Firstly let me state the obvious that travel is all things to all men (and women) so what suits me may not suit everyone. I hate cities, however old and venerable they may be and I also hate guided tours as I usually get led up the garden path.
Traveling alone or in small groups in phils is great fun, it's a huge area and you could spend a lifetime trying to cover all of it.
One thing you need to know is that it is a politically unstable destination so there are certain places you should avoid. Before going check your government's travel advisory pages (for brits check out the foreign office pages). Most places in Phils are safe with the exception of parts of Mindanao, particularly Zamboanga. An irish missionary was kidnapped there recently, so its still precarious.
Before you start your journey you should be aware that if you get a visa on arrival it will only cover you for 21 days. If you get one from a Phils embassy before entry you can get a 3 months visa. You should be aware that unlike UK and USA your visa will be checked on departure and you could have problems if you have overstayed.
Due to its Spanish colonial past it is largely Catholic country with a sizable Muslim population, mainly in the south. The people are extremely friendly and love to help travelers, but please try to avoid advising them how to run their country, it's both unhelpful and insulting.
Phils has become the victim of so-called "sex tourism" and you may come across some pretty unpleasant western males trying to find underage children. This is a sad fact of traveling life today and thats why I try to avoid places like Makati (at night) in Manila, Angeles City and Olongapo (the last two being near to former US military bases).
Phils is always hot and steamy, so don't pack your winter woolies. Even the most formal occasion wont require more than smart casual. For guys, you will see men wearing what appears to be a formal decorated white shirt, I forget it's name but they are comfortable and you will please the locals by wearing one.
Amost everyone speaks english and its easy to get around. The main language is Tagalog and there are other dialects in Cebu and in the north. If you are a spanish speaker you will find the language easier to pick up, but as I say english will get you around.
Usually when I go there I avoid manila,. It is dirty, heavily polluted and in my view is a waste of your valuable vacation time.
Instead I head straight for Cebu in the central Phils. Cebu is regarded as the second city of the phils and its main advantage for a traveler is that it it a great jumping off point to other places.
There are daily flights into Cebu from most places in SE Asia. My own favourite is the daily flight (747) from Hong Kong. So it is easy to avoid Manila. If you are traveling to northern Phils (as you should) I will write another topic in a few days. I once made the mistake of taking a bus from Manila to Laoag which took 13 hours..dont do it!
Usually when I arrive in Cebu and the night before I leave I treat myself to one night at the Shangri-La. By any standards this is a world class hotel and even if you don't stay there it's worth a visit.
You will arrive in Cebu on Mactan Island, which is where the explorer Magellan met his end at the hands of a local chieftan called Lapu Lapu, which is also the name of the main town on mactan and is also a local delicacy.
For travellers by far and away the best place to stay is the kiwi Lodge (KL) which is located in Ayala in Cebu city. This is not a plug but a practical recommendation.
Firstly, KL is cheap, around £5 per night. The rooms are air conned and cleaned daily. Its run, not surprisingly by a Kiwi. The food is basic but good. There is a bar and that is where it is most useful. There you will meet lots of other travelers who will be happy to point you in the right direction. KL has a web site, so check them out.
Another worthwhile place on Mactan is Mikes,run by an insane german known locally as Mike the bread. I once allowed myself to go with him on a pub crawl...it was a very bad mistake!
After Cebu there are a million choices, but in this post I will give you a couple.
you can take a ferry from Cebu city across to the nearby Island of Bohol. Ive seen others in this forum have been there to see the chocolate hills and they are definitely worth seeing as a visit to the habitat of the tarsier monkeys, they are the smallest of that species and can only be found there and in Borneo (figure that one out!).
On one trip I found a guy with a banca (a local fishing boat) to take me right around the island of Cebu. It took 4 days, the highlight of which was staying at malapascua Island off the northern tip of Cebu looking out into Leyte. I should point out here that you dont have to be a diver to visit Phils (I'm not) but thats why many people visit. I snorkeled in Malapascua and saw some thresher sharks for which it is famous. Ive seen a lot of great beaches in my travels but for me this is the best. On the subject of beaches a lot of people head for Boracay. In my opinion its has become too touristy, but nevertheless its a good place to meet up with other travelers.
Ive mentioned Mindanao above and you will probably be told not to go there...which is why I did. I took a flight fro Cebu (SE Air) down to Camiguin island which is off the north coast of Mindanao. I stayed at the secret cove resort run by a Canadian guy called Thomas. check out their website. I had a great time there and I'm sure you will too. After that I went to Cagayan d'Oro then across to the east coast the Surigao. In Cagayan I met a local guy who invited me over to Surigao so that I could attend their village fiesta. This is a typical example of the hospitality you can expect in Phils. I stayed for 5 days at his families home before traveling back to Cebu by ferry.
Above I have told you of one trip to Phils. At that time I went there frequently as I was living in Hong Kong. At one time when the airport had flights to HK i was going there most weekends. The trip described above is not one that would suit a tourist, either in terms of time or comfort, but if you are tavelling you might consider this as a blueprint for your trip
I have no doubt that there are 1001 things I have forgotten. Medical facilities outside the cities are not great. But please ensure you have a mosquito spray. Once I forgot and went down with dengue fever; and let me tell you, that is very unpleasant.
Anyway I hope this has been useful to someone. later I will try to post a bit more stuff but if you have any questions about Phils, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia or (to a lesser extent Japan) I will be happy to give you my opinion; and let me stress once again thats all it is.
The tagalog word for welcome is Mabuhay and I can gurantee a great one for you in the Philippines.