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Mabuhay Philippines!

The Philippines is a nation that is geographically set apart from mainland Southeast Asia, and comes with its own unique traditions and practices. It is a country defined by devout Catholicism, emerald-green rice fields, buzzing megacities, festivals and feasts, colourful jeepneys, smouldering volcanoes and truly resilient people.

Words : Efi Hafizah Hamzah    Photography : Adam Lee & Getty Images

Jeepneys in Philippines

Jeepneys – King of the Road


In the Philippines, the jeepney is known as the ‘King of the Road’. This is by far the country’s most popular means of public transport that adds flavour to the gridlocked streets of Manila. The jeepney is a national treasure with names like Delilah and Rosa emblazoned across the front, and each individually adorned with religious and patriotic artworks. The jeepney is a throwback to when American troops were stationed in the Philippines during World War II. When the war ended, they left military vehicles behind and these were then refashioned into public transport. The most economical transportation for the locals and quite likely the fastest in traffic, the jeepney can seat up to 20 passengers at a time, but occasionally you’ll see daredevil passengers on its rooftops. It may be part of the Philippines’ identity, but the jeepney is fast being replaced by newer and more economical buses. This is a true Filipino icon and one that begs to be experienced at least once in a lifetime before it becomes a footnote in history. www.philippines.hvu.nl/transport2.htm

Jovilyn Sy.

“Be amazed by the skilful passengers hanging off the entrance of the jeepney during rush hour. Say bayad po when paying for your ride and watch your money magically float to the driver with the help of fellow passengers. Shout Para ho! when you want to get off, and the driver will drop you off at your destination.” ~ Jovilyn Sy, Commercial Strategy Executive, AirAsia Berhad.

 The Banaue Rice Terraces

The Banaue Rice Terraces. Photo from Getty Images


Cordilleras Region, Luzon Island

This stunning attraction is testament to man’s ingenuity and was built some 2,000 years ago by Luzon’s indigenous people, the Ifugao. Using their bare hands and primitive tools, they created terraced stone and mud walls along the mountainous terrains of the Cordillera region to house rice paddies. It is here that the famous Filipino tinoaen rice is grown for export. Locals call it the eighth wonder of the world and the Banaue terraces were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, as a means to create sustainable tourism for local farmers. There are buses from Manila and Baguio that travel here daily, while quaint little inns offer basic but adequate accommodations. Incidentally, the Ifugao people are artists, and visitors will find plenty of artistic wood carvings and handicrafts for sale. www.riceterracesbanaue.com

Karlos Sanchez

“The Banaue Rice Terraces is a hidden gem of the Philippines. The journey to this eighth wonder of the world is well worth the effort and time. You get to see majestic stairway-like terraces that were crafted purely by hand.” ~ Karlo Sanchez, Head of Ancillary, AirAsia Zest.

Intramuros in Pasig, Manila



Pasig, Manila

The Intramuros was given its Latin name by the Spaniards; its name means ‘within the walls’. Also known as the Walled City, Intramuros was built in 1571 during the Spaniards’ 300-year colonisation of the Philippines. The site is also the oldest district and a historic core of Manila. Hundreds of years may have passed, but the imprint of the Spanish remains as there is a certain blueprint in the architectural styles of the buildings within the Walled City. Reminiscent of walking through a Hispanic village, this historic city was home to churches, schools, convents, government buildings and residences, and was a comprehensive collection of Spanish colonial architecture before much of it was destroyed during World War II. Of all the buildings within the 67-acre city, only one, the San Agustin Church, remains. The Intramuros has undergone a facelift of sorts with more modern amenities made available. Besides its historical structural design, the Intramuros has of late become a hot spot for pop culture, arts and crafts with various kitschy shops. Among the more interesting things to do in Intramuros now is to take the White Knight Inn’s tour on a Segway or the kalesa ride (horse and buggy), and have a picnic at the Puerta Real by the Casa Blanca steps. www.oldmanilawalks.com

Jonathan Yabut

“A visit to Manila is never complete without experiencing Intramuros. Ride a horse-drawn carriage there or visit the baroque-inspired San Agustin Church or the outdoor museum of Fort Santiago. End your afternoon with a merienda (afternoon snack) at Ilustrado that serves Filipino-Spanish cuisine.” ~ Jonathan Yabut, Chief of Staff, AirAsia Asean and Winner of The Apprentice Asia, Season One.

Tinikling Dance in Philippines

Filipinos perform the traditional Tinikling Dance.


The Tinikling Dance (meaning ‘bamboo dance’) involves small groups of people tapping, sliding and beating two bamboo poles together against the floor, as two or more dancers step in, out and over the bamboo poles in a rhythmic fashion. The challenge of this dance is to avoid getting your feet hit by the bamboo poles. There are various folklores on the origins of this dance. A popular belief is that it was started by locals who worked in the fields during the Spanish reign. For those who worked slow, the punishment was for them to stand between two long bamboo poles that had thorns jutting out. The poles were then clapped together to beat the natives’ feet. The locals, however, jumped at the precise moment and thus avoided the crushing pain. Borne out of the Visayan islands of Leyte, the more romantic tale on the origins is that of the dancer imitating the grace and speed of the tikling bird’s movement through grass stems avoiding bamboo traps set by rice farmers. Professional dancers of the tinikling move at a mesmerizingly speedy pace! www.visitmyphilippines.com

Jenny Bugarin

Tinikling is our national dance but I’d recommend it as a sport too as it requires exceptional skills in jumping, skipping and hopping between two large bamboo poles – all this while being graceful at the same time!” ~ Jenny Bugarin-Tan, Public Relations Manager, AirAsia Zest.

Vinta Boats in Mindanao, Southern Philippines

Vinta Boats. Photo from Getty Images


Mindanao, Southern Philippines

The vinta boats, native to Zamboanga in southern Philippines, have dazzling sails of colourful fabric. Locally known as lepa-lepa or sakayan, this traditional boat is mostly used in Mindanao by the Bajau and Moros communities who live in the Sulu Archipelago. The colourful sails are a depiction of the vibrant culture and history of the Muslim community in the Sulu seas, with practices combining various schools of thought that make for a fascinating culture. The boats are small, quite precarious and definitely not meant for open seas, but the locals still use them to eke out a living fishing and pearl-diving. The vinta boats are also the most economical transportation around the archipelago. www.itsmorefuninthephilippines.com

Frances Zafra

“One of the main attractions of Zamboanga’s Hermosa Festival is the vinta boat race. Its vibrant and colourful sails are a vivid representation of the local Muslim community’s culture. Zamboanga is also known for the curacha, also known as the spanner or red frog crab. It’s usually steamed or boiled to preserve its rich, succulent flavour.” ~ Frances Ann A. Zafra, Route Revenue Manager, AirAsia Zest.

Mayon Volcano in Albay Province, Luzon Island

Paddy Farmer and Mayon Volcano. Photo from Getty Images


Albay Province, Luzon Island

The Mayon Volcano is a majestic 2,462-metre high symmetrical, cone-shaped mountain that is active. A government-protected area since 1983, Mayon is the most famous active volcano this side of the world and erupts quite frequently, almost 50 times since 1616, with some eruptions causing a major loss of lives and total annihilation of the surrounding areas. Nonetheless, this perfect stratovolcano has become a crowd-puller, not only for its infamy as a seething giant waiting to blow its top at any given moment, but also for its magnificent lava flow. There are two campsites for trekkers wanting to visit the mountain with the one nearest the summit best attempted by intermediate or advanced climbers. Since becoming a tourist favourite, a number of amenities such as telescopes and a playground with picnic tables have been added to the park at the foot of the mountain from where you can watch Mayon belch hot smoke threateningly. www.e-philippines.com.ph

Abby Yao

“If Mt Mayon gets you fi red up to trek other active volcanoes, take a day trip to Mt Pinatubo, which is known for its surrounding lahar landscapes and serene crater lake, or ride a boat across the lake of an ancient caldera to reach Taal Volcano.” ~ Abby Yao, Content Executive, Malaysia AirAsia.

The Parol

Christmas lantern in Philippines is known locally as The Parol.


The Christmas lantern in Philippines is known locally as the parol, and for the Filipinos, being a devout Catholic community, there is no greater symbol of the Filipino Christmas spirit. The parol is a recognisable symbol to all Filipinos and represents the star of Bethlehem that guided the Three Wise Men to the manger wherein lay the infant Jesus. For the Filipinos, making a parol, decorating one and lighting it is an expression of shared faith and hope. In the olden days, parols were traditionally made from materials like bamboo sticks, rice or crepe paper, and lit by a candle or coconut oil lamp. Though it has been modernised, it is still possible to see parols made of Capiz shells in Manila. One of the most spectacular innovations to the parol is seen in the city of San Fernando where six-metre tall giant parols with kaleidoscopic blinking lights are paraded through the streets on trucks. Whatever the material or shape, visitors to Philippines should not miss the Festival of Lights between December 16 and January 6 to witness elaborate and elegant parols. http://goo.gl/QJ0OVI

Flor Louie

“My favourite is the Giant Lantern Festival in the City of San Fernando, Pampanga. It’s a must-see event where participants showcase their giant lanterns and compete to see who puts on the best show. Do make it a point to see these lanterns that range from 18 to 20-feet high with 4,000 to 5,000 light bulbs dancing to music.” ~ Flor Louie Gueco, Customer Care, Malaysia AirAsia.



The most infamous of traditional Filipino street food, balut is a developing duck embryo that is boiled and eaten straight from the shell. Locals see it as a good source of protein, and many extol its aphrodisiac properties.


Halo is the Tagalog word for ‘mix’, and this is a dessert of shaved ice and evaporated milk mixed with various boiled sweet beans and fruits.


This rice cake dish is made using a bamboo tube and is purple in colour, courtesy of the pirurutong rice that’s used to make it. It’s served with toppings of grated coconut and brown sugar. It’s also a Yuletide season sweet dish.


This dish was introduced during the Spanish reign and lives on as a national dish. It’s a whole roasted suckling pig prepared for special occasions and festivals. The Filipino version uses local flavours such as tamarind leaves or screwpine leaves in the stuffing.


This is a type of marinade or seasoning that is native to Filipino cuisine, although the name (meaning ‘seasoning’) is Spanish. The Filipino adobo is a marinade made of vinegar, soy sauce and garlic, and is used to flavour meat and poultry dishes. The most famous unofficial Filipino dish is the Adobo Chicken but there are many versions.



is a festival in honour of the Santo Niño (Holy Child referring to the Child Jesus), celebrated in the third week of January in Kalibo, Panay Island. The last three days of this week-long festival are the most exciting featuring a colourful parade where celebrants paint their faces and don flamboyant costumes. The festival began when the newly-settled Ati people faced a bad harvest season and had to ask the Maraynon natives for food. Each year after that, they would ask for food and sing and dance in gratitude; this brought about camaraderie and goodwill between the two tribes. Subsequently, festivals were held to mark the occasion and the Maraynon painted their faces in honour of the Atis.


is an annual harvest festival of thanksgiving celebrated by the Davao tribes of Mount Apo, mainly the Dabawenyos. Farmers place farming tools, fruits, flowers, vegetables, rice and corn on mats, as they sing and dance. It has since become a tourist attraction, as it also celebrates unity and harmony.


Known locally as Semana Santa, Holy Week is a celebration that begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday, which marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ. During Holy Week, Filipinos perform religious rites in fulfilment of vows or in ardent gratitude for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Devout Catholics go to church every day and most will fast, while many businesses and shops close, allowing time for religious activities.


is a celebration held in May dating back to the 16th century. Pahiyas means ‘precious offering’, and is a time when farmers in Quezon pay homage to the patron saint of harvest, St. Isidore. The people of Lucban at the foot of Mount Banahaw in Quezon celebrate by displaying fruits, vegetables, handicrafts and rice flour decorations in their homes. Competitions are also held to see which house has the best decorations, and there’s a procession for the saint that ends at the town’s beautiful old church.


is a celebration in honour of the patron saint of fishermen, San Clemente, and is observed on November 23 annually in the town of Angono, Rizal, about 30 kilometres east of Manila. Male devotees in colourful fishermen’s outfi ts and wearing wooden shoes carry 1.5-metre tall paper mache effigies of the saint in a procession during the two- week long celebration. Higantes means ‘giant’, and the procession is accompanied by devotees carrying paddles, fishnets and other fi shing apparatus all the way to Laguna de Bay. Visit http://itsmorefuninthephilippines.com for more attractions in the Philippines.


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