1. Explore the marine life
South-East Asia is a diving hotspot, and divers have recognised the Philippines as one of the world’s best macro diving locations. Whether you are looking for shipwrecks or whale sharks, the archipelago will not disappoint even the most intrepid of divers. Be sure to check out Apo Reef for their rich marine life.
2. Learn to Freedive
If scuba diving is too mainstream for you, try freediving instead. Instead of using an oxygen tank, freedivers train their ability to hold their breath to dive to certain depths or for certain amounts of time. Competitive freediving is considered an extreme sport, but you could learn to freedive for leisure up to 16m in a three-day course in Moalboal.
3. Watch the sun rise over the Chocolate Hills
In Bohol, there are thousands of dome-shaped mounds that pepper a 50km2 area. These mounds are the Chocolate Hills. Numerous explanations, both legendary and scientific, provide for how these hills were formed.
If you reach early enough, you can watch the sun rise over the hills. The shadows that the hills cast on one another form a tessellation of alternating lights and darks which speak of balance and mystery.
With more time to spare, you could also visit Bohol’s sanctuary for the world’s smallest primates – the endangered tarsiers.
4. Ride an ATV
Sometimes though, the morning fog can cloud the view of the Chocolate Hills. While waiting for the fog to dissipate (or even if you are not), consider renting an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) for a spin. The ride is bumpy, likely to be muddy, and always exhilarating.
5. Run along the White Beach
Consisting of more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines have a superabundance of beaches. But their tourist gem (or trap) is the smooth, fine sand of Boracay’s White Beach. This stretch of beach is so flat and pristine that you could run barefoot under a sky full of stars, with waves lapping at your feet.
At night, Boracay transforms into one huge international party. Travellers from all around the world gather along the beach, grab drinks, blast music, and chat with each other.
From backpacker hostels to luxury resorts to five-star hotels, tourist accommodations have sprung up in a line parallel to the shore. Any traveller could find something for their budget.
6. Explore Siquijor
Ask a local about Siquijor, and in hushed tones, he or she might tell you about witches on the island and about healing rituals where sorcerers suck out evil from of a body into a glass of clear water, turning the water cloudy.
But apart from its reputation of being a place of magic and sorcery, this off-the-beaten-track island has other charms. Small enough to explore by bike or motorcycle, you could do an island tour via Siquijor’s 72km coastal ring road. There are some great dive sites here too, including a Japanese hospital boat wreck and Apo Island nearby. There is even a mini-waterfall (Camubhay Falls) that you can jump off from, or swing a vine into.
7. Eat local cuisine
Filipinos like their food oily, salty, and sweet. The adobo, for example, is a meat stew seasoned with garlic, soy sauce, and vinegar, served with rice. It usually costs around S$10 or less.
Or you could also go for the more exotic stuff – the most notorious of which is the balut, a developing bird chicken or duck embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell with chilli, salt, or garlic.
Less controversial, but no less strange-looking, is Bohol’s purple kinampay. Legend holds that an angel who was walking the earth got tired and decided to rest. It came to two houses: one owned by a rich man, one owned by a poor man. The rich man turned the angel away. The poor man welcomed him. The angel was thankful, granted the man three wishes, and made a fine garden grow behind the poor man’s house in which these bulbous tubers grew. The angel then told the poor man how to prepare and cook it. It was delicious, and it became famous. The poor man grew more of it, cooked more of it, gave it to the poor, and sold it to the rich.
Since then, the kinampay has become a sign of hospitality and warmth to strangers.
8. Ride a tuk-tuk
In the Philippines, local transportation is an experience in itself. The most common transport for short distances (i.e. within the same town) is called a tuk-tuk. These motorcycle-powered rickshaws have bible verses splashed across their façade, cut through congested roads with ease, and do so by horning rudely at vehicle and human alike.
Consider riding the Jeepney too. These colourful buses were formerly U.S. military jeeps left behind from WWII, and have become an integral part of Filipino life and culture. But hang on tight. Jeepneys can get so crowded that people spill out from the sides or cling to the roof.
9. Navigate the Philippines
You can already imagine by now the chaos that is Philippine’s traffic. There are few pedestrian crossings or traffic lights, and vehicles do not give way. To cross any road at all, you have no choice but to jaywalk.
As for crossing islands, the websites of ferry companies are either un-updated or non-existent. Your best bet would be to get your ferry ticket directly from the port itself.
The Philippines are also infamous for their terrible airports and flight services. During my trip in 2014, I took four internal flights. Every single flight was delayed and one even got cancelled (without reason). The upside is, even if your first flight is delayed, you can probably still catch your connecting flight, because the latter will likely be delayed as well.
In any event, be flexible with your departure and arrival timings, and be prepared to plan on the fly.
10. Experience Local Culture
Filipinos have a zest for life that is unparalleled in almost any part of the world, and their favourite ways to express this energy are through song and dance. While many people shy away from a microphone, Filipinos do not hesitate to display their love for karaoke, regardless of talent. As for dancing, simply play a tune, and watch their feet and bodies move.