South East Asia Travel Advice
On the itinerary: Vietnam, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia
I will be backpacking and staying at hostels, and aside from a general route, I was going to book as I went within a 5 week span.
I would love any tips, must-see's/do's/eat's, things to beware, best way to get around, etc etc.
Eeeee so excited.
Thanks so much, anyone who can throw their two cents!
I spent ten months in the Philippines back in 1986/87 and just loved it there. I had intended to travel to different countries in the region during that time, but never got out of the Philippines. Aside from the tropical beauty, what it made is so special was the people: ever so friendly, so many able to speak English, and a great sense of humor. The people were for the most part just so happy and positive, in spite of being poor. And musical - wherever you went their was someone with a guitar. There might not be much food, but there was always a bottle of rum and guitar.
Of course it may have changed considerably since the 80s and the poverty is likely worse. But I would think the spirit of the people is much the same.
My advice is travel as far off the beaten track as you can get. The jeepneys (converted and bawdily decorated WWII army jeeps) are a lot of fun, although they rarely follow a schedule. I sometimes used to just get in one, go wherever it was going, and then return to the start point.
A few tips:
-Malati Pension used to be the most popular place to stay in Manila, probably still is. It's fairly low budget but pleasant and nice, with a great patio for hanging out on/meeting other travelers.
-The tiny island of Mardinique and the much larger island of Mindanao are great places to visit off the beaten track. Mindanao is huge and you can go to places where you'll be the only tourists.
-Talk to Philippinos, they will advise you where to go. We ended up visiting a politician's private resort on an island for a couple days, it was fabulous. And visiting a village in the mountains which was a 45 minute climb and felt like going by 2000 years in time (drank sugar cane wine out of wooden cups). Also took a 10 hour boat trip from Mindanao to a small island where tourists hadn't visited in 17 years - stayed at the mayor's house because there was no hotel.
-In the 80s you mostly had to settle for instant coffee and there wasn't a whole lot of food choices. Probably still the same in the countryside. We had a lot of good cheap meals (curries, garlic rice, lumpias, which are a type of egg role), but dairy was rather non-existent. Feeling utterly deprived, my friends and I went to the rich area of Manilla to buy Velveeta cheese and packages of Kraft Dinner.
-the town of Baguio in the mountains is a wonderful place to visit and a tour of the north is a must-see. Not only for the rice terraces, but for the caves. There is an extensive network of caves near the town of Sagada and the six hour caving trip I did there was a huge highlight, terrifying because there was no light and the guides used small lanterns. Climbing was involved and I remember crossing an underground body of water on a rope - exhilarating as well as scary, and a beautiful underground world.
-Borocay Island, a popular traveler's destination, was wonderful despite the fact that there were so many tourists. At the time there was no electricity or airport on the island and all the buildings were made of nipa (sort of like bamboo), which made it all the more magical. Now the island has both, so it has probably lost much of its rustic/magical feel, but I don't know how developed it is (i.e. if there are any sky-rise chain hotels) and of course it would still be a beautiful place with a gorgeous white beach and papaya trees/mango trees growing outside the window of your nipa hut.