The Philippines is an archipelagic nation made up of 7,107 islands spanning 1,840 kilometers north to south. It is part of the East Indies, a vast island group lying south and east of mainland Asia, with Taiwan at its northernmost coast and Borneo on the south. The three main Philippine island groups are Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.
Luzon is the island of contrasts. The most modern districts in the Philippines, including the capital city of Manila, are in Luzon, but so are some of the oldest tribal communities in the nation like the Ifugao of the Cordilleras. Luzon is also where a visitor can see the latest model luxury cars overtaking a carabao sled or modern skyscrapers within driving distance of primordial volcanos.
The Visayas is famous for its charm, a trait shared by many other southern regions in the world, but here seems to run deeper among a people who are intrinsically connected to their sun soaked island home. The Visayas is also famous as a seat of history, being one of the earliest landfalls of western voyagers. It has also gained a reputation as being a cradle of the nation's future, if the unprecedented economic growth of Cebu City continues.
Mindanao is our offering to the Guinness Book of Records with the world's largest clam, the world's largest Eagle, the nation's highest peak and the world's largest city. Mindanao is also home to the Philippines' Muslim population.
With a land mass of 300, 780 square kilometers, the Philippines is considered a medium-sized nation, about two- thirds the size of its first colonizer, Spain, and a little larger than the British Isles. Manila is only one hour and 40 minutes from Hong Kong by jet; Sydney only 7 1/2 hours away. Flights to Europe take 17 hours and to the American west coast 15 hours.
The Philippines has many things to offer the visitor: a mixture of the old and the new, a diversity of art and culture and a warm, friendly people. Blessed by nature, the Philippines has something to offer every sportsman too . . . extraordinary dive sites, forests to roam, mountains to climb, caves to explore.
Situated on the crossroads of Asia, on the eastern rim of the China Sea, the Philippines has hosted voyagers, migrants and traders since the dawn of history. That it was the center of lively Asian trade route that stretched all the way to China and Japan can be seen from the relics these early visitors left behind. Among our archaeological treasures is a Neolithic spirit boat typical of early Southeast Asian culture.
The West discovered the Philippines when Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer who sailed for Spain, landed in Cebu in 1521. However, colonization didn't actually begin until 1565, when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi established a Spanish base in the town of Manila.
Because Philippine society was loosely organized, without a central government, the Spanish conquest was rapid and total. Only the Muslims in the south and some inaccessible hill tribes were able to resist Spanish influence. Along with the Spanish conquerors came a new religion, Christianity, a new language, new laws and the galleon trade.
Despite several uprisings against Spain, including the Katipunan, a revolutionary movement inspired by Dr. Jose Rizal and led by Andres Bonifacio, it was the United States of America that broke the Spaniard's grip on the Philippines. Unfortunately, that began the nation's second period of colonization. Once again there was resistance, this time led by Emilio Aguinaldo; but his rag-tag army was no match for Admiral Dewey's forces. In 1901, with Aguinaldo's capture, the Americans were entrenched.
The Americans brought over their educational system, their legal system and planted the seeds of their own style of government. In 1935, the Philippines became an American commonwealth country with Manuel Luis Quezon as president. The status quo ended with the Japanese Occupation; and it wasn't until 1946, after the end of the Pacific war, that the Philippines finally regained true independence as the Republic of the Philippines under the presidency of Manuel Roxas. Still one of the strongest democracies in Asia, the current president is Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Halo-halo is a Filipino word that means mixture. While it describes a popular dessert, it could also describe the Filipinos. They look like Asians, write and speak English like Americans, worship like Spaniards, and have an outlook that is international.
Like the Southern Chinese, the Thai, Malay, Indonesian and Burmese, the modern-day Filipino traces his remotest genetic lines back to an Australoid and Mongoloid stock. You will also find a touch of Caucasian, Chinese, Indian and Arabic in their gene pool as well. But to truly understand the Filipino, you have to look at the land. The historic isolation between islands and the topographic isolation on each island, become the primary influence governing regional traits and societal behavior.
This diversity makes Filipinos all the more interesting. However, what is apparent isn't how different they are from each other, but rather how alike they are. Brought together by a common history, and looking forward to a common future, it is not surprising to find a sharing of certain traits. Their warmth, graciousness and hospitality—all part of the Filipino psyche—will make your stay a delight.
The currency in the Philippines is the Peso (PhP) and the Centavo. 100 centavos = P1. Coin denominations are: 1, 5, 10, and 25 centavos, P1, and P5. Bill denominations are : 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1, 000 pesos.
Foreign currency may be exchanged at your hotel, and in most of the large department stores, banks and authorized money changing shops. Exchanging money anywhere else is illegal and the laws are strictly enforced.
Most large stores, restaurants , hotels and resorts accept major credit cards including American Express , Visas and MasterCard. Traveller' s checks preferably American Express are accepted at hotels and large department stores. Personal checks drawn on foreign banks are generally not accepted.
The Philippines is tropical with just two seasons--hot and dry from November to June, and rainy from July to October. Filipinos will tell you that it is cool from December through February and they themselves will wear jackets
While there are over 100 regional languages in the Philippines, the national language is Filipino, with English as the most widely spoken second language. All business, governmental and legal transactions are conducted in English.
There are four modes of public transport in Metro Manila and surprisingly, they are easy to use.
Buses : Both air-conditioned and regular buses travel most of the major routes in Metro Manila. On an air-con bus a short ride costs PhP 11.00, adding a few peso for every succeeding kilometer. The regular bus' minimum fare is PhP 9.00. Just tell the conductor where you are going and he will tell you how much it costs. Keep your bus receipt as it is your proof of payment.
Jeepneys : Called "folk arton wheels," jeepneys ply most of Manila's secondary roads and even a few major thoroughfares. They're as much fun to ride on as they are to look at and you have to try one. Although there are regular stops, you can often just flag one down and hop on. Call out "bayad" (bah-yhad) and pay the driver. If you are too far back, pass your PhP 7.00 (minimum fare for the first 4 kilometers; 1 peso additional for every succeeding 500 meters) down. When you are ready to get off, call out "para" (pah-rah); wait till he slows down and jump.
The LRT : It's a fast, cheap way to go to downtown Manila. A token can take you between Monumento (the northern end of Edsa) and Baclaran, travelling first along Rizal Avenue and then Taft Avenue. Many of the tourist maps have the route of the LRT marked.
The MRT: After it's somewhat unsuccessful opening, the MRT is now enjoying a fair share of passengers plying EDSA. This is definitely the fastest mode of transport, this side of the metropolis. The MRT runs from the North Avenue Station in Quezon City up to Taft Avenue Station in Pasay City. Passengers would enjoy the traffic-less route, clean stations and coach, with a good view of Metro Manila's landscape. The only problem is that some stations have very high stairways. Although a number of elevators is operational, not all stations have one. Travel time is approximately 20 minutes end to end.
Taxis: Air-conditioned taxis cost PhP30.00 on the meter and an additional PhP 2.50 is added for every succeeding 200 meters to the final cost. Non-airconditioned taxis do not ply anymore. Taxis are always lined up at the major hotels and tourist restaurants and can be hailed on the street. If you take a taxi, make sure the driver turns on the meter. If he gives you a story that it is broken, get out and take another taxi. Unless you are taking a long trip or the traffic is unusually horrible, most taxi rides should be well under P100. At least a 10% tip is expected.