Welcome to the Philippines

Trip Start Jan 17, 2008
Trip End Jun 30, 2009

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Flag of Philippines  ,
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Our journey to the Philippines did not start well...our flight from Hanoi was delayed by over 3 hours - the people on our flight seemed to be the only people left in the airport after it had closed down for the night, but before long we were onboard our Cebu Pacific (low cost airline of the Philippines) flight to Manila (capital of the Philippines), which meant we touched down at the civilized time of 7.30am, as opposed to the planned time of 4am. Once out of the airport, we were immediately shocked by many things on the journey to the hotel. We were very glad to see that all street signs, shop signs, just about everything is in English....very nice after 3 months in non English speaking places. It has a very Spanish feel....what we would imagine that somewhere like Costa Rica would look like. This is not surprising at the Phillipines was a Spanish colony for over 400 years, right up until the start of the of the 20th Century, when the Americans took over for 50 years. It is also really easy to see the great influence that the US has on the Philippines. On our first day in Manila, we stumbled across some giant American-like malls, which are all air-conditioned and have everything you would need in one place. Also remarkable is the amount of food that is everywhere. You cannot walk 20 minutes without seeing a fried chicken joint, or a burger joint, or a ribs joint, or a Chinese restaurant. Fast food is everywhere you go here, and it is noticeable that the people here are on average larger in size than the other countries we have visited. On the whole it is very modern - but it is a very American sort of modernity, as soon as you enter a shop or restaurant you are greeted by the sound of "Hi Sir, Hi Maam", like you would in the US. It actually can get a bit too much, to be honest for me it sounds a bit fake and overly cheery.
 The large amount of malls means that you have everything you want all in one place, we were able to do some shopping, then have lunch, then go ten-pin bowling (Daniella beat Jon convincingly), do more shopping, then have dinner -all without leaving the mall). One slightly less nice thing we have noticed in Manila, is that are many older Western men with young Filipino women. Manila, and the Philippines in general are big prostitution hotspots as over 70% of visitors to the country are single men, who come with only 1 thing on their minds. In the area around our hotel, which is very nice with upmarket malls and hotels, there are also lots of bars catering for this type of action with pictures of women on the outside or a few sitting around the entrance trying to get men to go in.
            Manila, as far as I can see consists of two different types of areas, either flashy large malls and shopping areas or run-down areas which have been left behind in the drive to modernize. It is a chaotic place and getting from A to B takes a long time due to the absolutely terrible traffic situation  - probably one of the worst I have ever seen  - it is really badly congested. We got around by a combination of taxis and jeepneys, which are old jeeps or vans that have been lengthened to accommodate passengers on two rows of benches at the backs. Some are decorated really individually with lots of crazy designs and colours, as well religious sayings (Philipines is a very Catholic country - apart from the Southern island of Mindanao which is mostly Muslim (and fighting a separatist conflict there at the moment).
            We have spent only two days in Manila, before we are leaving the chaotic and extremely polluted metropolis of 16 million people, before we headed southwards to Batangas to catch a ferry over to Sabang. On the way to Batangas we stopped at the Taal Volcano, which is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. We took the brave decision to hike up to the crater, rather than go by horseback which is what all the other visitors were doing. It was really hot, and there was no cover from the sun but it was not too bad at all really. At the top, we peered over into the crater where there is a lake at the bottom. You can see smoke coming out of the ground and there was a really strong smell of sulphur about - the views were incredible, as we were on an island within an island!
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