Here’s a quick snapshot about Philippines:
Location: Southeast Asia with its 7,107 islands clustered to form its unique shape with an arm reaching out to Indonesia. The country is divided into 3 regions: Luzon (north), Visayas (central), Mindanao (south). The location is perfect for beaches and water sports activities as its islands are within an average of 2 hour boat ride from each other. A place to just relax and have fun with good food and company. Filipinos, as what locals are called, like to enjoy life and make the best of everything. You will see how as you read along.
Visa: Most travelers are allowed to stay for 21 days. To check if your country is exempted, click here
Weather: Sunny all year round with spread out rain showers starting from July to September. Best time to visit would be January to May. Definitely, your outfit should be of light clothing, with most people opt for shirt, shorts and flip flops for casual outings.
Time: GMT + 8 hours
Language: Official language would be Tagalog but majority of the people speaks in English (so you don’t have to worry about being lost in translation, Filipino people are happy to help you and are very approachable). In Cebu, the language is called Cebuano which is dialect common to Visayas and Mindanao region
Currency: Philippine Pesos (P) and centavos (c). P1 = 100c. The bill denominations are: 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000 pesos while the coin denomination are 1 & 5 pesos coin, 25 & 50 centavos coin. There are a lot of money exchange stores around the city area and beside the hotels. [update: new bills have been circulating late 2011, see 2nd picture]
Important Numbers to remember:
- Police or Fire 757 or 116
- Directory Assistance 114
- Emergency 501- 650 or 501- 728
- Always have your embassy number. To see the list of embassies, you can click here. Do note that majority of the embassies are located in Manila, capital city of Philippines.
Now, the place you all have been waiting for: CEBU, my hometown and is considered as the Queen city of the South. It’s a place where white sand beaches dotted the island and is one of the best diving spots in the world.
- Cebu is the OLDEST city of Philippines
- Filipinos celebrate the world’s longest Christmas holiday as it begins on 1st September and end at 1st week of January.
- The world’s largest fish (whale shark) and smallest fish (dwarf pygmy goby) can be found in the sea of Philippines. As well as the rarest seashell (Glory of the Sea), 5 of the 8 species of turtle, 7 of the 8 giants clams species.
- The major transportation is the Jeepney. They are creatively modified version of World War GI jeeps brought in by US troops. You have to ride one to experience it. Note to carry loose change when travelling in public transport
Getting there: There are several airlines that goes direct to Cebu
[update: Airphil change flight paths and now doesn’t fly direct to Cebu]
Places to stay: There are a lot of hotels, apartments, hostel for rent spread across the city and beaches
Festival you miss not miss: Sinulog which is held every 3rd Sunday of January. It is a dance prayer devotion to Senor Santo Nino and is considered as the grandest and most popular celebration that locals and foreigners flock together in the parade to celebrate.
What to do: you can visit these historical places from the Spanish era (who ruled for more than 300 years)
- Magellan’s Cross – the spot where Ferdinand Magellan planted the cross as the Rajah (king) Humabon and Queen Juana along with 400 followers were baptized as Catholics
- Sto Nino Church – oldest church and said to house the relic of the original St Nino statue
- Fort San Pedro – the oldest and smallest fort in Philippines
- Casa Gorordo – was the home of Juan Gorordo, 1st Filipino Bishop, and contains many relics that shows the lifestyle of the people
- Colon Street – oldest street in Philippines and is in the heart of downtown Cebu. Good for shopping at day but be careful of pickpockets. It’s better not to go there at night
- Capitol Building – the seat of Provincial government and is of pre-war vintage and is considered a replica of the US White House.
- Heritage of Cebu Monument – showcase the significant and symbolic events in the history of Cebu
- Taiost Temple – is a Chinese temple and was said to preserve the Lao Tse teachings, a Chinese philosopher. The balcony shows a scenic view of the city and it houses a replica of the Great Wall of China.
- TOPS – overlooks the entire Cebu city
- Lapulapu Monument – located in Mactan Island where Magellan was killed by Chieftain Lapulapu during the battle of supremacy and freedom
Or you can head to Crown Regency for sky adventure experience.
Beaches: The beaches are located in Mactan Island with its pristine blue waters. You can go island hopping to the different small islands, do snorkeling near the fish sanctuary and go scuba diving. Here are my recommended resorts:
- Shangri-La Resort – 5 star hotel thats guarantee great service
- Plantation Bay – famous for its lagoon view with multi inter-lapping pools. Its my favorite.
- Alegre Beach Resort – for a nice quiet vacation
Places outside the city:
- Bantayan – northern tip of Cebu with beaches similar to the tourist popular Boracay but in a more secluded location and has budget friendly accomodations
- Malapascua – is it an island located at the north of Cebu and is excellent for diving.
- Camotes Island – little islands near Cebu located at the east with lovely beaches
- Sumilon Islands – located in the southern east of Cebu that has great dive sites. When heading there, you will pass by Carcar where you can do a side shopping of the best chicharon and ampao.
- Moalboal – located at the west side of Cebu and is popular with divers and snorkelers
- Kawasan Falls – located at the south of Cebu and a popular weekend getaway. It has 3 waterfalls on top of each other
Foods to try: Now don’t get me started on this topic. There are endless food choices this tiny island can offer. What I will mention are some of my favorite cravings whenever I visit my hometown. Whatever you fancy, the 1st thing I would definitely recommend to try: CNT Lechon Baboy
Lechon means roasted, baboy means pig. There 2 more kinds of roasted food: chicken (manok), cow (baka). There are a lot of stalls selling lechon but CNT brand is considered the best. Indulge on the crispy skin and tender meat dipped in a mixture of native vinegar and soy sauce. In any party or event, the lechon is the star of the buffet with a long queue of hungry customers.
Street Food: these are the tidbits you can get from peddlers roaming the streets. They are cheap and addictive
- Taho. Its a sweet, warm, soft soya curd served with syrup and gulaman (coconut jelly).
- Tempura. Cebuano tempura differs from the Japanese kind. Tempura is basically fish pastry deep fried and dipped into a sweet and spicy sauce.
- Sio Mai or Ngoyong. Sio mai is a Chinese dumpling but here, they have their own receipe and dip in an addictive spicy paste and soy sauce. Ngoyong is a fried roll with either mixed vegetables or pork filling
Healthy Cravings: There are so many fruits that you can select in the local grocery and street stalls. Always bargain when buying in the outside stalls. The price varies depending on the season, so just look around. If you see them displayed in bulk, then you will know its in season. Here are my recommended fruits:
- Mango. You can eat it ripe (yellow) or unripe (green). Bagoong (salty shrimp paste) is perfect combination when eating crunchy, sour, green mangoes. Yellow sweet mango taste great by itself.
- Pineapple. This unique fruit is covered in “eyes” and thorny leaves. It is refreshingly sweet
- Mangosteen. Its a round deep purple ball that needs a bit of cracking to get to the juicy sour bits inside.
- Nangka. It is possibly the largest fruit in the world. Crack the shell open for the crunchy juicy flesh.
- Coconut. The ultimate thirst quencher. You can scoop the soft fleshy white bits while sipping the juice
Take home nibbles: Just visit any Pasalubong stores for a variety of sweet, salty snacks to bring back to your country. The top 2 take homes would be:
- Dried Mangoes. Yes, even mangoes are dehydrated for easy eats.
- Chicharon. It is deep fried salty pork rinds. There are 2 types: the special one has tiny strip of fat while the regular only has pork skin. I prefer the special one although I would advice to limit the consumption due to its fat content. It can be eaten as it is or with vinegar.
Sweet Snacks and Dessert: Filipino love sweets and have mastered creating them using the local ingredients that other countries may not have. I cannot list all them here. You just have the take the menu, do random ordering and will never regret any of it. But I will recommend you to try Halo-halo
Halo-halo literally mean “mix-mix”. Its a combination of shaved ice, milk, leche flan, coconut, purple yam, nata de coco, cornflakes and a generous serving of ice cream. Depending on where you order it, the combination may increase or differ, but, trust me, its delicious.
For the semi-daring type: These are typical food that you may encounter in Cebu but always new to visitors
- Dried Fish. Its sundried and then fried for a salty crispy meal with rice. If you need to lower the salty content, just douse it with vinegar, ideally the native one and pair it with corn rice.
- Dugo-dugo or dinuguan. The plain translation would be pig’s blood. But if you didn’t know the definition and you tried it, you would never have guess that dark brown savory sauce can turn you barbaric 🙂
- Pig’s organs. No, it wont be sold as such. But when you see the deep fried skewered cuts, you wouldn’t remember where it came from as you bite into the succulent chunks.
For the Adventurous type: here are some things that require acquired tastes. There will only be 2 outcomes: either you love it or hate it. You will never know until you try it out.
- Durian. You will know when you are in the zone of durian fruit by its pungent smell. The uglier the amor, the tastier it is. So cover your nose when taking one as the fruit flesh taste better than it smells.
- Balut. This maybe, for some, the ultimate fear factor challenge. Its cooked unborn chicks best taken with salt or vinegar and when its hot. Personally I like the soup and then give the rest to my mom 🙂 Try this to tick off from your bucket list
Restaurants to try: List is arranged from the budget friendly to the higher price bracket per category. Although if you do the conversion to your home currency, the prices may be less than half of what you are paying for a meal. You don’t have to worry where you can find them, ask any locals and they will tell you where is the nearest one.
- Any carenderia – meaning cafeteria or any street stalls if you want to dine with the locals. Just see which dish you like from the pots displayed and they will serve it to you. Price are half the ones I mentioned above.
- AA BBQ Grill – for your grilled food cravings
- Golden Cowrie – for everything you want to try for Cebuano dishes
- Sutukil – only found in Mactan Island. Translation would be “Shoot to Kill” but its actually an abbreviation on how you want the seafood done: “Sugba” – grill, “Tinula” – soup based, “Kinilaw” – Cebu’s style of sashimi. This is where you can eat the freshest seafood cooked right after you handpick your selection and tell them how you want them done.
- Laguna Garden – for a fine dinning Cebuano experience
- Jollibee – do not order the burger. It’s the chicken you need to try out and sample the local version of spaghetti. I personally love the mango peach pie
- Chowking – this is for your quick greasy chinese craving similar to chinese takeout
- Red Ribbon – highly recommend the pancit palabok and burger steak
- HarborCity – located in SM City or Ayala Mall. Its a take of Cantonese cuisine with servers pushing trolleys of steamed dishes for you to pick out. Try their steamed rice (no, its not just white rice), spring roll and different variety of sio mai.
- Grand Majestic – for a Chinese buffet
- Ching Palace – fine dining for various Chinese treats
- Krua Thai – Thai food with slight adaptation to Cebuano’s palate
- Yumeya Kihei – authentic Japanese dining with the freshest ingredients
Italian and European:
- La Tegola – is my favorite Italian restaurant that serves good pasta and pizza
- Guiseppe – excellent italian service
- Tinderbox – fine steak house with a fancy flair
Fusion and Others:
- La Marea – highly recommend the warm brownie cup for those with sweet tooth
- Sunburst – for your crispy chicken cravings