The Philippines’ combination of cosmopolitan affordability and splendid nature make it a destination that offers a lot for the money.
Lonely Planet recently named The Philippines one of the top value destinations for 2014 … I tend to disagree … I found that The Philippines has a fundamental problem for GRANDPAckers: the accommodation is over-priced.
RULES OF THUMB:
When you arrive in a strange country it is helpful to have some ‘rules of thumb‘ to ensure that you don’t get over-charged.
Transport costs should be as follows:
Shared Trike: I found the following published rates in Naga City which show the standard charges per person for a Shared Trike in that City. The price shouldn’t be similar in other cities around The Philippines … Tourist Spots try and hike the prices:
Private Trike: PHP10 per km plus PHP10 for each large backpack / suitcase.
Moto / Habal Habal: PHP5 per km (no extra charge for luggage).
Local Minivan: PHP2 per km (no extra charge for luggage).
Jeepney: PHP2 per km (no extra charge for luggage).
Aircon Bus: PHP1.5 per km (no extra charge for luggage).
Non Aircon Bus: PHP1 per km (no extra charge for luggage).
Expect to pay PHP1,200 / night for a GRANDPAcking Double with fan and cold water ensuite. Add PHP500 / night if you want aircon. Regardless, expect to pay PHP1,500 online for a reasonable quality room. Breakfast is usually NOT included.
If you get on the internet and search hard across multiple hotel search sites you should be able to find a deal that discounts these rates down to PHP900 and PH1,200 respectively. In The Philippines, I recommend that you try AGODA.COM, TRIPADVISOR.COM, ASIATRAVEL.COM, and TRAVELBOOK.PH.
Once at the resort, ask for at least a 20%-30% discount if you are staying 1 week. 30-40% if staying 2. 40%-50% if staying 3. 50% if staying 4 weeks / 1 month.
EATERIES / CAREDERIA / ‘TINPOTS’:
These are the cheap little local places that display several different dishes in tin pots:
- Any Vegetable Dish: PHP20.
- Any Dish with Meat: PHP40.
- Grilled Fish: PHP25-40 (depending on size).
- Fried Egg: PHP10.
- Noodles: PHP25-30.
- Rice: PHP7-10.
- Coffee: PHP10.
- Drinking Water: Free (from a dispenser).
- Hot Water: Free (bring your own sachet of tea or coffee).
TIPS, TRICKS, AND TRAPS:
TOURIST VISA (LSVVE):
If you plan to come to The Philippines for 6 months (or more), you are best to first land in Manila and to get a 6 Month LSVVE (Long Stay Visitor Visa Extension). This works out cheaper than getting a series of 1 and 2 months extensions.
If you plan to stay in The Philippines for less than 5 months, you are best to get a series of 1 and 2 month extensions (it works out cheaper than an LSVVE – but it is a bit more ‘hassle’).
Many people fly in to The Philippines from Vietnam. Most people will have Vietnamese Dong notes on them.
Change any Vietnamese Dong that you have at Manila Airport. You have no chance in hell of exchanging them for PHP anywhere else.
Forget them. The only TTs that The Philippinnes will exchange are American Express … and, even then, you will have to go to quite a few banks before you find one that takes TTs.
If you have any other sort of TT on you … they are just dead luggage.
If you plan to come to The Philippines for more than 1 month (and do not organise your extended Visa in advance), you must have a flight ticket out of The Philippines – if not, they may not allow you onto your flight to The Philippines).
You buy your exit ticket with the intention of never using it – you are going to throw it away.
Search for flights from anywhere in The Philippines to anywhere.
Search for the cheapest flight that you can find that exits The Philippines within the first month of the date that you land in The Philippines. It doesn’t matter if it leaves the next day … you will not be on it.
A good tactic is to look for budget airlines who charge extra for luggage. Book the cheapest ticket that you can find without luggage. Why pay for luggage? … you are not going to be on it!
I found a US$45 one way ticket on Cebu Pacific from Cebu to Taipei.
You will, probably, find that this method works out cheaper than buying a return ticket and incurring charges to change your return flight date.
Never accept transport from touts inside an Airline or Ferry Terminal.
Always walk out of the Terminal to get better prices.
Often, you will find a Bus Terminal, or Minivan Terminal, or Jeepney Terminal within walking distance of a Ferry Terminal.
The best network for the widest coverage in The Philippines is GLOBE.
If you use the internet a lot, subscribe to GLOBE SUPERSURF999. This provides unlimited data (no texts, no calls) for 1 month for PHP1,000.
You will find that the internet in The Philippines is bad and VERY variable. On many occasions, you will find your phone losing connection (or, even hanging). The G3 service is a big problem outside of some big city locations.
I found it best to go into my phone’s Wireless & Network Settings, Mobile Networks and to change my Network Mode to HSPA Only. I got a much more ‘reliable’ connection.
Never choose a seat near a karaoke machine on a Ferry.
If you plan to travel around The Philippines, you will catch a lot of Minivans.
Most of the local Minivans have little or no luggage space.
Do not travel with a suitcase bigger than 40L (45cm). Anything up to this size is likely to fit behind the back seat, under the back seat on in an aisle.
Anything bigger than this will not fit … and you will have to pay full fare for it to sit in its own seat.
You are likely to catch quite a few Minivans in The Philippines.
The Tourist Minivans tend to be bigger and more comfortable Mercedes vans (and you will pay a premium price accordingly – especially in Palawan Island!). The Local Minivans tend to be smaller L100s.
Solo Travellers: Pre-book Seat #3 if you can, seat #4 if you can’t. If neither of these are available, book seat #1 (but be prepared to rub shoulders and legs with a stranger for the entire journey). If all else fails, book any window seat on the driver’s side.
Couples: Pre-book seats #3 & #4 if you can, seats #1 & #2 if you can’t. Pre-book seats #4 and #5 if all else fails.
Try and avoid the aisle seats, back seat, and single window seats on the curb side. On many occasions, they will place a temporary seat in the aisle and they will cram in one more person than the actual number of seats available.
Dogs are used to being maltreated. Children from a very young age teach them who’s boss by throwing stones at them.
I you find yourself being harassed by a barking dog, bend down and pretend to pick up a stone … then pretend that you are getting ready to throw it.
More often than not, the dog will run away.
REGIONS & RELIGIONS:
As you move south, you find patches of Animalists.
Right down south, near Indonesia, you find Muslims.
There are known problems down south in Mindanao with Muslim insurgents.
The Foreign Office of many countries advise against travel to Mindanao.
You get a ‘feel’ for the country’s concerns flying into The Philippines… they are very strict on Luggage contents and what you can carry with you as hand luggage on your flight.
Having said that, I have met several expats who live in Mindanao with no problems.
The coolest towns / cities in The Philippines are:
- Baguio, Luzon
- Balamban, Cebu
- Banaue, Luzon
- Canlaon City, Negros
- Davao City, Mindanao
- Don Salvador Benedicto, Negros
- Itbayat Island, Batanes (in the far north)
- Kidapawan, Mindanao
- Lake Sebu, Mindanao
- Lantapan, Mindanao
- Malaybalay, Mindanao
- Marawi, Mindanao
- Sagada, Luzon
- Tagaytay, Luzon
Avoiding Typhoon areas is, obviously, highly desirable.
Typhoons from the East tend to be worse than those from the West.
Some central islands, such as those in the central Visayas, are naturally protected by the land masses around them.
In the Philippines, most expats live comfortably on US$800 to US$1,200 per month. This will fund a lot of luxuries, such as household help.
In the provinces, the monthly salary for live-in maids is around US$65.
A skilled manual worker (like a roof tiler) in Manila earns about PHP600 / day (US$14); PHP18,000 / month (US$400). On this wage, they need to spend about PHP8,000 / month (US$180) on rent, PHP750 / month on electricity (US$17), and PHP450 / month on water (US$10).
The same worker in the provinces earns about PHP400 / day (US$9); PHP12,000 / month (US$270) but their rent is cheaper.
An unskilled worker in the provinces earns about PHP300 / day (US$7); PHP9,000 / month (US$200). This is a typical wage for a hotel worker or restaurant worker in places like Boracay.
Remember these figures; they will help you negotiate a reasonable price for services.
A large ‘GRANDPAcking Standard’ apartment or condo in Cebu can cost anywhere between PHP27,000 (US$600) to PHP50,000 (US$1,100) a month.
In Manila, you will pay between PHP39,000 (US$880) and PHP80,000 (US$1,800) for a three-bedroom apartment in the city center
In Quezon City you will pay between PHP15,000 (US$340) and PHP25,000 (US$565).
RURAL CITIES & THE PROVINCES:
In the more rural cities like Tacloban, Dumaguete, Cagayan de Oro, or Butuan, you will pay around US$200 to US$700 a month.
In more rural places the monthly rent for two-bedroom ‘GRANDPAcking Standard’ apartments and bungalows is US$200 to US$300.
PRIVATE HEALTH CARE:
Private health care is inexpensive and the Philippines is a popular destination for medical tourism.
Utility costs can be a lot higher than you might expect.
For an average-sized ‘GRANDPAcking Standardy’ apartment, you will have to pay between PHP3,000 / US$65 and PHP6,000 / US$130 for basic utilities (including electricity, heat, water, and garbage disposal).
In fact, The Philippines has one of the highest electricity rates in Asia.
I am finding The Philippines to be the most expensive country that I have visited in South East Asia. The ‘standard tourist destinations’ can be ‘pricey’.
The accommodation, in particular, is ‘disappointing’ value for money – everywhere. The accommodation is more expensive (a minimum of PHP900 / night for something ‘acceptable) but of poorer quality. Compared to, say, Vietnam you pay twice the price to get the same quality. Unfortunately, at twice the price, the accommodation is too expensive for GRANDPAckers. As a consequence, GRANDPAckers have to stay in poorer quality accommodation to stay within their ‘GRANDPAcking Budget‘.
I am also finding the food a bit ‘disappointing’: I find it ‘unadventurous’ and less ‘healthy’ than elsewhere in S.E.Asia. IMHO, The Philippines won’t win any culinary awards. I find myself missing the Tom Kha Gais of Thailand and the Noodle Soups of Vietnam.
I am also missing the social life found in places like Thailand and Vietnam. The Philippines is less ‘fun’ oriented than those countries, everyday entertainment is a lot more ‘subdued’, and harder to find.
On the plus side, it is convenient that almost everyone speaks English and the countryside can be very picturesque.
So far, I think that I prefer Vietnam…