I was excited to visit the Philippines. I love Southeast Asia, and I was curious to learn how years of foreign influence (particularly on the part of the U.S.) had meshed with local culture and traditions. What I found was a beautiful melting pot. The Philippines has so much Spanish and American influence, yet it maintains a unique character.
We used Manila as our base. The Fairmont Makati there was incredible. The service and attention to detail was amazing. Manila is not on anyone’s lists of great Asian cities, and I understand why. There is a lot of smog, and traffic, and poverty. Then there are wealthy enclaves, like Makati…the contrast is a bit jarring. Still, I really enjoyed the food in Manila. I know it sounds crazy, but my favorite restaurant (the only one we visited twice) was a fried chicken joint at a mall. Bad Bird’s umami fried chicken was perfectly fried and seasoned to hit every tastebud. So very good. I should note that the fried chicken is pretty good overall. Filipinos take their fried chicken very seriously.
Before hitting the islands, we left the city to go deep into the country’s larger island, to the provinces of North Luzon. The region is most famous for the Banaue Rice Terraces. The terraces were carved into the mountains some 2,000 years ago by indigenous people. They are spectacular to see, but even more breathtaking to stand on. Walking the rice terraces was one of the most memorable travel experiences I’ve had (particularly because my baby was strapped to me). It’s not the easiest trek, but there’s a great reward at the end…natural hot springs.
The entire North Luzon region is very rural. There are very few hotels, mostly “homestays” with a few rooms and meals cooked by the family who owns the property. While I generally prefer more creature comforts, it was interesting to interact with rural Filipinos and learn about their lives. After seeing the Rice Terraces, we headed to Sagada, to see the main attraction there…hanging coffins. The coffins are literally hung from cliffs, on the side of a mountain.
After a little R and R in Manila, we headed to Boracay. The Coast Hotel absolutely made our Boracay trip. It’s a cute, boutiquey little resort on the beach. We had everything we need…great beach chairs, the perfect-sized pool, yummy food and drinks, and some of the best sunsets I’ve ever witnessed.
We went on to Cebu, where we stayed in Mactan. I wasn’t blown away by anything there, except one restaurant. Bucket Shrimps in Lapu Lapu had delicious spicy shrimp and pork belly.
I was much more enthusiastic about our next stop, Bohol. We split our time between the Bohol Bee Farm and a beachfront hotel, but I really preferred the Bee Farm. It’s beautiful but unassuming, and the owner is committed to the natural, organic lifestyle. The food was phenomenal. The fresh juices were all really good. I kept ordering the delicious stir fried vegetables with shrimp. The Bee Farm is know for their ice cream, and it didn’t disappoint. Avocado and salted honey were my favorite, especially in the house made cassava cone. There is also an in-house actual bee farm, and the wild honey is fantastic.
Overall, I really enjoyed our time in the Philippines. I didn’t make it to Palawan this time, so I think another trip is in the cards.