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Know before you go: The Philippines

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Know before you go: The Philippines

story by: Anna Sarjeant

The Philippines. The home of coconuts, countless pageant winners and the inventor of the karaoke machine. If you’re about to visit, here are 10 more things you need to know before you go (and these ones are actually useful).

1. Jeepneys are the most common form of public transport
To be tried once (and that might be one time too many) the jeepney is the cheapest and most popular form of public transport throughout the country. A brightly decorated hybrid of a bus and a truck, the jeepney is a throwback from US occupation during WWII. The soldiers left but their GI jeeps didn’t, so the Philippines commissioned them into a garish local transport.

HOT tip: Once aboard, hold on tight and shout “para” (stop) loudly when you want to get off.


2. The weather is year-round tropical  
Which also means there’s a wet and dry season to consider. Wet season runs from May to October and dry season from November to April. Temperature wise, January and February are the coolest months whereas March, April and May get so hot, the thermometer often hovers around 36°C. A prominent diving destination, we recommend divers pay a visit anytime between December and April.

HOT tip: With a Spanish heritage, 80% of the Philippines people are Roman Catholic. As a result prices can be higher during the Christmas and Easter periods.  


3. Don’t worry about a visa
Unless you’re planning to be in the Philippines for longer than three weeks. Visitors are permitted to enter the country for a maximum stay of 21 days without a visa.

HOT tip: Think you’d like to stay a day, week, lifetime longer? Talk to your HOT consultant about entries greater than 21 days.


4. Fill your pockets with tissues
Most public bathrooms won’t provide toilet paper and even if they do, it’s likely to be located on a dispenser outside the toilet stall. Too late if you’ve already committed to the task at hand. 

Hot tip: The pipes can be temperamental too, so never flush toilet paper down the throne. Use the bin provided and avoid an embarrassing blockage.    


5. Spain ruled the country for 377 years
Right up until 1898, so if you weren’t prepared to find a rather large slice of Spain smack bang in the middle of Asia, you will once you exit the airport terminal. From the cuisine to architecture and even the language, the fusions and contrasts between the east and the west can be observed everywhere.

HOT tip: The Philippines were also under American occupation for 49 years. Hence why the electric sockets accept a US-format plug.


6. The Philippines is the world’s largest producer of coconuts
Yup, and they supply some 19.5 million tonnes of their finest coconuts to the rest of the world every single year (note that one – it might win you the pub quiz). Good news for parched visitors then, because there are coconut shakes (and shakers shaking them) everywhere.

HOT tip: Buko Shake is a highly addictive combination of fresh coconut flesh, coconut milk, sugar and coconut water. Absolutely delicious. Unless you’re opposed to coconut.


7. It’s common to point with your lips
Say what? A peculiar concept for Kiwis we know, but Filipinos quite often point with their mouths and raised eyebrows. Basically, if you ask for directions, you need to follow their lips and watch the direction in which they pout and indicate. Don’t worry, sometimes they simply point, you’ll get a knack for it. 

HOT tip: You’re on your own with this one. Practice makes perfect.


8. Be wary some of the time
The Filipinos have a worldwide reputation for being the nicest, most amicable, smiley, happy people on the planet. In fact it’s one of the biggest reasons people return, but let’s not be naive, there are swindlers and scoundrels everywhere. Negotiate taxi fares up front and prepare for a hard bargain, stand your ground and ensure you get a fair price.

HOT tip: Porters at bus stations, ferry ports and sometimes airports will move your luggage, often without a prompt, and then expect a small tip for the service. If you don’t want to pay, keep hold of your possessions. 


9. Knives have no place at the dinner table
For the most part all meals are eaten with a fork and a spoon. On account of the deliciously slow-cooked meat and bite-sized ingredients, knives have become a little redundant. The fork is commonly used to push the food before being shovelled, by spoon, into the mouth.

HOT tip: If you find yourself in a knifeless situation, the spoon is usually held in the right hand and your fork in the left.   


10. Get vaccinated
But not overly. The Philippines don’t require an excessive amount of immunisation, but you’d be wise to vaccinate against typhoid, polio and hepatitis A. If you’re spending a lot of time outdoors (or more than a month in the country) consider an immunisation against Japanese encephalitis.

HOT tip: Once there, steer clear of tap water and ice cubes. Stick with sealed bottled water and/or boiled water.

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