5 First Impressions of The Philippines

From the moment we stepped off the plane in Manila we had the feeling that the Philippines was going to be a trip filled with amazing adventures, incredible experiences and friendly faces! There was an instantaneous air of excitement and within a couple of days this feeling was officially confirmed; we are in love with the Philippines!

It’s not only the people and their unbelievably genuine hospitality, but the whole country just has a super positive vibe to it. In our short time here we’ve seen the diverse sides of Philippines, from the high rises of Makati to the humble town of Tacloban, each with their own highlights.

We can’t wait to spend the next 6 months volunteering in Tacloban and exploring the rest of the country! So without further explanation, here are our 5 first impressions of the Philippines!


first impressions of the philippines


The People

Ok we know this is starting to sound cliché, but seriously, Filipinos are the nicest and most polite people we’ve ever met along our travels! Now this is not to discredit any of the other amazing countries we’ve travelled to, but I think anyone who has visited the Philippines will agree that you jut can’t beat Filipino hospitality!

The perfect example of this is in Tacloban, where we’re currently volunteering. Hit hard by a super typhoon in November 2013, many of these people were left with absolutely nothing, yet the smiles and optimistic attitude they have about life is infectious. No matter how bad you think your day is you can’t help but smile and be cheerful when you walk down the street and everybody greets you with a ‘good morning sir, good morning maam’. Kids come running out of their house just to wave at you as you pass by, and pedi-cab drivers say thank-you even when you decline their services.


first impressions of the philippines


Lack of Vegetarian Options

Relax, relax, we’re not about to completely write off Filipino food for vegetarians, but we must admit it has been a little more difficult to find some variety. I guess we were blessed with an abundance of choices in countries like Thailand and Vietnam, where tofu sprouts in meadows and vegetable Pho flows from fountains. Well, not exactly, but that’s how we’re feeling at the moment.

To be fair we haven’t ventured out too much in trying to find some good options, so this is on our list of things to do this week. So far we’re noticing lots of pork, particularly a traditional dish called sisig (minced up and fried pork cheek), which we’ve been told is delicious, but we’ll have to take their word for it.

If you have any suggestions for vegetarian friendly food choices we’re all tofu ears!


first impressions of the philippines


The Spanish Influence

Coming into the Philippines we were well aware of their historical past. I mean, we’d read books and watched documentaries, but nothing really shows you what life is like in a country better than actually living in it. Having spent so much time in former Spanish colonies we’d become quite accustomed to things like; Catholic dedication, local transport decked out in flashing florescent lights and the old colonial architecture, but I guess we didn’t realise how far reaching this was.

Since arriving in the Philippines we’ve definitely picked up on a lot more of the Spanish influence than we thought. Even the national language, Tagalog, has an array of Spanish words that make up random items. Spanish numbers, months and days are all the understood, as well as a number of other things, which helps a little with communication.


first impressions of the philippines


The Land of Singers

You might not believe me, but literally as I write this sentence the distant sound of an out of tune ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ echoes through our street. We think it’s the voices of our neighbors around the corner, last night it was the young girl a few doors down.

While we haven’t yet investigated this phenomenon, but we are noticing a significant amount of singers in the Philippines. From the guy walking down the street at night belting out Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out loud’ to the grocery attendant who had no interest in helping us while the power ballad of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ was in full force! Karaoke bars pop up on almost every corner and seem to be the popular spot to be on a Friday night.

first impressions of the philippines


When we initially thought about sport in the Philippines we definitely didn’t think that basketball would be up there! Our first guess, and what we figured was a safe one, was football (soccer). It’s the world game, everybody plays it and we just assumed the fast and nimble Filipinos did as well. So far, much to our surprise, Filipinos seem to be all about the basketball! Kids walk around the streets in basketball jerseys and kicks three sizes too big for them. Impromptu pop-up games erupt onto the street, where makeshift hoops hang crookedly from trees and nobody cares to keep score.

And let’s be honest, Filipinos generally aren’t the tallest bunch of people out there! But hey, they probably said the same thing about Muggsy Bogues!


What were your first impressions of the Philippines? Are we far off? Drop us a comment below or find us on Facebook and Twitter!

22 thoughts on “5 First Impressions of The Philippines”

  1. You’re right about the lack of vegetarian options. I travelled to the Philippines in 2009, when I was still an omnivore, and remember the food being mostly just mystery meat and rice. I’m curious to see if you find better options elsewhere as you travel around. Also, the Spanish (and more recently American) influence is very interesting. I arrived to the Philippines from China, and was really surprised at how I suddenly no longer felt I was in Asia, but rather in, perhaps, the Caribbean. Weird!

    • Yes we definitely look forward to exploring some more vegetarian options as well haha. We’ll keep you posted 🙂 After coming from Vietnam we were also thinking this feels more like parts of Latin America than Southeast Asia, which was strange indeed.

      • IF you go farther up north of Luzon, a lot of the towns have all sort of vegie dishes ranging from salad to vegie soups. a lot of the vegies usually grows in the wild or are planted. A lot of these vegies are found at the front or backyard of the house or in the field. So it’s just a matter where you are in the philippines. I think It’s better if you do a research on what are the common dishes being cooked in those places you go, or place you’re going to visit and from there you’ll find out that a lot of the food being served or cooked, have meat mix with vegies, or are separated. Also, you have to put into consideration the area you’re gonna go to, cause a lot of the towns or provinces near the ocean tends to have more seafoods than veggies grown in the field, people who farms and are farther from the ocean have more farmed food than seafoods.. see what I mean? Also, you to put in mind that philippines is not just made out of one culture, we have different cultures with specific dialect some maybe similar with another but again the way food are prepared differs from each culture. Ilocanos, tagalog, bisaya, Igorot.. etc.. You have to put all of these in mind when comeback here in the philippines. If you are a vegan person there are many ways people here can prepare foods for you, the same dish as other dish only without the meat.. pertaining to tacloban when you were there, well they live near the ocean so expect a lot of seafood, but then again because of the calamity it’s hard for the people to supply their markets, it must have been also hard for people to bring vegetables from the inland due to the calamity.. so hopefully the next time you come and visit philippines try visiting other places also.. tnx

  2. That’s such positive news! I have been looking into the Philippines lately. Found some cheap flights to Manila but am receiving nothing but bad news about that part of the country. I will have to do a bit more reading up after reading this positive post.

  3. Hi there!
    This is the first blog post I’ve read from you. I’m glad you seem to be enjoying the Philippines so far. I studied abroad there last summer for one month and I miss it very much. Recently, I have been interested in post-colonial studies and the power of the church. I was a little bit confused by your comment on the local transport. What did you mean by, “local transport decked out in flashing florescent lights”? I also noticed the transportation in the Philippines is bright and colorful, but is this due to Spanish colonization? Is this phenomenon prevalent in other former Spanish colonies?


    • Hey Louie, thanks for getting in contact with us. Sounds like you’ve got an interesting study topic. The reference to the transport has no direct link to Spanish coloniszation, it was just a fun comparison to Latin America where the transport is exactly the same. Bright colored stickers of Jesus or other religious symbols, religious quotes, etc. Think it just has something to do with the Catholic influence from colonial times. We’re not experts though, just a funny observation. Hope that makes sense. Cheers.

  4. Yes, so sad that Philippine cuisine is very heavy on meat. But I think some restos are picking up on the healthy food trend. Hope you can come visit Kalibo, Aklan (approx 2 hrs away from the world famous Boracay) and eat at Nutrition and Vegetarian Cuisine. It’s vegetarian and the dishes are amazing 🙂

  5. Re: vegan options – Bodhi was in every SM food court in Manila, Makati, & Quezon City. Dunno about the Tacloban area though. However you should just be honest with the locals & tell them that you’re vegan & you don’t want to eat meat, say “no karne please” & they’ll understand.

    The easiest vegetarian dish to find even out in the countryside is “fresh lumpia” – fresh spring rolls (not the vietnamese kind though). It’s also served with a peanut sauce. There’s two kinds, one is made of an assortment of shredded vegetables, the other is made with bamboo shoots. Bodhi by the way makes a really heavenly fresh lumpia.

    Good luck on your vegan hunt, Cheers!

    • Thanks for the recommendation Regina! We haven’t seen a restaurant called Bodhi, but we’ll have a look next time we’re in Manila! So far people have been pretty understanding with being vegetarian, but sometimes there are no options! We’ll keep an eye out for the “fresh lumpia” as well!

  6. We have a lot of vegetables, just not the kind you’re used to eating and vegetable dishes are generally not sold in restaurants. So you will have to befriend a local whose cleanliness with food preparation you can trust and then ask them to show you how to cook local vegetables. Glad you’re having fun, goodluck!

  7. I am so pleased to know there’s still kind-hearted people out there like you guys. Your volunteer work means so much and is touching to me.
    I was born and raised in the Philippines, in a province called Tarlac. You guys are so right with the Filipino’s fond of pork! Like you though, I would rather have fish and my veggies over meat. If you go to any market, you can always find SITAW(Chinese long string beans), KANG-KONG(river spinach), KALABASA (pumpkin squash..if you’re lucky you can find squash flowers too),OKRA, EGGPLANTS….
    If you have someone to cook for you, which I know, Filipinos would gladly do..ask them to make shrimp or salmon sinigang! Or Ginisa (sautéed veggies). Steamed or sautéed KANG-KONG is also great with a homemade dipping sauce consisting of soy sauce, diced tomatoes, and green onions. I have so many recipes I remember from being back home but I don’t want to overwhelm you! One more thing, if you like eggplant..TORTANG TALONG (eggplant dipped in egg & fried) is amazing and super easy! Enjoy your travels guys!

  8. With regard to their attitude, I find that they have a great mix. Happy, playful, compassionate, caring, polite, friendly, respectful, fun loving. They are a happy people, but also devout in their faith. So there are multiple sides to their personality.

  9. Notwithstanding our adoption of foreign songs and basketball there is lot to be said about our deeper sentiments such as devotion to family, concern for others, resiliency and so on.


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