Insider’s travel guide to Asia: the Philippines

An inevitable hazard of being a travel writer is to be asked for holiday advice. In the past fortnight two sets of friends have sought advice: a young couple in their early twenties seeking somewhere warm and affordable for a week and a couple in their 30s hoping for relaxation and diving. In both cases my answer was the same – go to the Philippines. 

How to get there
In part that is inspired by a sale by Cebu Pacific Air, the Philippine discount airline, in conjunction with Visa card that runs online until this Sunday (May 17) for travel from June 1 until December 10. Visa cardholders only need to input the promotional code “VISA” through Cebu Pacific Air

The campaign offers $149 seats from Sydney to Manila, as well as $199 seats from Sydney to Cebu, Palawan (Puerto Princesa) and Boracay (Kalibo or Caticlan), via Manila. Quoted fares include taxes and fees, but not meals or baggage allowance. 

Since September last year CEB operates four flights per week from Sydney, and, from Manila, up to 17 daily flights to Cebu, up to six daily flights to Puerto Princesa and Kalibo, and up to 9 daily flights to Caticlan. Cebu Air is the largest carrier in the Philippines and has one of the most modern aircraft fleets in the world. 

Why go
The Philippines is a complex country of 7107 islands and 175 languages yet a simple one where a $1 beer is easily found. Even better, 2015 has been designated as Visit Philippines Year so there will be even more festivals, parades and concerts than usual in this party nation. It offers a wide range of affordable hotels and resorts.

Where to go
For those considering a week or so you could do worse than combine visits to Manila, the capital, and the islands of Cebu and Palawan. It gives a fantastic balance of history and big-city living, swimming snorkelling and diving, and some world-class nature experiences.

Snorkelling Philippines 2014-1060120

Manila feels like an endless city of casinos and shopping and traffic but Cebu, an hour flight away, has the festive mood of a holiday destination. Divers are likely to head to Oslob in the south of the island where local villagers have encouraged whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, to stay around throughout the year. Cebu City itself has a remarkable historic feature: Magellan’s Cross that was erected here by Ferdinand Magellan on April 21, 1521 on the world’s first voyage of circumnavigation. 

Palawan, the long skinny island pointing towards Borneo, represents island downtime. Even the transport is casual. Manila has an endless stream of Jeepneys, originally made from US army jeeps stretched into extravagantly-decorated quaint mini-buses. Palawan’s Puerto Princesa airport has an area designated “tricycle parking” for the ubiquitous motorcycle and sidecar taxis.

Stunning fireflies 
There are two exceptional natural attractions in Palawan. Iwahig Firefly Watching is a relatively new ecotourism project on the Iwahig River. It’s best done on a moonless night when boatmen take three people per boat for an hour to cover a kilometre of riverbank, returning along the opposite shore. There are a lot of fireflies that illuminate the trees like Christmas lights.

Don’t miss
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site where the 8km Cabayugan River flows underground through a spectacular limestone karst formation of chambers and tunnels before emerging straight into the sea. It’s visited in small man-powered boats. Getting there is half the fun as the walk through dense jungle to the beach reveals skulking monitor lizards and chattering monkeys.

The Philippines is an easy country to travel in – and a very friendly destination. If you seek out the highlights it will be a memorable holiday or it can simply be a very affordable relaxing beach holiday. 

Want to explore more on your travels? How about Papua New Guinea? (www.retirementliving.tv/travel/highland-showtime-the-splendour-of-papua-new-guinea.aspx)

Where is your favourite destination in Asia to travel? Where do you want to go next? Join our conversation below…

Banka Philippines

To find out more visit Tourism Phillippines or It's more fun in the Phillipines.