Travel or Vacation Holiday to the Philippines


There are a lot of places to visit in the Philippines. If you like the beach, well, this is an archipelago so there are a lot of islands with developed and undeveloped beaches. I prefer to go to the undeveloped beaches so I can appreciate the beauty of nature. However, I still go to developed ones, once in a while. Here’s what some beaches look like. No, it’s not Boracay.

There are also natural sites that you can visit. You can find them online because if I list it here, this page would be too long. What I want to focus on is how to get around in the Philippines.

Is the Philippines safe for Travel?

For the most part – yes. Filipino people are generally friendly people. Yes, there are bad people too but it is in every country on this earth. Always remember the golden rule. If you’re nice to them, they’ll be nice to you. Filipinos speak English because it is taught in schools. You may have to speak slower than you normally do and you have to emphasize the keywords so they can understand. Don’t speak normally like you do because it will be too fast. Also a reminder, don’t yell when they can’t understand. They are not deaf. You just have to give them a little time to think. If you’re white, you will be called “Joe” in rural places. That nickname for white people is from the second world war when the Americans came.

Here are some local definitions:

Bathroom/Restroom/Toilet = C.R. (comfort room); just say this acronym and they point you to the bathroom/restroom/toilet

Reminder: Always carry your own toilet paper and place it in a ziplock bag. It rains a lot there. It is common that you will see a toilet with NO toilet seats and NO toilet paper. You have to make do. Wipe the bowl before you sit or use some of the toilet paper as a toilet seat cover. Filipinos usually sit on top of the bowl. You will also find a small bowl with a handle (tabo in Tagalog and kabo in Visayan) and a bucket of water. Most Filipinos don’t use toilet paper, they wash their butts with soap and water using their hands and yes, with bowl with the handle. I think it’s unsanitary but it’s the culture. I don’t do it, it’s yucky and dangerous to ones health. The feces can get underneath their fingernails and may get into the food they prepare. Handshaking is not common when you greet each other and I’m glad. Handshaking is only done during business or official meetings.

Napkins (restaurants) = Tissue; Napkins to them is the sanitary napkins for women’s time of the month. So, use it carefully.

Bowl = they pronounce it “bawl”; so if you want a bowl for your soup, say it that way.

Pizza = may be pronounced as “piza” like the Leaning Tower of Pisa

A.C. (air-conditioner) = Aircon

Motorcycle = Mo-Tor (not said fast but in syllables

Car = Aw-to or kotse (Tagalog pronounced a Cot-che)
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How to get Around

Taxis

There’s plenty of public transportation. I usually looked at the map first (thanks to Google maps) so I can familiarize myself with the key landmarks before I make a trip. That way I know where I’m going and the taxis don’t run you around so their meter would be ticking and play dumbass. Sorry, I was a victim of this once and that was about it. I usually ride in front of the taxi and ask the driver to lock the door. If it’s too manual, then you lock the door yourself. Just don’t let your guard down. I’m not trying to scare you but just be preventive.

Public Buses

There are airconditioned and non-airconditioned buses. Expect to pay more on the airconditioned buses but it’s worth the extra payment. Be aware that it is a first butt in first serve bases. I don’t mean to be funny but this part I think they can improve. You’re buying a seat so they should just assign it so there is order but the culture has not caught up with that yet. I meant this for those buses in the bus terminals. If you catch a bus that is already in transit, well, it operates like any other bus in any given country.

Jeepney

These are smaller public vehicles which fits anywhere between 14 and whatever they can fit. You normally sit sideways and pay your fare to the driver. If you are seated in the back, you do this by giving it to the person closest to the driver (as far as your arms can reach) and that person will pass it to the driver. It is adviseable to carry some change when you use these forms of transportation. It was 11 pesos at the time I was there. Fare also depends on how far you are going.

Tricycle

Trisikad

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In 2013, the Asian Development Bank(ADB) was given a grant of $12.5 million funded by Canadian government (thank you, Canada) to improve tourism in the Philippines. Their test pilot cities were Bohol, Cebu, Davao, and Palawan. Hopefully, this will improve the services at hotels and restaurants.

Air Travel in the Philippines

This is one area that I think the Philippines has improved. There are now more airline companies who service the entire Philippines. Kudos to the goverment who has opened this market. Gone are the days where your selections were PAL, Philippine Airlines, or Plane Always Late. I think you get my point that there was only 1 available way back then. What’s the disadvantage of having just one? Well, you know the answer – the price.

Budget Airlines with Cheap Airfares

There are now several low budget airlines catering the inter-island services. They are Air Philippines (Air Phil), Cebu Pacific Air, Zest Air, and Tiger Airways.

There is also a plan to update airports. Currently, there is a reshuffling of the airline terminals in Manila.

Hopefully, the local airlines have improved their service. Here’s my personal experience:

Poor Customer Service with Cebu Pacific

I travel from Manila to Cebu about 4 times a month (sometimes more) since last year and used to fly Cebu Pacific until I had several bad experiences with them. Here’s one of them.

They have no regard on what the customer needs. What happened? I usually carry a back pack. It has my laptop, books, power adaptor, and whatever else. I go to the check-in counter and the customer service rep asks me if I have any luggage to check in and usually I don’t have any. This is normal. I get my boarding pass then walk through the Domestic entrance. There’s a carry-on checker at the gate who checks the bags and see if they fit their predefined size and weight. He stopped me and told me my back pack doesn’t fit the predefined size because it’s bulging. I was thinking, why didn’t they check this before at the counter – check the weight and size? So now I have to walk back to the check-in counter, weigh the back pack, then remove all the contents out of the back pack and show them that it’s just a book, laptop, and a power adaptor. Now get this, you can have up to 2 carry ons actually. A back pack or small travel luggage and a bag/purse or laptop case. They just have to be 7 kilos or less. Anyway, after all the contents of my back pack were checked, they said it was okay. Now I’m thinking, isn’t this just a waste of time? Yes, there are rules but there’s also a process – it’s called good customer experience. The process of checking in to sitting and flying and getting out should be seamless.

Customer Service Without a Smile with Cebu Pacific

I asked the Customer Service Representative to smile. Why don’t they ever smile? They always look like they don’t want to be there serving you – the customer. It’s like they present the attitude that the customer needs them. At least that’s what I was thinking until I asked their Supervisor one day – who pays you your paycheck? This confirmed my thinking. His response was - Cebu Pacific. I was so shocked on his answer. I told him he was wrong – the customer pays your paycheck. I don’t think Cebu Pacific would be able to pay you forever if you don’t have any customers left. He didn’t say anything. So, I left pissed and never flew Cebu Pacific Air again.

Since then, I started flying Air Philippines and Zest Air. Lately I have been flying PAL.

I do have one gripe about all these airlines. If you are late in checking in, they say, sorry but our counter is closed and you know damn well the plane hasn’t even landed yet. But if their plane is late sometimes 3 hours late, they usually just say, sorry for the inconvenience. No incentive whatsoever. Not even some snacks or coffee. It’s not the customer’s fault your plane is late.

Zestair over Cebu2

Air Philippines or Air Phil

Decent Customer Service. Uses the new Terminal 3. One gripe  – one time Air Phil’s plane was so late and sitting there in the lounge waiting in the wee hours of the night for the plane to arrice I was able to think of an acronym for their company name – AIRPHIL – Airplane In Route Plane Having Issues Landing. I have to be fair though, I have had a decent customer experience. They usually help you out.

Zest Air

Zest Air is decent. They operate much like Southwest or US Airways. One thing is their terminal is located on the old original domestic airport. No ramps going to the airplane. You have to either walk and go up the stairs to board or go a short bus-ride, go up the stairs and board. It’s not really a complaint. I find it nostalgic. I’m thinking, this is what people used to do back when planes had props.

What is with Zest Air stewardess’ uniforms. They are very tight - too tight at that. This was the old green top and then skirt. They look like they are going to pop the buttons on their tops. Not a complaint – I’m just saying. They did change their uniforms eventually.

PAL or Philippine Airlines

Best customer experience. PAL has its own terminal – Terminal 2. Why I flew PAL? They had a Domestic flight special. For P8,000.00, you had unlimited travel to any of their destinations in the Philippines and it was valid for 2 months after your first booked flight. What’s the catch? You have to pay the taxes and terminal fee for each flight you book. It’s about P800 per flight. Still not that bad and actually a good deal. They called it Domestic Unli Flights. They had one lately for Asian destinations.

Buyer Beware

Lack of Discipline and Courtesy

I’ve always wondered why everytime boarding is announced people rush to get in line as if their seats are going to be taken or the plane will leave without them. I don’t know if they realize that everyone is assigned a seat. That seat is what you pay for and that is yours. I was wondering if it was the carry-on storage space above but there’s plentiful of space overhead for carry on. I’m still trying to figure this one out.

And you have the very few who wait until everyone is gone and then they board the plane. Why can’t they board when their section is called. They stand there by the ramp looking at their phone or talking to someone. People are loaded and on board but we have to wait on them. I think they’re waiting for an ovation when they enter the plane or the red carpet to roll for them. Not! It irks me because they’re not considerate for the others who already boarded.

Then there’s the crew who are in transit. They get first preference on seats. I was dumbfounded on this one. I don’t understand why the crews get the preferrential treatment over the customers. They need to realize that it is the customers who put them in their jobs. Without the customers, the airlines won’t exist. Guess where the stewardesses and pilots are going to be – out of a job.

You can build an airline company any day but if no one flies on your airline, the company cannot sustain paying stewardess’ and pilots’ pay. It wouldn’t last long. This is the part that the Philippine airline industry (besides PAL) and business employees needs to understand.

In the US, crews going on transit flights board and get on seats just like the rest of the customers. If someone wants their seat, they will gladly offer it and find another seat. In the Philippines, the crew or the airline employees get the premium seats and it’s reserved for them. Don’t they understand that they are losing money if they sitting on those premium seats? I do understand that crews get perks but why would you have premium seats occupied for free? Why not sell it to a customer first. After all, the company is in business to make money, right? If none of the customers want it, then your crew or employee can use it. But customers should have first preference not the crew or employee of the company.

These budget airlines do not serve food or drinks. You have to buy it from them. From noodles, soda, water to airline souvenirs. You can buy it before you board so you have something but buying it on the plane is the same price as buying it at the airport stores. Most flights are only an hour long so you only take a catnap.

They don’t have hand towels or sometimes hand soap in the bathroom. They do have toilet paper. So bring your own hand sanitizer.

They don’t have blankets or pillows. You don’t need one. The flights are so short. You climb up the cruising altitude for about 15 or 20 minutes, stay up there for a few minutes, then it’s time for the plane to descend.

Tips in Flying Budget Airlines in the Philippines

  • Arrive at the airport at least 1 1/2 hrs before your domestic flight. If you check-in 1 hour before the flight, then you have a slight chance of flying. If you check-in 45 minutes before the flight, then you’re pushing it. They may or may not let you board depending upon the flight manifest – if they printed it or not. If they already printed it, you won’t have a chance in boarding.
  • Know which terminal the airline is assigned to
    Old Domestic Airport – Zest Air
    Terminal 2 – PAL only
    Terminal 3 – Cebu Pacific and Air Phil Express
  • There is a free shuttle operated by Resort World Casino that goes from one terminal to the other
  • There are special seats that you can pay for and sit in premium seats - Row 1 (Air Phil) or the row after Business or First class (PAL). Doesn’t cost much.
  • When catching a cab on arrival, you don’t have to take the yellow cabs or white vans. Go up/down to the departure area and catch the metered cabs there. Be aware though, if the cab drivers smell you have money they will ask for a high rate. Tell them you want the meter running. If they won’t agree, keep waiting until you find one who accepts the meter reading.

So what’s my take on the airline industry in the Philippines? Thumbs up for having competition. It benefits consumers and gives them the choice on who to fly with. It also provides healthy competition as far as price is concerned. Yes, the Philippines has a long way to go to achieve excellent customer service experience but until the consumers realize that they have the power to enforce that on a business, the Philippines still has a lot of work to do. Business owners also need to get involved to instill good customer experience on their workers/employees and to learn that if a customer has a good experience in their store or place of business, they would likely come back and refer their business. It has to be an overall effort and not just by either side.

1 Comment on Travel or Vacation Holiday to the Philippines

  1. It is very sad how airlines increase the price at Christmas by many percent. A OFW who can get last minute vacation to travel home to family cannot always afford it. Maybe some business’s can become popular by breaking even just getting folks home for the holidays? Profit follows later with good will remembered and talked about.

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