Philippines Islands: a getaway from Metro Manila

About the starch contrast between Metro Manila and the Philippines Islands
Thursday, May 25, 2017 to Saturday, June 3, 2017

Introduction: not really knowing what to do

I never really thought about visiting some of the Philippines Islands. Then, I was at the Kuala Lumpur airport and had one spare week before embarking on my next scheduled journey. A return flight to the Philippines sounded perfect. But I had to work on some projects and did not want to lose any time on research or planning. I flew to Manila without having a plan, other than spending one week in the Philippines Islands. After a rather rough start, I let the travelling magic happen. Thanks for being an open minded and spontaneous traveller, I made some great friends and had a terrific time.

Metro Manila: 13 million people in 17 adjacent cities

Everybody warned me from even spending one day in Manila. By now, I totally understand why they say this. Metro Manila is an unreal place, the densest and loudest metropolitan area I’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s an endless urban area with staggering 13 million people squeezed together in 17 consecutive city centres. There is no underground system, only loud buses and high stacked roads. What did not really help in this situation, was my heavily delayed flight. Instead of midnight, I arrived at 6 in the morning. With only a little sleep on the plane, it was a real torture to get local currency and a sim card at the airport. Moreover, the hotel cancelled my reservation and had no room ready upon my arrival. Being extremely friendly people, the Philippine manager, prepared another room and offered me the first night. After catching up a few hours in bed, I was ready to tackle Manila. On my first day, I only found an empty nightclub with more ladyboys than girls. I was also shocked by one of the worlds largest malls with a green park and church in the middle.

Intramuros: remains of colonialism and imperialism

In the middle of this urban jungle, there is one tourist attraction. The old city behind the mighty city walls has a surprisingly suitable name: Intramuros (Spanish for within the walls). I was not very eager to explore this area but I really wanted to learn something about this nation of islands. This was definitely the right place for a history lesson. Like Malacca in Malaysia, Intramuros is UNESCO protected and holds a nearly 500-year-old history. Both, Spanish and American imperialism was forced upon the Filipino people. My touristic lowlight was a tasteless sandwich at the latest Starbucks branch without WIFI. My highlight, on the other hand, was a local dessert called “Halo-Halo”, eaten with a friendly TucTuc driver and guide. Basically, the name stands for a mix-mix of jelly and other sweets.

Pangasinan: spontaneous road trip into the green

As mentioned earlier, Metro Manila is an urban jungle everybody just wants to flee from. To my luck, I met a local girl over lunch and could join a local tour with her. Within a few hours, I checked out at my city hostel and found myself on a small bus into the unknown. As the only foreigner, I was an intruder and entertainer at the same time. Hanging out with a bunch of Filipinos was the best thing that could happen to me anyway. Instead of talking to other alien tourists, I could fully focus on the local culture. It started with my amazement of how many Filipinos fit into a small van. Let me tell you: It’s about twice the number of people as in Europe! My next highlight was the breakfast after a nearly sleepless drive through the night: instant noodles sandwiched in a toasted bread with ketchup.

Dasol Bay: remote islands and empty beaches

The overland getaway was a total success. After about 8 hours of driving, we arrived at the Dasol Bay. With over 7,000 islands, the Philippines offers many crowded and expensive tourist resorts. This place was very different. We rented a small piece of beach with some simple shade and benches, nothing else. There we cooked our own food and slept in hammocks between the trees. That is until the rain hit us hard and we had to switch to tents. As the only westerner, I was only addressed as Jack, the American. All urban Filipinos speak perfect English, but here in the countryside, I needed a translator. Starting from our small beach, we explored a few of the countless Philippines Islands. To one we waded through a shallow channel, the other we reached by boat. Those small islands were all inhabited and a perfect retreat for city Filipinos. We swam in the open water, napped in the shades and splashed in a small cave. It was the perfect weekend getaway from the big city.

Philippines Islands: dense cities and untouched nature

On my short trip to the Philippines, I have seen two completely different worlds. True, this is basically the same around the world. But nowhere else have I seen such an immense contrast between urban and rural life within a short distance. I started and ended my journey in the loudest and dirtiest of all metropolis. In between, however, I have seen the real paradise, that is hidden to most visitors. Instead of cocktails at a pool, I ate self-cooked local delicacies. I did not talk to a single foreigner. Local citizens invited me into their world and showed me their hospitality.

Big thanks to Plan B Tours and the entire crew that made my Philippines adventure!

My waypoints on this journey

Manila Airport - experiencing the most troublesome arrival and departure in my life
experiencing the most troublesome arrival and departure in my life
Pasay - getting a free night at the hostel after a 6-hour flight delay into Manila
getting a free night at the hostel after a 6-hour flight delay into Manila
20 20 Manila - dancing through the night at a notorious techno club in Manila
dancing through the night at a notorious techno club in Manila
Greenbelt Shopping - getting lost in a huge mall of 300+ shops, a chapel and a YouTube corner
getting lost in a huge mall of 300+ shops, a chapel and a YouTube corner
Makati - walking over a former airstrip and feeling at home in a Swiss restaurant
walking over a former airstrip and feeling at home in a Swiss restaurant
Manila City - the heart of the Metro Manila area, usually crossed in a Jeeepney
the heart of the Metro Manila area, usually crossed in a Jeeepney
Rizal Park - urban park in honour of the national hero and the Philippines independence
urban park in honour of the national hero and the Philippines independence
Plan B Tours - going on a weekend trip with the coolest travel group of the Philippines
going on a weekend trip with the coolest travel group of the Philippines
Tambobong Beach - spending a relaxing weekend with good friends, good food and golden sand
spending a relaxing weekend with good friends, good food and golden sand
Dasol Bay - not the most famous but still an amazing bay with clear blue water
not the most famous but still an amazing bay with clear blue water
Lagtaras Island - diving into a refreshing pool inside a dark cave on a small island
diving into a refreshing pool inside a dark cave on a small island
Cabo Beach - visiting one more beach on our small weekend trip away from Manila
visiting one more beach on our small weekend trip away from Manila
Culebra Island - getting sunburned on a small island filled with Filipinos on a weekend trip
getting sunburned on a small island filled with Filipinos on a weekend trip
Deathpool - where the South China Sea is splashing against black volcanic rocks
where the South China Sea is splashing against black volcanic rocks
Pangasinan - driving to the beach in the province to the North of the Metro Manila
driving to the beach in the province to the North of the Metro Manila
Jollibee -
the only multinational fastfood chain made in the Philippines
Manila Cathedral - Roman Catholic basilica at the Plaza de Roma in Manila City
Roman Catholic basilica at the Plaza de Roma in Manila City
Pan Pacific - working from one of the highest rooftop bars in the Metro Manila area
working from one of the highest rooftop bars in the Metro Manila area
SM City Mall - working at one of the many huge shopping malls in the Metro Manila
working at one of the many huge shopping malls in the Metro Manila
Fort Santiago - important fortress within the walls of Manila and home of Jose Rizal
important fortress within the walls of Manila and home of Jose Rizal
Intramuros - historic old town of Manila, surrounded by think city walls
historic old town of Manila, surrounded by think city walls
San Augustin - one of the first baroque Spanish churches built in the Philippines
one of the first baroque Spanish churches built in the Philippines
White Knights - colonial museum, hotel and restaurant with a cultural show
colonial museum, hotel and restaurant with a cultural show