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Not quite an Asian country, but also not quite a Pacific island nation, the Philippines has had a hard time attracting tourists. Dodgy politicians keep the country in a state of political unrest, which is highly problematic when trying to draw overseas visitors.
Fortunately, however, the Philippines has enough islands (7,107) and beautiful beaches to make you forget about all its troubles. On Boracay are some of the finest beaches you're ever likely to find. Pristine waters and picturesque tropical scenery highlight the Philippines' rich potential to be a major tourist destination. Impressive but climbable peaks protrude from the country's landscape; many of these are active volcanoes, including the violently dangerous but scenic Taal Volcano. The experience of climbing these peaks is enthralling and rewarding. And at the end of the day you can unwind on the beach to the sight of a beautiful sunset with an ice-cold beer.
Main article: History of the Philippines
The Philippines had been inhabited 30,000 years ago when it was still part of the main continent of Asia. The last ice age 20,000 years later submerged most of Asia's southeast frontier that created higher grounds into islands. The first wave of migrants were the Aetas (aborigines) followed by Malays who came from the south. Early Malay settlers stayed on deltas and island shores where townships eventually developed. They further flourished on trade with the Chinese, Indians and Arabs as early as 100 BC.
Nearly each big island was ruled by a datu or chieftain, usually with the title Raja, Kaliph or Lakan. Islam was introduced by Arab traders to Southeast Asia in 700 AD. In the 15th century, European expeditions were sent by rivals Spain and Portugal for the lucrative spice trade with the Far East. The most famous was the western route taken by Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer under the employ of Spanish King Charles I, whereupon he stumbled on the islands of the Philippines on March 17, 1521 but was eventually killed by the Muslim Malay Kaliph Pulaka (or Lapu-lapu), chieftain of Mactan island. The Europeans returned 44 years later led by the Adelantado, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, to conquer the islands in the name of Spanish King Philip II. Thus, started the Spanish rule of the islands for the next 333 years.
The Spaniards “lost” to the Americans in the Battle of Manila Bay, amidst the successes of the Philippine Revolution of 1898. The islands were ceded to the USA in the Treaty of Paris. Americans colonized the country for the next 40 years, interrupted by four years of Japanese occupation during the Second World War. The Philippines finally gained its “sovereignty” in 1946 with the condition that the USA maintained its huge military bases in the country.
Since then, the Philippines has moved to become one of the leaders in Asia. But on September 21, 1972, then president Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law which lasted for 21 years. Those were trying years for Filipinos, suffering under a dictatorial regime that lasted until August of 1983, when Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino, Marcos' rival, was shot dead at the tarmac of the old Manila International Airport after three years of exile. This started uprisings against the regime and then on February 25, 1986, Ferdinand Marcos and his family were ejected out of Malacañang Palace and exiled to Hawaii by the peaceful EDSA People Power revolution. Aquino's wife, Corazon Aquino was put to power and became the first Lady President.
After this, the Philippines became more industrialized and saw improvements in infrastructure. Even with the current political climate, the Philippines has tried to develop its economy and regain an influential position in the global market.
The Philippines is an archipelago composed of 7,107 islands (could be a little less during high tide) that are clustered into three island groups: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. It lies in Southeast Asia bounded by the Philippine Sea to the east, West Philippine Sea to the west and the Celebes Sea to the south.
The archipelago lies in the region called the Ring of Fire, which is characterized by a number of active volcanoes found all over the country. Some of these notable volcanoes are Taal Volcano which is situated in the middle of Taal Lake, Mayon Volcano in Legazpi City which is considered to have the most perfect cone shape despite intermittent eruptions, and the dormant Mount Apo in Davao, the highest peak in the Philippines at 2,954 metres above sea level.
Islands, islets, reefs, atolls and shoals towards the western part of the archipelago, specifically those belonging to the Scarborough Shoal (about 220 kilometres west of Subic, Zambales province in Luzon island) and the Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratly Islands), which is only 25 kilometres off the shore of Balabac town, Palawan island, are all part of the territory of the Philippines. But other neighboring countries such as China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have aggressively laid claim to them, too, when US forces left their military bases in the Philippines in the 1990s. Ironically, these islands, islets, reefs and atolls being contested by other countries are all way too far from their own shores. Through geological research and studies, it is believed that these areas are rich in oil and gas deposits, estimated to contain 17 billion tons, compared to Kuwait’s 13 billion tons.
Sabah, located at the northern part of Borneo island, was a territory ceded to the Sultanate of Sulu by the Sultan of Brunei in 1658 as compensation for the former’s assistance in repelling a rebellion. The Philippines had never ceased its claim on Sabah, maintaining that it is a property of the Sultan of Sulu, a Filipino citizen, and whose heirs continue to receive "padjak" (term used in the original contract) or lease payments for their property from the Malaysian government.
To the east of the largest island Luzon is Benham Rise, an extinct volcanic ridge underwater, that the Philippines has lodged a claim with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) in 2009 and was finally approved by the same UN body in April 2012. Total area of Benham Rise is about 250 kilometres in diameter and rises to about 2,000 metres above the sea floor that is 5,000 metres deep.
The islands of the Philippines are divided into three groups.
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Main article: Events and Festivals in the Philippines
There are two seasons that characterize the country's year-round weather system: dry (December to May) and wet (June to November). During the wet or rainy season, the islands are frequently struck by typhoons (averaging 21 weather disturbances a year) from June to September and can extend up to the first week of December. The dry season is hot and humid and very balmy in coastal areas, ranging from 32 °C to a high 39 °C. It gets to be a gorgeous 20 °C to 28 °C from December until February. Elevated areas like the cities of Baguio and Tagaytay are 5 to 10 °C cooler than the lowlands year-round. The seasons on the Pacific side of Mindanao and Samar have a slightly different wet season, namely from January to March.
The primary international airport serving travellers to the Philippines is the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) in Manila. Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (CRK) in Clark is servicing nearby Angeles City currently services low-cost airlines, but is set to overtake Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the near future as the country's primary international gateway. Mactan-Cebu International Airport (CEB) is another major hub located in the island of Cebu which connects the southern islands to the rest of the region.
Smaller airports servicing international flights are located in Davao, General Santos, and Zamboanga in the island of Mindanao, Laoag in northern Luzon, and Kalibo, Bacolod, and Iloilo in the Visayan islands.
Philippine Airlines is the national flag-carrier of the Philippines and is Asia's oldest airlines. It has flights to and from destinations in Southeast Asia, East Asia, Australia, Canada and the United States. Cebu Pacific Air is the country's second flag carrier with flights to major cities in Southeast Asia and East Asia.
There aren't many passengers ferries, so if you want to visit the Philippines without flying, try a cargoship or search for private yachts going there.
The only option are ferry services between Zamboanga Peninsula (Mindanao) in the southern Philippines and Sandakan in Sabah, Malaysia with Aleson Shipping Lines, taking about 13 hours completing the journey.
Currently the Philippine National Railways (PNR) line is the only operational railway system servicing the island of Luzon. This runs from the Manila to Legaspi City.
Within Metro Manila, 3 light rail transits service the metro.
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The jeepney is the most popular public transportation around the country. Hundreds of US military jeeps were left behind by the Americans after WWII and some enterprising Filipinos converted them for public transport, adorning it as well with lots of colors, paintings, buntings and other native decors. Eventually, the chassis and bodies were extended to accomodate more passengers. Jeepneys run different routes in and between every city of the country. Routes are written on their bodies' side panels and the front. Buses ply the longer routes and wider roads and their fares are a tad higher than the jeepneys.
Car rental is available at least at the major international airports and bigger cities, with companies like Hertz and Avis having many offices throughout the country. You need a national driver's licence as well as an international driving permit. There are highways on the Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon island groups and many other roads are under construction. Driving can be a little chaotic, but apart from driving at night on minor and rural roads, it is not overly dangerous.
Being an archipelago, ports for commuter ships, ferries and jetties are available on all over the country. An organized network of highways and vehicular ferry routes, called the Strong Republic Nautical Highway, is in place that interconnects each island from Luzon, to the smaller islands of Visayas up to the island of Mindanao.
Here are some of the major sea carriers that ferry passengers from island to island:
Citizens from 151 countries are allowed to enter the Philippines without a Visa for a stay of up to 30 days. This includes all citizens of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries. These can be extended for 2 months during the next time(s).
Brazil and Israel passport holders are allowed to stay without a visa for up to 59 days. Holders of British National Overseas, Hong Kong (SAR) and Macau (SAR) passports may enter the country without a visa for a stay of no more than seven days.
For individuals interested in retiring in the Philippines, one can apply for a Special Resident Retiree's Visa (SRRV) which entitles foreigners and former Filipinos to hold multiple-entry privileges with rights to attain permanent residence in the country.
See also Money Matters
The local currency is called the Philippine Peso (PHP). Peso is spelled as Piso in Filipino language. One Peso is divided into 100 centavos (Filipino: sentimo).
As at 2 March 2012, the exchange rates against world's major currencies are approximately USD1 = PHP42.80, EUR1 = PHP57.10, JPY100 = PHP52.80, AUD1 = PHP46.00.
All foreigners would need a permit from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Bureau of Immigration to be able to work in the country.
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A number of good quality colleges and universities may be found all over the country. Here are a few:
There are about 170 different dialects that are spoken within the archipelago. Some of the major dialects include Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Kapampangan, Bicolano, Tboli, Tausog, Ivatan, Hiligaynon, Ibanag, Panggalatok. The dialect Chavacano, spoken in Zamboanga, is very close to the Spanish language.
English is considered the second language and is the medium of instruction in all schools.
Nearly 98% of Filipinos are bilinguial, and 60% trilingual. Follow the link for the Filipino (Tagalog) phrasebook.
Accommodations are available for all budget levels in major cities. Smaller towns and cities offer modest facilities and as the traveller goes farther to remote barrios and the outlying islands, he/she should expect to be a cowboy and enjoy the night under the starry sky if he did not bring along camping gear and provisions. There is a lot of choice regarding budget accommodation and Bed and Breakfasts and Guesthouses in the Philipines. You'll find some great luxurious hotels and 5-star places in the bigger cities and along the beautiful beaches of islands like Cebu.
The main beer of choice all over the Philippines is San Miguel beer and costs from around 25 pesos and upwards, depending on the type of establishment you go. If you are after something stronger but still very cheap go for the local rum Tanduay. A small bottle cost called a JR cost around P27, senior P45 and the 700ml, also known as long neck cost around P65. So cheap you might wonder what it contains but it does the job.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the Philippines. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering the Philippines) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to the Philippines. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Malaria is prevalent in some parts of the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Dengue sometimes occurs as well.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Like any other place, the traveller should always be mindful of his personal belongings, specially travel documents and cash. The crowds of downtown Manila, specifically the vicinity of Quiapo and Santa Cruz districts and those in Divisoria, are the favorites of pick-pockets. Know where you are headed in those areas or better be out with guides. Other areas of the city are relatively safe, like those of Chinatown (Binondo District) and Intramuros (the Walled City).
On Mindanao, mainly the northeastern coastline and surroundings of this southern Philippines island are safe and peaceful but not those of the provinces lying in its southwestern rim. There is a separatist Muslim rebellion going on and travel could be very dangerous to the unmindful traveller. Especially the islands in the Sulu Sea and the Zamboanga Pensinula are considered unsafe in general. This applies to a lesser extent to some central and southern parts of the main island though Davao City is also safe. This doesn't mean, however, that travelling around most parts of Mindanao is not possible. Just take the normal, and some extra, precautions, and avoid the most unsafe areas if possible.
There are a number of internet service providers nationwide: PLDT-Smart Communications, Globe Telecoms, BayanTel and Sun Cellular and each have their signal strengths in various locations. Internet access areas of broadband speeds are plentiful in city malls, much less so outside the cities, but are growing at a rapid pace. Internet surfing rates depend primarily on where you surf and the medium used (e.g. WiFi or wired). Internet services offered by hotels and shopping malls are expensive and can go up to ₱200/hour (approximately US$5) but neighbourhood cafes can be as cheap as ₱15/hour (approximately US$0.35).
Public place WiFi services in the Philippines is provided by Airborneaccess.net and WiZ is likely to cost ₱100 (approximately US$2) for up to an hour. But if you want cheaper, there is a internet cafe chain in SM malls called, "Netopia", that has a landline internet connection for around 20P an hour (about 0.46 US). Coffee shops as well as malls usually carry WiFi service some are free to use. Certain areas may also carry free WiFi. The SM chain of malls offer free wifi, so you can sit virtually anywhere in the mall and access free wireless.
See also International Telephone Calls
The Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company commonly known as PLDT is the leading telecommunications provider. It is also the largest company in the country. There are three major companies operating GSM 900/1800 networks: Globe, Smart and Sun Cellular. Your home provider at home should have agreements with one of these providers so check with them before leaving home. Roaming may be quite expensive just as elsewhere however, pre-paid SIM cards of these networks are easy to acquire and cost as little as ₱30 and provide a cheaper alternative.
If you don't have a phone to begin with, a complete pre-paid kit with phone and SIM can be purchased for as little as ₱1,500.The usual cost of an international long-distance call to the United States, Europe or other major countries is $0.40 per minute. Local calls range from ₱ 6.50 per minute for prepaid calls.
Due to the wide use of mobile phones, pay phones are increasingly becoming obsolete. Some malls and public places still do have them and they usually come in either the coin or card operated variety. Globe and PLDT are the usual operators. Phone cards are usually sold by shops which sell cellphone pre-paid loads and cards. Note that phone cards of one company can not be used with the other company's card operated phones.
The Philippine Postal Corporation, or PhilPost, is the provides the postal service throughout the Philippines. PhilPost is pretty reliable, but one can hardly call it fast services. It is fine for sending postcards and letters though, both domestically as well as internationally. Prices for sending postcards or letters within the country start at around P7, while most international post costs at least P20. For sending parcels to and from the Philippines it might be wise to use companies like FedEx or UPS. The opening hours of post offices in the Philippines differ from one place to another. Usually, post offices are open from 8:00am to 12 noon and from 1:00pm to 5:00pm on weekdays. And for those that operate on Saturdays, the business hours are from 8:00am to 1:00pm.
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Ask pinoytrav a question about Philippines
I have traveled to so many places in the Philippines, and still continuing to do so!
Ask pau_p1 a question about Philippines
I can help on general info on what to do and where to go around the Philippines. Or I may be able to provide suggestions on the best place to go.
Ask Armi a question about Philippines
Mabuhay!!!! Be glad to be of help to anyone who wish to explore the Philippines. Cheers!!! - Amy
Ask smanros a question about Philippines
As a traveller, I detest rip-offs, having been a victim too many in the past, locally and internationally - specially China and Hong Kong. To avoid pitfalls, ask the experienced victim of rip-offs! ...or, the one who is very much familiar with rip-offs so you, the foreign traveller, could be a lot happier with an enjoyable visit to my country! If only being ripped-off could lead to a college degree, I could have earned a PhD! :-)
Ask Yvekes a question about Philippines
I've been three times, in total about 16 weeks, to this amazing archpelago, named the Philippines!
I will be happy to help anybody with questions regarding the numerous islands, transportation, culture, etc...
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