Philippines

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Introduction to Philippines

The 7000-odd islands that comprise the Philippines are the forgotten islands of southeast Asia. Off the main overland route and with a recent history of martial law and endemic corruption, the country has struggled to attract tourists in the numbers many of its southeast Asian neighbours have.

However, most of the Philippines is laidback, stable and relatively safe. The locals are, by and large, an exceptionally friendly and helpful bunch. On top of this, transport is cheap, the food is good, accommodation is plentiful and (for the monolinguistic) English is widely spoken.

The Philippines has been dogged by trouble. In 2000 a Brussels-based research centre declared the Philippines the most disaster-prone country on earth. It named typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, garbage landslides and military action against Muslim insurgents as just some of the problems both locals and tourists have had to deal with.

Caution

Ongoing anti-government protests are planned for Manila across the first week of July 2005. Allegations of vote-tampering and corruption against President Gloria Arroyo have sparked several protests which have seen riot police move to contain protestors. Travellers are urged to keep up with the latest news and be aware that the situation is tense and may turn violent.

Travellers are advised to avoid most of Mindanao, an island in the southern Philippines, especially the Zamboanga peninsula, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and the Sulu archipelago, where ethnic and religious animosities fuel ongoing violence. Boat safety is also a concern throughout the country.

Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim extremist group, is responsible for bombings, kidnappings and murders targeting foreigners, including tourists. They operate principally on Mindanao, but have also claimed responsibility for bombings further north.

The other major issue to be aware of is boat safety. The Philippines archipelago is serviced by a flotilla of ferries, some of them little more than rickety tubs that are often overcrowded and under-serviced. There are 100 ferry accidents a year in the Philippines, many of them causing a high number of fatalities. If you feel uncomfortable boarding a ferry that looks shonky, leaky or overcrowded, look for an alternative boat or catch a plane.

Full country name: Republic of the Philippines

Area: 299,000 sq km

Population: 84.61 million

Capital City: Manila (pop: 10 million)

People: Predominantly descendants of Malays, Chinese and Muslim minorities and a number of mestizos (Filipino-Spanish or Filipino-Americans)

Language: Pilipino (Tagalog), English

Religion: 82% Roman Catholic, 9% Protestant, 5% Muslim, 3% Buddhist

GDP: US$310 billion

GDP per capita: US$3,700

Annual Growth: 3.9%

Inflation: 4.4%

Major Industries: Electronic and electrical products, textiles

Major Trading Partners: USA, Japan, Taiwan

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Traveler Facts

Visas: For most foreign visitors visas are not needed for stays of less than 21 days. Three-month visas can be obtained in advance and cost around US$35. Multiple-entry visas (lasting six and 12 months) are also available but are expensive and only allow for stays of 59 days at a time. Visa extensions are possible and generally faster to obtain in regional areas.

Health risks: cholera, hepatitis, rabies, malaria, typhus

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +8

Dialling Code: 63

Electricity: 220V ,60Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

New Year's Day is celebrated with great vigour and plenty of fireworks. On 9 January, the Black Nazarene Procession, the largest procession in the country, carries a life-size, blackwood statue of Jesus through the streets of Quiapo in Manila, and the procession happens again during Passion Week (the week following Palm Sunday at Easter). The Filipino version of Mardi Gras is the three-day Ati-Atihan, celebrated in Kalibo on Panay in the third week in January. On Good Friday, there are many scourges throughout the country, which have become popular attractions, especially those at San Fernando (Pampanga), near Manila. Independence Day is celebrated on 12 June with military parades. During the week leading up to 1 November (All Saints' Day) Christian cemeteries throughout the archipelago are spruced up and given a fresh coat of whitewash; if you happen to be in Manila on All Saints' Day don't miss the huge party at the Chinese cemetery. There are local festivals taking place just about every week of the year somewhere in the Philippines.

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Best time to Visit

Generally, the best time to travel is in the typhoon off-season from September to the middle of May. In the Christmas and Easter breaks, however, everyone is travelling and you'll have trouble getting a seat on any form of transport.

The most colourful and lovely festivals fall between January and May, the rice terraces of Luzon look best in March and April, and the best time for island-hopping is between October and March.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Philippines Peso

Meals

Budget: P100-170

Mid-range: P170-300

High: P300-800

Deluxe: P800+

Lodging

Budget: P500-1500

Mid-range: P1500-4500

High: P4500-10,000

Deluxe: P10,000+

As with the other Asian Tigers, the Philippines economy has been fluctuating fairly wildly in recent years. Generally speaking, however, the Philippines are slightly more expensive than other countries in the region. You'll get the best value for money in North Luzon, while you're more likely to shell out on Boracay and Cebu.

The US dollar is the most recognised currency in the Philippines, and is often easier (and cheaper) to change than travellers' cheques; in Manila you should have no trouble changing British pounds or euros. Large denomination US bills will get you a particularly good rate, but only clean banknotes are acceptable. If you want to use cheques, the bigger brands will be accepted by most banks throughout the country. ATMs are all over the place, particularly in the big cities, and they operate 24 hours daily. You can use MasterCard and Visa in them.

Whether you tip or not is up to you. Restaurant staff will generally expect one, even if there is a service charge included. If you're catching a taxi with a working meter, round up the amount. When shopping, especially in markets, it's worth trying to get a 10% discount - most Filipinos will aim for one. As a tourist you'll probably be quoted a higher than usual price anyway.

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Attractions

Manila

Modern Manila is a teeming metropolis, with huge towerblocks crowding those few examples of colonial architecture that survived the bombing of the city during WWII. Many people use it only as a base for further travel, but the more persistent will discover its friendliness and charm.

Perhaps because Manila is such an overwhelming place, most foreign visitors don't stay long. However, there are attractions for those prepared to overlook Manila's flaws - from vibrant markets and historic buildings to museums celebrating every aspect of the Philippines' unique cultural mix.

Banaue

The spectacular rice terraces around Banaue, in north Luzon, have been described (like a lot of other places) as the eighth wonder of the world. Carved out of the hillside by Ifugao tribespeople 2000 to 3000 years ago, these remarkable terraces stretch like stepping stones to the sky - some reaching an altitude of 1500m (4920ft).

Boracay Beaches

The famous white beaches of the island of Boracay, off the northwestern tip of Panay, regularly appears in those 'Best Beaches of the World' lists that travel rags are so fond of compiling. Despite the write-ups, unchecked tourist development has at times caused waste-disposal problems.

It might be a good idea to check up on beach conditions before you leave. Environmental tests in 1997 found the water off Boracay to be contaminated and unsafe to swim in. Follow-up tests declared the waters to be within acceptable pollution limits and Boracay's beaches certainly look pristine.

Other Attractions

Countless spectacular sights are scattered throughout the archipelago, including the strange Chocolate Hills of Bohol in the Visayas; the volcanic crater Lake Taal, southwest of Manila; and the burial caves of Sagada, 18km (11mi) from Bontoc. There are also 5,000 uninhabited islands to explore.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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