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Why I Didn’t Enjoy The Philippines

It took me a little while to admit it because I am a generally positive person, but after a while I realised that I was not really enjoying myself while travelling in the Philippines. I had heard so many good things and landed in the country with a confidence and pretty high expectations, but after three weeks I was left more disappointed than anything.

1. I Misjudged The Best Places To Visit

I can see the mistake I made; I chose some small cities and expected too much from them. Roxas, Bacolod and Cebu City are all pretty places but with very limited options for travellers. We spent a week on the beautiful beaches of Boracay but the island is pretty developed for tourists and we probably should have chosen somewhere with fewer resorts, less “Westernised” if you will. Manila is a big grimy rat race and like most people we tried to limit our time there. Of course, you won’t always love everywhere that you travel to. However, there is usually at least one place in every country we fall for, we just did not find it in our short time in the Philippines.

Its not that these places were bad per se, I just don’t think I judged the right kind of destination for what we wanted. It was a bit all or nothing between the big Westernised tourist beach or over populated urban cities.

At least Roxas put on a show for us.
At least Roxas put on a show for us.

2. It Was The First Time I Had Encountered Relentless Begging

I don’t blame the beggars, they are just trying to get by. It was my own inexperience of this level of begging that I struggled with. Not being able to walk along the street without one barefoot child in rags after another asking for money was a little bit of a learning curve. Its not just the kids, well dressed adult men would stop me in the street with a story of hard times and ask me for money, people would cross the street to approach me when they saw me.

3. Everyone Had Guns

I’m not the kind of person who feels safer being in the immediate vicinity of 20 guns. In shops, on corners and in doorways there was always guards with a big ass guns. Of course I have seen guns in public before but there were so many around I always had the feeling I was in the middle of a gangster movie. I didn’t feel particularly unsafe in the Philippines but the firearms were a constant reminder of security and safety that made it a little difficult to relax.

boracay
OK, so the beach life wasn’t that bad

4. I Grew Tired of Debating Prices

This may not be a problem unique to the country but I constantly found myself having to convince people I was not stupid enough to pay 5x the amount of what things should actually cost. As usual taxi drivers were the worst culprits. Having to get out or threaten to get out because they wanted to charge me 300 peso for an 80 peso fare grew tiring. “Meter broken” was always the first sign of a frustrating exchange. Another driver had an obviously rigged meter that I did not even debate, I just paid up.  Another time a hotel manager disputed the rate they had quoted on check in. I smiled and assured him and he eventually backed down giving me a cheeky knowing grin. Unfortunately these were not just a few occurences, it happened often and I soon learned to spot when it was coming.

5.  A Few Small Things Went Wrong

We had booked a ferry from Cebu City to Manila online but when we called to check times on the morning of departure we were told it had been cancelled 3 days prior. They did not bother notifying us. We managed to get on another ferry so we could make our flight but it was a stinker, a real rough boat with absolutely nothing to do for 20 hours. We had spent a little extra on the original ferry to treat ourselves to a small suite as a nice treat. We had been looking forward to the journey on the nice boat and it was the reason we decided not to fly.

This, along with a nice impetigo infection, were just a couple of things that did not go right for us while we were there. It was not the end of the world but it can really add to a bad experience.

Philippines christmas
I do like the idea of celebrating Christmas for months,

Was it All Bad?

OK, so this article has focused on the negatives but there were plenty of positives. I met some of the friendliest locals I could wish to meet, ate like a king, got my fair share of beach time and loved riding around in pimped out Jeepneys. The truth is I feel like I have unfinished business with the Philippines. I need to prepare better, make a little more effort and give it another chance because I know there is so much more to the country.

About Lee Carter

Born and raised in Accrington, UK, Lee has ventured far beyond his hometown, traveling throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, North America and New Zealand. He is the co-founder of Global Goose and as well as writing the occasional rant he can be found tweaking the code and taking photos of amazing things around the world. Lee and Kelly are currently backpacking around Southeast Asia and they have no plans to stop their "Gap Decade" anytime soon.

15 comments

  1. Great post! I have to admit that I’ve been sort of reluctant to visit the Philippines because I feel like I’d have to spend a minimum of a month to even scratch the surface. The problem you experienced with getting caught between overly developed areas and areas with not quite enough to offer is what makes me think it’s the kind of place that you can’t really enjoy unless you have a lot of time set aside to explore.

    • I came out with that feeling, or maybe that I should have made more of a plan. Either way I would not want to put you off going there, just make sure you are prepared. πŸ™‚

  2. I can relate to most of your experiences. Manila was the worst for me. But next time you go, you should check out El Nido. It is an amazing place! Also, head to Banaue to trek through the rice terraces. I would recommend those two over Boracay any day!
    P.S. I love your site. Keep up the great work!

    • Thank you for the recommendations and I’m relieved to see it was not just me.

      I realised after writing this post that my main issue was the following: Travel usually energises me, even the hard parts, the Philippines drained me.

  3. Hi Lee,

    Sorry to hear about your experience. Every place has its gems and horrors. I have to agree with some of the points that Philippines should improve on. Hope the government will do something about it, fast.

    I believe that they should also promote destinations that are not yet commercialized and over developed like Caramoan islands in Camarines Sur and other islands in the Visayas area that are not yet that much popular yet equally beautiful than Boracay.

  4. One of the things that makes traveling so interesting is how much situations and experiences can vary from person to person. My husband and I pretty much had the EXACT OPPOSITE experience to yours when we visited the Philippines back in October! We went in planning to only spend 3 weeks and wound up loving it so much that we extended our visas and stayed a whole 2 months. And it still wasn’t enough! What’s really interesting is that we pretty much never had to haggle while in the Philippines – only a few times with trike drivers – and we found that people were always shockingly honest and really never tried to swindle us, so I was really surprised to read your account stating otherwise. We have met some insanely helpful people since leaving on our trip back in August, and yet, the Philippines is probably the place that is dearest to our hearts now.

    I will say, however, that the cities are not where this country’s charm lies. We didn’t tackle Manila until the very end of our 2 month stay and even then only spent 2 days there. By that point, we were fairly inured to Filipino cities and so didn’t find Manila as atrocious as most people say, but by far the best parts of the country are the less developed areas. We spent a lot of time on little islands and decided to skip Boracay and we honestly thought for two months we were in heaven!

    • I am glad you enjoyed it so much. I can only compare it to the other places in South East Asia I have been to to come to my conclusion. Only Vietnam comes a little close to how hard interactions can be with certain locals. I admit the places we went may not have been the best to show off the country but we went enough of them to form a varied experience and it was not great.

      I suppose this is the problem with trying to travel a country so big and diverse, it really can be hit and miss.

  5. I must say you might have had a more enjoyable trip if you choose some different places, say like Palawan. I personally do not like Boracay because of its commercialization.

    Well, for the constant begging and price debating, I think you just had some bad days πŸ™‚ It hardly happened to me during the 3 years I stayed there (I’m not Filipino)

  6. the philippines is very draining. just going from point a to b is usually exhausting, with little reward for your time and energy. sorry to say.

  7. First i applaud you for your honesty – sometimes travel is just plain difficult! I had the same kind of negative experiences in Cambodia, but like you, I put this down to my not planning enough and alot of bad luck on my part!
    The problem with the Philippines is that it is the same places that are being promoted and in my opinion over-promoted which leads to them getting ruined by tourism. Alot of the popular places in the Visayas especially have the “package holiday” feel to them. But then again there are so many hidden gems that are spectacular! my advice when travelling in the Philippines would be ignore the guidebooks and the advice from other travelers (you are all probably going to the same places which leads to everyone getting bottle-necked in places like Boracay). Ask the people running your guesthouse, your bartender, your waiter of places to recommend, these people will know the best places to go and how to get there. That’s what I did and how I found the parts of the Visayas that were like I said little hidden gems. The Filipino people love to see people wanting to get off the (very old and worn) tourist trail and in my experience, will do all they can to help you.
    I have been living in the Northern Philippines for two years now and it is well worth visiting! Sagada, Banaue, Buscalan, Vigan are some places I would hugely recommend. Very different to the south, but stunningly beautiful. There are countless tribes who are very welcoming to visitors, live a very traditional life. Also there is nothing like spinning through the mountains on a motorbike up here (if you cant drive there are people everywhere who will take you on their bikes for a very reasonable fee). The life up here is very basic, think transport perched on top of jeepneys, most accommodation is homestay guesthouses and there is not a resort in sight πŸ™‚

  8. Greetings!
    Hello Lee,
    Thanks for your honest thoughts about my country, indeed its frustrating to experience those unfortunate circumstances and the culture shocks. For the second time visit, I advise the Filipino local hospitality approach. Expand your horizon to find a hosting friends in town you are interested to visit. We are accomodatig people we love our guest having a good time. If you are up for rustic and local life feel free to contact me to schedule your itineraries. I would be happy to tour you around on a normal and local way of life without a hazzle and enjoy our culture. Best regards and have a blessed day!!!!…

  9. It is really unfortunate that you didn’t enjoy the Philippines to the fullest. I had the pleasure for visiting not to long ago and I went to the north away from the tourist traps and I really enjoyed the time. If you go back head north and skip the touristy places. The only problem I had with the Philippines was the food, but over all thought it was a good trip. I think if you get the chance, you should give it another shot and plan a little differently. Sagada was worth while and had some history also. Best of luck in the future. πŸ™‚

  10. I loved Boracay back in the 80s we walked out of the side of our ferryboat from Manila onto a bamboo raft and into outrigger to the beach. The only electricity on the island was a loud generator to a hut that showed rental tapes on a tv for kids every night. Ice had to be ferried across so was doled out sparingly. We rented a hut on the beach for about $3 a night. We asked if they had lobster the lady said ask in the afternoon,Went back and she had gotten 2 lobsters and we had a full meal for $3 each. Was off season so very few people but lots of fun exploring.

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