Banaue rice terraces. Luzon

Philippines, the Pearl of the Orient Seas, in a Nutshell

Author: Sue
Date: 24th April 2001

A Brief History of the Philippines

Spanish colonisation began with the arrival of Miguel López de Legazpi's expedition on February 13, 1565, from Mexico. After this, the colony was directly governed by Spain, eventually unifying a country that was previously an agglomeration of small kingdoms and sultanates in a perpetual state of minor wars. Spanish rule was never entirely accepted however and ended in 1898, with Spain's defeat in the Spanish–American War. The Philippines then became a territory of the United States, entering another struggle for independence, from a country they had mistakenly thought was their ally against Spain.

The Filipinos had just agreed their Independence, when the Japanese began their occupation during World War II, arriving only a few hours after their attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the Philippines proved to be the bloodiest theatre of the war for the invaders with at least 498,600 Japanese troops killed in fighting the combined Filipino reserves. Approximately, 10,000 U.S. soldiers were missing in action in the Philippines, when the war ended, more than in any other country in the Pacific or Europe. An estimated one million Filipinos were dead.

When the war ended the Americans were welcomed back. Independence eventually went ahead, with the Philippines continuing to be heavily economically reliant on America.

Facts and Factoids

  • The Philippines is the second-largest archipelago in the world, with approximately 7,500 islands, only 2,000 of them inhabited and nearly 5,000 still unnamed on global maps.
  • The Puerta Princesa Subterranean River Deep on the island of Palawan is the world's longest navigable underground river (24 kilometres)
  • The country is named after King Philip II of Spain.
  • About 11% of the population of the Philippines – more than 11 million people – work overseas and send money home.
  • There are at least 175 languages spoken in the Philippines. Most people speak English and the most commonly spoken language is Tagalog.
  • Jeepneys are the most common mode of public transport. After World War II, American troops left behind thousands of surplus Jeeps. These were converted them into colourful, slogan bedecked transport vehicles that can hold up to 20 people at one time.
  • The Philippines is home to three of the ten largest shopping malls in the world

Is the Philippines a Poor Country?

More than a quarter of the Philippines' 105.7 million people live in dire poverty. This is a polarised society and there are few opportunities for social mobility, whilst there is rapid population growth. The rural areas are notably poor, but there are large shanty towns in many of the urban areas as well.

Is the Philippines a Safe Country to Visit?

The Philippines is a relatively safe country to visit if you heed FCO advice (and this always tends towards the cautious). There has been terrorist activity with some kidnapping in the south and west towards the ocean borders with Indonesia, so these areas are best avoided - check for the latest guidance.

  • The people are delightful and very friendly, but because of the poverty there is a great deal of petty crime. Keep a constant eye on your belongings and don't travel alone on the jeepney taxis in Manila, unless you can hold firmly onto your valuables the whole ride.
  • Be prepared to 'pay extra' to get things done. Unless you grease palms very little will happen - though the people will still smile.
  • Don't drive yourself. Labour is cheap and a driver won't add much to the cost of a car. If there is an accident and a foreigner is at the wheel there will be a lynching.

What to Do in the Philippines?

This is a fascinating and beautiful country, with incredibly sociable people, a contender for one of the most interesting countries in the world.

The highlight is possibly the rice terraces of Luzon - more magnificent and more ancient rice terraces, than the ones in Bali.

But also consider:

  • Manila - it's a concrete jungle, but a fascinating one and besides, you can't get anywhere without transiting Manila.
  • Boracay - the commercial but gorgeous White Beach
  • Colonial Vigan, also in north Luzon
  • El Nido and the subterranean river of Palawan for snorkelling and diving in a sublime setting
  • Bohol and the Chocolate Hills for scenery, beaches and tarsiers
  • Puerto Galera for diving
  • Siquijor for more diving and witches' spells
  • Kalibo for the annual spectacle of the Ati-Atihan Festival
  • Volcano climbing - on foot or horseback - Tiny Taal, lively Pinatubo and perfect cone shaped Mayon, all throw down their individual gauntlets.
  • There are plenty more islands and diving if you exhaust this list - swimming with whale sharks at Donsol?

Join the discussion, leave a comment

Been there? Something to add? Want some advice? Just want to say Hello? Get in touch…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

hello world!

Newsletter Subscription

Stay in touch. Get travel tips, updates on my latest adventures and posts on out of the way places, straight to your Inbox.

I keep your data private and only share your data with third parties that make this service possible. Privacy Policy. No spam I promise. Unsubscribe any time.