Travelling to the Philippines for the first time? Guess what? You don’t have to spend a fortune to indulge on an epic trip in this Asian hub. As long as you play your cards right, and travel like a local, you can have a blast, and experience all the charms and eccentricities of the country, without breaking the bank.
Here are a few local travel tips that will definitely give you a memorable, smooth yet affordable trip in the Philippines.
Travel tips for first-time visitors to the Philippines
1. Don’t squeeze everything in one trip
Unless you’re paid to travel, you can’t see all the best sights and tourist destinations in the Philippines in just one trip. Remember, there are over 80 provinces and 7,600 islands in this archipelago. In other words, it will take you a year or even more to see all the recommended spots in the Philippines.
For a smoother and more affordable trip, pick two to five destinations only. It is a vacation, not a laundry list you need to tick off. Take it slow and enjoy every moment of the holiday.
2. Pick a base city or island group
The Philippines is essentially divided into three major island groups – Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Each island group has a major international airport that connects Singapore to the country.
From Singapore, you may arrive in Luzon via Ninoy Aquino International Airport or Clark International Airport. To get to the heart of the Visayas region, book a flight to Mactan Cebu International Airport. As for Mindanao, there are daily commercial flights from Singapore to Davao International Airport.
Picking a base is an important step when planning a trip to the Philippines. Not only will it set your travel budget, but it will also let you pick the destinations that best suit your preferences. To help select the right base and destinations for your trip, we’ve listed down the best places to visit for every major island group in the country.
- Cebu Island
- Apo Island
- Cagayan de Oro
- General Santos
- Surigao city
3. Sort out your logistics
Traveling around the Philippines can be a little overwhelming for Singaporeans. Well truth be told, even local travel junkies may find it difficult to navigate through the country, with its undeveloped rural areas and a multitude of transportation options available. That’s why you need to plan your trips diligently, and sort out your logistics carefully.
Check out ferry schedules, bus routes, and fares for every form of transportation. Better yet, reach out to the best travel bloggers from the Philippines, and get some informative tips on how to save money on your logistics and transportation.
4. Brush up your Filipino
There are more than 130 languages and dialects across the Philippine archipelago. Yikes! But the thing is, you don’t have to memorize all the important phrases of each dialect to experience the country like a local.
English is widely spoken in the country, and you’d rarely bump into a Filipino who can’t understand English. In fact, English is taught in daycare centres and schools, as one of the country’s two official languages, ensuring that even little kids can understand you here.
Nevertheless, learning a few important Filipino (the national language of the Philippines) words and phrases may come in handy in several situations. Not to mention, vendors and locals will be friendlier and even praise you if you try to talk to them in their native tongue. Who knows? You might get a good bargain or a freebie by just speaking a couple of Filipino words at food stalls or a flea market.
Important Filipino words and phrases:
- Magandang umaga: Good morning
- Magandang hapon: Good afternoon
- Magandang gabi: Good evening
- Pasensya na po: Excuse me/sorry
- Tulong: Help
- Magkano po to: How much is this?
- Kamusta: How are you?
- Salamat: Thank you
- Hindi: No
- Saan ang..: Where is…?
- Paalam: Goodbye
- Opo: Yes
- Pwede pong magtanong: May I ask you something?
5. Learn how to talk to strangers
Address the Filipino men as pare (buddy), pogi (handsome), kuya (a Tagalog term for older brother or any older male), chief (for policemen and security guards), and bossing or boss. When speaking to female, call them ate (a Tagalog term for older sister or any older lady) or simply “miss”.
6. Jeepneys as your main modes of transportation
For a Southeast Asian country, Philippines is fairly developed, with a wide variety of options, when it comes to transportation. From buses and trains to carpools and taxi rides, there are plenty of ways to get around the major cities in the country with ease. If, however, you’re looking for something cheaper that will give you a taste of the local life, look no further than the colourful jeepneys.
Sure, they aren’t the most comfortable way to travel, but they only cost PHP 7 to 50 (S$0.20 to S$1.39) per ride per person, depending on the distance of the trip. On average, the taxi flag-down rate in the Philippines is PHP 40 (S$0.84), and PHP 2.50 (S$0.70) for every 2 minutes of waiting time or 300 meters.
7. Tone down the tourist accessories
Once you are in the Philippines, you will most definitely want to take pictures of your trip. But, if you really want to blend in with the locals, you need to tone it down a bit. Having a big DSLR hanging on your neck, wherever you go, is like wearing a placard saying that you are a tourist and an outsider. Moreover, it can attract skilled thieves.
Don’t get us wrong – cameras are an absolute must for Singaporeans travelling to the Philippines, especially for first-timers. But, try to keep it under wraps, and don’t point your camera where it’s not welcome. The same goes for your other travel essentials and gear, like guidebooks and fanny packs. You may bring them but always keep a low profile.
8. Opt for cheap accommodations
From lavish beachside resorts to opulent 5-star hotels, the Philippines has no shortage of incredible accommodations to offer to Singaporeans. While these options are great and fabulous, they can cost you around PHP 4,000 to 50,000 a night (S$111 to S$1,394).
For those who are on a tight budget, though, there are inns and backpacker hostels in every major destination in the Philippines, with prices ranging from PHP 300 to 1,000 (S$8 to S$28). What’s more, there are Homestays that cost around PHP 150 to 500 a night (S$4 to S$14).
As with the rest of the world, Couchsurfing is also a viable and great option for Singaporeans travelling in the Philippines.
9. Travelling during the low season
Most travellers avoid the Philippines between the months of June and September. Prices for flights and hotels drop significantly during these months. According to a survey conducted by Lonely Planet, booking a room between these months in the Philippines will save you 20 to 40% on hotel costs.
10. Avoid the festive or holy weeks
To keep your Philippines holiday cheap, avoid the Holy Week, or the Lenten Season, as much as possible. In general, the Filipinos are religious and they place great importance on the preparation and celebration of these holy festivals. As a predominantly Catholic nation, the festive periods create a high demand on tourist centres, flights, and transport services.
Consequently, charges for local services tend to skyrocket during these periods. If you want to save cash on your holiday in the Philippines, don’t visit during the New Year, Christmas, and Lenten season times.
11. Book early
You get better and cheaper deals on flights, when you book your flights early. Just make sure to use a reliable flight search engine, to score great flight bargains.
When booking your travel to Philippines, use your travel credit card for hotel bookings. This will earn you bonus rewards as well. The DBS Altitude Visa Signature Credit Card, which gets you 3 miles for every S$1 spent on hotel and flight bookings, is one card you can use.
12. Eat at market and street food stalls
Just like Singapore, most major cities and destinations in the Philippines have an eclectic mix of restaurants with an array of mouthwatering treats to offer. But to save big bucks on food during your trip, make market and street food stalls your source of daily meals. For PHP 100 (S$2.79) or even less, you can enjoy a hearty and tasty meal (good for two) in markets and street food stations.