around both Fort Santiago and Intramuros. Intramuros is a walled city within the city. It was constructed in 1571 in defense of threats by Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and Portuguese pirates.

    The guide gave us a great tour of both Fort Santiago and Intramuros. We both walked and rode in a horse drawn carriage for the tour. The Intramuros tour also included a complete tour of Casa Manila . Casa Manila is a colonial lifestyle museum depicting how the well to do lived circa 1850’s.

    After the tour we headed out to another Manila Mall- Mega Mall. Here we were looking to do some shopping for people on our list. A request was made to pick up a certain brand of shirts for our grandsons. We found these at Shoe Mart – a department store chain.
    By this time in our trip I was ready for good old American food!!! We all did Pizza Hut for lunch there at the mall.

    Returning back to the hotel we freshened up a bit. That even it was McDonalds for dinner- I had to satisfy my burger craving and the gang was ok with that. We ate just across the street a bit from the hotel.

    This was our last night in Manila, we were off to the airport the next morning- so we had a lot of relatives pack our room for the farewells. We had been warned that this would happen so we did about half of our packing the night before.

    Lights out about 10 pm.

    Day 11- March 11th – Departure day

    Last breakfast at the hotel.
    The relatives that picked us up upon our arrival took us back to the airport.

    I think it appropriate to do a Letterman Top Ten list for this trip- but I’m doing it best to last order:

    #1. The hospitality shown to us by everyone involved – a special thanks to all of our relatives for making this a truly memorable experience. Kudos to the hotel staff at New World and for all the family drivers as well.

    #2. Pagsanjan Falls- what an experience this was- it is a must do for anyone visiting the area.

    #3 Villa Escadero- unique and entertaining day at this location

    #4 Punta Feugo- beautiful resort and beach.

    #5 Singing Cooks and Waiters Restaurant- we had a great time at this place!

    #6 Greenhills Shopping Center- what great buys we had there- nobody beats these deals on pearls.

    #7 Corregidor- a must for the history buffs, it was a very relaxing tour and I learned quite a bit about the history of the island.

    #8 Tagaytay- great views of the smallest volcano in the world.

    #9 Intramuros and Fort Santiago- interesting tour and history of this area.

    #10 Quiapo- nitty gritty feel of the city at the open air markets.

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    Thanks so much for your advice.

    So at this point, we purchased our flights and our first 4 nights in manila. We haven't booked any stay/tours/activities for the rest of the vacation based on the recommendation of friends and family saying that since we are travelling during the low season (OUR TRAVEL DATES ARE FEB 17 - MAR 3)that we can book while in the Philippines, and it will be cheaper. Does anyone have any insight whether this is a good idea, or if we should book over the internet before we go? We have some family there that we are meeting for the first time, so they could potentially book things for us if its better to do so.

    Ive also heard that its cheaper to have locals book certain things like flights and tours, because there is an upcharge for balikbayan (foreigners). Im down for winging it while were there, but I also don't want to risk not having a fun & relaxing vacation.

    Anyone with advice on this?

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    hi there. You can book with Philippine Air once in the country but with short time frames will need to go to their office and pay there. Do not attempt to fly without carrying the credit card you purchased your tickets with. You'll be required to produce any card you paid with at the gate. I guess it's an Asia thing. rates for flights are same for locals and tourists. Although Borocay is a famous beach and has lots of infrastructure for tourists it's not my favorite. Too many shills on the beach and kind of crowded. Very much a party scene. I'd go to Bohol which has nice resorts and beautiful beaches and excellent diving and snorkeling. Stay on Panglan Island. It costs about 200 US R/T to get there on PAL. Cebu Air also goes there and is cheaper but I've never used anyone but PAL around the islands. If you are divers go to Dumaguete on Negros and get yourselves to Apo Island for some really fine sites. I would not stay in Manila for more than 3 days as it is very dirty and smoggy and has little of interest other than killer malls and restaurants. Intramuros, if it's not too hot, is interesting. Cebu is nice - not the city but the beach areas. Many first class resorts. Don't waste your time staying in Mactan. Although the resorts, e.g. Shangri La, are gorgeous, this is really not the Philippines.You could be anywhere when you stay there. If you are interested in something really special I'd do a trip to the rice terraces. World heritage site which is spectacular and unusual. We went last year and it was a 3 day trip and absolutely amazing. Hire a car and driver to get there unless you are veteran bus travellers. We used SITMO which is a non-profit group supporting the terraces. [email protected] for info. Probably the favorite thing we did in 2 1/2 years in the Phil. Also, I know many people who've traveled to Palawan and consider it safe. Easy to get to Puerta Princessa but more complex to get to El Nido town. See the website for Elnidoresorts for the luxe places to stay. You can get to El Nido town only on left over seats on El Nido Resorts charter planes. You would book once you're in town. check out the website for El Nido town for info on how to do that. I can't comment on Mindanao. Many Filipinos and the state department consider the souther parts dangerous. Pagsangan Falls was a cool trip although the boatmen are extortionists and you'll have to shell out more $$ than you agreed to up front. Eat the grilled chicken at the half way point as it is great. Looks ( probably is) really unsanitary, but it was really good. If you go to Tagatay eat at Antonio's for a great meal in a really awesome atmosphere. Skip the climb up the volcano. Hot, dusty and not worth the effort. You can get a driver and car at most hotels. don't know where you're staying but it's worth looking around at other hotels for transportation. You'll pay a lot more at the Shangri La then you will at say the Somerset. You can hire some taxis but you're taking a risk that they won't show up or whatever. It's easy to do most things in the Philippines - just ask, but be very specific. Do get to Green Hills and bargain hard. If you buy counterfeits prepare to surrender them to customs if you get stopped. Pearls are excellent value ( no customs issues) go see Mimi - her cell is 9-174 098 969 and tell her Lisa Ward sent you. ( my pal) she'll treat you right and you will not get scammed. The number is because they move their stalls every month. If you call her she'll give you her stall number. You're coming at a good time. Weather is very nice right now. Have a great time. This is a wonderful country to visit and you'll find everyone very helpful and their English is great.

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    One more thing about transportation in Manila. We take taxis everywhere. They are cheap and safe. Even if they drive around in circles to jack up the fares ( if you don't know where you're going this will certainly happen) its so cheap it doesn't matter. If you take a taxi from the airport to Makati it'll cost you about $4.00 US for a 20 minute trip. also this is not Bangkok. don't eat street food as the standards of cleanliness are not high. Water is certainly safe in the big hotels and nice restaurants. Bottled elsewhere or good old San Miguel beer - the local brew.

    I just checked the American Women's club Bazaar schedule. Feb. 23 at the World Trade Center. Very very high quality crafts, jewelry, clothing and good snacks. The best place we found for anything from the Phil as all the provinces are represented. costs a couple of bucks to get in and opens at 8:30. Go early to avoid crowds as it is a very popular event. Any cab driver can take you there.

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    Thanks so much for your input! As of now we spending the first few days in manila to visit family, including a day trip to Tagaytay. We'll go from there for 2 to 3 days to Baguio, and hopefully get to see Banaue and the rice terraces. (I just emailed SITMO, thx for the tip!) We've already booked 3d/2n, in Boracay, so touristy or not, we're looking forward to lounging in the sun for a few days. Then our last 3 days, we come back to Manila, but we are kind of winging it at this point. I know my wife will want to do some shopping, but hopefully we'll squeeze in another day trip. Any suggestions?

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    Definitely check out Greenhills when you're in Manila. Also, try to book a tour with I hear good things about his tours.
    +1 on staying away from street food.
    You will have an awesome time in Boracay. Although it IS touristy, the white sands are unlike anything else you will find in Bohol or Palawan.
    Have a great trip!

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