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Not far away from the beach resorts of Phuket and Bali, or the mega cities of Bangkok and Singapore is another country that has perhaps been sitting in the shadows of it’s more popular neighbours for far too long. This country has over 7,000 tropical islands, most with beautiful untouched beaches. It has a megalopolis of 24 million people. It has huge forests hiding an amazingly unique array of wildlife. And an incredibly long and diverse history to be learned. And now with their national airline flying to Auckland, it’s never been a better time to experience the Philippines!
Your first introduction to the Philippines will most probably be its capital city of Manila. The urban agglomeration (continuous built up area) of Manila is the third largest in the world, and home to a staggering 24 million people! It has a long history being under the rule of Chinese, Bruneian, Spanish and Americans at some stage. The Spanish built one of their famous old colonial cities which is its main attraction today, but like most Asian cities it has long since modernised and is today full of modern highrise buildings and shopping malls too.
But it’s the islands and beautiful beaches that make this country famous. And you really have your pick of islands, any one of the 7,107 tropical islands that make up the archipelago will do! The central region of islands called the Visayas is the most popular. Here you’ll find the two most well known destinations, Cebu and Boracay. Cebu is the much larger of the two, and has its own city of about three million people which shares its name. But away from the city, all along the coast are beautiful beaches dotted with international standard resorts. Boracay is the other end of the scale, much smaller and much more peaceful. But it does have the same pure white sand beaches, and is regularly voted amongst the best beaches in the world.
Beaches aside, the islands do hide other attractions. Volcanoes are a common site, as are large karsts similar to the likes of Halong Bay. In the mountainous north of the country, the hillsides have been carved up and turned into vast rice paddies. Then there’s the truly unique spots such as the Chocolate Hills, an amazing site of hundreds of perfectly shaped hills covering one of the islands; and Puerto Princesa Underground River which is navigable and stretches up to 8 kilometres inland.
The inhabitants of the many islands are diverse and wide ranging. There’s the tarsier, one of the smallest species of primates in the world and one so cute that you’ll be tempted to smuggle one or two home with you. Elephants of course, are always popular. And there’s anteaters, tigers, wolves, a billion different types of monkeys and over 600 species of birds, nearly 200 of which are only found here.
While Filipino cuisine hasn’t taken the world by storm like its Chinese, Thai or Japanese neighbours, it could arguably be said to be more exciting! Traditional rice and noodle dishes are the staple as per most of Asia. Spices are common, but not used to the extremes of other Asian cultures. Being surrounded by ocean, seafood is a major player here with a multitude of unique dishes available. Where it really gets interesting though, is the influence the Spanish have had on the cuisine. They brought European fare such as pasta, as well as the likes of beans and corn from their Latin colonies, all of which has been infused into traditional Asian dishes. Perhaps the best news of all though, they don’t use chopsticks in the Philippines! Yay for knives and forks! You’ll be able to look a lot less like a clumsy child, and a lot more like a refined adult while eating.
For culture… well it’s a very tricky subject. Being spread across over 7,000 islands means there’s a lot of different peoples. A LOT. The people are predominantly a mix of Austronesian and Melanesian, but you can draw lines from almost any Asian, Australian or Pacific Island peoples to the Philippines. Even our very own Maori. Needless to say, there’s an absolute plethora of culture to learn about and you will discover new experiences around every corner!
So whatever it be shopping, sunbathing, wildlife, scenery, or culture, the Philippines is guaranteed to please!
> READ MORE ABOUT THE PHILIPPINES HERE
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