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Travel: Why I think the Philippines is SE Asia's next backpacking paradise

On a bumpy bus ride to Cambodia a few years ago, I met a young Swiss couple backpacking their way around the world. At the time I was just 2 weeks into my first real overseas adventure, so I soaked up their photos and stories with wide-eyed astonishment. "So you've been all over the world...what is your absolute favorite country?" I just had to ask. 

Their faces lit up, as if they had been waiting to tell me the whole time.

"The Philippines, without a doubt."

Wait, what? The Philippines? One would expect them to mention exotic destinations like Thailand, Vietnam, India, or Peru. To be honest, at that point, the first thing I thought of when I heard the word "Philippines" was poverty (well, thanks to my Filipino friends in California, the first thing was actually lumpia :) The second thing I thought of was danger. After all, the country has made appearances  on the US Travel Advisory website a few times.

I had to see it for myself

Well, I never forgot what that couple told me.  About two years later, I jumped at the chance to visit - and let me tell you - I ended up staying for an entire year!  I have been to many countries, but the Philippines is just different.  There I found a warmth and hospitality that is unrivaled anywhere in the world.  I traveled to many different regions and did my best to learn some of the different languages and customs.   Check out my tips on Filipino food and phrases further down the page.  By the way, it's not just for backpackers...there are also world-class resorts on stunning islands such as Boracay, Bohol, and those in Bacuit Bay, El Nido.

Yes, in that time I fell deeply in love with this beautiful country - just as that Swiss couple had.  Poor?  Yes, there is poverty like other parts of SE Asia, but there is also real wealth, and not just the monetary kind.  Dangerous?  Nope.  A few incidents in the far south have given people a false impression about the risk of traveling through the rest of the country.  It's a shame, because this country and its people have so much to offer.  So the real question is...

How has the Philippines remained such a tiny blip on the backpacking radar??

One reason the Philippines has gone unnoticed may be because of how isolated it is. From Thailand you can easily take a cheap bus through a few other countries – Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. The Philippines, on the other hand, is a country of over 7,000 islands, and they are hanging out by themselves out in the vast Pacific Ocean. Another reason might be that, to Western eyes, the country doesn't seem as "exotic" (read: different) as other Asian nations. It makes sense, given that it was colonized for hundreds of years by both the US and Spain (from my understanding, Filipinos themselves are a melting pot of Malay, Chinese, and Spanish blood). 

Filipinos have a strong sense of modesty and prefer not to boast or show off.  Perhaps that's why we haven't heard much about the beauty of the Philippines yet! Well I've witnessed the beauty and cultural diversity firsthand, and I'm not Filipino...so allow me to boast for them :) The country is in fact quite "exotic," and it's poised and ready to give other destinations in SE Asia (and even places like the Maldives and the Bahamas) a real run for their money! In my opinion, backpacking meccas like Khao San Road in Bangkok are completely over-saturated and have just become havens for unruly tourists looking for cheap booze and young girls.