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Just Back From the Philippines

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Oct 2nd, 2008, 08:13 AM
  #1
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Just Back From the Philippines

I notice that relatively few people post here about travel to the Philippines. I just returned from a 2-week trip to a few major places (Manila, Cebu, Bohol, and Boracay) ... was unable to get to Palawan but will definitely go there next time as well as to Banaue (where there was a strong typhoon going on during our trip).

The weather was a mixed bag. We had beautiful weather in Bohol and Cebu but more clouds and rain in the second half of the trip, when a strong typhoon was bettering northern Luzon (and another was on the way last Sunday, the day after our departure). We got very lucky actually because every day we had an excursion or travel the weather was pretty nice, and there were still a mix of really good days with rain in the late afternoon and evening (particularly in Manila, where it didn't matter much since we were in Makati where you can basically move all around very easily regardless of the weather and where taxis are cheap and plentiful).

We found some excellent restaurants, particularly in Manila.

I have to say that I really enjoyed this trip and am surprised that more Americans don't go. It's cheap, beautiful, easily navigated, and over all a very inviting place to travel in. Plus, virtually everyone speaks English.

I stayed in relatively upscale lodgings (Two Seasons Resort in Boracay, The Ananyana in Bohol, the Marriott in Cebu, and the New World Renaissance in Manila), so I can't really speak to the quality of more budget types of lodgings (though none of these places was particularly expensive).

I had heard decidedly mixed things about the Philippines, but I'm very glad that I went. I thought the islands were as beautiful as Thailand or Bali and the people just as friendly. However, I don't think everyone would agree with that sentiment based on what I've read.

If anyone is interested in any other specific feedback, I'd be happy to provide it. I'm not really good with detailed trip reports, but I'll be happy to answer any questions if someone is planning a trip in the near future.
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Oct 2nd, 2008, 08:17 AM
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One more thing. I flew Cathay Pacific nonstop from New York to Hong Kong (16 hours going, 14.5 hours returning). We flew straight to Cebu and flew back from Manila. We also few on Cebu Pacific from Cebu to Boracay and from Boracay to the new terminal 3 in Manila. We also did the ferry trip on Ocean Jet between Cebu and Bohol. We had absolutely no delays or mishaps with our travel; everything was perfectly smooth and comfortable. (Well, as comfortable as one can be in coach for 16 hours.)
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Oct 2nd, 2008, 11:27 AM
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I did look into visiting the Philippines next year, but wanted to book a custom tour through a single agency, and couldn't find the right fit. BillT's posts have been helpful, but so far, it seems to me that travel in the Philippines is best for those who already have contacts/family within the country.

It seems that I could have visited Bohol as a day trip from Cebu, but I couldn't find the right accommodations (for me) in Baguio.

I'd also be interested in finding a low-key (but 4-5 star) cruise around the Philippines.

How did you make arrangements for your visit? I would like to see more details on the sites you did visit.



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Oct 2nd, 2008, 04:38 PM
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Doug:
We travel to the Phillipines every few years and yes I am at a loss why the regulars on this forum who seem to go to the far ends of the earth - skip the Philippines! They are missing out.
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Oct 3rd, 2008, 06:16 AM
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I'm not really a tour person, and I would never even consider going on a tour to a place like the Philippines or Thailand, both of which are so incredibly easy to navigate. Everyone speaks English, and there are a lot of good web sites. I also used a travel guide (the Rough Guide since Fodor's doesn't publish one). As always, I find travel guides the best way to gauge what I might want to do and to find some preliminary ideas of hotels, etc.

Once you get to the Philippines, it's easy to book stuff through your hotel. I booked a tour of Cebu that way and had a private driver and guide for the full day for $80; a car and driver alone would have been $70.

Granted, when in Manila, we had family connections, and they drove us to see Villa Escudero (about 2 hours south of Manila), but there are also many tours that go there. We actually made all the arrangements ourselves so the only thing we relied on family for were some car trips, which we could easily have arranged for ourselves. (Hertz there supplies both cars and drivers, for example, and they have offices in many of the major hotels.)

I knew about some of the cheap airlines flying domestically (SEAir and Cebu Pacific, notably), and I booked internal airfares on the Cebu Pacific web site. I was traveling in the off-season, so I didn't bother buying any ferry tickets in advance; just walked up to the office and bought them about an hour in advance (all the companies have web sites, and the schedules are well known in all the hotels in Cebu and Bohol).

I found my Bohol hotel through friends, but basically all the other hotels there are on Alona Beach, so they're not hard to book at all.

I did have to wire money to pay for the hotels in Bohol and Boracay in advance, but that wasn't a big deal. (Most Philippines hotels don't take credit cards for advance bookings, though if you use a travel agent in the Philippines, you can sometimes pay that way or at least with only one wire transfer, which would save you $10 to $30).

There are literally dozens of companies that offer cheap wire transfers to the Philippines, especially if you pay in pesos. RemitHome.com, while aimed at Filipinos living abroad, allows you to send a transfer for $10, and there are many others. Perhaps living in NYC makes it easier for me since there are so many Filipinos and companies here. But Western Union is also pretty cheap for bank to bank transfers.

To the best of my knowledge, there's only one hotel in Baguio where everyone stays when visiting Banaue (I can't remember the name, but I had looked it up earlier). You can book that as a package including air, hotel, and transport to the terraces (they're about 3 hours from Baguio).

A lot of people do visit Bohol as a day-trip. When you come off the ferry, there are at least a dozen tour companies that meet the ferry and offer well-priced day tours. The ferries all take about 2 hours and run several times a day (there are 2 or 3 different companies). Bit Bohol was so enchanting and lovely that I'm glad I spent 3 days there instead of just one overnight or a quick day-trip.

Palawan is very much on the beaten path and easy to book (El Nido even books charter flights directly for you as part of a package if you stay there, but SEAir flies from both Cebu and Boracay).

There are some other well-trodden destinations that are very popular with Filipinos that can be visited from Manila (Batangas, Taygaytay, etc.). Again, these are really easy to arrange.

I guess the gist of what I'm trying to say is that the Philippines is such an exotic yet familiar-seeming place that you don't need a tour and can do it all on your own rather easily with day tours. I certainly don't suggest driving yourself, but you can easily arrange a car and driver for a day for under $100 except at high-end luxury hotels when it's more like $200.

The tourism infrastructure is very well developed and chugs along quite smoothly, and the only times when it's hard to travel is around Christmas and Easter, when all the Filipinos take vacations.
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Oct 3rd, 2008, 08:54 AM
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Thanks for the details Doug. I had thought that the Banaue terraces were 6 hours from Baguio. That they are only 3 hours is good news.

I was interested in Bohol for the chocolate hills (of course) and the Tarsier Sanctuary. What did you find to occupy yourself for three days?
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Oct 3rd, 2008, 09:24 AM
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Doug - great advice on the Philippines- who knows maybe some of our seasoned travelers on this board might think outside of the box and go there now!
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Oct 3rd, 2008, 02:41 PM
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Femi, don't quote me on the actual distance of the terraces from Baguio, but everyone that I spoke to said 3 to 4 hours, not six. But I could be wrong, and I realized fairly early on that I wouldn't have time to go so I didn't dig too deep there.

You can see the tarsiers and Chocolate Hills in a long day. If you dive, there are amazing dive sights there or snorkeling trips to take. But we were getting over jet lag and used one day to just sit by the beach (and to do a little shopping) and on our first day we just slept and did a 3-hour stint at the spa to get out the kinks of a 20-hour trip. If we'd been more energetic, we would have done a snorkeling trip in Bohol (and should have), but we were waiting for Boracay, and that's when we had clouds and rough seas, so we just skipped it entirely. That's my major regret for this trip, but now I have something to look forward to on my return.
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Oct 3rd, 2008, 04:14 PM
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Because of the challenges in finding exactly what I'm looking for in Asia generally, looks like my trips for this year (November) and next year will take me to Africa.

The Philippines is still on my list when my plans return to Asia.
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Oct 3rd, 2008, 09:12 PM
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thanks for the review
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Nov 14th, 2008, 10:43 AM
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nice review on your trip Doug. Good to hear that you enjoyed your trip. I travel to the Philippines every year, spending at least 1 month out of the year in the Manila/Cavite area mostly. For the past 8 years, I've seen a noticeable uptick in the amount of visitors that now go to the Islands. So there interest is there and it's growing. My guess as to why there are not many post here, is that this forum is not as popular as the others. There are 3 or 4 other forums I use more than Fodors. Main reason is the one you stated - no one post here. Try looking at VT, TripAdviser, and even Lonely Planet. They get postings almost daily, from questions to general comments.

As I mentioned, I travel to the Phils every year, sometimes twice a year (I'm Filipino-American). If I have a business trip that takes me to Singapore or Taipei, which is quite often, I usually make a couple day stop-over in Manila (to visit my folks) on the way back to California. So I'm there all the time and I really do see the uptick in visitors. It's a great place to visit and I think it's finally getting back on the radar as a destination.
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Dec 2nd, 2008, 01:25 AM
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thanks for your post Doug. philippines certainly look inviting. after reading your report, i went to our local borders bookstore to browse on guidebooks on the philippines. i must say that it really got me interested. i might consider it as my family's next holiday destination. boracay looks beautiful, on par with some of the famous beaches of thailand.
from the pictures, it seems like it's a cross between key west and cozumel.

thanks again for steering us, fodor posters, in this direction.
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Dec 2nd, 2008, 08:21 AM
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Doug, thanks for the info. I will visit the Philippines in a few weeks, and will visit Manila, Bohol and Davao (down on Mindanao). I am also using Cebu Pacific for internal flights, so I'm glad to read that they were on time.

Did you pre-book your Ocean Jet from Cebu to Bohol, or were you able to buy a ticket on the spot? I'd prefer not to pre-book since I think there are at least two companies that run the high-speed ferry and I'd prefer to choose based on the next available after I land in Cebu.
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Dec 2nd, 2008, 09:26 AM
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I bought ferry tickets on the spot, and none of the ferries I took was full, though we always arrived about a half-hour before departure. Boarding was very orderly. I think you can book the ferries in advance through a travel agent or on the dock (our ticket has a specific time and date on it). It might be really busy over the Christmas/New Year's season.

My only problem with Cebu Pacific was the extra baggage costs. We paid extra (up to 1,000 pesos) on each leg. If you are traveling with someone, you can combine your baggage allowance, and that can help if one person's bag is over but another is under. They are strict on the weights though.

But Cebu-Pacific does enforce the check-in times; if you aren't there on time, they won't let you on. Our family in Manila had more problems with their Cebu-Pacific flights and had to rebook everything and pay extra because they were late to the airport.
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Dec 2nd, 2008, 09:28 AM
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Do a search on this forum for my trip reports - it will give you many ideas about what to see and do in and around the Manila area.
Post questions here and I will try to answer them. Most of the regulars on this board do not visit the Philippines buit it seems we have some interested parties now.
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Aug 20th, 2009, 10:03 AM
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I’m fairly new on here and I can’t understand why any one would say not to come here. I made three trips in 2004 and on the third I never left. I can honestly say I have not met a single foreigner living here who didn’t rave about this place. For those of you thinking about visiting I put this together and I hope it will be of help.
http://hubpages.com/hub/Philippines-Travel-Guide
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Oct 13th, 2009, 08:23 PM
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I am thinking of revisiting Matabungkay, but this beach is not mentioned much here. Is this place no longer worth visiting?
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Oct 23rd, 2009, 09:34 AM
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I am SO glad I came across this thread. My husband just called and has business there in 4 weeks and asked if I want to go. I have about 3 weeks of vacation I need to take before 12/31 or I lose it.
Thanks for the info - I am sure I will post back w/ questions!
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Oct 23rd, 2009, 11:55 AM
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I'd love to go to the Pinoy islands in the nearer future.
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Oct 26th, 2009, 07:28 AM
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annesherrod, I'll certainly try to help answer any questions. You're going to love the Philippines.
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