Visiting the Philippines is very different from visiting Paris or Singapore. A week is not enough, and there’s just a lot more to do and see, and lots of people to meet. It’s our home country after all. Bringing the kids on a 14-hour plane ride can surely be tiring, but it’s of course worth it all. Letting them have a change of atmosphere, introducing them to our friends and their families and them making new friends.
There’s also nothing better than knowing one’s roots. While it may not be possible to meet all of the relatives nor remember each of their names, it’s enough for the kids to know that they have family on this side of the world.
Now, how do you go about exploring the Philippines with kids? It’s not easy going about the country, being an archipelago it will take a long time to visit each island. On a limited time, and a few places, here are some things we did. (This post is limited to the places in Luzon, the northern main island of the Philippines.)
Meet with Friends and Their Kids
Had we been based in the Philippines, my kids first friends would surely by my friends’ kids. No matter if we live two cities away, making time for friends, scheduling playdates is easier than coming to meet on a 14-hour plane ride.
A simple get together where the kids can play, eat, and of course sing, is more than enough.
Filipinos are known for their singing prowess. That’s because as early as a child learns to speak, it also starts to learn what a Karaoke is. Although the Juke-8 was considered the very first Karaoke machine built by Japanese inventor and musician Daisuke Inoue in 1971, it was never patented. Karaoke as a Japanese word says a lot about where it comes from, it is the clipped compound of Japanese kara “empty” and ōkesutora “orchestra” – as we know today, the machine people sing along to recorded music using a microphone.
Singing is the one thing Filipinos feel connected with. It is part of everyday life in the Philippines. The very first Sing Along System was invented and patented in 1975 by Roberto del Rosario, a Filipino. Del Rosario’s version of a karaoke machine is much bigger and has more features than the Juke-8.
Regardless who did what, we are thankful to these inventors for bringing us the karaoke machine!
When in the Philippines, you can even sing at the appliance store to try the karaoke machines! A number of Filipino singers rose to fame through this! 😀
You can rent a karaoke machine for home use, invite friends and family over so you can bond or find out if one of you can be the next Lea Salonga.
Meet Up With Cousins
Cousins are your first friends. And when you grow up and have families of your own, no matter which degree (first, second, and so on) you can be sure your kids will have playmates too!
What do you bond over when with cousins? Karaoke of course…take turns with the microphone or hold a contest as to who can get the highest score.
Take lots of pictures too and remake those photos after some years, see just how much each kid change through the years.
Try Every Food
Filipinos love to eat. There are 3 main meals – breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks – one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Eating is so normal that while eating, the conversation would be about what to eat for the next meal time. ^_^ It’s no wonder that eat-all-you-can restaurants/buffets are booming all over the country. There are also a lot of carinderias, kiosks, and even home-based cooks you can buy food from. Eating is a serious business in the Philippines. And you can spend 25$ on a lot of food (eating out), if you know the best places.
When you meet up with friends and family, it is most likely that you order food if you do not have the time to prepare. And that’s ok. You’re most likely to get your food in bilaos, those round and shallow basket tray made of bamboo splits. Most restaurants offer this to-go bilaos as well. The usual bilao offerings are pancit (Filipino noodles) of various types, puto (rice cake), crispy chicken, lumpia, and barbecue.
Try also street food, ask relatives and friends where is the cleanest and what’s the best to have. Usually, we recommend barbecue on stick.
Buy at The Mini-Stores
There are a lot of 7-eleven shops and other 24-hour convenience stores in the Philippines but neighborhood sari-sari stores are all a different experience.
It’s aimed for the masses, selling everyday needs by the unit or in smaller amounts. As kids, these were where we would buy a piece of chocolate or a handful of candies, or a bottle of cola. Sometimes, our parents would ask us to buy a cup of vinegar or soy sauce, a head of garlic, two eggs, half a kilo of tomato or anything that is immediately needed for cooking.
Sari-sari means variety and the bigger the store, the more there is you can buy in retail. While not all would have refrigerators, the ones that do only sells bottled drinks, ice, iced candies, or retail popsicles and pint ice creams. Some sari-sari stores also sell pastries or homemade goodies.
Enjoy The Cool Breeze
The Philippines has a fairly warm climate save for some months of rain. While it’s really nice to spend time out in the sun, cooling off with a beautiful view is what we’ve done even when we were younger.
Two cooler places that we often go to would be Tagaytay and Baguio. The latter takes about 6 hours travel from Manila, while the former is about 15 minutes from where we live. Surely, Tagaytay is the better option for a day trip. It’s been developed too so there are many things to do, even visit a zoo with a view of the famous lake – a volcano’s crater within a lake that has lake in it too! 😀
It always looks so calm seen from above, platforms made by establishments for the purpose of viewing it. Pristine, blue waters, perfect clouds hovering above, it’s always like a postcard perfect shot.
Baguio on the other hand, offers a lot more being a bigger city. It is touted as the “Summer Capital of the Philippines” for its cool climate. The city is approximately 4,810 feet (1,470 meters) above mean sea level. Its location makes it conducive to grow strawberries and pine trees that it’s also given the nickname “City of Pines.”
Enjoy a day or two at a fun park!
Mall of Asia Bay Area Amusement Park
Manila Ocean Park
Go To The Beach
There are more than 7000 islands in the Philippines, and there’s a beautiful beach reachable by car from any point. There are beaches with white, black, gray, or pale cream sand all throughout the archipelago. If you fancy one that isn’t near your area, flying to a particular island is not so expensive.
Breathe sunrise beach air
Sea air is good for the lungs, as it contains iodine, salt, and magnesium, it promotes respiratory health and in effect can reduce the symptoms of asthma. This is one of the reasons too why we go to the beach – for son1 to get his lungs somehow better.
Observe sea creatures
Some marine creatures end up on the shore when the water wanes. It’s a good thing to see them, make the kids curious but as for any other creature, teach your kids to be kind to them. We picked up a small starfish for the to see (see photo in above gallery) and we put in water so it would not suffocate. We returned it to the sea later.
Grilled food is the best when you’re at the beach. And if it’s allowed do so! Best when eating on banana leaves and without utensils!
Play in the sand
Build sand castles, dig some, get under the sand. Enjoy the sand, not as much as an exfoliant, but it really does you good walking barefoot on it.
Take Underwater Photos and Videos
It’s fun to take silly pictures of faces underwater, but it’s also cool to see what creatures you can find under the sea.
If you can’t go to the beach, swim in a pool. As a tropical country, pools are a must during summers in the Philippines. There are private resorts to rent in whichever town you are. Or you can ask a family friend or a cousin to let you swim for the day.
Remember to bring your own swimming gears and floaters too.
Best Beaches and Resorts
Stay in the Province
As city kids, staying in the province was a very different experience for them. I grew up in the province and hubby grew up in Quezon city. We would split our time in both places during our vacation. Most of the time though, the kids would ask us to go back to Cavite because they have no one to play with and there’s no garden to run around in.
When in the province, there’s also a lot to do that you can’t in the city. Here’s some:
Ride a Horse
There’s a lot of benefits to riding a horse. These gentle giants are also calming, they help reduce the anxiety a child feels. It also give them confidence, seeing things from a higher standpoint and getting than assurance from such a bigger animal that they would be ok while on it.
Take Care of Animals
Being city kids, I’ve noticed how excited the kids get seeing animals up close. The closest we can see animals is at the zoo or in a farm which is not very near us. We try to visit the Schönbrunn zoo twice a year and see if there are new babies born in captivity. We also try to see animals at the zoo when in a different city.
When in the province, the kids get to care for dogs, chicks, and even stray cats. We do hope the cats that we feed would be tamed soon.
Being around animals teaches them empathy, that even though they could care for them for only a short time, they would have that feeling of being able to do something for other creatures, and the feeling of being needed.
That said, we probably would get a cat sooner or later.
Pick Fruits and Try Them All
If you get the chance, let the kids pick fruits in season. They would appreciate our creator more, knowing where fruits come from. Aside from the experience of picking their own food, it gives them the opportunity to teach them agriculture and science too.
It’s also the best time to make them try tropical fruits. Mangoes, coconut, dragon fruits, papaya, pineapples, jackfruit, guavas, rambutan, and lanzones are some on our list. These are hard to come by in Vienna or can be bought in cans, and/or are very expensive.
Experience Public Transportation
Public transportation in the Philippines is unique. There’s the tricycle, the jeepney, vans, and buses that are big enough to seat around 40 people. But it’s not uncommon to see people standing in it too, especially during rush hours. Tricycles on the other hand are for smaller streets that can carry at least 3 people in the sidecar attached to it. Jeepneys are distinctly Filipino, vehicles that are smaller than a bus but bigger than the usual van and made with the purpose of public use.
Climb a Tree
Climbing a tree will help a child develop physical strength.
If there’s no safe way to climb a tree, at least appreciate them. Visit an Ecopark, and enjoy walking around the greenery. You might find a frog or two, so just enjoy observing them.
Enjoy a cone of dirty ice cream too. Dirty ice cream in the Philippines or formally called sorbetes, is ice cream in a small wafer or sugar cone peddled in colorful wooden pushcarts by street vendors called “sorbeteros“. It is served in various flavors with our favourites being ube (purple yam) and cheese. It’s called dirty ice cream as it’s being sold in the streets, standard-wise, it’s clean.
Malls in the Philippines are huge! They house clothing shops, restaurants, toy stores, little play areas, arcades, and sometimes exhibits too. Some even have a food court where different regional cuisines are offered. Others also allocate a venue for small concerts and events, and skating rinks.
Buying klumpert when in the Philippines is inevitable. There are really cheap stuff. We took the kids to Greenhills last year and they enjoyed looking at stuff, and buying toys for less.
Of course, never forget to dine at Jollibee, the McDonald’s of the Philippines. Our favorite Jollihotdog still tops the list, although we now live in the Land of the sausages, we still miss this childhood comfort food!