13 things you need to know before going to the Philippines
As always when coming to a new destinations, some things are different than what you might be used to. Usually those differences are easy to adapt to or fix as you get there, but some things can be good to know in advance before you arrive at your destinations. There were definitely a few thing I wish I’d known before I came to the Philippines so here is a guide of some things that are worth knowing beforehand.
1. You need an exit ticket
To be allowed into the country, you have to have a ticket for leaving the country as well.
This one I had heard about before I went, however I did forget about it until my travel day. It took me a few minutes to find one of the cheapest tickets out of the country, to Singapore, on Skyscanner and it cost me 45USD. No one asked me about an exit flight but I ended up using it so it was money well spent. I did however meet a girl who didn’t know about this rule and had to quickly book a ticket at the airport so they would let her get on her flight. She went to a desk and ended up paying 300USD for a single flight out to Thailand later that month.
If you get in the situation where you need to get a ticket out of the country – go to Skyscanner(or other similar sights who has the same features) and search from the country or the airport you’ll leave and choose “anywhere” or a destinations you know you want to go to – and then for what date you just choose “whole month” and choose the month you need to leave and you can see what destinations are cheapest and on what dates.
2. Get the white taxis that runs on meters
This was the first mistake I made when arriving in Cebu. I knew I was supposed to get taxis that ran on meters, so I said no to the taxis offering a fixed price that was double of what my hostel said on their webpage is should cost. I was pointed in the direction of meter taxis and got in the back of a long line. A local woman immediately approached me and asked if I needed a taxi – right here is where I should’ve known.
She was wearing a yellow shirt, much like the one who said they only had fixed prices – so I asked her “on meter?” and she said yes as she quickly walked towards a yellow cab. I got in and asked the driver – “meter?”. When you get a taxi right before everyone waiting in a long line, you should know you’ll get ripped off. I knew I would, but I thought it wouldn’t be with too much since it’d go by meter. The numbers on the meter counter went up quickly. When I eventually got to my hostel it had stopped just shy of 400pesos. According to the hostel it should cost 180-200pesos. That’s also what I ended up paying when I took a white taxi to the airport.
3. Cash is king
Don’t expect to pay anything with credit card.
Surely it depends on your style of travel – I’m sure the luxury travellers out there go to places where paying with card is available. But for a backpacker, don’t think you can pay anything with that plastic card of yours. Hostels and even tours and excursions often only accept cash. So always make sure you have enough cash to be able to pay for unexpected outgoings.
Not all ATMs work.
My first morning I went to the ATM my hostel had pointed out as the closes one. I chose the amount of pesos I wanted to withdraw. The ATM thanked me, gave me my card and my receipt. But no cash. What. The. Fudge. Did that ATM just steal my money?! I went to a security guard close by, and he said that happens all the time but not to worry, that it hasn’t taken any money from my account and that I should just try another ATM. It did turn out no money were taken from my account, but I never tried BPI’s ATM’s again.
Some towns don’t have ATMs.
Another reason to always have enough cash and more. A general tips that I always try to do myself is to always carry some “in case of-money” in Euros or US dollars, as you often can exchange money if there are no ATMs working or even there.
Tips! Pawn shops also exchange money sometimes if not always.
4. They are not known for their food and you will see why
Like many parts of Asia are known for super tasty food, wether it’s Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Persian or Indian food – the Philippines are kind of known for not having good cuisine at all. And they truly love meat. Many courses are basically some sort of meat with rice. With nothing or nothing worth mentioning with that meal.
I didn’t meet a single traveler who had enjoyed the local dishes they’d tried. The fruits or vegetables they did offer where so few in options, you basically had a handful to choose from – and that includes the onions. Luckily, there are places to eat that offers cuisine from other parts of the world. But still, if you like vegetables you will be very disappointed. The few veggies I could get a hold of while there were very tasteless and utterly boring.
5. Hostels don’t have kitchens
Tourism is fairly new in the Philippines, so it’s very rare for hostels to have kitchens for you to cook in yourself. Wether this is because eating out is cheap, they weren’t aware that a lot of backpackers make their own food sometimes or the hostel was designed as something else and was just not equipped with a kitchen varies and I’m not sure which is most common. The fact remains the same though. You will most likely not have access to a stove if you’ll stay in hostels.
6. Tourism is growing maybe a little too fast
As mentioned above, tourism is relatively new in the Philippines and now that the destination also is trending thanks to social media, it’s hard for them to keep up during high season. Flights to and from certain popular destinations get fully booked long before departing day when it’s high season. In certain places accommodation gets fully booked – and that includes airbnb and the hostels that are not listed on the internet.
When I was in El Nido, there were several people coming by at 10-11 at night, asking if there were any beds available. By the hopeless tone in their voices I could tell they’d been asking around in many places before and were expecting a no. Two guys that I went on a tour with ended up having to spend the night in some sort of storage room just to get a roof over their heads. I was also told “no” at first.
If a place says they have nothing to offer you and you know it’s going to be hard finding another place, don’t just accept a first no. If you desperately ask “not even a couch or a mattress on the floor!?” The chances are they can always sort something out. One place told be that if I cannot find anything they could set up something temporarily in the massage room. I got a room in El Nido in a building that wasn’t even actively part of the B&B I stayed at(because it was already full), but it was a bed in my own room and a toilet and shower in the corridor, so for me that was more than a good emergency solution.
7. It will be more expensive than you might expect
Sure, the Philippines is fairly cheap but if you plan to travel around it is going to add upp quickly. They know when they can charge a lot for something and then they do. Since the country is a collection of islands, it’s very likely you will have to fly to travel around the country. And since close to no hostels have kitchens, you will probably eat out for every meal.
8. You will have to be flexible
The Philippines is located where it’s warm year round, but it is also in the zone of sometimes unstable weather and at risk of typhoons. If the weather is bad or a typhoon might be coming in you direction, tours will be cancelled. If you are unlucky, you get several days of bad weather, so for the places you go where you really want to do and see something, it’s a good idea to add a couple of days there in case of something like that happening.
9. The city of El Nido is not a nice place to stay
It’s merely a place where people go on tours, activities or other places from. I had an idea of El Nido being a nice town by the ocean where you can walk down to the beach and have beers. The city is small, crowded, dirty and very touristy. During the days of good weather the town becomes very empty but during days of bad weather, everyone stays and you can then barely get a place to sit for breakfast or lunch. The tourism har exploded so in an attempt to keep up, there’s constant construction trying to build more places to accommodate tourists. To get to the nearest beach you need to take a tricycle or rent a bike to get you there.
Okey, so it’s not THAT bad, but when talking to other travellers no one liked it and I think I just got the wrong idea since so many people go there that it would be a nice place, but it’s just a transfer town.
10. But you should still definitely go there
El Nido is a touristy, crowded place for a reason. The surrounding archipelago is simply beyond-this-world beautiful. The limerock formations rising out of the water up towards the sky, covered in luscious tropical greenery. Blindingly white beaches and a marine life that will keep you in the water until your fingers and toes turns to raisins.
As you might already be familiar with, there’s tour A, B, C and D and also the island hopping and camping tour up to northern island Coron. What you can actually do is to rent a kayak and paddle your way to some of the nearby little islands. In some places you can even camp in a tent for the night. I highly recommend the island hop and camping tour between Coron and El Nido. As one of my hostel roomies ‘Feffe’ said; “I regret doing it in the beginning of my trip cause nothing could be as amazing”.
11. You can mountain hike in the Philippines
That’s right, it’s not all just beaches and ocean. In the north of the island Luzon you can climb Mount Batulao which is absolutely stunning. I wish I’d known about this before my trip so I could squeeze in a visit there to do some mountain trekking. I saw pictures by a friend who came to the Philippines when my trip was coming to an end, and her pictures of her hike up Mt. Batulao did make me swear inside for missing out on that beautiful scenery.
12. Always carry some tissues or toilet paper in your bag
It’s not uncommon for public bathrooms not to have toilet paper in the stalls, and if you want some you have to buy it. Sometimes from a person working there or from a dispenser machine. However, sometimes the person selling toilet paper is not there, or the packet of tissues that you paid for gets stuck in the machine.
13. Learn some useful words and phrases in Tagalog
While English is widely spoken by Filipinos, making the extra effort to learn some key words in their native language Tagalog is much appreciated and also useful for the few times you talk to someone who doesn’t know English well. I did not take the time to learn any of it before I went and I immediately regretted that decision when first opportunity to say thank you came.
Hello / How are you (informal) – Kumusta
I’m fine – Mabuti (man-booh-tee)
Goodbye – Paalam (Pah-ahl-ahm)
Thank you – Salamat (sah-lah-maht)
Please – Paki (pah-kee)
Yes – Oo (oh-oh)
No – Hindi (heehn-dee)
For more words, I recommend you downloading a dictionary offline on your phone. As I said above, you will do absolutely fine with English. It’s respectful to learn a couple of words in the native language of the place you’re visiting. And it’s also fun to know a few words in other languages, don’t you agree?
I hope this little guide of wisdom will make your trip a bit more hassle-free. I’m sure that my trip would’ve been a lot smoother if I’d known all of this before I went.
Are any of you going to the Philippines soon? Or hope to do so?
I can’t wait to go back and explore more. It’s one of those places you just never can get enough of. A place filled with hidden gems that tourists don’t know about – yet. If you want to go I do recommend you not to wait to long. The Philippines is too good of a place not to have tourism explode sooner rather than later.