What Can I Expect in the Philippines?

A guy I know told me he’s going to be making a trip to Davao in the Philippines and asked me if I’d been there, and what he could expect, and if I had any tips for him.  So, I gave him a quick heads up of what you should really keep an eye out for when you’re in the Philippines.  This is the message I sent him:

I’ve been to the Philippines quite a few times. My wife is Filipina and I’ve gone there to visit with her family in the Manila area. I’ve also been out to Pampanga Province. There are over 7000 islands in the Philippines, so I can’t say I’m an expert or anything but here’s what I can tell you:

…[Personal details removed]…

That aside:

For your spending money, beyond airfare and hotel, I doubt you’ll need more than 400 [USD] bucks. […] That should be cool. Just to give you an example, a movie in the Philippines is only about 3 USD. You can also both eat for about 500 PHP, or 10 USD. That would be a meal at a place like an Applebee’s. If you wanna get fancier than that the price goes up, but not by much.

If you need more beyond that, there are ATMs all over the place that you can withdraw from. Depending on your bank of course. You should ask them in advance, and notify them in advance so they don’t reject an ATM request from the Philippines. Also, if you do take cash with you, don’t carry more than 2 -3k PHP on you at any given time. Don’t carry a fancy cell phone. If you have a nice watch, buy and use a cheap one for your trip. Don’t wear extremely expensive clothing. Try to look poor. I know it sounds ridiculous, but you don’t want to look like a juicy target. Oh, and if you have a cheap camera to use, I recommend taking that one with you instead of whatever expensive fancy camera you have. Crime is rampant there and as a white guy walking around you’re already going to draw a LOT of attention.

Also, if you purchase anything that’s not in a store with a price tag on it, expect to have people try to rip you off. Even when I was with my wife and father-in-law they would try to do it. They’d try to charge double or triple for a pack of smokes. I wound up waiting with my wife around the corner while my father-in-law bought the smokes for us. So ya, just keep an eye on your wallet, don’t carry a lot, and don’t try to be flashy. Being white and in the Philippines is flashy enough, [especially when you start to get further away from major tourist cities].

On the upside, you can expect to eat well while you’re there. I don’t know much about tourist attractions in the Davao area, but if you want to know about good beaches, there’s Boracay and Palawan. I don’t know the price details on those but you can Google it and add it to that $400 amount. Most people, except when it comes to money, are going to treat you very well.

[Personal details removed]

Oh, something you might want to keep in mind is that Filipinos are VERY family oriented.

[Personal details removed]

Also, most Filipino families still live in multi-generational households, like what you hear about in Mexico. [You’ll often find many family members, like brothers and sisters, still living in the parents house along with their wives and possibly their children.] Not all Filipinos are that fortunate. You’ll see some people living in houses that look like they’re made of corrugated metal and plywood. It’s really depressing sometimes to think about, but the odd thing is that most Filipinos know they’re poor but still are fairly positive about life.

Out and about in the city you’ll definitely know you’re in another country, but it’s weird… when you step in a mall you’ll feel like you could be somewhere in the US. Oh and speaking of malls… carry some toilet paper with you. The public restrooms usually don’t have it. They usually don’t even have toilet seats because people try to steal them to resell.

If you’re going to stay in Davao City this won’t be an issue, but if you go out to the provinces there usually aren’t taxis around. [There will be buses, jeepneys, and tricycles around. They typically have set prices, so you’re not likely to get stiffed too hard there, but it’s best to be with a local who knows the ropes when trying to ride those.] The tricycles are pretty fun to ride in, but hold on because there aren’t seat belts…

My last word of warning is do not, under any circumstances, let anyone trick you into eating something called balut. Sinigang, adobo, menudo (Filipino style, not pig guts like Mexican style), tinola, pancit canton (instant noodles, take some home with you, they rock), ox tail kare-kare, are all good local dishes. But… not balut. That’s just disgusting. If you see a place called Max’s Chicken, I highly recommend it. Get the half chicken. I did, and I stripped it to the bones. I don’t know what they put in there but it’s delicious! Jollibee isn’t that great. It’s a step down from McDonald’s. Most Filipinos love it though. Uh… longanisa is a sausage that’s pretty good, depending on what kind you get. You might see it at McDonald’s there if you stop in fro breakfast.

On reflection, what I can add to this is that most beggars are part of a syndicate and aren’t really poor. If someone’s poor in the Philippines you can really tell.  They won’t just be dirty.  They’ll look like they haven’t eaten well in weeks.  These beggars can be damned persistent and will sometimes even try to help you give them money by reaching into your pocket for you.  Keep your eyes peeled.  Even the cute little ones selling flowers are just trying to rip you off.  I need to send this little bit of information to him too!

Note: The text in brackets and italics has been edited or added to make the message more clear for posting on a blog.

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