I recently returned to grey and not-really-warm-anymore London from a week long work trip to the Philippines. Yes I know, it’s hard <ahem>. My initial reason for being there was to attend PHITEX – The Philippines Travel Exchange. Essentially a whole lot of people in the travel industry (tour operators and travel agents) sat at an assigned table while a LOT of Philippine hotels, destination management companies (those are like the people on the ground who help us organise everything for our clients) and other tourist companies came to meet with us, show us what they have on offer and convince us to send our clients their way.
It made for a very. very. long. day. But an interesting one. It’s the first conference type event my company has ever sent me on and it was definitely an interesting one to attend. I was one of a handful from the UK, the large majority of the visiting travel agents were either Russian or Korean. No idea that Russia had such a huge interest in the Philippines. So learned that.
But, believe it or not, that wasn’t the part of the trip I was most excited about. I couldn’t wait for hotels, beaches, and HEAT. Yes, it was rainy season, and yes, it rained in Manila, but I didn’t care. It was hot, I was staying in beautiful rooms, and I was in the Philippines. Any other traveller <not the gypsy kind> can understand I hope.
So what were the Philippines like? I had no idea what to expect from Manila. Some people told me it was good, others had a very different opinion. Things like ‘trash on the streets’ and ‘pollution’ come to mind…
My first impression was nothing but positive. Okay, so I was a little more spoiled than on my average holiday. I was met at my airport gate, after a very long flight, by my hosts and given a necklace of flowers that smelled a lot better than me. I was escorted through immigration, got my bag, and into my awaiting taxi to my first hotel, The Peninsula.
I was sleep deprived and unwashed and probably slightly delirious, but walking through those doors was…like walking onboard the Titanic. Really, people. Yes, I mean the ship. The doors of the lobby were opened by men in SAILOR SUITS. So that confused me. Then there was the grand lobby. Marble everywhere, a double sweeping staircase, a live jazz band, chandeliers bigger than my bedroom… All it needed was couples waltzing away while men with big fat cigars sat in their private room dealing blackjack or whatever it is they played on the Titanic… Come to think of it, this definitely could have been a grand lobby in Las Vegas, or Monaco too. Minus the casino games. But I’m pretty sure the flash cars were parked outside as required by any high flying casino (right?).
Unfortunately <or not> I didn’t get up to any crazy late cigar-smoking nights in Manila or anywhere else in the Philippines. More sleeping at every possible chance, and dinners hosted by our hotel.
After PHITEX ended the real fun began. It was time to go to Palawan. Me and about 15 other very smart travel agents (not the unfortunate other 100 or so who headed off to the more well known islands and were plagued with rain. Muahaha. Sorry.)
The fun was paused, briefly, whilst my stomach reminded me that I was in Asia and what the heck happened to food like pasta and chips. Enough said about that.
I recovered just in time for a meal hosted by the Mayor of Palawan just to boost our egos <and give us rainmakers which I thoroughly enjoyed carting through airports on the way home…> and then an amazing firefly tour. I had no idea what this was going to be, but we were all herded onto long narrow boats in the pitch dark while a lovely man rowed us down a mangrove river where I could see…nothing. Nothing, except hundreds and hundreds of little tiny lights. Fireflies! It was absolutely stunning. The mangroves were covered in them, and as long as you stay away from the thoughts that these are actually just little bugs; essentially flies; then it really is a beautiful sight.
After that night, and my first decent sleep, we were taken to what is one of the Philippines best assets. The underground river. I’ve been into mountain caves before where you learn all about stalactites and stalagmites (stalaCtite – ceiling, stalaGmite – from the ground. I did remember something) but there was something even more astounding about being able to row down a river and see it all. The bats were pretty neat too… Then it was back to the mangrove rivers for snake spotting. No monkeys though. We really wanted to see the monkeys.
After that, my last few days were spent on Apulit Island in the north part of Palawan doing things like snorkelling, exploring caves, feeding the tropical fish, more snorkelling, candlelit dinners on the beach and relaxing in my villa standing on stilts over the water. Leaving <on our private plane> was not easy…
A week definitely wasn’t long enough so hopefully I’ll be back again whenever I can make it. Until then, as always, the photos will have to suffice.
Marianne McPhee was born in London and has been a traveler throughout her life. She spent her summers in France and Spain on a boat, her teenage years living in the USA, and months backpacking through Europe and Morocco. She has spent eight months traveling through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia where she also taught English and then ventured to Australia for more exploration. She is a graduate from Boston University and currently works in the travel industry in London.