Backpacking Philippines

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust

Backpacking Philippines

The awakening for Backpacking Philippines happened while traveling Indochina last summer. Whilst I recognised how traveling to other countries afforded me perspectives that I wouldn’t have otherwise felt in my own backyard, I also realised that I was exploring to find experiences that resembled the familiarity of home.

So when Matthijs, a Dutch backpacker— whom I shared one too many bottles of beer with— asked if I was keen to show him around the Philippines, I cancelled all other travel plans and jumped at the chance. What he didn’t know was, I was just as much of a tourist as he was.

BAGUIO – SAGADA

Read: Baguio-Sagada Travel Guide

Our adventure began at a bus terminal in Sampaloc, Manila. From there,  we took a six-hour land trip to Baguio, a city where villages hung on the hips of mountain ranges.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Baguio

At twilight, we strolled around Session Road, cheeks with hints of scarlet from the cold. Amused at the lilt of the Ilocano tongue, we combed the markets for the crowd, chomping on street food in between. As the night deepened, we holed up in an acoustic bar called Bohemian and drowned sorrows, imagined and otherwise, in beer.

A decision borne out of the night prior’s drunken conversation led us to Sagada the next day. Charming and nostalgic, the town beckoned my poetry: I just had to be there.

Happy to be dragged to my exploits, Matthijs gamely trekked the jungles with me— to chase waterfalls, spot hanging coffins and watch sunrises before seas of clouds.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Sagada

But our most dauntless adventure of all was spelunking and abseiling between caves with nothing but ungloved hands and bare feet. Albeit a physical feat, surviving the 4-hour Cave Connection was a real test of courage and strength of character. I, particularly, feel braver since.

BATAD – BANAUE

Read: Batad-Banaue Travel Guide

Riding on top of a jeepney may not be news to daredevils. But riding on top of a jeepney traversing through the deadly Halsema Highway was what we did. Keeping to our YOLO branding, we kept at it all the way to Banaue, and even to Batad.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Banaue

When not avoiding live wires, we revelled in the landscapes: rice terraces, mountain ranges and cliff faces. We were also immersed in a culture so intact, and in a history that stood on the feet of diligence and bravery.

For a few days, we stayed at a 100 year-old hut in a village fronting 2000 year-old rice terraces. There, we tramped through deeper into the woods, and higher into the mountains. We saw more waterfalls and caught more sunsets.

There was no beer, shame. But regardless of the time of the day, there was always an oversupply of rice wine.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Batad

EL NIDO

Read: El Nido Travel Guide

In stark contrast to our week in the hinterlands, an overnight bus to Manila and a morning flight to Puerto Princesa took us to the beaches of Palawan.

Upon learning that a jaunt to the Underground River won’t be possible until the next day, we crossed Puerto Princesa off our list.  But that also meant we had to continue the journey for five more hours to the beachfront haven of El Nido.

Where I got the energy to survive the commute, I didn’t know. But if there was ever such a thing as a power bank for humans, I would have very gladly plugged my whole self in.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - El Nido

El Nido was the lover worth dumping everyone else for. Three days became six, and it still wasn’t enough.

We hopped between islands, snorkelled in lagoons, held picnic lunches in deserted mounds of white sand and drank nights away under the tutelage of French bartenders, who have found home in my country.

In one of the boat trips, a common love for boisterous laughter forged an instant friendship between us and a trio of very fun-loving Pinoys. Eventually, and very willingly so, they shared my honour of entertaining our foreign friends, staging one big showdown of local hospitality.

CORON

Read: Coron Travel Guide

Coron was an altogether different ballgame. Whilst El Nido’s charm dwelt on rock formations jutting out from cerulean seas, Coron tucked entire kingdoms underwater.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Coron

Having had the privilege to snorkel in Kayangan and Barracuda alone was already worth the 9-hour arduous boat ride from El Nido. But to add shipwreck diving and hammock-lounging in a private island to the equation? No price tag could ever be put on that.

The nights, meanwhile, were a class of its own. Traveling with a French couple, we brought the party atmosphere of wild El Nido to sleepy Coron. On one occasion, we got wasted over happy-hour rum coke and donned on a random shop’s mascot costume. We were too drunk to find out if we ever made it to local news, but I remember stopping traffic, running around town as a green gecko.

CEBU

Read: Cebu Sinulog Travel Guide

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Cebu

Just in time for the Sinulog Festival, we flew to Cebu from Coron to cap off our month-long vagabonding around the country. There, we met up with other wayfarers who were also in town for the weekend shindig.

Out of all stops, Cebu was the only place I’ve ever been to before, so I made sure to plate up a generous helping of Filipino hospitality. For four days, we barely slept in the name of fun and mayhem.

By the end of the trip, Matthijs and I felt we’ve out-YOLO-ed ourselves, and spent our last few days in Cebu looking back at our travels.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Sinulog

In one of our conversations, he told me that Philippines should no longer be lumped in general terms (ie., Asians) internationally; that Philippines is Filipino, awesome enough to stand on its own.

“You aren’t even third-world. You have first-world cities and first-world people, where even the most primitive of tribes can speak decent English and even the poorest of communities are happy.”

I sat there, bereft of speech, startled by the reckoning that it was actually me, who have been shown around in my own country.

From the eyes of a foreigner, I saw the Philippines again for the first time. It was beautiful. Perhaps, the most in the universe. As a Filipino, I realise right then and there, that it was my duty to open my country’s doors for all to see.

Comments (33)

  1. Reydan Duldulao

    This post made me eager to travel the whole Philippines!
    There are still a lot to discover about our country.

    Keep inspiring and keep traveling 🙂

  2. rakistangnars

    Please travel, Reydan. And I hope to someday cross paths with you! Thanks for dropping by 🙂

  3. Lakbay Diva

    seriously, we can’t just get enough of our 7107 islands 😀 that’s the best way to YOLO in the entire country hahaha…

  4. Michael

    I love the last paragraph! It truly is more fun in the Philippines.

  5. Tanxong Orbuda

    great ! very life changing story, Go for the Gold Idol, this is a post with a substance , sana ikaw manalo

  6. rakistangnars

    @lakbay: true that! 😀

  7. rakistangnars

    @michael rommel: hey! thanks for reading bay 😀

  8. rakistangnars

    tanxong: thanks!

  9. Tanxong Orbuda

    Hello Nice Post

    Your life changing story started in a bottle of Beer with your Dutch friend. Natawa ako sau kasi you reminds me of my travel in Boracay, IT IS ALSO A BEER!

    I planned to drink and party all night without spending money So I sauntered the stretch of Station Two and Three alone. Since it was summer, every twenty meters you will find a free taste of liquors as part of Brand Promotions .Until I realized that I had way too much to drink. And found myself lying in the middle of the wide shore of Station One

    I met someone, we talked. We began to talk and as the night went on we got to share a lot of things even though we barely knew each other. He then bought a case of beer and when that cap popped it was then the start of my life changing..

    You have to be thankful that you meet a DUTCH BOY.

    Keep on posting inspiring stories… I will follow you and add you in my roll Hope to meet you someday and travel simultaneously. I love meeting people with same interest

  10. Jherson Jaya

    Philippines isn’t Asian; that Philippines is Filipino, awesome enough to stand on its own. – quite sadden by the remark. We are malay but never asian. but on second thought i felt proud 😉

  11. Alain

    When I first went abroad, it dawned on me that you’ll only appreciate your own country MORE when you’re out of it.

  12. Rain Campanilla

    Hi Alain, I echo your sentiments 🙂

  13. Victoria

    I admit, I’ve been scared off by reports of kidnapping and violence against foreigners in the Philppines. This beautiful post however, is urging me to put my fears aside and pay a visit one day!

  14. Aisha

    This sounds absolutely spectacular! I’m not a backpacker but I would love to experience this just once. Thanks for sharing!

    Cheers!
    Aisha (Island Girl In-Transit)

  15. Sara Fergie

    Wow! As a Filipino, this makes me proud to see gorgeous travel destinations showcased in a world wide platform. I still have a few places to visit in PH before I tick off all my local buckelist destinations. Thanks for this enjoyable for reminding me how beautiful our country is!

  16. Rain Campanilla

    Kidnappings are really isolated, and in specific areas too. Maybe you can start in the main tourism hubs like Cebu and Palawan, and see for yourself 🙂

    Happy Travels, Victoria!

  17. Rain Campanilla

    Please do! And holler, in case you need more information. Happy Travels, Aisha! 💕

  18. Rain Campanilla

    Thank you for your kind words, Sara! I still have so much to go to in the Philippines, too. 💕 Happy Travels!

  19. Elissa

    This is gorgoues!!! And so thorough xx

  20. Travelling Tom

    I spent a month travelling around the Philippines, but I don’t think I saw as much as you! Missed the rice terraces and the coffins unfortunately!

  21. RC

    I’ve been to all those places except Sagada and Batad. I hope I get to visit next year but I hope the road conditions would be better as it’s the only thing that’s preventing me from visiting.

  22. Shane

    I wish I would have made it to the Phillipines while in SE Asia! Such untouched natural beauty waiting to be explored.

  23. Rain Campanilla

    Hello Shane! It’s not yet too late too add the Philippines on your list for next time! 🙂

  24. Rain Campanilla

    Oh. Maybe try in the summer when there is less rain. Happy Travels!

  25. Rain Campanilla

    Hello Tom! Not yet too late to add it on your list for next time 🙂 happy travels!

  26. ROBERT LEE | Amazing Life Daily

    Rain,

    We do have a culture that can be critical of our own when in front of a foreigner. Oh, ignore my surname. I am pure Chinese born and raised here in the Philippines, and as such, I consider myself a Filipino, born here, and will die here. 🙂

    The thing is that it is human nature to focus on the negative. But in doing so, we forget how beautiful the country is.

    Let me share one example.

    I have made over 30 trips to Shanghai for business in the past. Do you know what I look forward to during the trips? No matter how beautiful and modern the city of Shanghai is, I look forward to walking in the tunnel to see the smiling faces of Filipino stewards and stewardesses greeting me welcome to PAL. So, each time I come home, that smile alone is all I need to know that the country is unique and one to be proud of.

  27. Rain Campanilla

    Hi Robert, I couldn’t agree more! <3

  28. Irma

    This post made me very interested in visiting Philippines, more than before. However, I don’t know if I could go packpacking since I wear a backpack to walk around my hometown only. 🙂 Nevertheless, the places you visited are beautiful and the reader sees the true adventure you have had on this trip. I kind of envy you a little bit. Great post, and wish me luck to visit Philippines one day. 🙂

  29. simplel2

    This looks like an amazing experience! If I didn’t have kids, I would love to do this! Your pictures are stunning!

  30. Rain Campanilla

    Good Luck! For sure, you’d enjoy my home country!
    I personally find it more interesting to backpack on adventure trips, and lug a suitcase on city trips/staycation. But I’m quite sure you’d fun however you’d decide to conquer Philippines 🙂 <3

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