Ours was a bicycle trip of the Philippines of one month, the length of the Visa free regime.
As usual we think that a bicycle is the better tool to deeply explore, get in touch with the real and experience landscapes and people. Even though Philippines is an inexplicably underrated cycling destination, you should really consider the cycling option. However this articles aims to be a rough guide to travel Philippines on a budget for all sort of wanderers with a little sense of adventure.
There are many languages in the Philippines, but Visayas and Tagalog are the most widespread. Learning some words in Visaya will provide you nice smiles, people are more proud of their language here. Anyway it's not a must, you will get many smiles anyway.
In less touristic areas love motels are a good value, they have price per hour but you can get a whole-night deal, bargain hard.
While Philippinos are generally speaking very friendly and smiling people, being invited by strangers at their homes never happened to us, it's probably the first country in nineteen so far (June 2016) where nobody even offered us a meal. But it had might be just a case.
We found common in the Philippines for the locals to think all the foreigner are rich (we were asked seriously if we had come by private plane), so they will try to charge you often higher prices, sometimes even crazy, bargaining to a reasonable price is often a must, especially with accommodation but sometimes even for cigarettes.
But not everywhere you will find a restaurant, if you are on the road you will happen to get familiar with the eateries. Those are stalls where already cooked food is served, the range of choice really depends on the area, in some guiltily forgotten stretches of coast in Negros you could happen to find just a few boiled fishes for kilometers. Though mostly of a middle/low level, sometimes eateries can be a surprising experience and give you a taste of the real Philippino home made cusine.
Another positive aspect of this places is that you eat a lot with less than 1€, be mindful though and beware of your body immunitary defences strenght, if you're flying straight from a very hi hygienic standards country.
Bakeries are another good deal, they are almost in every village and give you a vast choice of very cheap decent sweets for 2/5 pesos, almost free.
Supermarkets are rare and can be found only in the major towns. Don't expect the Japanese variety here. In the countryside are small shops that sell all the basics. Even those not very common, stock always a little of food it's a good precaution.
Shakes and juice stalls and carts are not hard to find and provide a fresh explosion of vitamins for the tired and overheated traveler.
Vegetarian options are not many.
Water from the tap is not drinkable, but water refill shops are really everywhere. In this places you can fill your bottles for almost nothing, sometimes even for free.
Beer is widespread and the cheapest in South East Asia. 26 pesos is the price of a small (33cl) beer in the Philippines supermarkets. Another thing to enjoy in here.
Local Ron is dirty cheap and surprisingly good, you can buy half a liter for less than one dollar and, though I am not a sommelier, i can say that it taste better then many commercial ron sold in western countries.
It's easy to find plenty of dusty road-works, usually they are not long stretches, and they are for making everybody's life easier in the future, so tolerate.
A nice thing for those beginners thinking about a bicycle trip in South East Asia is that it's really easy to ride long distances in the Philippines without any need to shift your gear, coastlines are mostly flat, without giving up on landscape beauty.
Traffic in the medium/big cities is always a mess, with the local transport darkening the air with their polluting breath. But just outside the urban area traffic lightens and you will share the road with a few jeepney and tricicles. This is true if you avoid the main roads. Anyway you will seldom find your yourself alone if you stick to the pavements. The road network doesn't give you lot of choices but there's usually at least one alternative, consisting often of riding the island from the other side, if the main road goes follow the east cost you will chose west.
Philippines by ferry boat
There are several kind of boats that connects those 7,641 island. so called fast boats are the most common and frequent for medium/short distances. Usually medium sized two story ferries with the bottom one enclosed and air conditioned to arctic temperatures and the top one open to the sides, your choice. Odd size baggage is kept on a small open deck at the stern of the boat and covered by waterproof tarpaulin, this is where your bicycles will end up, together with all sort of heavy and odd stuff the Philippinos always carry on this ferries. The loading procedure is not super-easy, there is a small plank that connects the stern deck to the jetty, always with steps. Usually porters on this ships don't charge any tip but I will avoid to let them handle my bike without my supervision. An odd size baggage fee always applies, togheter with a port fee, all of those are to be payed at different desk, while a ubiquitous mariachi-like guitar band plays folk song in front of the closed gates to the jetty. It's more fun in the Philippines.
RoRo ferry are indeed sometimes the only option for distances above 100km, and if not way cheaper than fast connection. For the long rides the boat are equipped with rough common dorms, no blankets provided, a smelly experience. But this boats can be very funny, with simple bar, karaoke (called videoke) and sometimes even unexpected group dances acted by the crew(!). It's more fun in the Philippines.
Pump-boat are used for short distances, traditional wooden boats with two floaters on their sides. Loading cargo here is much more worst than the fast ferry, sometimes there's not even a jetty, you get on the boat straight from the beach, dragging your bike through the sand, you won't be alone though, because people use to load also scooters on this boats, you will be amazed to see how they do.
Sailing on a pump boat is an experience itself, but it can also be a scary one, in less touristic areas this boats can be bad-maintained and with no safety equipment at all, avoid it if the sea looks rough, especially if you are seasick. Our sailing to Guimars from Negros was one of this bad feeling experience.
Overall safety is honestly a concern when traveling by boat here, with quite a few recent cases of lethal accidents.
Some more information about the ferry connections in the Philippines, with link to the main companies's not reliable websites, where you could find some sort of schedule for the boat trips can be found in this article and this one.
Jeepneys are my favourite, this sort of crazy mini buses were originally made modifying American four wheel drive military vehicles left behind after the war, now are almost hundred percent handmade, you can see the hammer signs on the body. Usually spray painted with kitch design that often include a Christian figure (Jesus, St.Nino and Maria the most common), a member of the family's portrait and something about speed or superheroes (Ferrari, horses, Spiderman and even manga heroes). Jeepneys connect villages in the islands and I bet it's not hard to put your bike on the roof, although we never tried.
Tricycles are also very funny, these are small motorcycles with a covered handmade sidecar, made in various shapes. It's not rare to see as much as 15 people on one of this toys. They are good for short distances (up to 10km). Not a great option for cyclist even tough I would not be surprised the driver could find a place for all your stuff for a small surcharge
Long distance couches are available in the major towns and more common in Luzon (the biggest of the islands where Manila is). It's usually possible to put bikes on these buses, paying usually a small overcharge directly to the driver.
Flying in the Philippines
Expect short tropical showers even on dry season, and welcome this as appropriate refreshing moments from the usual bloody hot. Consider this when planning steep climbs in the interiors, not for faint hearted, if you suffer the heat stick to the beautiful coastlines, with the sea always by your side for a quick cooling.
In the rural areas atmosphere is really relaxed and people are mostly friendly, it's though a crowded place so in the night could happen to meet some crazy or drunk, or some desperately poor fellow looking for your sandals. Take care of your stuff if you wild camp.