Traveling to Southeast Asia has started to gain popularity these past few years, and for good reason, as it has so much to offer in the way of culture and its landscape.
Of the countries that make up Southeast Asia, the Philippines is arguably the least traveled.
For many families, it doesn’t even seem to be on their radar.
Take us for instance, we are a Filipino-American family who have done their share of travel but have never visited the Philippines.
So when the time came for us to set up our itinerary for our around the world travel, we consciously chose to travel to the Philippines and use that as our home-base during the Southeast Asia segment of our Journey.
This was of great importance to us, as my wife, Brenda and I wanted to reconnect with our culture and introduce our 11-year-old, daughter, Bailey, to her heritage.
More importantly, we wanted to experience the country for ourselves and see if it’s recommendable for other traveling families.
Now that we have been here for two months, I can honestly say that it was a great decision to travel to the Philippines for our family vacation.
Once we arrived in the Philippines, we found no shortage of things to see and do.
I am aware that most people don’t have the two months, as we do to explore. So, I’ve segmented some of our favorite places and things to do into categories.
Things to do in Manila
Makati City, Metro Manila
Metro Manila can be gritty. Though I find charm within the grittiness, my tween daughter does not.
Luckily, Manila also has many beautiful pockets of neighborhoods that are quite well kept, and one of these pockets is Makati.
This neighborhood is one of the few neighborhoods in Metro Manila that have real sidewalks where one can actually take a stroll without risking being hit by a trike or a jeepney.
In Makati, you’ll find Greenbelt, which is a series of malls forming its own mini-city, if you will. There you’ll find some great eateries and places to have a coffee or a drink.
Yes, there is shopping there but most come here for the lively atmosphere, and it’s also a great place to take a respite from the hot afternoon sun.
If it’s an educational and cultural day you’re looking for, attached to the mall is the Ayala Museum, which is an amazing heritage museum. If you crave more knowledge about the Philippines, this stop, is a must.
Makati also boasts some of the most prestigious hotels, one of them being, The Peninsula Manila.
If you can swing it, there is no better place to stay in Manila. At the equivalent of 20% of the cost of its counterpart in New York, we decided to splurge for a few nights and had the best stay imaginable.
Bailey so loved it, that she considers it her favorite site in Manila. Which is fair to say, as it is considered a landmark by most people in Manila, who affectionately call it the Pen.
One doesn’t need to check into the hotel to enjoy its grandeur. Go there and grab a table in the front lobby and enjoy dessert with the family. It’s best on Sunday afternoons when many families tend to go.
I suggest ordering a Filipino classic called, Halo-Halo, which is made up of local fruit with shaved ice, topped with flan and usually Ube Ice Cream (Purple Taro). The one served at the Pen is considered the best in the city.
- If you are only spending a few days in Manila, try to stay in this neighborhood. It’s safe and there are plenty of options for food. Moreover, the infrastructure in Manila isn’t pedestrian friendly, but here you can walk just about anywhere.
- Also, if you’re looking for a ride to get to other parts of the city, make sure to download the Uber App, It’s simply the best and most economical way of traveling around and they are plentiful in this area and the wait, never too long. It’s often less expensive than a taxi.
The Food Markets in Manila, Metro Manila
Manila is once again poised to become a truly international destination, and the food scene plays a large part.
There are plenty of restaurants worth trying, but as a family, there are no better venues for eating than that of the markets. The one’s that have stood out for us are the Mercato Salcedo and the Mercato at the Fort.
Mercato Salcedo takes place every Saturday from 9 am – 2 pm in Salcedo Park, in the Bel-Aire neighborhood.
This market is in the gourmet category, where you can find organic and locally sourced product.
Yes, you can get your fruit and vegetables here, but we go there for the food stalls. And there are plenty. What’s wonderful about the food stalls at this market, is that they are diverse.
You will find your ubiquitous Filipino Barbecue along with regional specialties from outside provinces. There are, of course, cuisines from neighboring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam as well.
But what makes this place special for travelers like us, that long for the taste of home every so often, is that the market offers Western staples such as pasta, hamburgers, tacos, steaks and hot dogs.
Bailey and I love lamb, and in this market the range goes even further into Middle-East and Northern African cookery.
We love to finish our market day off with sorbetes (ice cream) which are doled out of the most ornate looking mini ice cream carts. Our favorite flavor is queso, yes cheese. Not some mild ricotta or cream cheese, I’m talking cheddar.
I know that all the Michelin Star Chefs are dabbling in this now, but it’s been a flavor option in the Philippines since as far back as Brenda and I can remember.
Mercato at the Fort (Bonifacio)
Our other favorite market is the “Mercato at the Fort (Bonifacio)”. This takes place every Friday and Saturday night, starting at 6 pm and ends very late.
Not unlike the Salcedo Market in quality and in range, Mercato at the Fort, with its high energy is a travelers dream.
Our favorite stall is one that serves fried talangka (crablets). If you like crab, you’ll love this. They’re tiny, and when fried (whole), it’s literally like eating chips made out of crab.
There is no better way to spend time with friends and family than grabbing a bunch of food and drinks and eating and laughing your way through the night.
Tip: Get there early.
The Boracay Coast
White Beach, Boracay
Boracay is famous for it’s “White Beach” which lies on the beautiful Sulu Sea.
This beach is broken down into what is called, Stations (Stations 1, 2 and 3). It gets a bit crowded, but the sand is pristine and the sea a marvelous clear blue.
Running alongside the beach is its promenade, where you’ll find fruit vendors, massage therapists, hair braiders and, of course, restaurants and bars.
The energy is contagious, with music pouring out from everywhere and different languages spoken all around.
It’s a perfect place to take a tween starving for some fun.
It’s here that Bailey learned how to surf, it’s also here that she got her hair braided into cornrows, it’s here that we would watch people playing beach soccer and volleyball, it’s here that Bailey was cheered on by spectators while scaling a climbing wall, and it’s here that we witnessed the most beautiful sunset we had ever seen.
Getting to Boracay Tip:
There are two airports in Boracay, Kalibo, and Caticlan. Try to secure a flight going to Caticlan, it’s a much shorter ride to the dock where the boats depart for the actual island.
There are expediters at the airport upon arrival who charge 600 PHP per person (about $12 USD) that bring you from the airport to the door of your destination. If it’s your first time on the island, it’s well worth the price.
Angol Beach, Boracay
Bailey is being homeschooled, and part of her curriculum is to read some of the classics.
During her school year, with me being the teacher, I will be introducing her to some of my favorite novels I read as a kid. Two of them being, “Robinson Crusoe” and “Treasure Island”.
Growing up in the asphalt jungle that is New York City, it was hard for me to picture the setting in both books. This will not be the case for Bailey.
Past Station 3 is Angol Beach, a more quaint extension of the White Beach. It’s a beach less traveled and the atmosphere much more serene than the Stations.
There were many mornings there that I felt like a guy in a beer commercial having the beach to himself. Due to fewer crowds, the fish are a little more plentiful around these parts for those who like to do a bit of snorkeling.
Families in the know, like to settle in at this area, as it gives the kids more room to play in the sand and makes it easier to keep track of them as they swim out.
Our absolute favorite spot to plant ourselves for the day is in front of a place named, The Red Pirates. This little bar is run by the nicest and coolest band of pirates, who put out lounge chairs, tables and seats for their customers, right on the beach.
They don’t care if you purchase a drink, they just love having people around.
The pirates also own two sailboats that take people out to sea on little excursions.
Brenda, Bailey and I joined them on a couple of sails, once to see the sunset via sea view and another time, joined them for a picnic to another island, where they took us to an area with a freshwater river in which we swam and prepared the most incredible, rustic, lunch made from the fruit, fish, livestock and vegetables of the land.
If you want to play Robinson Crusoe for a morning, Angol Beach is your place. If it’s Treasure Island you seek, Angol Beach is your place. If it’s good people you seek, Angol is your place. If you are a family looking for a perfect beach experience, Angol Beach is your place.
Tip: Angol Beach is a great place to watch the sunset as tourist groups aren’t herded through these parts.
All cold beverages are available at the Red Pirates. For food, there is a small fish-fry vendor that sets up right alongside the Red Pirates where people love to go and get some fried goodies such as fried plantain, tempura shrimp, battered fish balls, fried cheese. It’s a great local experience for any traveler to have.
Travel to the Philippines
Most international flights will bring you to the Gateway, Manila. It is most likely here, that a connecting flight is made to the many beautiful provinces and islands that make up the Philippines.
From New York, it’s was quite the distance, so choosing a good airline was of great importance to us. We chose Cathay Pacific. The seats were comfortable (for the record, we flew coach), the pillows and blankets soft, and the service excellent.
There was plenty of space in the aisles to stretch out, and most importantly, Bailey had a multiple of movies, television shows, and music stations to choose from during the flight.
Cathay also serves unlimited Cup Noodles throughout, which my daughter happens to have an affinity for.
At one point during the flight, I looked over to where she was seated, finding her in bliss, as she was wrapped in her blanket, eating a cup of ramen, and laughing at the movie she was viewing. This was a good start. Tweens are not easy to please. Cathay delivered.
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As opposed to flying to Manila direct, consider a long layover in Hong Kong. It makes for a slightly shorter flight and eases the acclimation process.
Hong Kong is a true International City, there is nothing that can’t be found or done in Hong Kong. So coming from the States, it served as a soft introduction to Asian culture that was pleasing to Bailey.
From Hong Kong, we flew into Manila, which was only an hour and a half long flight. Philippine Airlines was our carrier of choice.
There is plenty more to come, so please join us again next time as we share more of our experiences and recommendations in the Philippines.
Since our last post here on yTravel, our itinerary has changed a bit because there were so many offers from generous families for us to stay with them and spend more time here in Manila while we work, start homeschooling and plan our travels.
On October 1, we set off to Malaysia and then Thailand, so stay tuned.
Read More: Things to do in Boracay Island with kids
Plan Your Trip to the Philippines
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