In a country made up of over 7,000 islands, you can actually spend your entire trip to the Philippines without seeing the water. Who would have thought that possible? Therefore, the first piece of travel advice is…make plans to see the water if you know you’ll be in Manila!

I was in Quezon City, QC as it’s known, for two weeks building houses with a Global Village team and Habitat for Humanity Philippines. QC is part of Metro Manila on the island of Luzon. We were a group of 13 volunteers from the US and we found our accommodations at the Fersal Quezon City to be (a) clean (b) very accommodating staff, friendly and helpful (c) a great low cost option. The neighborhood is relatively safe and there are restaurants, a grocery store with a money change service and a Starbucks all within a short walk of the hotel.

There are two activities the locals take very seriously, and you should too. They are karaoke and, of all things, billiards. That’s right. Filipinos are great pool players! And they love to sing, so don’t even joke about karaoke, or videoke as it’s known. Whether you are with a group or flying solo and love to sing, I highly recommend you give videoke a try. [Oh, by the way, Filipinos also like what I call “malling” – yes, strolling and shopping in some of the world’s biggest shopping malls. We weren’t much interested in visiting the malls, but it is popular way to escape the heat.]

Our rather large group tried all the following restaurants and liked them. I recommend that you check to see if you need a reservation, especially if you are with a group. A few tips for eating out in the Philippines.

  1. Don’t expect that the restaurant will serve alcohol. Most likely you can order a beer, but don’t expect wine and definitely not spirits.
  2. This is a highly carnivorous country. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you may need to get creative or do some research. Don’t assume there will be anything on the regular menu for you and explaining modifications to the wait staff can be difficult (yet possible, so have patience).
  3. Food is relatively inexpensive, so it won’t bust your budget.
  4. Many restaurants will not accept credit cards, so be prepared to pay in Pesos.
  5. Don’t be surprised to see rice at every meal. Yes, even breakfast.
  6. The restaurant may not be air-conditioned, so if this is important to you, be aware.

A clear favorite, as we ate there two nights on the trip was Greens Vegetarian Restaurant and Café, 92 Scout Castor Street, QC). At the time of this writing (summer 2014) Greens was rated the number one restaurant in Quezon City on Trip Advisor. They serve a large variety of vegetarian and vegan food. Very good food and charming too. They don’t serve alcohol.

One night we ate at Fruili Trattoria (79A Maginhawa Street | UP Village, QC) also highly rated on Trip Advisor. The service was not so great, but they have good pizza and it’s pretty cheap. Another cash only.

Another clear favorite was Mister Kebab (West Ave., Quezon City) which serves Mediterranean food and the meat is all Halal, which is great for Muslims. It’s open air and a large busy place. Call ahead to get a table.

Recommended by our local host coordinator, Hong Kong Master Chef, was a huge hit was the. There is a seafood market next door and you buy your fish (they have every kind of seafood imaginable, fresh) again, cash only, and then take it across the street to the restaurant where they cook it for you for a fee. We also ordered side dishes of rice and vegetables. They serve beer and wine. They have a menu with vegetarian food and other items for those who do not eat seafood. We ate here because on Friday night we went to see a well-known dance troop, Kaloob, at the cultural center downtown and this place was close by. Very very fun!

Muang Thai  – Thai

Trellis Dilliman – Filipino

Bellini’s – Italian

Jollibee – Fast food, go there for the fried chicken

In Manila, if you have time, I recommend spending some time in Intramurous, the walled city. Book a tour and learn about the history of the country and enjoy wandering around, checking out the old buildings and churches as well as doing a little shopping in the market, where you can find high quality goods made locally for a fair price.

If you need a place to stay in Manila, I highly recommend The Bayleaf Intramurous. It also has a rooftop restaurant called, Sky Deck, with fantastic views and a chic atmosphere.

Now, FINALLY…seeing the water!

Our group took a trip on the weekend to the very popular town of Tagaytay to visit Lake Taal and its volcano. The views are beautiful from several vantage points along the way. You can take a boat onto and across the lake to reach the volcano. You can hike to the top or ride horseback, which may sound romantic, but is anything but! If you get off the boat and are a little put off by the local mob trying to sell you everything from dust masks to souvenir photos, politely refuse and remember everyone has to do something to put food on the table. If you are in moderately good shape, the hike is not too difficult and affords stunning water and mountain views once at the top.  Be sure to visit a fresh produce stand on the way out of town and buy some of the most delicious and exotic fruit you may have ever tasted!

If you have the time, do yourself a favor and take a trip outside Manila to enjoy the water in an even more amazing way. The Philippines has gorgeous beach and some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world. After finishing our two-week build in Manila, I traveled with 7 girlfriends to one of the most beautiful islands in the country, Palawan.

El Nido is a drop dead gorgeous part of Palawan. Apulit Island, where we stayed, is one of four resorts run by Ten Knots Development. Although we had a few kinks to work out with the online booking, everything else about our experience there was smooth as silk.

Getting to the island was bit of an adventure, but your booking includes everything (although you have the option of booking your transportation to Palawan separately and get there on your own). It was so easy to take the small private flight offered by the resort, round trip from Manila. The flight is about an hour. Once you land, you’ll travel by van over land for about another 1.5 hours and finally take a boat for about 45 minutes to the island. Frankly, we were all tired from our work and just enjoyed not having to do anything.

Apulit is an all-inclusive, so there’s nowhere else to go for adventure. The meals are served buffet style and there is plenty of good food. Our vegetarians and vegans were very happy too. You can order beer, wine and liquor although you’ll pay premium prices, as with many resorts, and alcohol is not included. Massages (in an open air cabana) are very inexpensive (about $20/hour) and I recommend. Snorkeling was amazing and I was told the diving is world-class. You can get PADI certified here too if that’s something you are interested in (and willing to pay for).

Most of us were there 5 nights and there was plenty to do for that amount of time. Those who had to leave early were sad to go early. All the staff members were absolutely wonderful and we couldn’t thank them enough for making our time on the island spectacularly memorable!


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