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10 Incredible Places in the Philippines, According To A Local

Batad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The original article was published in Travel Awaits on Oct. 4, 2022.

Before I
migrated to and retired in the US 20 years ago, I lived in the Philippines from
the time I was born, all of 54 years. This archipelago of 7,641 gorgeous
islands I really do know by heart. It’s organized into three island groups, Luzon,
Visayas, and Mindanao. And has the fifth longest coastline in the world behind
Canada, Norway, Indonesia, and Russia. How can all these islands be best
covered? Here are my suggestions, including its five UNESCO World Heritage

the Northern Island Group

Luzon is in the north, the largest and
most populous (ranked 15th in the world by area and fourth by population). It
includes six other smaller islands. More than half of the country’s population
of an estimated 114 million live here.

1.     Metro Manila

at the center of the Greenbelt Shopping Center in Makati

Get a flavor
Metro Manila, the cosmopolitan capital complex of
16 cities and towns. I lived in its three prime cities: Manila, Quezon City,
and Makati. Choose to stay in the latter; it’s nearest to the
Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

It’s a  shopper’s paradise. Global brands, Philippine crafts
and designs, cheap Chinese goods, and fakes that are so like the originals (especially
Divisoria) give you the best value for your
money. Two of the
10 largest shopping malls in the world are in Manila. It’s
also a culinary haven. Think of any cuisine, and you can get it in the entire
budget range.
Filipino food is also fast gaining popularity with
native Malay, Chinese, Spanish and American influences. You will also
love the nightlife. Being at the top of the world’s call
center industry, Metro Manila buzzes with activity 24×7.

2.     Corregidor Island

Corregidor Island

One of the
first places where I took my husband was
Corregidor Island at the mouth of Manila Bay. Only one and a half hours by
fast hydrofoil from Metro Manila’s reclaimed area, Americans made it an “impregnable
fortress” and played a significant role in the invasion and later liberation of
the Philippines from Japanese forces in WWII.

It’s the best
place to
relive the Pacific Front. Skeletons of the Mile-long Barracks
(the longest single military barracks in the world housing 8,000 soldiers) and
the cross-shaped hospital destroyed by the Japanese despite war treaties remind
the visitor of the gruesome five-month battle. The
Malinta Tunnel, the headquarters of Gen. MacArthur
and the seat of the Philippine government at the time, is now an important
museum. Many memorials salute the heroism of the American and Filipino soldiers
who fought together.

3.     The City of Vigan in Ilocos Sur

North of
Manila in the province of Ilocos Sur is the one place in the country, in fact,
Asia, where the 300 years of Spanish rule remains painted in the 17th-century
homes preserved as a Heritage Village, undamaged even by war. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, there is St. Paul’s Cathedral, built in 1641, and the
Crisologo Museum, the ancestral home of the town patriarchs, depicting life during
the Spanish colonial rule. In fact, “kalesas” or horse-drawn carriages still
ferry tourists on the narrow-cobbled roads.

4.     Baroque Churches of the

A group of
churches in the Philippines, together form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Three of them are in Luzon: San Agustin Church in
Manila, Santa Maria Church in Bulacan, and Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte just
after Vigan. The fourth, Miagao Church, is in the Visayan province of Iloilo.  I have not seen Miagao but am amazed and proud
that we have these historic these comparable to some of those in Europe. In
serving as the political backbone of the Spanish colonial rule, churches were
subject to attacks by local revolts. Thus, Philippine baroque architecture
appear like fortresses, with large imposing buttresses at the sides. It is also
a unique interpretation by Chinese and Filipino craftsmen.

5.     Rice Terraces of the Mountain
Province (headline photo)

Farther up north
in the mountains of northern Luzon, there are five clusters of rice terraces in
four municipalities of the Mountain Province. Together they are a
UNESCO World Heritage Site, the most intact of those created by
the Ifugaos, a minority ethnic group that has lived in the Philippine
Cordillera Mountains for more than two thousand years. They are a sight to
especially since they reach a higher altitude and are on
steeper slopes than the other rice terraces around the world. Made of stone and
mud walls, the elaborate old farming system is still maintained cooperatively by
the mountain villagers of today.

6.     Mayon Volcano

The most beautiful
volcano in the Philippines is also its most active; it last erupted in 2019.
Mayon Volcano, in the province of Albay in the southeastern
part of Luzon, is endowed with a symmetric conical shape that makes it “the most
perfect volcanic cone in the world.” Sacred in Philippine mythology, it became the
Philippines’ first national park. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, its designation
as a World Heritage Site is pending.

the Island Group in the Middle

Between the northern
and southern island groups, the
Visayas is composed of nine islands on the Visayan Sea. In the east are Leyte
and Samar; center: Bohol, Panay, Negros, and Cebu; and west: Palawan, Romblon,
and Masbate. Considered the capital of the Visayas,
Cebu City has its own international airport.

7.     Palawan

I couldn’t
wait to show my husband Palawan. The fifth largest in the archipelago,
it juts out such that it has the westernmost point of the country.  It has two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and
has consistently stayed on lists of Top 10 Best Islands in the World. Even the
Iwahig Penal Colony, a “Prison without Walls” fascinates
visitors and, of course, the world-class beaches and resorts like El NIdo and
enchanting islands like Coron and those in Honda Bay.

The first of
the World Heritage Sites is the
Tubbataha Reef, one of the world’s best dive spots just 150 kilometers off
Puerto Princesa, the capital. It’s an atoll reef with a very high density of
marine life, featuring a 100-m perpendicular wall and two lagoons. The other is
the world’s longest (8.2 km.) navigable
Underground River only two and a half hours from Puerto Princesa. A short walk
through a green forest inhabited by monkeys and monitor lizards will take you
to the phenomenon of the river pouring straight into the sea, set amid the lovely
limestone karst mountain landscape outside and the stunning formations inside
its deep chambers.  

8.     Boracay Island Off Panay Province

Boracay is dubbed the “Party Island.” With an
area of only 4 square miles, it’s famously known for wide, white powdery sand
beaches, relaxation options, and a bustling nightlife. Just off the northwest
coast of Panay in the Western Visayas, it is a favorite venue for corporate celebrations
and personal vacations. Just like Palawan, it has stayed in the lists of the Top
10 Best Islands in the World.

9.      Bohol

Bohol in the Central Visayas and nearest
Cebu should be, too. It includes 75 minor surrounding islands like Panglao,
routinely listed as one of the top ten diving locations in the world. Bohol is
also proud of its Chocolate Hills, numerous mounds of brown-colored limestone
formations, and the Philippine tarsier, the world’s smallest primate.

the Southern Island Group

Mindanao is the second-largest island after
Luzon and the seventh-most populous in the world. It’s the country’s major
breadbasket, producing eight of the top ten agricultural exports from the
Philippines. It includes the Sulu archipelago which looks like a land bridge to
Borneo, Indonesia.

For my first
marriage, our honeymoon was at a Tree House in the Zamboanga peninsula adjacent
to Sulu. I also took my children to Dakak, a beach resort and pearl farm there.
Today, however, both of these provinces are Muslim-controlled and are no longer
considered tourist-friendly.

        10. Bukidnon

The safest place
to visit is the province of Bukidnon. When I was the managing director of
a software company, I visited our software installation at the Del Monte
Corporation facilities in Camp Philips, one of the world’s largest pineapple
plantations. I loved the golf course amid the vast pineapple fields and will not
forget the taste of pineapple-fed steaks at the country club. Move over, wagyu!

Occupying a
wide plateau in north-central Mindanao, Bukidnon means “highlander”
or “mountain dweller.” The major producer of rice, corn, pineapples,
bananas and sugarcane, it’s the fifth richest province in the Philippines. Mount
Dulang-Dulang, the second highest mountain in the country, offers many
adventures and the Monastery of Transfiguration is the best for quiet retreats.

If you want
to experience world-class diving and beaches, land at the Cebu International
Airport and visit the Visayan islands. If you want to explore the rich
heritage, culture, and history of the Philippines, go to Luzon. If you want to
backpack the whole country, there is a Roll-on/Roll-off integrated network of
highways and ferry routes.

Wherever you
go, you will be treated by the warmth and hospitality of the Filipino people.
Everyone in the customer service chain speaks English or Taglish, an
understandable blend of Tagalog and English. So it will be easy. You will not
be disappointed. You will see that “
It’s more fun in the Philippines.” 



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