5 things I learned from living in the Philippines

Posted on 29 March 2016

Hostels - Philippines


Travel writer Esme Fox spent part of her life in the Philippines resident. We asked her to lift the lid on this fascinating region…

Its capital is crazy, but well worth a look

Metro Manila is one world’s great megacities, home to an estimated 12 million peopleand one of the most densely populated places on the planet. This of course means it’s crowded, polluted, noisy, chaotic and traffic clogged. One time it took me all night to travel somewhere that without traffic would have taken just 45 minutes.

Look beyond this though and you’ll find a fun and vibrant place, where backpackers can indulge in and explore almost anything they want, from one of the world’s biggest shopping malls to giant water parks. Highlights include the world’s oldest Chinatown, the citadel and military prison of Fort Santiago and the impressive 16th century church of San Agustin.

It has some of the best beaches in the world

Away from the capital and the built-up urban areas, the Philippines is literally paradise, comprising over 7,100 islands with a combined coastline of over 30,000km – the fourth longest in the world. So it’s not surprising it has some of Earth’s best beaches. Home to powdery white sand, swaying palms and clear warm water, they offer many waterside hostels and huts, ideal for those who want to experience paradise on a budget.Some of my favourite beaches are to be found on the island of Palawan.

Its food is… well, interesting

Unlike South East Asian neighbours such as Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, the Philippines is not well known for its cuisine. Local food makes little use of chillies or spices, and can sometimes take a little getting used to.And with delicacies like grilled chicken feet and balut – duck embryo still inside its egg – it’s safe to say this isn’t a great destination for vegetarians like me. Even its desserts can be an acquired taste: halo halo consists of shaved ice and condensed milk, topped with kidney beans and sweet corn.

Having said that, you can find almost any cuisine you want in Manila and on the islands the seafood is some of the freshest and tastiest you’ll find anywhere.

The world below the waves can be even better than the one above

Almost all of my holidays in the Philippines were spent on one of the neighbouring islands, but I didn’t spend my time sunning myself on the sand. Instead I was exploring the fascinating world under the sea. The coral reefs there offer some of the best snorkelling and diving spots in the world – for me, they top even the Great Barrier Reef.

Its people are some of the friendliest I’ve met

Filipinos are generally happy and warm people, eager to welcome travellers to their country. They love to celebrate festivals and holidays in a big way, and music and singing play a big role in their culture. While the official language of the Philippines is Filipino, the unofficial language is English and almost everyone speaks it fluently, so you won’t have any problems communicating.