Whale Sharks, Jeepneys, Hanging Coffins… a month in The Philippines
Changing Worlds Travel Advisor, Pendra Heath, spent a month traveling in The Philippines. Here she is summarising the highlights of her trip.
A month in The Philippines was not enough, I could have easily stayed so much longer, I would even go so far as to say it was one of my favourite countries I have ever travelled to. The diversity of the country is what amazed me the most, different Islands felt like they were in entirely different countries.
It is really difficult to pick highlights from such an amazing country but here are a few of my favourite parts of my time in The Philippines.
I visited the Islands of Palawan and Coron. Here I saw some of the most fantastic beaches I have ever seen in my life. In El Nido, Palawan, a group of us hired a couple of Kayaks and left the bay, and within 20 minutes of paddling in beautiful waters we were literally on our very own completely deserted Island. Which was pretty spectacular. The white sandy beaches of The Philippines are full of palm trees and amazing tropical shells – so beautiful! They are very protective of these shells and they will check all of your bags as you leave the Island to check you aren’t trying to take any with you.
The tropical climate of The Philippines meant we were treated to a lightning show almost every evening, which I found fascinating. Often it would be unaccompanied by rain or thunder, just amazing fork and sheet lightning that would momentarily illuminate the night sky.
When we arrived in Puerto Princesa in Palawan, somebody asked us if we wanted to swim with Whale Sharks the next day. At first, we thought they were joking. But the very next day we were sat on the side of the boat being told to jump in the water. When we saw the huge outline of the whale shark below us we were kind of terrified and hesitated at first. But WOW! Swimming with beautiful whale sharks was one definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my entire life. These majestic animals are so placid in the water, they are so elegant and so SO big!
Only in The Philippines, would you spend the morning swimming with Whale Sharks and the afternoon visiting a local prison, and being encouraged to join the ‘dancing inmates’ in a dance sequence to the Backstreet Boys! Yep, tourists can visit Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm, and buy crafts and souvenirs made by the inmates to support their families who often live with them on the farm/prison. This was an interesting experience to say the least.
Coron, a small island North of Palawan is world famous for it’s wreck diving and I can fully understand why. Dropping down into the ocean to see a huge WWII cargo ship wreck expand out below you is breathtaking. I have dived wrecks in the past where it is kind of difficult to work out if it is really a ship or not but the diving here really was like the opening scenes of the Titanic – details of the ship were so well preserved. It was spectacular!
Rickshaws and Jeepneys
Travelling around The Philippines is pretty special, each Jeepney and Rickshaw will take you by surprise. I think these photos speak for themselves…
North Luzon is an area less visited by tourists but it is an area that I would definitely recommend. It feels like you are visiting a new country. But be aware as you leave the cities and tourist areas, be sure to take enough cash with you. We found ourselves in the classic scenario of the one tourist ATM in town is broken and you will have to wait until Monday to use the Western Union. Trekking to the UNESCO Heritage site of The Banaue Rice Paddies was physically challenging but totally worth it. It was an incredible view and you got to swim in an amazing waterfall at the end.
There is so much culture and history in the Philippines and the local people are more than happy to chat to you about it. In Sagada, we booked a tour to visit the local caves and hanging coffins. As always in The Philippines, we got a bit more than we bargained for. We learnt so much about the fascinating and quite shocking customs of local burials in this area. You can see hundreds of coffins and the occasional human skull resting on top. They don’t bury the coffins here because they believe this won’t leave you closer to God.
Then we spent 3 hours in the extensive cave networks with just us and our 17 year old guide. This saw us wading through underground rivers up to our chests, climbing up ropes and seeing hundreds of bats. It really was an amazing experience.
There are so many other parts of the Philippines that are on my list to visit. This is a country that should not be missed off your travels.