After two trips to the Philippines and quite a few to other Southeast Asian countries, I feel that I need to fill you in on a few lesser known facts about the Philippines. My adventures in the Philippines weren’t exactly to secret hideaways. Plenty of travel bloggers have written about Boracay, Cebu, and Palawan with countless pictures of hotspots throughout these tropical islands, each one more beautiful than the next. So in between my beautiful photographs, I’m going to try and bring you some facts you didn’t know about the Philippines!
Facts you didn’t know about the Philippines
As visitors, we tend to be oblivious to the fact that the many different countries in Southeast Asia are actually VERY dissimilar from one another. It’s true that many share commonalities like the US and UK but the Philippines stands alone in much of its uniqueness. The country is quite different from its neighbors in Asia and in order to fully appreciate your visit, you will need a deeper understanding of it.
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The Philippines was a Spanish colony for 377 years, until 1898!
SO what’s the big deal you ask? It’s true that many countries in Asia were also colonized by the Dutch, British and French but what makes the Philippines so special is that they were a Spanish colony! The Spanish were known for their missionary zeal, unlike the other colonialists that simply didn’t care. As a consequence, the Philippines has much in common with Latin American countries, sometimes even more than it has with other Asian countries.
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Cebu is a perfect weekend getaway for our neighbors in Asia with its own International Airport.
In fact, you can hear Spanish words transposed into Filipino languages. Kamusta is perhaps the most famous one meaning “how are you” (Cómo está in Spanish). For your general knowledge, there is even a creole Filipino language, based completely on Spanish, called Chavacano. If you ever wondered why the Philippines currency is peso by the way, now you know the answer.
“how are you” is “Kamusta” in Tagalog the most common Filippino dialectThis English – Tagalog Pocket Dictionary for under $4 for Kindle!
As for another strange fact, you didn’t know about the Philippines; it’s a Catholic country! If you thought you would find Buddhist and Hindu temples like in other SE Asian countries, think again. Instead of those predominantly Asian houses of worship, you’ll find old churches everywhere. Honestly not as impressive as the temples, for two reasons. The first – it’s not that exotic. The second – they weren’t built to be spectacular. The Philippines wasn’t as important as other Spanish colonies and was even losing money for the crown most of the time, so Spain just didn’t invest so much in it.
Many Filipinos are mestizos, meaning they are part European and part Filipino. Most Filipinos can trace back their origins to Spaniards somehow. The Spanish were known to mix with the local population, unlike many other colonialists. Actually, the mestizos are very much present in Filipino showbiz, and you will see them on Filipino TV and advertisements
Before the Spaniards came, Manila was Muslim!
Manila was once a Muslim city known as the Rajahnate of Maynila. So before it was a Christian capital, the first established religion was actually Islam? But the truth is most of the population wasn’t Muslim and the religion wasn’t that widespread. It was restricted to Manila and several other islands. Later on, Islam pushed southwards, where the Spaniards didn’t have much control.
Most of the Philippines is safe but stay away from Mindanao!
As a tourist though, you just need to follow one simple rule: don’t go to Mindanao! This is the most dangerous part of the Philippines, especially for foreigners. Some parts of it are perfectly safe though like Camiguin and Siargao. The rest of the Philippines is very safe too, and you shouldn’t worry about visiting at all.
The Philippines was a multicultural place even before it was the Philippines
I don’t mean it in the way those big metropolises are today, with many immigrants who live happily side by side in a liberal manner. Because we’re still talking about the 16th century (and before), and those are times not known for great liberalism. The Philippines is home to 70 different indigenous peoples.
Some of them are prior to the Austronesian immigration to the Philippines, like the Aetas. You can visit such tribes nowadays, like the Batak People of Palawan and the Mangyan of Mindoro. Not many tourists bother to do so before they flock the beaches, but this is empowering to these people and their culture and helps them financially too. Incorporating a visit to the Mangyan is really off the beaten path, but the Batak village can be a part of most Palawan packages.
There are 70 different indigenous groups and over 170 native languages in The Philippines!
Then there are the Austronesian – people who are believed to migrate to the Philippines from today’s Taiwan in phases from 5000-2000 BC. These people are the ancestors of most of the 175 ethnolinguistic groups of the Philippines. So why does it matter to you, the simple tourist?
Realize that with over 170 languages, Filipinos do not all speak the same language. Maybe you were good and did your homework, studied some Tagalog, the official language of the Philippines, on the flight. When you arrive in Manila , you say a little word here and there and everyone just admires you. Then you arrive in Cebu and nobody seems impressed. No wonder, they have their own language which is actually even more widespread than Tagalog!
Secondly, these indigenous groups spent over 3000 years developing quite distinct cultures. The Igorot of the north are known for their ability with rice terraces farming (hence, Banaue), are very different than the Ivatan of Batanes, who build their houses from stone and rely on fishing and roots in their traditional diet.
Did you know that Spain invented Chinatown in the Philippines?
I know that sounds insane, right? But the truth is in the Philippines the first Chinatown was established by the Spanish in 1594. There were plenty of Chinese merchants, mainly of Cantonese descent, who lived in Manila and practiced commerce. The Spaniards after the Spanish occupation wanted to keep an eye on the growing Chinese community which lived in Intramuros (Spanish for “city within the walls”) and forced all of the Chinese to live in Binondo nearby.
So why not visit the world’s oldest China town. It is one of the most popular city tours in Manila. You get to go around for half a day and eat genuine Chinese street food. You get a great meal and a piece of history at once, and for very cheap too.
The Philippines was sold for $20 million
After the Spanish American war, the Americans who won the war paid 20,000,000 U.S Dollars to Spain, in order to justify their annexation. America only left the Philippines in 1946 after the Second World War. The first general of the Philippine Army was the famous American Field Marshal Douglas MacArthur who trained the locals to fight the Japanese. After the Americans left, the Filipinos had already taken a liking America.
As a consequence, the national sports are basketball and boxing, a fashion following that of the US, and Filipinos love American food, especially junk food! Oh and have we mentioned that almost everyone speak English! The Philippines is one of the best English speaking Asian countries and you’ll even find Filipino English teachers in places like South Korea!
The majority of the tourists to the Philippines are Korean and Chinese
Both countries gained a lot of wealth and economic growth over the past 2 or 3 decades. Recently there was a sharp increase of Chinese and Korean tourists. You will notice this when you travel but the good news is as long as you aren’t traveling during a Chinese or Korean holiday you’ll probably avoid their large groups flocking from place to place.
A lot of times it’s because they have direct flights to in-country destinations, and don’t even have to go through Manila. They come to the Philippines for weekends, mainly to hit the beach. So google the Korean and Chinese holidays, and if you happen to be in the Philippines during this time, prepare for war! Okay maybe not but stay away from hot spots like Boracay, El Nido and Mactan during Lunar New Year!
I hope you enjoyed learning about the Philippines!
Well I hope you enjoyed learning some of the country’s prehistory. Feel free to jump over to my Philippines travel section for some ideas if you’re planning a trip to this magnificent country!
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Disclaimer: This is the internet and It is safe to assume that links and content contained on this webpage provide compensation to the website’s owner. The opinions here are my own and the information here is accurate as of November 2017. All photos in this post were taken as a collaboration between Mike Still and Ronda Christensen.