I’ve been in the Philippines for 6 months now, long enough to feel like I’ve got a bit of a grasp of the place.
Before I came, I had the stories and advice of David Hehenberger & Dan to go off, so I thought I was pretty well prepared. 6 months later, and I realize that I knew NOTHING then. Here’s the advice that I would have given to past-me before he arrived in this country:
Are you in a country that has good food options available? Are there loads of international food spots and high quality cuisine joints around every corner (Londoners, I’m thinking of you here)? Or maybe you’re used to cheap, awesome curries and satay’s at your nearest food market (for those in Thailand or Indonesia)?
If you’re leaving for the Philippines soon, hit one of those food spots right now and chow down like it was your last meal!
The Philippines sucks for food options. If you’re heading to Manila, Cebu or one of the other medium to large cities, the international chain food places are OK but nothing you cant get at home, and for a country in the middle of SE Asia it is amazing how bad the food is in the Philippines compared to neighboring countries.
If you’re OK with greasy meat (greasy everything, honestly), ridiculous amounts of rice, lack of decent vegetable dishes and copious amounts of sugar in meals that should only have a pinch – you’ll like the food here. If not, budget extra to eat at the chain and international food spots. Eating at the canteens, as they’re called here, on the roadside will be cheap but not enjoyable at all.
This obviously doesn’t apply if you’re living out in the mountains or in a secluded beach hut away from modern civilization (which you can do here), but in most of the cities clothes shopping is surprisingly cheap and there is a good selection of brands and materials available.
This was a bit of a shock to me after visiting my first mall (SM malls are scattered all over this island nation) and walking into an Adidas, timberland and even a north face shop and being surprised at how much was available and how reasonable the prices were compared to the UK. Consider leaving a few key purchases off of your shopping list and buying them here instead, or just rest easy knowing you can replace your Vibram five fingers without too much hassle once the stank hits them.
A young guy I met in Manila wouldn’t stop bragging about his custom tailored wool trousers. He found the material at a market and took it to a tailor he found online in Manila, 2 days later he had a swanky pair of wool trousers (they just looked like black jeans), that he then told me he hadn’t washed for 3 months because the material was so durable. He says durable, I say nasty. But consider getting some suits, trousers, blazers and other custom clothing tailored here to save a few hundred bucks on what you might pay at home.
The Philippines is heaven for any foreign man under the age of 40 (or over, but young westerners especially are like unicorns here) who wants to party and drink himself into an early grave. This is one of those things you don’t really appreciate (or despise, whatever) until you get here.
At first, I thought this was great. 6 months on, I’m tired of it and feel like I need to go on a detox or something.
Why is this country so much fun? Well to generalize, the people here are just pretty. And there’s all different kinds of pretty. Beautiful, sexy, handsome, cute… the Philippines has it all. This is of course subjective, but the skin tone, expressiveness, bone structure, body types and smiles of Filipinos is something else. And ladies I’m not just talking about the women here, the men are a handsome bunch too. Hetro-handsome, like Prince 😉
Staring out the window of my Taxi on the way home last week, I realized that this constant surrounding of beautiful people releases some kind of toxin in the brains of unwitting foreigners, it’s like being in a nightclub full of pretty folks who are all actually friendly (this is the anti-thesis of western nightclubs). And that’s the other thing…
As a foreign man in this country, you are kind of treated how I imagine a rock star would be treated on a day to day basis. First of all you are different from the norm here, you could even say “exotic”. Second of all you are perceived to be rich by pretty much everyone, and to be honest if you are coming from a western country then at some point in your life you probably have been a lot richer then a large majority of the population here. There are all sorts of by-products of this combination: from friendly stares from nearly everyone as you walk down the street to the seemingly magical ability to converse with anyone and every one.
Take this ‘soft-rock star’ concept to a bar or club here, throw in 50 peso bottles of beer and you have some of the craziest nights out you will ever experience.
I could write about the partying in the Philippines for hours, it’s truly something else. But realize that your health, productivity (especially if you’re trying to start a business or career here in the Philippines) and possibly your outlook on life are all at risk of coming second place to the party lifestyle here if you let it. If you want to stay here long-term, you will need to make ‘balance’ as it applies to lifestyle one of your priorities. You also can’t let it go to your head, but that’s another post.
If you’re coming from the west, and you aren’t used to seeing poverty all around you every day, the Philippines will take some getting used to.
This is something that you will find in many parts of Asia, and has a load of moral elements involved (obligation, feelings of helplessness, wether you should give that 6 year old child following you 20 pesos or not) that I don’t want to get into here – but you really have to thicken your skin to it if your going to get by.
You can bubble yourself away from it if you really try, but I almost feel like you would be doing yourself a dis-service. Accept that you are living in a country where the majority of people are poor, forget the fact and start getting to know some people. Who knows, you might figure out a a way that you can help
Does It Sound Like I’m Ragging On The Phils?
Not my intention 🙂
I wanted this to be a more realistic view of life in the Philippines for an expat or someone planning a long to medium term stay. Not another “cool waterfalls to check out in Palawan” guide for backpackers.
Saying that, there are some huge upsides to living in the Philippines, especially for someone trying to cut their US or European living costs in order to build a business or career and re-invest into it, rather then buying a new 3 series so you don’t feel out of place at the neighbors BBQ:
- Living here is CHEAP: you can live very well on $1k a month, and cheaper then that if you’re willing to take a bump in your standard of living. For example on the island of Mindoro, I rented a studio apartment for 3.5k pesos a month, that’s $70 US! Electricity and gas for the stove were another 1k or so on top of that. Here in Cebu, my accomodation is substantially more expensive, and in Dumaguete you are looking at around 10-16k pesos a month (around the $300 mark) for a decent one bedroom apartment, although you will have to hook up broadband internet yourself and it wont be furnished. Monthly rates on hotel stays can be had for 16-20k, a good alternative.
- Staff options: If you are looking to grow your business in some way, say you have coding or programming requirements, need staff to work your SEO process or just need a good PA, there are few places that I can think of that match the Philippines in terms of potential. I recommend checking out Chris Ducker over at Virtual Business Lifestyle for more info here.
- Some beautiful scenery: get out of the cities, and you can find some amazing scenery and sights here. Beautiful beaches, stunning waterfalls carved into jungles, mountains and the kind of landscapes you only see in movies. Oh and the diving, it’s second to none (so I hear, I haven’t been yet :-s)
- IT’S SO DAMN CHEAP!
- Your ‘big fish’ status can connect you with big hitters that you would never have the chance to meet otherwise: cool ass expat surfers inviting you to dinner on their yacths: check. Soaking up the knowledge of successful business owners over beers or a coffee: happens all the time. Leverage the fact that you are a pioneer of sorts and are trying to do something unique while based on a tropical island, and you will find yourself attracting the small group here who are trying to do the same!
- It’s cowboy country: there are no limits to what you can do here. Lack of structure in key areas can be a hinderance if you let it, but it can also be a HUGE plus. I’m not saying you should rob banks like some sort of John Wayne 2.0, but try looking into finance and banking opportunities here that might be a little less regulated then back home
The Philippines is only just starting to make sense to me, and I’m sure I will be sharing more content about SE Asia’s secret playground in future. I’d love to hear your own thoughts on the Philippines in the comments below!
Man, you said it well.
That price for a studio on Mindoro is insane. I hadn’t heard of anything that cheap yet. Was it in PG?
I remember saying it over and over in the first week I spent here… “I feel like I’m a rockstar…”. In the Philippines, you can live like a rockstar without being a rockstar.
Well dude, word on the street is that you were a rockstar back home too 😉
Ok I just made that up – but I hear you on that feeling, and it never quite goes away!
Yeah the studio was just around the corner from badladz in PG, right next to a Japanese hotel called Oriental Pearl.
You can check out a crappy/slightly creepy video I put together of the place here: http://vimeo.com/28451494
Lewis, you articulated something I tried to write about it awhile back…
You said: “…I realized that this constant surrounding of beautiful people releases some kind of toxin in the brains of unwitting foreigners, it’s like being in a nightclub full of pretty folks who are all actually friendly (this is the anti-thesis of western nightclubs).”
I think this is totally it! After a little wikipedia research, I found out the part of the brain it has to do with is the nucleus accumbens. I really think somebody should monitor our brains for this when traveling to places with friendly, beautiful girls. hehe
And I don’t know if you’ve had to leave a place like the Philippines for another place, but you might have to deal with withdrawal symptoms. No joke. I wrote a post describing my experience called the Medellin Effect. So beware if you have to leave the PI…
All of which is to say, you’ve made me even more curious about the Philippines. Maybe I’ll see you there before too long.
PS How long can you end up staying there on a tourist visa?
PPS Can you do a break down of the better cities to live in for a medium-to-long term stay?
Tourist visa– 2 years or so, really friendly. There are a few of these breakdowns of places to live in the DC FYI.
Love this post.
Hah, so there is some science behind it – amazing! Your blog definitely has me yearning to check out Medellin & the rest of Columbia – hopefully will at some point in the next 16 months.
I haven’t left the Philippines for 6 months, so will prepare myself for withdrawl symptoms. I’m heading to Penang in Malaysia next month en-route to Thailand, so I will be able to give you my breakdown on those places after that.
As Dan mentioned, Visa options are very friendly and cheap in the phils
Definitely check out DC for some expert opinions of SE Asian places to stay!
Life in Manila is in complete contrast with other parts of the Philippines. This is why I tell my friends not to spend so much time exploring Manila because it really is worn down. Our family moved to Laguna a few years back to avoid the hustle and bustle of the metro. I have to disagree about the food though. Some restaurants really do prepare an awful array of dish but there are plenty of gems that serve good and quality food. If you are still in the Philippines, try visiting Paseo de Santa Rosa, Nuvali, and Los Banos Square – all of which are in Laguna.
Hey Ron, thanks for the comment.
I feel like Manila should be by-passed for all first time visitors to the Philippines, it’s an unfair representation and like you said, is worn down. Visiting Luzon, CDO, Mindoro, Mindanao or Dumaguete/Bacolod if you NEED a city is a better first trip and will really give a taste of the good things about this country – and then unleash the intenseness of Manila on them.
I have been to a few medium-expensive restaurants (700-900pesos per head) in Manila and in Cebu, and thought the food was good – quality produce and well cooked. But honestly, on a day to day basis I am not blown away by the food in the Phils. Wheras in Indonesia, for the price of some greasy lechon and hanging rice, I could buy some satay made from higher quality meat and a nice vegtable side.
I guess it depends on your tastes – I like a lot of Ghanain dishes because I grew up with them, while someone with more western tastes might be like “WTF is this” and hate the taste if I put a bowel of stew and fufu (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fufu) in front of them
Well I hope you did enjoy your stay here. By the way, I was in Penang last May and stayed at this hostel called Hutton Lodge. It is well-maintained and cheap. You might want to check it out.
Very well put I would love you to write an entire blog post on partying and the effects it has on some.
I have been here over 6 months as well now and I have noticed I have spells of not enough work too much partying … seems to come and go for me, but definitely at the stage where I need to detox … like yourself 😉
Great post brother
After hanging out with you in Davao John, I don’t get the impression that you’re a big party guy at all 😉
But there is allot to be said for the huge down swing in productivity and action taking that follows a few (or just one, if you do it big) nights – I will definitely write more about this in future without completely letting the cat out the bag 😀
Wow, not so sure about the worn down, i guess it’s subjective…it’s really important to know where your going and who you’re going to be with.
I can name thousands of areas in first world countries that are worse than Manila.
By the way, another superb sunset i’m watching over Manila bay.
I guess. For all my work and visit to the Filipines, I have a difficult time calling the place friendly. In the the course of weeks outside of work (and even at work) the Filipinos would never talk. I spent most of my social time with Japanese and Koreans.
So for my sake and my next visit (I no longer work there) where is the place to go where it is the euphoric never ending bright place to be? Where to visit?
F. Stuart, honestly there is no ‘mecca’ of outgoing, overly-friendly people in the Philippines… the whole country is friendly and welcoming by its nature, I found. I quickly discovered that if I wanted quiet, or to stick around expat foreigners and not interact with locals for a while, I could do that pretty easily in the bigger cities like Cebu and Manilla.
Dumaguete, Mindoro and Davao were places that I found it hard to keep to myself and just live life quietly, however. I would walk down the street and get smiles, stares and the occasional ‘wasup bro’ all the time – now this may be because my look is a little different from the average foreigner, but I always had the feeling in these places that people want to connect. Men and women, young and old were just social by nature, it was just a case of being open to interactions (constantly, which can get tiresome)
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