~ / Brian Norlander / travel /
Philippines, Winter 2017

Visiting Manila, Davao City, Iloilo City, and Hong Kong from December 28 to January 12, 2018.

During the winter break of my Junior year of college I took a trip to the Philippines and Hong Kong with my uncle, cousin and cousin's boyfriend. We met up with extended family in each city we went to and they showed us around parts of the Philippines that are often less traveled.

We visited 7 islands in the 7,000+ island Philippine archipelago including Luzon, Mindanao, Panay, Guimaras, Negros, Samal, and Corregidor. Additionally we took a flight up to Hong Kong for one day.


People, Culture, Chaos

Manila, the capital of the Philippines, has the most dense city proper in the world and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth. It's strategic position in the East has been coveted by many nations including China, Spain, The United States and Japan.

Our first night was spent in Manila. We were welcomed with humidity, diesel smoke, crowded street markets, many smells, and en energy I had never felt before. This was my first time being in Asia and it was a huge culture shock. The extreme poverty contrasted with so many beautiful, happy people has forever altered my perspective. Exhausted from a 24 hour flight and 13 hour time difference, the next day we walked around the Baclaran Market and took the MRT in a loop around the city.

Left: A view from the MRT (Metro Transit Rail). Right: Baclaran market, one of the largest markets in Manila.

Later that afternoon our short stay in Manila ended and we boarded a flight for Davao City, the capital of Mindanao, the southern most island in the Philippines.

Davao City

Durian capital of the Philippines

Davao City has a tropical climate and is home to many amazing fruits and animals. We got to try durian, pomelo, pineapple, papaya, mango, lasones, marang and bananas! Davao is near General Santos, where Manny Pacquiao is from. Basketball, boxing, and the occasional cock fight are the most popular sports here.

We were picked up at the airport by Precy and Rene (my cousin's aunt and uncle).

Left: Riding the outrigger from Davao to Samal Island Right: View across the bay

The next morning we boarded an outrigger and headed off to Samal Island. We spent most of the day swimming, taking advantage of the waterslide, hanging out in the shade, and of course, eating lots of amazing Filipino food!

Left: View of the water slide and diving board Right: Erik and I
The whole gang!

The next day we took to the streets of Davao in search of the infamous durian. Durian is said to "taste like heaven and smell like hell". Taking this as a challenge we sniffed out the first durian stand we came across.

If you don't wear gloves while eating durian your hands will smell for days. It is also banned in most hotels!

That night the family treated us to an authentic Filipino dinner. Chicken Adobo (my favorite), mango smoothies, marang, pomelo, and many other traditional Filipino dishes were served. I think I ate enough for at least 3 people.

Letlet, Lola and Rene


The Philippines' Land of Promise

Mindanao is considered the major breadbasket of the Philippines, exporting bananas, pineapples, mangoes, coconuts and many more kinds of fruit. Mindanao is also the most culturally and religiously diverse region of the Philippines.

Rene took us on an all day cross country trip from Davao City to Lake Sebu. On the way we saw a lot. Here are a few of my favorite moments.

Along the way we stopped at a fruit stand. We ate the best pineapple, mango and bananas I've ever had. All the fruit was freshly picked from nearby. This is as good as it gets.

Left: Getting some fruit to start off the day Right: Lots of people asked to take pictures with me
I saw more smiling faces on this drive than I have seen all year at college
Dole pineapple plantation

Lake Sebu

Highest zip line in Asia

Lake Sebu is a remote lake on the western side of Mindanao. The surrounding region is very rural and undeveloped. Recently it has had some terrorism scares and it is not advised to travel there because of its proximity to Marawi City.

Lake Sebu has heavy commercial fishing, primarily for tilapia. Due to it's high elevation the fish that are grown here are coveted throughout the Philippines and even the world. The region is also one of the most important watersheds in the Philippines, providing water for much of the Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato regions.

Clouds resting atop the hills behind the rice terraces
Highest zip line in Asia
Left: Rain Forest Right: Sebu Falls

On the way back to Davao City we stopped for a famous Filipino delicacy, balut. Balut is a developing duck embryo that is boiled and then eaten from the shell. Inside of the egg there are feathers, bones, beak and all!

We were no match for this little boy, who easily ate 2 of them

We got back to Davao City and still had some time to explore the city. Davao is the self proclaimed durian capital of the Philippines.

Left: City hall Right: A jeepney

Jeepneys are very iconic for the Philippines. After World War 2 ended there were many leftover jeeps from the US Army. Many Filipino's converted these jeeps into colorful transportation vehicles, a method of transportation still widely used today. Jeepneys are unregulated and pick up passengers one by one while they drive a set route all day. Each customer passes their fair to the front of the vehicle, the driver makes change, and then the other passengers pass the change back.

Recently there has been a movement to end jeepneys because they are inefficient, unsafe, unregulated, cause more traffic on the road and cause a lot of pollution. On the other hand jeepneys provide many jobs and are a classic image of the Philippines.

Drinking coconut water and eating the baby coconut flesh

Iloilo City

The Heart of the Philippines

We flew from Davao City to Iloilo City. IloIlo City is the largest city on the island of Panay, a central island in the Philippines. The economy of Iloilo City and Panay island is growing extremely fast, buildings and roads were being built everywhere around us.

We spent the first day in Iloilo driving along the coast and hanging out with Ryan, my cousin's cousin. He picked us up at the airport and gave us a grand tour of his hometown.

Left: View from our lunch spot Right: Baroque church leftover from the Spanish era
A Filipino church

That night we were treated to a kamayan feast, otherwise known as a boodle fight. This traditional way of eating has been ingrained in Filipino culture for hundreds of years. On top of banana leaves, mounds of rice are surrounding by exquisite meats all roasted or cooked to perfection. Then, around the rice and meat layed sliced fruits, freshly bought from the market that morning. All of this is accompanied by sauces, peppers, and calamansi strewn across the table. And of course, mango smoothies!

Everyone around the table carves out a little section in front of them on the banana leaves and starts grabbing food around them with their hands. No silverware allowed!

Boodle fight!
Left: Family Right: Everybody enjoyed the meal

Guimaras Island

Mango Capital of the Philippines

Ryan took us to Guimaras Island, a small island south of Panay, lined with beaches and filled with mango trees. Guimaras island is said to have the best mangoes in the Philippines!

We spent most of the day swimming, snorkeling, building sand castles, hanging out at the beach, and of course eating more Filipino food (seafood edition).

Beach on Guimaras Island
Ryan's children Left: Rysha Right: Liam (who shared my love for Pokemon)
Left: Jumbo shrimp Right: Bungalow
Left: View from the top of the island Right: A few of the many mango trees


The City of Smiles

We took a short (and tipsy) ferry from Iloilo City to Bacolad. Bacolad is the largest city on Negros Island. Ernie, my cousin's uncle, picked us up from the docks. He showed us the beautiful countryside around Bacolad where sugarcane is grown on top of the volcanic soil.

Sugarcane has a long history in the Philippines. First brought over by Arab traders, then widely used by the Spanish it has been grown on Negros Island and throughout the Philippines for hundreds of years.

Bacolad is also famous for its original chicken inasal, a Filipino variant of roasted chicken with calamansi and peppers served with rice. Popular at the fast food restaurant Mang Inasal.

Old Spanish plantation
Mango smoothie


Mountain Resort

A short while after arriving in Bacolad, still on Negros Island, we drove up the side of mountain to Mumbukal Resort. Mumbukal is located in the foot hills of a volcanic region in the middle of Negros Island. It has natural hot springs, 7 distinct falls, flying foxes and many trails thorough the rain forest.

View from above the falls
The top (7th) falls

We were guided up a trail along the falls by a local man who only wore flip flops while traversing steep, rocky paths and while trekking through mud/streams.

Along the way we stumbled across a couple young boys who showed us where we could jump into a pool! This was a magical moment that I will always cherish.

These kids fearlessly dove into the pool far above where I jumped in.
More smiling faces :)

Hong Kong

Pearl of the Orient

We flew from Iloilo City to Manila, then from Manila to Hong Kong. While in Hong Kong we stayed 2 nights and had about 1 day to explore the enormous city. Both nights we stayed at the notorious Chungking mansions, a cheap stay and haven for hustlers of all sorts.

A former British colony now handed over the China, Hong Kong is the intersection of British industriousness and Chinese culture. The city boasts one of the most skyscraper-dense city propers in the world while also having beautiful hills, forests and temples throughout the province. This trip would later inspire my decision to study abroad there.

Tsing Li (not yet the city of Hong Kong)
Left: Street cars Right: Lady's market

The day we were in Hong Kong it was in the low 40's and raining. One of the coldest days of the year.

We took the 100+ year old tram up to Victoria's peak and saw the quintessential view of Hong Kong.

View from Victoria's Peak
Left: Path around Victoria's Peak. Where did the skyscrapers go? Right: Skyscraper
Fresh fish for sale

That night we had dinner with a friend from Manila who works in Hong Kong. We tried the Hong Kong famous dim sum as well as a few other dishes.

Left: Niko, Me, Annie, and Erik Right: Pig themed dim sum! (because it was filled with pork)
Every night Hong Kong puts on a light show


The Rock

After coming back from Hong Kong, we had an extra day in Manila before we left for home. Although Annie and Erik left that day, my uncle and I decided to spend the day taking a ferry out to Corregidor Island and take a tour of the famous World War 2 battle sight.

After the Japanese attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, they soon invaded the Philippines. The United States at that time controlled the Philippines and had defenses on the Island of Corregidor due to its strategic location in Manila Bay, hence the nickname "The Gibraltar of the East".

From December 1941 to May 1942 Japan sieged the island with artillery. It wasn't until March 12 that General MacArthur was evacuated to Mindanao and then Australia, but not before vowing to return and recapture the Philippines (which he did in 1945).

"I shall return" - I was feeling very patriotic that day
Bataan Peninsula, where the Bataan Death March took place.
During the siege, nearly all of the vegetation was gone from the island!
A nearby island shrouded in mist

One our way back to Manila it was time to say farewell. We caught a glimpse of Manila's massive skyline.

Skyline of Manila

/ Travel