This Englishman Describes How He Fell in Love with the Philippines


This was originally posted by u/ibanezdan94 on Reddit. We are reposting here with the author's permission.

I am a 25-year-old musician/guitarist from England. Part of my personality is that I have always been inspired to love real life things in a very obsessive way because of finding about them in fiction, I think partially because I have symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome/high functioning autism. 

For me this story all began when I read The Beach by British author Alex Garland, which is about a hidden utopia and is actually set in Thailand, not the Philippines.

After reading the book, I planned a trip to Thailand and three friends joined me. We spent three weeks backpacking around the country and we did love it. But I was a little turned off by how full of partying tourists it had become. While there I read an interview with Garland in which he said that his vision of the perfect hidden utopia in the book was actually based on tiny uninhabited islands he visited in his backpacking years in the Philippines, not Thailand. He decided to instead base the book in Thailand because he did not want the potential commercial success of the book to bring hordes of tourists to the Philippines and ruin it’s beauty (much like what has happened to Ko Phi Phi in Thailand, the location in which the film adaptation of the novel was shot.)

I knew that I had to get to the Philippines. It was about six months later that I made it happen. I went on my first solo trip for the longest I’d ever been away from home for 30 days. I packed a single backpack and headed to London to begin the 22-hour journey via Shanghai to Manila. 


My time in Manila made me wonder why everyone told me to skip the city. To me the place was fascinating and I preferred it to Bangkok in many ways. I even met a Filipino guitarist with similar taste in music to myself who invited me to his apartment in Taguig to record a song with him using his instruments. We are still in contact now! 

Photo by Unsplash.

I got a bunk on an overnight ferry to Palawan. The uninhabited islands surrounding Coron and El Nido confirmed to me that what Garland had written in his interview was true. This was the most picturesque and perfect setting for a secret fictional utopia that I had ever seen.

I flew to Cebu next, finding myself back in the big city. I saw the Kawasan falls which are incredible and was invited to a party by a Filipino family who owned a small hostel that I stayed at. (I got really drunk and had a terrible hangover!)

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I got on a boat to Bohol and saw the Chocolate Hills. Here I had a Filipino karaoke bar experience (I was the only foreigner in this small bar and it was loads of fun!)

Next up was Boracay which was nice but I enjoyed walking the entire length of it and stayed at a lovely hostel where I became friends with a Filipino metal music fan (my favourite genre) who was a regular at the hostel bar.

Next up came the thing I had been looking forward to the most. I made a very long and inconvenient journey to Donsol just to be get a chance to see the legendary whale sharks or butanding. I was ectastic when we found a huge whale shark and I got to swim with him for quite some time. It is still one of the best experiences I have had in my life. I still keep a P100 bill as a souvenir (which of course features the butanding overlayed on the Taal volcano).

Photo by Unsplash.

Back in Manila, I spent my final day being guided around the tallest sky decks of the city by a Filipina around the same age as me who is still my friend that I met in El Nido weeks before. She also told me more about the history of the country including the rule of the Spanish and United States, about Ninoy Aquino and also about Rodrigo Duterte.

I have a special interest in aquariums and visit as many as I can. My final activity was visiting Manila aquarium (Ocean Park) which is stunning and has exhibits designed to resemble the reefs of Palawan as well as an Amazon river freshwater exhibit and even an Arctic Humboldt penguins exhibit. In a way it made a lot of sense to me because in a country with such beautiful marine heritage, it was good to have one final taste of that before I went home.

All and all when I left the country the next day, I had spent less than £900 (about P56,000) on my entire month and had been to lots of places and done so many awesome things.

Even on my flight home I watched films based in the Philippines as I still couldn’t get enough and didn’t want to leave. One was 1898: Our Last Men in the Philippines which is about the last of the Spanish troops in Luzon being defeated by the Tagalog rebels. The second was a bit of a cheesy midlife crisis American film called Kiss the Sky which is about two American businessmen who meet a Dutch Buddhist monk and an Australian woman and travel to the Philippines together to escape their home situations. Another was Birdshot, which is about corruption in the police force and the illegal shooting of a Philippine eagle.

Once I returned home I read Alex Garland’s second novel, “The Tesseract,” which is based in Manila. In this book I could tell that myself and the author shared a similar level of affection for the country because in his writing it is very obvious that he cannot help but show his enthusiasm for the culture and history of the Philippines.

My final thoughts were that I found it odd that almost no other travelers that I met along the way were traveling only to the Philippines. Most of them seemed just to be passing through on a bigger trip around Southeast Asia. In Thailand, there were many, many people who were there just for Thailand. I loved The Philippines more and found it to be less tainted by the tourist hordes and it was very easy to become friends with Filipinos as many of them speak great English.

I know that I need to go back as there are still so many places I want to see that I did not have time for. Especially Luzon, which I did not really explore other than Manila, Legaspi briefly as well as Donsol.

So in conclusion, if it was not for the author Alex Garland, I don’t think I would have had this amazing month (probably the best month of my life so far) and discovered my favourite country in the world to visit. I didn’t know anything about the Philippines before I read The Beach and The Tesseract. So thanks Alex!

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