7. ADMIRE SPANISH COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
After months on the temples-and-monks circuit, most backpackers are confounded by the Philippines, one of only two Christian countries in Southeast
Asia. Three hundred years of Spanish rule have left their mark in the form of grand churches and colonial houses and the walled city of Intramuros is a classic example – a complex of baroque architecture and manicured plazas jammed into Manila’s urban sprawl. Within the city is the ancient Church of San Agustin, with its sculptural vaulted ceilings, and Fort Santiago, where polymath activist and national hero José Rizal was held before his execution in 1896.
8. EAT EVERYTHING
Sour, sweet, tangy, bold – Filipino food has arrived in the Western mainstream, but where better to taste it than at its source?
Adobo is the national dish: meat (usually chicken or pork) in a puckeringly sour vinegar and soy sauce marinade. Or how about kare-kare, oxtail stewed in an aromatic peanut sauce till it falls from the bone? Lechon is at the centre of every party table: a roasted suckling pig stuffed with herbs, skin so crunchy you can hear it crackle. Meryenda (snacks) include halo-halo, a crushed-ice sundae topped with jellies, ice cream, coconut and sweetened beans.
9. HIT THE SHOPS
If you really want to do as Filipinos do, catch a jeepney or tricycle (the Philippines’ take on a tuk-tuk) and head for the mall. Imported by the Americans during their brief occupation, mall culture has taken root in the Philippine psyche, though you’ll see more people here for the air-con and food courts than holding
shopping bags. The SM Supermall chain is ubiquitous throughout the country and in fact has some great dining options – Mang Inasal is famed for its zesty barbecue chicken, while Kuya J serves up a modern take on Philippine classics.
10. LAZE ON THE SAND – OR RIDE THE SURF
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The Philippines has more than 7,000
islands, so you can take your pick of beaches. Boracay’s White Beach (pictured) and Panglao’s Alona Beach are well-known party destinations but tend to be crowded. Guimaras Island has easy accessibility with fewer tourists – or, if you really want to get away from it all, take a bamboo-rigged bangka boat to any one of a thousand nameless sandbars. Watersports are also a major attraction; paddleboarding, kayaking and surfingare some of the most popular. Siargao Island is legendary in surfing circles – reefs funnel in huge swells from the Pacific, creating massive breaks.