To Go or Not to Go to the Philippines

I just got back from a three-week sojourn to the Philippines and Thailand. When a friend of mine said she wanted to visit the Philippines before leaving Jakarta, I jumped at the chance to join her on the trip. In other words, I invited myself along.

The Philippines is a place I’ve wanted to visit since moving to Southeast Asia. I’m determined to see the countries where so many immigrants from my hometown once called home. Along with Vietnam and Cambodia, the Philippines tops my list.

That being said, how could I go to a country where there are extra-judicial killings going on at terrifyingly brutal rates?

Honestly, I don’t have an answer that puts me in the glowing humanitarian light of my college days. I was going as a tourist. Period. I would not be asking Filipinos questions about Duterte or what I view as compelling evidence that death squads are growing in the country. I would be keeping my eyes wide open while traveling, but the banal questions that came from my mouth would belie my own opinions.

At the end of the trip, despite some unsavory moments, I find that I truly enjoyed the Philippines. Because it was essentially an American colony (and, let me be clear, colonialism is never OK in my mind), I didn’t find that there was this stark line in the sand between foreigners and Filipinos like I’ve found in other Southeast Asian countries. Filipinos will be right on the same beaches as the tourists. As they should be. Of course, the lack of a language barrier also helped in that arena. The people are warm, witty, and anything but stingy when it comes to serving food. My greedy behind will always give a culture 100+ points if a large plate of food is set in front of me when visiting.

Here are the highlights:

Manila
Manila is definitely a gritty city. Poverty affronts you as soon as you drive away from the airport (Note: take a metered taxi or arrange transportation with your hotel prior to arriving. The flat rate taxi stands charge at least five times as much. In other words, they price gouge.). What shocked me the most was to see so many homeless children. I don’t think the images of a woman sleeping with her legs wrapped around her toddler or that of children playing in dingy clothes near a main thoroughfare will escape from my mind. Child social safety nets are clearly not yet in place. The traffic rivals Jakarta (re: stress-inducing), but the famous Jeepneys are fun to watch when riding around town.

Sites to See:
Rizal Shrine in Intramuros-
A stunning testament to a polyglot, writer, scientist, artist, and genius who the Spanish executed because they saw him as a threat to…you guessed it…their colonial ambitions. I was so amazed at all this man accomplished I just may name one of my future children after him.

Manila American Cemetery-This cemetery is the largest one outside of the United States for soldiers killed in WWII. Filipino soldiers who fought alongside the US are also buried here. A solemn tribute.

San Agustin Church-My travel buddy and I didn’t mean to become wedding crashers, but we crashed two. San Agustin is a huge and beautiful church. If there’s a wedding going on, pay the museum entrance fee. There you’ll find a very colonial-friendly video (you can’t win ’em all), beautiful arched passageways, artwork, artwork, artwork, and a crypt.

Bohol 

The highlight of this trip was staying at the Bohol Bee Farm. Their website does not do this place justice. A family-owned and operated hotel and organic farm, the Bohol Bee Farm was a space where I felt like I could “put my burden down.” There were massages with ocean waves crashing in the distance to be had, random pit stops to hold boa constrictors (no, sir, I really don’t want to hold this large snake that you just happen to have along with other exotic animals on the side of the road), the Chocolate Hills (which were green when I went), Tarsier monkeys, a trip to a trash-strewn island that made me more of an environmentalist (that’ll have to be a separate post) food and more food.

Since it’s an organic farm, every meal came with freshly baked bread, soups, salads, and all kinds of deliciousness. Then, there was the homemade ice cream. That rich dessert alone brought tourists flocking in from the region. I ate ice cream every day, two times a day with no shame.

I would’ve been content staying at the Bohol Bee Farm the entire vacation. But, woe is me, my travel buddy and I had to move on to Palawan, another island in the Philippines.

I’ll write about Palawan in a separate post soon. In the meantime, may the new year bring you peace, joy, and more travel experiences.

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