When it comes to the Philippines, beaches will always be the best thing to do as a local or foreign tourist. But every now and then, it’s fun to also do something different. Here are a few things I’ve done.
1. Fly a Plane
Everyone dreams of flying yet unless you were born in krypton, the only other way to do it is to clock in hundreds of hours as a pilot. So what can the average joe do in order to experience the thrill of defying gravity? (cue in background music from Wicked) Fly an ultralight plane! Situated 1 1/2 hours away from Manila in Angeles city, Angeles Flying has a small fleet of ultralights where spreading your arms and running around saying “brrrrrrreeeeeeoooooow” is enough experience to fly one of them. An ultralight is a 300 kg plane that looks like a cage attached under a hang glider with a big fan strapped to the back. For a minimum of 20 minutes and a maximum of 1 hour, you and a pilot go up to around 1,000 feet in this. There are two sets of controls attached to each other the same way driving schools have their cars set up. The pilot shows you the basic controls for the first 10 minutes then lets you take over the controls. You’ll fly by Mt Arayat, snake across a river and coast along the rice fields. If you’re lucky, he’ll even let you help land the plane. Afterwards, you can lounge around in the pool and have a barbeque with friends by the gazebos.
2. Save Sea Turtles
Humans love interfering with mother nature. We kill and destroy whatever gets in our way of progress then try to get rid of the guilt by preserving endangered species. But only the cute ones like pandas, koalas and sea turtles. Located 200km away in the peninsula of Bataan is the Pawikan Conservation Center. Close by is a picturesque resort called Montemar which has its own little sanctuary for these animals. In the months of November and December, the adults come to its shores to lay eggs. Come January, the eggs hatch and the resort releases them with a total of zero survivor training hours which explains the 99% mortality rate and the most obvious reason why they’re becoming extinct.
3. Sand Surfing
Can’t swim? No worries! That’s what the sand dunes of Ilocos are for. Traveling all the way up to the Northern tip of the country will lead you to do the usual tourist stuff like visiting the heritage houses of Vigan, Malacanang of the North in Laoag, Paoay Church, Bangui windmills and the Kapurpurawan rock formations. But you can also discouver what it’s like to ride up and down sand dunes in a 4×4 jeep then surf down any of the several dunes there on a board. Just like regular surfing, you need to make quite an effort to reach the top before enjoying the few seconds of fun going down, but the upside is that you catch each sand wave every time. If that type of surfing gets too hot for you, head up a little further north to Pagudpud and do some traditional surfing instead.
4. Surfing (on water)
Surfing is no doubt becoming one of the most popular activities in the Philippines as of late. This is a sport that provides good exercise, allows you to explore the country’s different beaches and doesn’t require you buy any equipment. Siargao is the most famous spot in the country with Kalinaw Resort being just as famous after it landed a spot in Travel and Leisures 2011 list. Zambales is the closest spot from Manila situated in the north but a little bit past that and you find better options in La Union in the west and Baler in the east. For La Union, Kahuna Resort is quite nice while Costa Pacifica is Balers top hotel.
5. Go Deep Sea Fishing
Depending on what kind of fish you want, there are different areas around the country that provide options. Siargao, known for its surfing, is actually also known for big game fish. Just ask the guys of Blue Sky Sports or Siargao Fishing about the sailfish they’ve caught in the area. There are closer places to Manila like Calatagan, Batangas in the South and Subic Bay in the North where you can catch giant trevally. Bass-fishing is a good all year round option and can be found in lakes like Caliraya, Laguna or Pantabangan Lake, Nueva Ecija. In the southern part of the Philippines, Cebu and Davao are well-known for their tuna which, when caught, can give you the opportunity to be a barbarian and eat the fish right then and there for the freshest sashimi although due to their size, you may need a bucket of wasabi to go with it.
6. Visit a volcano
This might not be new to locals but it’s not that often that a foreigner can visit an active volcano. About 100km to the north of Manila is Pinatubo which pressed its snooze alarm and only woke up in 1991. Realizing it overslept for 600 yrs, it decided to make up for lost time by erupting so hard, it caused the largest US military base evacuation since WW2 and changed global temperature by 1 degree. Now it tries to look innocent by having a picturesque lake in its crater which tourists can get to through a short 4×4 jeep ride and a 2 hour day trek. Taal volcano, situated 60km south of manila is one of the worlds smallest. You can climb it by horse or go on foot all the way down to the crater lake that stays at a constant near-boiling temperature all year and has sulfur fumes that will remind you of the time you once ate one too many eggs.
7. Race A Car
The Batangas Racing Circuit is about 2 hours south of manila. You can rent a car and learn the basics of racing at high speeds. Unfortunately, spraying champagne at people after models put wreaths on you isn’t part of any of their packages. There is also the option to race your own car if you wish to master it and don’t mind the risk of smashing into a barrier if you lose control. If you’re going to spend money anyway, why not close it down for a day and invite your friends over? Last I remember, it cost P30,000 to turn it into a private event for a day making it a good alternative to a bachelor party. But if you want to tone it down a notch, try go-karting instead. City Kart Racing has an indoor track in Sucat but they’ve also got an outdoor one in Circuit Makati.
8. Climb A Mountain
Everyone is into the whole health craze thing nowadays. Majority of them sign up in gyms and run on treadmills like caged hamsters on a wheel. The smarter ones avoid the boring routine and combine exercise with adventure. Belonging to the volcanic ring of fire, the Philippines has a lot of mountains worth climbing. The tallest one in the country is Apo in Davao at around 3,000 meters high. The next 4 are a mere 100 meters shorter at most. However, only one of them is located in Luzon while the rest are down south in Mindanao. Mt Pulag, Luzon’s highest and the 3rd tallest in the country, is perfect for its convenience and it’s flexibility in being suitable for both beginners and advanced climbers thanks to the different trails. The Ambangeg trail is a 3-hour trek each way while the Akiki Trail is a steeper climb and takes about 8-9 hours to reach the summit. Trail Adventours is the website that has a complete list of all the mountains worth climbing and rates their difficulties so that you can choose accordingly.
9. Discover Old Churches
To westerners, visiting Asia means seeing temples and shrines dedicated to gods they’ve never heard of. Unfortunately, telling a foreigner who traveled halfway around the world that he has to visit a church won’t exactly sell. To make things a little more exciting, turn it into a road trip. The surrounding provinces are littered with forgotten churches that hail from the Spanish era. Finding them is an adventure in itself and once you step inside them, you are sometimes surrounded by paintings and other religious decor that put a lot of Manila’s churches to shame. Don’t believe me? Check Pampanga’s Betis church, Minalin church, San Guillermo church as well as the historical Barasoain church that was used to create the country’s very first constitution and was pictured at the back of our old P10 bill. All that beauty within a couple of hours of Manila.
10. Watch A Play
It’s quite common for any local or foreign tourist to go to the theater or opera when visiting a city. But in Manila, watching a performance in the Cultural Center or the International Convention Center is a slightly different experience since the buildings themselves are rich in history and culture. Considered as either remnants of a traumatizing dictatorship or a symbol of Philippine architecture, these buildings emanate their own type of charm.
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