As we were leaving the Philippines after a brief two week visit, we were standing in the (very long and slow) airport queue, and overheard a few other travellers behind us. One asked “so what did you think of the Philippines?” The Aussie guy replied “in a word – overrated”. Me and my friend looked at each other with a knowing look, as despite trying hard to love the Philippines, that pretty much summed up our lasting impression of it. It gave us some comfort to realise it wasn’t just us that felt this way about this incredibly hyped up travel destination, which has been splashed over instagram and facebook on a daily basis.
So let me explain why despite some beautiful nature, striking landscapes, clear water and stunning scenery we felt this way..
1. The food. Generally in south east Asia a huge draw is the incredible food. If you haven’t tasted Pad Thai whipped up on the side of a road in a huge pan you haven’t lived. The amazing street food and curries in Thailand, the Pho in Vietnam… the thought makes my mouth water, there’s such an abundance of flavour and spice and overall amazing taste. Not so much in the Philippines…
Food is a big part of enjoying travel for me. I love trying local dishes, but in the Philippines I was actively dreading each meal time. Their food is in the best situations bland with a little undercurrent of vinegar, at worst downright disgusting.
For me it was made slightly more complicated being a vegetarian which isn’t really a thing there. But my friend who ordered dishes of meat based stir fries or curries was almost gagging at the fatty cuts she was presented with-10% would be meat and 90% pure fat. There was even a disgusting looking vessel in her curry which made us both heave slightly. Not only that but the tastes of things were just bizarre. They didn’t seem to use spices or herbs at all other than fish paste…
After a few attempts at sampling the local cuisine we ended up resorting to fast food. This was almost impossible to avoid, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Mcdonalds in one place- in Manila there was one every few steps! Either that or their homegrown brand Jolibees which looked more unappealing even on the pictures. No thanks!
Oh and the food at the Philippines airline terminal at the airport was inedible, they didn’t even have the usual chain fast food offerings they have everywhere else in the country. One place had sold out of food, so we were left with this option which as a vegetarian wasn’t ideal! I went hungry..
2. The people. I live in Dubai and there’s a lot of Filipino workers here, generally the Filipino people are so happy and cheerful. So I assumed that in the Philippines it would be the same!
However, clearly there has been a mass exodus of people out of the Philippines with let’s just say a bit of something about them! Those left in the country largely seemed incompetent or simply out to try to scam us. And the ones who didn’t try and rip us off were those who didn’t have the imagination to do so. Maybe it is brain drain but to put it bluntly the Philippines is full of completely inept workers. They couldn’t add up simple numbers, give advice on what to see or do, or even get us a taxi when we left for the airport. When we asked for a taxi at our hotel we were met with a blank stare and a shrug.
When we went down to the street and flagged one down he managed to drop us off at the wrong airport, not ideal when you have a flight to catch, and the next one tried to overcharge us by about ten times the price with no shame at all. They either had zero initiative whatsoever or simply tried to rip us off. They assumed we were rich Americans, and didn’t seem to have heard of the UK never mind the tanking pound.
You do expect to be charged tourist prices sometimes, but they weren’t even a bit cheeky or light hearted about it, they were actually quite nasty and aggressive and didn’t treat us as females particularly nicely. It only served to lose them their tip and create hostility, I get the feeling if we were with a guy they wouldn’t have acted in the way they did. It was the men who we had issues with here not the women. But it did get tiresome and frustrating. Plus it wasn’t like things were ridiculously cheap- it was more expensive than Thailand or Cambodia for example by quite a long way.
3. Mass tourism. This is the big one. I really wish I had visited ten years ago as tourism is now in full force. Bohol in particular had bus loads of Korean tourists. All the main sites were full of touts as I say some of which were quite aggressive. Most photos you see on instagram really do not represent the reality. It is quite funny watching people take their selfies and poses in reality as you see the hoardes of tourists around… but if you want an escape from people, don’t go to the Philippines (or at least not to the main tourist islands).
4. The sites are beautiful but I’ve seen similar elsewhere. El Nido is very similar to Halong Bay in Vietnam or Krabi, Thailand for example. The beaches are pretty but I have seen better beaches in many places. The big draw here is the water, it really is so turqoise and clear, and if I had more time I would have went spent scuba diving in different locations.
5. Lack of unique culture. Usually in Asia a huge draw is the vast difference between Western and Eastern culture. Unfortunately, the Philippines is extremely Americanised with little unique, individual culture. There are chains, every chain of fast food outlet you can imagine, the religion is largely Christian, most people spoke English, it just didn’t seem to be very different. And surely the differences are why we travel?!
So to sum it up, yes it is really pretty, but it isn’t as exotic or unique as I was expecting. And to get to the beautiful sites you are competing with tourists elbowing you out the way so they can get their perfect shot with their go pros. The travellers were either masses of Chinese or Koreans, or the instagram crowd who were turning up to sites fully made up with cute outfits to get their instagram shots.
It’s just didn’t feel exciting or undiscovered in any way shape or form at the main islands of Palawan, Cebu, Bohol or Boracay. We did have fun in our hostel in Boracay, and also at El Nido some of he reggae bars are a must try to meet some interesting people! However, If you want something unique stay longer, explore further afield, and don’t stick to the main sights. Or simply go elsewhere. If I had more than a fortnight I would have stayed in Palawan longer and explored it more, travelled more on local transport and avoided the tours and touts, explored more of the life under the water and also explored more of the islands. I also wish I had gone up to Coron.
I had a feeling I wasn’t going to enjoy travelling this way (whistle stop tour) and my friend seemed keen on booking tours which I’ve never really done much of before when travelling- I usually do it the local way and now I know why! So I didn’t travel it as such it was more a holiday of the main sights which don’t get me wrong are beautiful.
But is the Philippines overrated? From my brief experience yes. Maybe that’s because of how I did it though.
Anyone else got any experiences of it to share??! Can you persuade me to return and do it differently? Or am I better off going elsewhere?!
Hi, I live and work in Dubai. I enjoy getting out and about and seeing what Dubai has to offer, travelling in my holidays and spare time – prepare for blog posts about this, and cooking vegetarian recipes. I am passionate about travel and animals.