Unexpected Asia: Philippines!

Jeepneys in ManilaA tricked-out Jeepney blaring Bon Jovi pulls up to the stoplight. The driver, wearing a stone-washed jean jacket belts out, “You give love a bad name,” touches his rosary dangling from the rearview mirror, and drives away. Where are we? The Philippines, colonized by the Spanish then the Americans (yes, the U.S. had colonies) is Catholic, largely English speaking, and loves 80s rock and peanut butter. Count us in! Manila, is not the Philippines’ most scenic destination but a fascinating gateway to the country’s 7,000 islands and a very different side of Asia.


Peanut Butter TSA approvedBefore we found out the Philippines was a mecca of American junk food, we stocked up on Skippy and Nutella in Australia. As we shuffled through airport security, our bag gets pulled aside for a closer look. How could we forget to check our liquid gold?! The TSA man goes to throw away both jars, we cried out: “No! Wait!” With a small window before our flight, we backtracked the security line, got out our sporkife, and started eating PB&N like there was no tomorrow. Shoving our faces while simultaneously making inch-thick cracker sandwiches to-go, we finished the jars as best we could and ran back to line. The TSA can’t stop you for peanut butter breath.


Baywalk seaside main drag manilaWe made it to Manila, one of the world’s biggest cities and the capital of the Philippines, and took it all in from sparkling new malls to slums to Spanish colonial buildings to seaside promenades.


Rizal Parks and horses in ErmitaWhen you ask an inn keeper or read a guide book on Manila, their list of tourist attractions is a short one. Though the two zones that can keep you busy for a couple days are Ermita and the colonial district of Intramuros. We started in Ermita and strolled the regal Rizal Park, admiring the landscaping, statues, and horse carriages carting smitten couples.


Fort Santiago ManilaOn day two we went to the historic colonial zone of Intramuros, or in Spanish, “Within the Walls.” Fort Santiago was built in 1571 for the Españoles to defend their new walled city and has since been occupied by the Brits, Americans, and Japanese and in 1950 declared a “Shrine of Freedom.” Now it’s finally a place for locals to enjoy a stroll or watch sunset over the bay.


Philippines Manila - INLINEColonial churches can be found all around Southeast Asia but they are shells from another era. In the Philippines they are the nation’s pride and the heart of religious activity. We strolled Intramuros and dipped into the UNESCO world heritage site of the San Augstin Cathedral and admired the Romanesque-Byzantine inspired Manila Cathedral from the manicured square.


Night Market ManilaThe hustle, sizzle, and steam of the Manila night markets let us know we were firmly back in Southeast Asia. Many of the foods looked familiar, but in the Philippines you can actually ask the chef what’s in them—for better or worse. Duck embryo, dog stew, tripe with bile secretion…I’m pretty sure we’d eaten these things before in Asia but enjoyed them more in a state of ignorance.


How much is a meal in ManilaWhen English wasn’t an option and menus were in the national language of Tagalog, basic Spanish can get you by. During centuries of Spanish rule, the languages and even the food styles blended. Empanadas, adobo, sopa, pastel…(that’s all in Tagalog). The cost of the feast in the photo above was 75 pesos or $1.66 USD. Not bad, right?


Philippines JeepneysNow back to those tricked-out Jeeps. Jeepneys are a purely Filipino phenomenon and our favorite local transport in the world. These vehicles were constructed from U.S. Military jeeps left over from World War II and have since been stretched and customized into regional buses with a whole lotta flair. The origin of the word jeepney has different theories: “jeep” + “jitney,” while other sources say “jeep” and “knee”, because the passengers literally sit knee-to-knee on the parallel benches in the back. The best part is their personal expression. No two Jeepneys are the same and they bear the artistry, humor, and pomp of its driver. Jokes, family photos, and biblical verses are often displayed on the inside and outside it’s as like Pimp my Ride: The Frankenstein Edition.


Casa Manila
I’ll admit I was a little skeptical coming to the Philippines. I had never heard much about it, besides that some islands could be a bit dangerous. It’s definitely not on the backpacker “Banana Pancake Trail” of Southeast Asia, but that is a very good thing. We rarely saw tourists and locals welcomed us with open arms, humor, and conversation (often in English!). After a few days exploring the capital city of Manila, we knew it was going to be a great three weeks exploring the mountains, rice terraces, beaches, and remote islands of what would soon become one of our favorite countries.


14 thoughts on “Unexpected Asia: Philippines!

  • June 8, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    I could not read this post, which I really wanted to read – we’ll be going to the Philippines next winter. Your pop-up kept popping up every few seconds! Very annoying… just thought you would want to know. Would love to hear more about the Philippines but without pop-ups!

    • June 8, 2015 at 2:46 pm

      Yikes! Thank you for letting us know! We just disabled it until we can figure out this bug. Question, do you happen to be on a Mac? I think it may be a pc vs. apple bug. Anyhoo. Apologies, hopefully you can give it a read now and let us know what you think! We <3 the Philippines and are so excited for your trip!

  • June 9, 2015 at 12:14 am

    I’m so excited to hear that while you were skeptical about the Philippines it still ended up being one of your favorite countries. I felt EXACTLY the same way! I’ve spent so much time traveling through Southeast Asia and the Philippines is completely different than anywhere else in the region. I love all the quirkiness and bizarre American influences. I’m actually going to be in Manila and Boracay in a few weeks. I won’t have too much time in Manila but I’m hoping to do at least a bit of exploring while I’m there. I’m so excited to be back there 🙂

    • June 9, 2015 at 8:29 am

      Justine, love we are on the exact same page! Loved those quirks and charms, and my goodness 7,000+ islands…there is so much more to explore! So great you going back so soon. Do you dive? Boracay is supposed to offer amazing scuba.

      • June 10, 2015 at 2:09 am

        Coron, Palawan offers a much better dive experience

  • June 9, 2015 at 7:18 am

    I don’t know why but that third picture looks like Miami. Anyway, I’m really looking forward to reading about more of your adventure in the Philippines (I just wish there were more pictures with this article).

    • June 9, 2015 at 8:30 am

      Glad you are excited our upcoming Philippines content—so much fun stuff ahead! Ah the slideshow, it didn’t quite make it in this article but the next post will have one–promise!

  • June 9, 2015 at 7:40 pm

    Loved the post, as always. LOVED the Philippines. Can’t wait to read all about your Palawan and Coron adventures.

    • June 9, 2015 at 11:33 pm

      Hey world traveler, you can totally vouch for the Philippines and its special variety of awesome. So glad you enjoyed the post and that we did it justice. (We could write about Jeepneys all day 😉 Oh yea, you are going to love the wreck diving in Coron and our renegade island hopping to Palawan!

  • June 9, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    HI Anne and Mike, I’m so pleased you have enjoyed my home country and its people I miss my Philippines( I live in NY for many years now) and most of all, I miss the wonderful people. Looking forward to hear more of your experience.

    • June 9, 2015 at 11:30 pm

      Marisol, what an incredible country to be from! We met such nice people. We felt like we could start a conversation with anyone and hit it off. Next up…we head up to Banaue. Stay tuned!

  • August 6, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    I loved your piece on The Philippines. My parents brought me there when I was 9 months old and we officially left at the end of my 8th grade year. My mom had 3 more girls there. It was an experience of a lifetime. The people are wonderful! I lived in Tacloban City, Leyte and Parañaque (outskirts of Manila). I can’t wait to go back to visit. Did you try Lumpia and Pancit? They also have the most amazing mangos and guavas. Thanks again for reminding me of my other home. 🙂

    • August 6, 2015 at 11:13 pm

      Awww we are so glad we could bring back great memories–especially for someone with so much history there! The people are amazing in the Philippines–as is the fruit 🙂 We went to the far north of Luzon, Palawan, Cebu, Siquijor, and Bohol…so many more great photos and stories to come on the blog!

  • January 17, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    I keep telling my daughter and son-in-law to start a blog of all of their travels. They have been traveling all over the world since they were married 4 years ago. They are traveling (camping)in the Philippines now and currently live in China.

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