EXSQO Anna and Joao USA

Our notes

      • - Manila’s skyline, every morning, is very cloudy. You cannot see many kilometers ahead. After 10:00 am, the sky starts to clear out and your view reaches much bigger distances;
      • - Mobile phones: As we have also noticed in other countries in Southeast Asia, people in the Philippines consume a lot of content from mobile phones. It is actually the country in the world that spends more hours per day on social media (an average of 4 hours!);
      • - In general, it is a very cheap country to live. Even in the most touristic place we have been, Boracay, prices are very good for the majority of European or Northern American people (a fancy buffet in a good hotel costs about 13$).

    - Manila is a very intriguing city. The streets are normally dirty and have a lot of trash but if you go to the financial area it is much cleaner and full of modern buildings. No wonder it is also 3/4 times more expensive. Depending on where you stay, you can have two completely different views of the city and the culture itself;
    - Fees are very common in their system. Terminal fees, environmental fees, airport fees, among many others;
    - Especially in Boracay, tourists, as it happens in many countries, are seen as "walking dollars", so get ready to be “offered” many items on the streets, like sunglasses, necklaces, bags, wallets, massages, trips, etc…

Interesting products

▫️ Jeepneys 🚍 : One of the most common and uncommon things we have ever seen. Inside Manila you can see them everywhere and they run 24 hours, always crowded. Outside of the Philippines, we have never seen such thing. Inside, two rows of seats make the full capacity and if you happen to stay closer to the back (which is the only “door”), your money will have to go through the other passengers to reach the driver. If you stay closer to the driver, it is your turn to help the other passengers 😉
They are originally made from the Jeeps that where left in the country after World War II, but now they are a national symbol of culture and art!

Gastronomy

▫️ One of the things we heard before coming to the country is that the food is nothing really special. In some way, it might be true - the diversity is not very big and the flavours cannot be compared to Thai or Malay food. However, if you like citrus flavours, you will love their food. Almost always they serve the dish with Calamansi (very tiny lemons) that you are supposed to squeeze onto the dish;
▫️ Comparing to other East Asian countries, there is relatively little street food available;
▫️ On the other hand pastries and bread are widely available;
▫️ Pork sisig - One of the most popular dishes consisting of chopped pig head, pig ears, onions and pepper with a strong lemon taste from the calamansi. It is served in sizzling plate;
▫️ Pancit - a very common dish made with pasta and a strong lemon taste. It can contains vegetables, meat, seafood and pieces of crumbled fried pork rinds.

▫️ Kare-kare - Oxtail, tripe and peanut stew served with bagoong
▫️ In terms of fast-food, which seems to be popular, the main chain is Jollybee. Even Anthony Bourdain tried it in one of his shows 😉 The signature dish is pasta with a sweet bolognese sauce. This pasta is so popular that even McDonald’s serves it at their restaurants. Jollybee also serves fried chicken, french fries, beef with rice and ice cream;
▫️ We used to joke and say that close to every Jollybee’s there is an Inasal - a barbecue chain. This chain is not as cheap as others and focuses on grilled chicken and pork; 
▫️ Finally, another chain that deserves mention is Angoks. Their food is very cheap and the taste is impressive for a fast-food place. Rice with toppings is one of our favorites, as well as the grilled chicken, which does not have the sweet sauce like in many other places.

Places

▫️We had the chance to travel inside the country after spending two weeks in Manila. In the capital city we visited:
▫️National Museum - The amount of Catholic influences in the country is immense and the museum reflects that - mainly due to the Spanish occupation, the vast majority of locals are still Roman Catholic. We also got to know famous artists like Fernando Amorsolo and maybe the most important national hero José Rizal who, with his writing and ideas, influenced the Independence movement against the Spanish - for this, he was executed by them;
▫️Greenbelt area - The rich area of the city. Big buildings, expensive stores and a lot of security guards are some of the most visible differences to other areas of town;
▫️Chinatown - It is the oldest Chinatown in the world and is really busy and crowded. Here you can find all kinds of products, from food to puppies;
▫️Quezon City - Some kilometers outside the city center is Quezon City. This is where we stayed and we were able to be in an environment with very few tourists. It allowed us to have a completely different view of Manila;
▫️Intramuros - As the name indicates, it is a part of the city surrounded by walls. It was the real Manila during the Spanish occupation.

▫️ Talisay and Taal Volcano - The small village of Talisay was such a pleasant surprise. Outside of the loud and buzzing capital of the country, we were able to enjoy the life of locals and visit the Taal Volcano, which is still active. It is inside a lake, and it has another lake on top of it. Truly beautiful.
▫️ Boracay - One of the many islands of the Philippines recognised by their touristic appeal. Just before we went there, the island was closed for 6 months, to undergo maintenance works. Even if the roads and buildings were still being rebuilt and sometimes we did not have electricity for as long as 10 hours, our stay was amazing. The beach is great and the possibility we had to snorkel made our stay even better!

Events & Meetings

▫️ Couchsurfing Meetings: We met Titus, a fellow Filipino couch surfer, that gave us valuable inputs on the culture of the country and travel tips as well as showed us his passion about diving and sea life.
▫️ We also met an entrepreneur from ASEAN Exchange. We participated in his event focused on growth mindset with a lot of practical exercises and “food for thought”.

Traveller advice

▫️ When you search online about the country, you will read so many news about safety precautions and how dangerous the country can be. In some part it is true, but not what you are expecting. The situation in the southern island of Mindanao is indeed dangerous, with many terrorist attacks and kidnappings - the government decreed martial law. Besides this area that should be avoided the dangers are as normal as in any other country. In Manila or Boracay, we did not feel anything strange besides the curious eyes of the Filipinos and the fact they want to sell us things 🙂;
▫️ When traveling to islands be prepared to, even if the tickets are cheap, pay additional fees like “environmental fee” or “terminal fee” - which makes the price of the journey 2/3 times more expensive than the price of the ticket itself;
▫️ Do not be tempted to stay in the city - only when we left the capital we saw what do people come for to the Philippines. There are more than 7000 islands to visit!

▫️ Always negotiate prices - for any transport or organized trip. Only jeepney/bus in Manila has the prices set- the rest we always could negotiate. You can ask Filipino friends/people from your hotel how much you should pay for your trip and say this price to the driver- otherwise they will always try to ask you a higher price! Set the price before the journey and pay after;
▫️ When getting a bus, you should be careful with the departure location. It was a real challenge to get a bus to Batangas. When asking people and police officers, they all "know" where the bus is and the buses go from “many” places. The truth for us is that there was only one station for that specific bus. Before, we have been in 5 or 6 other stations which took us the whole morning just to find the station in Manila. Make sure exactly where the bus is departing before going for it!

Gallery