review: the complete blow-by-blow guide to vacay-ing in the philippines when you’re a laowai 老外 from China

I made this post most especially for my laowai friends, currently residing in China, who kept bugging (not really) me how to travel to the Philippines. “Where to buy cheap tickets? Where to go? Where to stay?” So instead of wasting my time and effort making a really organized reply in Wechat to every (I mean every) person who asks, let me consolidate it in one place so that I wouldn’t go through the trouble of searching and forwarding again and again to everyone who asks.

1. CHECK FOR TICKET PRICES

The average ticket price all throughout the year is CNY 1,500 for a return ticket.

This is for flights from Nanjing to Manila and Shanghai to Manila. From Beijing it is usually more expensive.

Where to get tickets?

Chinese local airline booking site engines

– Qunar (I usually book from the APP as it is very convenient and cheap)

Qunar has an online site and an APP that you could easily download in Google play or iTunes! Plus, it is very easy to use once you get the hang of it.

The advantage of Qunar, compared to booking it directly from airline companies is that it searches for the cheapest flight tickets from all the airlines available in China on the dates you specified. It also gives you suggestions on which dates are the cheapest! There is a price grid function that compares and shows which corresponding go-and-return dates are the cheapest. (Picture samples to navigate site to come hehe)

The only thing is Qunar is in Chinese! So if you are not so confident with your Chinese, you could ask a friend to do it for you or just use Ctrip.

– Ctrip

Works similar to Qunar but that is in English! It doesn’t have the price grid that compares and shows the cheapest dates to travel. This APP is dedicated to foreigners who couldn’t tolerate Chinese characters. So since everything has been translated, expect the prices to be a tad more expensive than Qunar.

From budget airlines directly

– Cebu Pacific

Flights are limited from Beijing or Shanghai. Usually Cebu Pacific has seat sales which may give you a roundtrip ticket for CNY 900!

The only thing is that seat sales would be several months before the actual date, in which case, you might still be unsure if you could commit on the date.

cebupac.png

I recently booked a ticket during a Seat Sale on September 2016 for a flight in December 2016 for CNY 800 or ~PHP 5,860! (See above photo)

When booking, make sure that your country is set to Philippines (English) so that you get the most out of online seat sales! During confirmation, you could just easily change payment currency to CNY.

cebufirst page.png

When using CNY, payment methods are the following:

1. Alipay – This is however, limited to Chinese nationals or foreigners who have successfully registered their IDs in Alipay.

2. Paypal – A very convenient online method, although has transaction fees on top of your payment. Paypal China allows you to use your Unionbank Debit Card in creating a new profile.

3. Visa & Master Card

Air Asia

I haven’t tried this but basically works the same as Cebu Pacific! Payment methods are the same except that in Air Asia, you could use your debit card in any China Bank (as long as your card is enrolled in online banking).

Again, set the language to Philippines (English) or Malaysia (English) cause that’s when you get cheaper flights.

airasia.png

Promotion for Bank of Communication card holders: they give 20% discounts on CNY currency flights booked on Fridays!

2. ORGANIZE ITINERARY

There are a lot of places to travel to in the Philippines depending on what you want. Note that the Philippines is divided into 3 major regions (group of islands) — Luzon (Northern region), Visayas (Middle region), and Mindanao (Southern region). The main cities in every region is easily accessible by plane. Your itinerary is limited by the number of days you are planning to stay in the Philippines and the places you would want to visit so it is best to plan ahead.

Every person has their own top 10 list. So let me make my own list.

If you are a nature and beach-freak just like me, top places to explore are:

  1. Boracay (Visayas) – Known for having one of the softest sand in the world. Boracay is easily accessible to foreigners nowadays. Along the shoreline. Check out a trip I had with my family in Boracay!
  2. Cebu/ Bohol (Visayas) – White-sand beaches everywhere. These two islands are in fact just near one another and can be accessible by ferry or bus.
  3. Palawan (Visayas) – Palawan has a northern part and a southern part. The northern and southern part are said to be from different tectonic plates that merged together overtime. The northern part (where Puerto Princessa is) is the newer one while the southern part is the older one (El Nido). Puerto Princesa has the Subterranean river while El Nido has all the nice white sand beaches where you could go island-hopping! The beaches in El Nido are said to be even better

 

 

 

If you aim for adventure,

  1. Batangas (Luzon) – For scuba diving, snorkeling, and island hopping. This place is just a 3-5 hour drive from the capital city!
  2. Cebu (Visayas) – There are a lot of snorkeling and diving sites all around the island of Cebu! It is easy to check and find online.
  3. Palawan (Visayas) – Tubatahha reef is known for its underwater glamour and its charm to divers!
  4. CDO (Mindanao)White water rafting!
  5. Northern Samar & Eastern Samar (Visayas) – Caving in some of the most beautiful and intricate caves in the world! The Samar area of the Philippines is one of the newly discovered areas in the Philippines that is still unknown to the world.

If you long for luxury in the City

  1. Manila (Luzon) – Learn about when the Spanish conquistadors conquered the Philippines at the heart of the capital city. Watch the sunset at Manila Bay, one of the most important ports of the galleon trade centuries ago. Now casinos and luxury resorts are starting to line up along Manila Bay where you could be away from the noise and stress of the city and enjoy some petty games.
  2. Cebu City (Visayas) -Cebu is basically a smaller version of Manila with less horrible traffic jam. Check out things to do in Cebu City.

If you want to chill (like, literally) and be a way from the scalding heat

  1. Baguio (Luzon) – Once was the favorite vacation spot of American expats and military men in the Philippines during the Commonwealth period. This is a city on top of a hill and thus is cold all throughout the year. Baguio is 9-10 hour drive from the capital city, Manila.
  2. Tagaytay (Luzon) – A place also on top of a hill where cool breeze is everywhere. Known to be the prime location of famous celebrities’ rest houses. From Manila, it will take around 3-5 hours to reach Tagaytay.
  3. Bukidnon (Mindanao) – If you have time to go to Mindanao, then check out Dahilayan in Bukidnon!

 

3. CHOOSE ACCOMMODATION

Paid Accommodations can be found in the following sites and/or APPs:

Sometimes, it is better to book accommodations online in advance as it saves you the hassle of still trying to find one when you arrive. Plus, online they usually give you discounts and freebies if you ask!

AirBnb

Agoda

If you’re budget is really limited and is a solo, duo, or trio traveler, then you could try Couchsurfing! You basically ask a local to house you in their humble abode for a night or two for free. Read about my Couchsurfing experiences here.  Filipinos are a very hospitable, fun-loving people. They will help you without solicitation and out of good will. Although there would always be exceptions and mugglers along your way (especially in bigger cities), you will generally be greeted with smiles and helpful locals (who speak English) along the road.

4. GOING AROUND 

Transportation around the country is limited to the following:

  • By plane
    • Fares range from RMB 150-1,000. Travel time is 1-2 hours.
    • Budget airlines available are: Cebu Pacific & Air Asia
  • By bus
    • Fares are from RMB 50-400 . Travel time is 3 hours to 48 hours.
    • You can easily find buses in bus stops around the city. It would also be easy to ask the locals and they would be very helpful, just take note of the prices I stated here.
  • By ferry
    • Fares are from RMB 120-500. Travel time is 8 hours to 24 hours
    • Online booking is also very common for ferries. Budget ferries available are: 2GO Travel

There are local websites that sell cheap local tours in Philippine peso. Two of the ones I know and have used before are:

  1. Cashcash Pinoy
  2. Metrodeal

Just make sure to call the agent first before confirming your payment so that you are certain that you get what you paid for.

5. VISA REQUIREMENTS

A lot of countries are visa-free when entering the Philippines. You can basically google (or bing) if you need any requirements when entering the country. Else, check the official website of the Philippine consulate general.

Tips for faster transactions with the immigration during entry (and to be certain that the Phil immig won’t deport you back so that your money in booking all of those hotels and flight tickets)

Even if it is explicitly stated that you do not have visa requirements, entry to the Philippines these days is becoming more complicated (especially with the new president involved, etc.). It is especially difficult for foreigners who have only been to one or two countries before traveling to the Philippines. So it is important to exercise due diligence when traveling to the Philippines.

Make sure to bring:

  1. Credit card/ Debit card

When you are asked by the immigration if you have credit card, just tell them yes even if you only have a Unionpay debit card. When they ask you to show it, just show it. They wouldn’t know the difference, trust me)

2. Some dollars

Just tell them you have on-hand USD 1,000 and some more in your bank. They won’t every ask you to show it.

3. Printed round-trip tickets

If this is just your second time traveling to another country, first time travelling to the Philippines, not a citizen of a highly-developed nation, and is not a pretty girl or handsome boy by Philippine standards, then you have more chances of being asked for a return ticket to China. If you don’t have, they will ask you to book on the spot, which will cost much more.

Cases in point:

Case 1: I have 2 Ghanian friends travel the country a few weeks after Duterte was proclaimed president. Both are males. Age range: 27-29. One has been to his country for several times and has traveled only one other country. The other has not traveled to any other country. They had printed return tickets to China, printed plane tickets to Cebu and Boracay, printed hotel bookings, and cash on hand but when asked about credit card, said they didn’t have. They were both denied entry and were blacklisted.

Case 2: I have this Australian friend who I met on the plane from Guangzhou to Manila. Male. Age is around mid-40s. He has been to the Philippines just one time (before going to Guangzhou). He claims he hasn’t bought a return ticket to Australia. Immigration was smooth as silk, he wasn’t even asked for a return ticket.

4. Printed hotel bookings

As I have said before, if this is just your second time traveling to another country, first time travelling to the Philippines, not a citizen of a highly-developed nation, and is not a pretty girl or handsome boy by Philippine standards, then you have more chances of being asked for proofs of accommodations. If you were planning on using AirBnb, you could tell them, you would be living with a friend. They will most probably ask for this friend’s contact details and address. Make sure that you inform your AirBnb host that you will use his/her contact details during entry, just in case the immigration officer asks. I repeat, just in case.

So I hope this guide has been very helpful to you. I will be updating it once in a while for new trends and tips!

I would love to hear your own story and tips, if you’re a foreigner in China who has visited the Philippines before, if you’re Filipino, or basically anyone, in the comment section.

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