Philippines: The Gem of the East

The Philippines has been one of the most sought after archipelagoes in Asia for many, many years because of its natural resources and beauty. With its 7,107 islands, it is the second largest archipelago in the planet. It was colonized several times, the Spaniards for 333 years, the Americans for 44 years and the Japanese for 3 years. The battle over freedom was always a constant cry. Despite all the atrocities though, the optimism among its people is ever burning.

Boracay Island, Philippines. Photo credit: Mark Sorne

Philippine flora and fauna is one of the most diverse in the world, making the country a virtual biodiversity hotspot. The largest and the fiercest of all eagles, the Philippine eagle, the smallest fish, the sinarapan, and the smallest primate, the tarsier, live in this land, not to mention the largest wild sea crocodile now in captivity named Lolong.

Its beaches can be secluded like those in Sabang Beach, Palawan or can be very much alive like those in Boracay, Puerto Galera, Bantayan Island in Cebu and Panglao Island in Bohol. The waves let you soar to cloud nine in Siargao, Pundaquit in Zambales or Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte where surfing is at its best.

Ah, and speak about diving. Where else can you find it? The whole Philippine archipelago is part of the Coral Triangle. You have swim with the barracuda in Sabang Bay, Palawan or thresher sharks in Monad Shoal in Malapascua, explore the Taiei Maru sunken wreck in Coron, play with sharks and tuna in Anilao, Batangas or just dive in the world-famous Apo Reef in Mindoro or in Coconut, Apo Island near Dumaguete City and a lot more.

Mount Pulag Summit. Photo Courtesy of Kino Leonardo
Though the country could only boast of a high peak at 10,311 feet, hiking to Mt. Apo is an adventure that shouldn’t be missed. Mt. Dulang-Dulang, a.k.a D2, is the second highest mountain found in the Kitanglad Range in Bukidnon. Mt. Pulag on the boarders of Ifugao, Benguet and Nueva Vizcaya is the third highest yet one of the most popular destinations because of its grandeur, the climate and the sea of clouds. Its vegetation goes in this order from the jump off point to the summit: grassland, pine trees, mossy forests and dwarf bamboo grassland. The perfect symmetry of Mt. Mayon in Daraga, Albay makes a mountain of distinction. While Bukidnon has D2, Romblon has its G2, Mt. Guiting-Guiting, which is dubbed as the most challenging in Philippine mountaineering due to having a treacherous 90-degree ascent and descent as well as unpredictable weather. The country may not have the highest tropical mountain yet we have the smallest active volcano in the world, the Taal Volcano. Taal is a volcano within a lake that is within a volcano in an island.

Philippine cuisine may not be as popular as its neighboring Asian countries but it’s now getting the attention it deserves and it’s absolutely a must try. Adobo, which is one of the most popular dishes, varies from one region to another, even from one island to another. And so does the cuisine in general. Pampanga, the culinary capital of the country, boasts of sisig made from parts of a pig’s head, ears, snout and brain served on a sizzling plate with chili, onion, some with mayonnaise, seasoned with calamansi and soy sauce, best served with ice-cold San Miguel Beer. Bicol has the Bicol express and there’s also pancit Malabon of Malabon City. Iloilo in the Visayas has batchoy, pancit Molo and bischoco. Bacolod has napoleones and piaya. Zamboanga has the curacha.

A modern version of Bahay Kubo, half concrete, half native materials.

While the Latin Americas have their mardi gras, regional festivals in the Philippines are also at par. The Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo, the Sinulog of Cebu, Ati-atihan of Kalibo, the Panagbenga of Baguio, Kadayawan in Davao are just some of the more popular festivals in the country known for their colorful costumes, superb choreography and historical connection.
Philippine countryside
And what else could there be more than these bounties of nature than the people itself? Foreigners who come to this land find Filipino hospitality to be exceptional. Every Filipino home has something kept for unexpected visitors. That something can go from utensils to bedding to anything, and even basic meals could be extra special too. The people especially in the countryside can be happy go lucky, finding joy and something to smile at even in the simplest way of living. And having a conversation or two with a foreigner is unavoidable.

Come to the Philippines and experience the Pearl of the Orient, the gem of East.

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