Written by Ab. Velasco (Guest Post).
This weekend, I made Sisig for dinner, a traditional Filipino dish made of parts of the pig’s face and chicken liver.
I used fatty pork belly as my meat and cracked the egg over the pot of fragrant ingredients as the grand finale and enjoyed the dish with steaming jasmine rice.
I’ve been nostalgic for Filipino cuisine. It’s been over a decade since my husband and my wonderful three-week trip to the Philippines, the second and last time I visited since my family immigrated from there to Canada over 30 years ago.
In the last decade, the Philippines has made a big global push to promote tourism. You may have seen the videos proclaiming that “It’s More Fun In the Philippines.”
Having immigrated from there and visited as a tourist, I can attest it’s indeed more fun in the Philippines. Here are five reasons why.
1. The Beautiful Beaches
The Philippines is home to more than 7,000 islands with beautiful beaches that rival more well-known tropical destinations.
From the turquoise waters of Palawan to surfing “Cloud 9” destination of Siargao Island, to snorkeling with turtles at Apo Island, to more beaches yet to become mainstream, those looking for sand, swimming and sun can look no further.
During our last visit, we stopped by Boracay, known for its white sandy beach and clear blue water. It felt heavenly walking barefoot on its soft powdery beach and swimming in its warm water, while tourists enjoyed parasailing and banana boating in the distance. Locals created beautiful sand art along the beach, near seafood restaurants. Glorious golden sunsets ended each blissful day.
In 2018, the country’s administration closed the island down from tourism for six months to rehabilitate the island. When it reopened, tourism numbers were restricted by half to preserve the island’s natural beauty.
2. Island Hopping
We made a three-day stop in Bohol, a province in the central Visayas region, and stayed at Isla Hayahay, a charming family-run resort.
I still think about those breakfasts on the wooden deck, staring out at the blue water that we would snorkel at during the day and the fisherman catching the fish, shrimp and crab that would be made into a sumptuous meal by the owner.
I fondly remember the sustainable way the cottage was built, including giant buckets on rooftops that collected rainwater used by guests to shower and bathe.
Our visit to Bohol highlighted the pleasure of island hopping. We went on the owner’s small motorboat and visited three tiny islands one afternoon.
Along our journey, we spotted a group of dolphins that seemed to follow our boat.
It was surreal stepping off onto the tiny islands and having it all to ourselves. We snorkelled along the shallow water and spotted countless colourful fish and found a mesmerizing blue starfish.
3. Adventures in Nature (CDO and Chocolate Hills)
Adventure seekers and nature lovers have an abundance of options.
In Bohol, we visited the famous Chocolate Hills, quirky hill formations shaped like Hershey’s Kisses. There are over 1,200 hills spread across 50 square kilometres. During the dry season, the hills turn brown and hence their moniker.
On that same day trip, we visited a small farm where we saw the adorable tarsiers, one of the smallest primates in the world.
In Cagayan De Oro, our cousins took us on a fun morning of tubing down a river. Four inner tubes were tied together, one person per tube.
For over two hours, we floated down a river, encountering some rapid water along the way and hilariously flipping over at parts. Our adventure ended with a bridge, which we jumped off several times. Afterwards, we enjoyed a delicious BBQ lunch.
Also in Cagayan De Oro, we went on a day trip to Dahilayan Adventure Park, which boasts several attractions, including Asia’s first longest dual zipline at 840m.
We went down this zipline “Superman” style, meaning we got a unique and adrenaline-fuelled experience. It was awesome!
4. The Cuisine (Cebu)
After long days of sightseeing, we filled our hungry bellies with tasty local cuisine.
I still dream about the homemade meals at the family-owned cottage resort in Bohol, made fresh each day from the local’s catch earlier that day.
Among them were curry crab served with a large plate of fried rice and a sumptuous meal of giant shrimp sautéed with mounds of buttery garlic. It was so fresh, aromatic, mouth-watering and stomach filling.
I enjoyed sliced green mango dipped in bagoong. The sourness of the unripe mango mixed with the saltiness of the pureed shrimp paste is so delicious. I ordered green mango shake almost on a daily basis, a cold soury sweet drink perfect for the hot days.
We were hosted by the family at two of our five stops. At the centrepiece of these get together is the Lechon dinner, a roasted baby piglet, known for its crispy skin and tender tasty meat. The Filipino recipe involves stuffing the piglet with aromatic stalks of lemongrass, green onions and garlic.
Sinangag, or Filipino garlic fried rice, is another staple that I couldn’t get enough of. It provided the perfect way to soak up the often greasy delicious food.
I also think about the countless seafood markets in Manila, where the owners cooked the super fresh catch on display for you right on the spot. Delicious!
We also enjoyed fast food, including Jollibee, the only fast-food chain in the world to outperform McDonald’s. So much so that McDonald’s in the Philippines offers rice and fried chicken meals just to compete.
5. The City Life (Manila Green Hills)
Our three-week Philippines excursion ended with a few days spent with the family in Manila, the nation’s capital, and they took us to explore the city and nightlife.
It was not what I remembered growing up as a small child. The nightlife, restaurants and clubs in areas such as Makati rivalled what we have in Canada. It made me rethink the images in my head that I had of the Philippines.
I also visited my childhood neighbourhood in Binondo, the oldest Chinatown in the world. My childhood home had been replaced by a commercial building – go figure – but it was nice to enjoy the local cuisine with childhood friends.
I was sad to leave. Since our last visit, I now have a 5-year-old son. I hope to take him to visit one day, so he can discover the culture and heritage that formed a big part of my life and to see for himself that it’s more fun in the Philippines!
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Ab. Velasco is always dreaming about his next travel adventure. He also blogs at My Lovable Pest, which provides a hopeful, humorous and honest look at the journey of two dads raising a child with great potential and challenging needs.