So as you know, the boy and I recently returned from a trip to the beautiful Philippines. As always, we learned so much in just the short time that we were there. We also learned some information that we think is valuable to all future travelers to the Philippines. Just a few pieces of advice. Keep in mind that these can be useful anywhere you go and are not only limited to the Philippines.
Cash cash cash. There are ATMs everywhere on the big islands like Manila or Cebu, but Siquijor only had one (I think). Travel with cash. Cards aren't accepted at as many places as you'd think. I know a lot of people are worried about carrying a bunch of cash on them, but believe me, you'll be more secure if you have it on you rather than being penniless with no access to your accounts. Even when we stumbled upon ATMs in Dumaguete, none of them ended up taking my Master Card.
There are fees. Fees for everything.
If you are planning on traveling by plane, bus or ferry while in the Philippines, be prepared to be charged a terminal fee. Oh, and they only take cash. Fees range from place to place. At the domestic airport we were charged 400 pesos per person just to get to our gate. The terminal fee at the ferry cost us only 15 pesos. The international airport in Manila charged us a whopping 750 pesos just so we could go through security. If we didn't have cash on us we would have been royally screwed. You know, seeing as the only ATM at the airport wasn't accepting anyone's cards.
Take a metered cab or negotiate 1/3 of the initial price.
We have a theme. Whenever we go somewhere new and we have to take a taxi, we always get taken to the bank by our first driver. It never fails. If they can smell your "newbie scent" they will take you for all that your worth. We calculate that they'll probably charge you quadruple what the price really is for the locals. Yeah yeah yeah... we can act as savvy as we want, but taxi fare is just so hard to figure out. It's the one thing that we kind of fail at.
So how was our first ride in the Philippines you ask? Well, as soon as we got out of the airport we were approached by a man that worked for the airport. He organized a ride for us and even had a fancy schmancy notebook that had all of the fares to each region of Manila. He found where our hotel was supposed to be and told us that it was about 40 minutes away. I thought it was strange because we specifically booked the hotel because it was supposed to be near the airport. This wasn't the first time that a hotel website lied to me. Le boo. The total cost was 1,200 pesos which calculates to around $35 USD. That wouldn't be bad back in the States, but hot damn... it's a lot of money in the Philippines.
Traffic was bad, but we eventually got to our hotel. We even left a little Christmas tip for our driver. We waltzed through the door and told the man at the desk that we were checking in. He looked confused. As we started to look around I realized that the name of the hotel was different than the one we had booked. Are you cereal? So yeah, we ended up walking for about 20 minutes until we found a metered cab. He also had no idea where our hotel was, but he called his buddy and then turned on the meter. Turns out, the hotel is ridiculously close to the airport and the cab ride cost us a whopping 200 pesos. Bahaha.
Another useful tip is to ask the hotel staff how much it would cost them to go to your destination. If you're taking a tuk-tuk or a tricycle the fare will be relatively cheap, but you can get it lowered even more if you know what the locals pay. When we asked the staff at our hotel in Dumaguete how much a tricycle ride to the airport would cost they told us 50 pesos. The driver initially asked for 200. Not so fast, mister. After about 20 seconds of negotiation we were on our way to the airport with 150 pesos saved. Cha-chiing.
Keep your belongings safe.
Duh. We didn't experience any crime while we were on our trip, be we were warned beforehand to keep all of our valuables on our person. Our hotels also warned us not to keep anything of value in our room. It's pretty difficult when you're traveling with expensive video equipment, a waterproof camera, a Canon 550D, and a laptop. Most places will let you rent out a safe to store your valuables in when you're on the go. We never felt any real threat since we were on a secluded beach on a relatively secluded island- but just be warned. Keep 'em secret, keep 'em safe.