Cebu and Manila: The Philippines Really Need To Sack Their PR Guy…

It’s no secret that I have fallen in love with The Philippines whilst I’ve been here. Great place to see, even better people and just an all around beautiful country. I was on the final straight of my trip in Cebu before heading back to Manila by boat. That was the plan anyway…

Before I came here I knew very little about The Philippines. I knew about Manny Pacquiao (obviously) and one of my favourite sportspeople, Efren Reyes, but other than that I knew very little. So before I came I did some extensive research on where to go, including asking people who had already been there where their favourite haunts were…

“Angeles!” Was the city that most people would chant. Normally people over the age of 60 of course, I quickly vetoed that idea unless I was passing through and wanted to feel the energy of the place for the day.

“Cebu!” Was another one. “It’s safe, and it caters for tourists much better than the other places!” Some said they had been to Manila, but the reviews were mixed. I’ve never liked capital cities anyway, so Manila wasn’t really on my radar to begin with…

Luckily another friend of mine told me about some real places to see. That, on top of my research, set the tone of a vague direction in which I would be heading in the month I had. Unfortunately this meant I had to miss some places, but I knew this would give me a reason to come back again if I liked the country so I wasn’t worried.

Anyway, back to the story: I’d had an amazing time in most of the places I had been and I could only sing the praises of everyone I’d met and everywhere I had seen, until I got to Cebu, the place considered ‘the safe place’

Ironically this was the only place I felt uncomfortable. Using the word ‘unsafe’ would be highly unfair, but I would be followed down the road constantly by prostitutes, Have big guys approach me asking if I was looking for anything dodgy, or have beggars walk directly behind me for a long time (At one point after noticing in the corner of my eye this one person had been walking directly behind me for over a minute without saying a word, I started walking faster and she literally began to run after me, so I turned around, grabbed my pockets to make sure nothing was missing and firmly told her to stop following me)

The city wasn’t up to standard compared to the other places I had been either. I mean it was OK, but one day would have been more than enough for me. Also the aggressive sales technique of vendors and hotel owners put me off more often that not. I distinctly remember thinking, “THIS is the place they are advertising? No wonder nobody knows about this beautiful country…”

Next stop; Manila. My taxi guy openly admitted he couldn’t see very well and refused to put on glasses, he then took me 2 miles away from where I was supposed to be, insisting he knew where he was going while at the same time staring at my map as the meter kept running up. After two minutes I got out and got another taxi. I got to the place in the end but the experience left a slight bitter taste in my mouth and the damage was done.

Of course, you cannot generalize a city (or a country for that matter) after one visit, because some people do genuinely have bad luck (or good luck in some cases…) But if I went to the places that everyone else told me to go, I would have left shaking my head, vowing to never come back, and I guess a lot of people do just that…

I wouldn’t even have to get out of second gear to promote this country. I mean seriously, this place is amazing. The general perception is that it is unsafe (Which is true in Southern places like Mindanao, I wouldn’t recommend going anywhere near there in the near future…) but this could not be further from the truth in the North and Central Philippines. There was more than one occasion when I would be walking through a city late at night looking for a room expecting to get robbed when a group of guys would come to my aid, directing me to a hotel and calling me ‘sir’ in the process… I went to some incredible places that were off most people’s radar (Sagada, Vigan, Puerto Galera, Bacolod and Dumaguete just to name a few) and missed a few (namely El Nido, Puerto Princesa, Bohol and Siquijor) that I been told by locals and ex-pats alike were places to see. These are the places that would attract tourists in droves. Luckily I was willing to go out of my comfort zone, rough it a bit and try to get to these places that to be fair were not easily accessible without researching online first, otherwise I would have been another tourist who was disillusioned by my trip, saying “Yeah, it was alright…” If anyone asked about it before swiftly changing the subject.

So point being The Philippines really needs a good marketing campaign like Thailand has. Advertising the beauty of their country and encouraging people to see places other than the two I have previously mentioned. Once this happens, then hopefully it will only be a matter of time before this country starts getting a serious amount of income from tourism, and a positive reputation that they deserve.

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