In defiance to the typhoon that swept through the Philippines last month, the country is steadily picking itself up in an impressive display of stoic resilience. The world media, as is so often its tactless tactic, tried to tarnish the citizens’ bravery with exaggerated reports of looting in the wake of the devastation. There were even accusations that relief efforts should have gotten through quicker. Just how quick can a ship carrying aid-supplies get through when it has to negotiate strict weather warnings and harbours have become impassable? Wrongly, this led to some negative feelings in the west. Why the press felt the need to play the blame game, when they could instead have concentrated on the amazing efforts of the people not to dwell on their misfortune, remains a mystery.
The truth is, the heart and spirit of Filipino culture shone through in the face of this disaster, and this should be acknowledged and celebrated; just like the natural beauty of the country itself, the warm welcome of its locals and the happy hospitality enjoyed by its visitors.
Here at Kenwood Travel we didn’t fall for the media’s tricks and certainly felt no negativity towards what is one of our favourite destinations. In fact, by way of gaining the inside track, we sent one of our roving travel consultants to the Philippines so we could see for ourselves why it remains such a rewarding holiday experience.
Dan Van Vo first went to the Philippines three years ago and enjoyed a brilliant trip to Manila, immersing himself in the local culture. This time, during a ten-day tour, he revisited the Manila area but also took in Boracay, Bohol, Cebu and the picturesque El Nido, Palawan. He picks out Borocay as a particular highlight, describing the great, long white-sand beach as “… one of the best beaches in the Far East I’ve been to.” For someone as well travelled as Dan, that’s quite the accolade. On the island and resort of El Nido he was able to really get away from it all and enjoyed the secluded feeling of the surroundings. In the northern area of Palawan, this isolated resort is great for snorkelling, diving and escaping the stresses of life with amazing views of the clear waters and astonishing limestone topography.
Other hotels in the Philippines making the top of Dan’s list include the Manila Hotel. A charming hotel in the old cultural area of the city, it boasts an interesting history and a long list of celebrity guests, proud to attract the likes of David Hasselehoff and even Prince Charles over the years. What Dan liked most about it, he says, is its integrity. Despite the usual pressures to modernise and having undergone some recent developments, Manila Hotel has cleverly retained 20% of its original, rustic rooms just as they were – “A brilliant way”, Dan says, “of keeping the hotel unique.” He was also quick to recommend another hotel – Shangri-la Boracay. At only five years old it’s still a young resort but benefits from its paradise-esque Boracay setting. A resort that “offers everything to everyone”, it is situated on two private beaches and very much exceeded Dan’s expectations.
New cuisine is always an exciting part of travelling and has the power to make a good holiday into a great one. This is certainly the case in the Philippines and Dan found the food on his trip to be delicious. There are a vast variety of dishes to choose from – many containing rice, signalling the Chinese influence in local cooking.
The Philippines is steeped in history and heritage. As well as getting a unique sense of local life here through its cuisine, Dan was also keen to check out the cultural attractions. The Philippines was actually occupied by Spain for many years, from the mid 1500s to late 1800s (taking its name from King Philip ll of Spain) and Dan visited a fantastic museum in Manila dedicated to Dr Jose Rizal, the man who bravely led the revolution against Spanish rule in 1872. Indeed, the Philippines has been occupied by numerous countries, and a quote from Dan’s tour guide sums up succinctly the rich cultural make-up it enjoys today: “Religion of the Spanish, eat like the Chinese, speak like the Americans.” The Philippines looks to the future and embraces the positive global influences that it has adopted: all the hallmarks of a progressive society, with the added bonus of having strong ties to its traditions.
Despite being in the Philippines in a professional capacity as a travel consultant, Dan admits that he is “… not one to just sit in the resort.” Mindful of the recent difficulties faced by those affected by the typhoon, he went out onto the streets in Manila,Cebu, Bohol, Boracay and Palawan and saw nothing of the so-called despair reported in the media. What he did see was a society getting on and stoutly retaining their independence and spirit. I ask Dan if he would recommend the Philippines as a holiday destination:
“1000% yes. The Country as a holiday destination is just an amazing place to explore. The best beaches in the Far East in my opinion – and I’ve been to a few. I’m already thinking and planning to go back and I’ve only been back in the UK for a week! The tourist board say ‘It’s more fun in the Philippines’ and I couldn’t agree more.”
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