Sunday, April 30, 2017

Davao, you now have a special place in my ❤️

Last week, I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Davao for the first time. As most of you know, I am passionate about the Philippines and her people.

I also truly believe that the Philippines is is in very safe hands under the exceptional leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte. You see, I can see that the President is a humble man, a man of his word and a leader who only wants the very best for the Filipino people.

I decided some months ago, that I wanted to visit the home town of the President, Mayor Tatay Digong as he is fondly called. I had heard that Davao was very safe and a well resourced and progressive city.

I 100% agree. As soon as I arrived at the Francisco Bangoy International Airport last Monday, I could see that I was in for a real treat. Everyone was warm and smiling. My cellphone battery had nearly run out and when I asked if I could charge it somewhere, I was greeted with a friendly smile and positive response, nothing was too much trouble.

My companion for the day was a friend who I had met last year in a Ffilipino event in London, Darling Baquiran and her wonderful family.

I was met at the airport by them and we were driven into town by their driver for the day. The first thing I picked up on was the absolute insistence by the driver to wear my safety belt.
To be honest, when I am in the UK, I would always wear my safety belt when in a vehicle without exception.

However, having been to the Philippines 50 times, combined with the fact that some cars don't even have safety belts fitted, I have come to accept the fact that I don't need to wear one 😄

Was I wrong, totally correctly, our driver wouldn't start the car until I had put it on. I asked him about this and he simply said that Tatay Digong taught us discipline when he was mayor.

This is just one of the many excellent safety initiatives I noticed. I only wish that safety belts would be compulsory in all vehicles in the Philippines.

I also noticed that the city was very clean and well managed. The traffic flow was moving well and I noticed that everyone seemed to have a purpose and not just sitting around getting bored.

In the afternoon, I was invited to an interview about my love of the Philippines by Sun Star Davao newspaper. On the journey we needed to check the address on my phone, I noticed that the internet was very good. Much better than in Manila in fact 😂

After being interviewed by the newspaper, I was given a Davao yearbook which I have yet to read, but gives me a bit more history of Davao and the President. Sadly I didn't get time to visit the emergency services, nor the house of the President. However, I did get to visit House of Hope at the Southern General Hospital. 






This is a accommodation facility at the hospital, where children can stay whilst they are having treatment for cancer. They have excellent facilities, however they rely on donations to look after the children and provide for them. I was able to make a donation and also pass on a Donation from a friend in London towards their work.

In fact, I had been invited to the House of Hope by Darling Baquiran and family. She personally arranged a small Jolibee party for all the patients and families. With the official Jolibee mascot. Darling's family also entertained the children through singing and dancing.


All the parents were very grateful. This personal act of kindness by Darling, who incidentally is from Davao went a long way to helping the children feel better and more positive. In fact Darling personally supports a number of causes in Davao and also feeds other children in feeding programs. Darling and family are really an inspiration.

I was able to attend the Araw Ng Dabaw last night and found once again, everyone was so friendly and welcoming, warm and happy.

Maraming Salamat po Davao, until next time.





British Man deems Davao City as an Awesome Place

Saturday, April 29, 2017

A handy guide to visiting the Philippines for all my friends who have been asking me for updates on changes/updates since they last visited.

Written by Malcolm Conlan

(Blogger and 'Filipino at heart')

1. Booking flights

There are many international airlines that fly to the Philippines. The main hub and capital city is Manila, there are 2 international airports, Terminal 1 and 3. Check which terminal with your airline.

When it comes to booking flights, I usually check the fare first directly with the website of the respective airline, before approaching a travel agency. Sometimes, travel agents tend to charge fees for flight changes etc.

My next port of call would be to check on Lastminute.com.
This website often matches fares and airlines together to get you the best fare. This is something travel agencies don't usually do. You can often get a very good deal if you are flexible about waiting time between flights and even different airlines in each direction.

Another advantage with Lastminute.com , is this new insurance policy they are doing which means if you need to make last minute changes to flights or cancel, you can get 90% back of the ticket you bought refunded in the terms of a voucher which can be used on their website to purchase another flight.

My preferred airlines are via the Middle East, for me this breaks up the flying time. Usually 6 hours to the Middle East and then 8 hours to Manila. Normally there is a 2 hour stop mid way.

I tend to travel with Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, as I am writing this blog however I am travelling with Emirates Airlines.

Some people prefer to travel on a longer sector like to Hong Kong with Cathay then just a couple of hours to Manila. There are also direct flights, but personally I am not a fan

2. Booking hotels

When deciding which hotel to stay in, personally, I just go for clean and comfortable, combined with being inexpensive.

When I am looking for hotels, there are of course many international hotel chains, with some even charging £8 for just a glass of orange juice (something which I experienced first hand).

The bottom line is that if you want to stay in top hotels, you can, these are generally less expensive than staying in a Western country generally, however costs are actually rising in the Philippines, there are still excellent bargains to be had though.

You can sometimes stay in a 5 star hotel for as little as £70 a night out of season. Again, when looking for hotels, I tend to use Lastminute.com and Expedia. When I went home last week, I relied on booking.com for all my last minute hotel needs. The advantage is that you can reserve a room at Booking.com and pay in local currency on arrival.

This is good if you don't have a credit card to hand. Often you can book on the actual day and you will usually find something for around 2,000 pesos a night. Granted it won't be 5 star, but I did this on three occasions on my trip last week and all accommodation was clean and acceptable.

3. Changing/Bringing/Carrying spending money home

My best advice is to bring around £100 in your wallet to change at the airport. You should get quite a good rate. At least 5 pesos better per pound than if you exchange at any Foreign exchange outside the Philippines.

Then you want to open a Philippine bank account. You can get a local ATM card and remit money.

I would suggest getting a Global Filipino Money Card through Philippine National Bank. You can withdraw money back home with little fees if any. They just give you a card here and over time you can use this to save for you holiday. They give you a PIN number here. When you get home, just pop your card in the machine and withdraw away 😄

I would suggest that you need around 100,000 PHP a week if you are going to travel a bit, stay in a few hotels and go out on the town. Any less and you might struggle a bit.

If you are sending money to friends and family back home, I would personally always use MyRemit, a service of the Filipino Channel (TFC) they usually have the best rate and TFC subscribers get a discount.

4. Communications

As much as I don't want to promote any particular telecoms provider back home...

Globe Telecom is the best currently in terms of signal and cost effectiveness.

Bring an unlocked cell phone, iPhone is good as you can take all your photos, videos, as well as being able to browse the internet on Globe. It's the best phone in terms of social media ease of use.

I bought a 30 day 8 GB internet package. You can buy this at the airport on arrival. Simply hand over your phone to the Globe stand. They will do the whole thing, download Globe settings, add the voucher, SIM card etc.

The Internet package costs only 999 pesos currently for 8GB even if you are going home for a week, this is a million times better than roaming on your overseas calling package.

If you run out of phone calling credit whilst back home, go to any branch of 7 Eleven in the Philippines and you just ask for a 300 Globe load, 300 pesos will get you around 9 mins calling abroad.

You may also need to give your local number if you are catching internal flights etc or if you need to be contacted by friends back home, so a Globe number I believe is a must!

5. Safety

I have personally visited the Philippines over 50 times and I have never experienced any issues at all. I have travelled 24 hours a day by all forms of transportation, including jeepney, taxi, MRT, LRT, Bus, Tricycle and anything else you can think off.

General safety rules apply though, don't leave personal belongings unattended, don't flash your money around and if in a very congested area, just keep an eye on your wallet like you would do in any major city.

Saying that though, I repeat that in over 50 visits, I have personally not experienced any issues.

I would recommend travel insurance. I always get my travel cover through Insure and Go.

Also healthcare is a little expensive if you become sick and need medical help. I have become sick twice in 50 times, both down to exhausting schedule and eating too much wonderful foods.

I would keep an eye on your Embassy advisory or government travel alerts though too. Just to ensure you are aware of places that are not recommended for foreigners to visit.

6. Travelling around

Jeepney

I always ride a Jeepney when back home. The idea is that they squeeze as many people as is humanly possible into a jeepney, often tapping on the side to ensure that you end up almost sitting on the lap of your fellow traveller.

However if you treat it as an adventure and fun experience, you should be ok. Part way into your destination, you need to pay your fare. You simply give your peso note to the driver. I suggest if you give a 50, you should generally get change. You also pass the fare along from the next passenger to the driver. They then pass the change back to the passenger by also passing it along the other passengers. When you want to pay your fare to the driver, you would do this by saying 'bayad' then the destination you happen to be going to.

Tricycle

When I ride in a trycycle, I tend to ride alone, you can ride with other passengers, but to be honest it's better to get your own or at least with your family.

When I am going to my Barangay to the town, I usually give around 120 pesos, sometimes 150 depends on the time. If it's late I might give 150 and when from the Barangay to city, I may give 200. Depends on how you feel really and your conversation with the driver.

Taxis

Ok, when I'm Manila, my usual form of transport is catching a taxi.

There are several ways you can do this, most hotels now can you call you a 'Grab'. Grab is an App which lets you hire taxis or cars or bikes etc.

You generally pay a set fare. On booking a grab, the person booking you the grab would tell you the fare. So if you were going from Pasay to Cubao for example, your ride might cost 220 pesos. This will be generally a little more expensive than an Uber in light traffic, but in heavy traffic it's a much better option.

You can of course just hail a taxi, always ask for the meter to be switched on, sometimes they might say Meter plus 50, it's like a tip they ask for. I'm ok with that. I would much rather they say that, instead of quoting you a ridiculous fare which some still sadly do. Particularly in going to the airport. Just don't get in and call another taxi instead.

7. Departure Tax

There has been a suspension of departure tax on international flights at the time of writing this. There used to be a departure tax of some 550 pesos I believe at the airport. This is of great relief to many going home.

8. Language

The national language is Tagalog or Filipino. However the vast majority of Filipinos speak some English. Most you would encounter in the city speak good English. It does help to speak a few words in filipino though. You can buy an English/Tagalog dictionary through the National book store. You can of course buy some filipino movies too. 😄😄😄❤️❤️🇵🇭🇵🇭🇵🇭🇵🇭👊👊👊👊👊👊👊👊👊👊👊👊

(This is just meant to be a fun, handy guide based on my recent visit back home to the Philippines, to encourage others who may wish to visit for the first time, or to those who haven't been back home in a while. I wish apologise for any inaccuracies which may be present).






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