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Philippines

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Philippines

Can anyone share experience about biking in the Philippines?  Nothing comes up in a forum search.  I'm travelling there for a work assignment until October 2018, and I'd like to know the feasibility of biking, what to pack that's hard to find there, and suggested routes. 

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Philippines

I've never done any bike touring in the Philippines but have spent some time there. When I go back next time I'll definitely be taking a bike and doing a tour. 

I'm not sure if you want this information but below is my impression of the Philippines in terms of bike touring considerations.

There are many similarities and differences with other south east Asian countries.

Geography: The Philippines is a cluster of some 7000+ islands. Travel between the islands is usually quite cheap, regular, but sometimes confusing to navigate (you buy your ticket from one place, get it stamped in another, then checked by another person. It seems redundant a lot of the time but it gives people a job). It can be quite hilly in places due to the volcanic nature of some locations. However, this can be avoided if you wish. The islands are broken into three major regions. The north is Luzon and is by far the largest island. There are many places to explore but on bike I would probably avoid the greater Manila area. Plenty of things to see and do there but it is a CITY. Traffic is widely recognised as some of the worst in the world. I'd probably catch a bus out of the city. It's very populated for a very large area around the city/ cities of Manila. Once out into the provinces though things start to quiet down. In the centre is Visayas which has many medium sized islands that are well touristed. They are full of wonderful small villages and attractions. Each of the islands are very similar but some have unique features that may make them more interesting. Cebu, Palawan, and Tagbilaran are some of the more popular places for tourists and are larger islands which may make touring there easier. Last year I went to the southernmost island of Visayas, Siquijor and it had just started to be touristed. I would definitely love to go back on bike. I have yet to visit the southern section of the Philippines. I'm told the mountains are awesome, but recent events and the ever present security issues of the area mean that I'd like to travel with someone who knows what's going on.

Climate: It's hot all the time, and it rains regularly. The typhoon season is something to be wary of but doesn't rule things out. You just need to cylce between typhoons. The only places where it isn't hot are mountainous regions like Mountain Province in Luzon. I think wind is an issue at some times of year (typhoon season) but I never really noticed it as being particularly windy in spite of the fact that it is a nation of many small, low islands.

Culture: Spain, Mexico, Japan and America's past and continual impact on the island are ever present. However, the Philippines are totally unique in their cultural mix. Tribal life is still present in remote areas and the fusion of catholic, spiritual and pagan beliefs that most Filipinos hold is so fascinating. At times I find that the superstitions are a little inconvenient, but none the less wonderful to try to understand. Because of the geography of the islands, there were/ are many tribes and so the culture differs from province to province.

Accomodation: finding somewhere to stealth camp could prove an interesting task. There is a high population density and not a lot of free space. It could be doable but would take skill. The plus side is that Filipinos love to travel and it's quite easy to find simple and cheap accomodation. A few dollars (200-500p) per night would probably cover hostels but other accomodations would be more expensive. I looked on WS when I was there last to see if there were any hosts and there did seem to be a few. 

Cost: Like most of SE Asia, the Philippines are pretty cheap. The necessities (food, water, clothing, lodging) are not quite as cheap as some other places but very budget friendly. I have found that non-essential items (electronics, brand name clothing, objects and stuff) are about the same price as home (Australia). Access to cash is generally good, but in remote areas it may be an issue and you will need to bring currency. Small businesses will not have electronic means of paying. There are some interesting developments in terms of the way cash is moved around in the poorer provinces via text messages which might be more prevalent in the future.

Food: Cheap street food and drink is readily available almost everywhere in sari sari stores and there are markets all over. Water comes from bottles only. Starbucks is about the best coffee you're going to get out of a metropolis. I'm vegan and never really have any issue with food. Actually the further away from cities I've been, the easier it is to find healthy vegan food as milk is a rarity and meat is too expensive for many poor people to eat in large quantities. Having said that, Filipinos LOVE their meat. Pork and chicken in particular. I'm always surprised at just how little the portions of meat are compared to the rice and vegetables they eat it with. In terms of foods to try, the quintessential food is adobo pork/ chicken and if you have a sweet tooth, Halo Halo. 

Roads: As far as I'm concerned the cities are a write-off for cycling. Cycling isn't big like it is in other SE Asian countries. I've seen some people in Manila cycling to work through the traffic but it's rare. I'm a road cyclist mainly and there has been an increase in the number of people getting into road biking there. MTB is more common. Outside of the cities though, the roads are in varied condition. Most roads are concrete, or good tarmac. You would imagine this makes them perfect, but they love to "reblock" the road so it's always hit and miss as to whether you are riding on the right or left side of the road. Traffic in the provinces is generally steady and the motorists have seemed pretty laid back and courteous. I wouldn't hesitate to flag a car down to hitch hike if I needed to. Unsurfaced roads are also very good, weather depending. One (unfortunate?) thing that is omnipresent in all aspects of the Philippines is the "okay lang" or "Pwede na" attitude. Basically meaning " it's good enough" or "that'll do". In terms of roads it means that corners are often cut when building them. Sometimes two blocks of concrete road don't meet at the same level and a lot of the time a section may have been removed/ never built leaving a section of unsurfaced road between them. Due to frequent weather event's bridges fail, temporary ones are made, and then the money runs out. One of the most hilarious things I ever saw was a T intersection in Siquijor where the joining concrete road was a good 18" below the main road it joined.

Safety: I have never felt unsafe whilst visiting. I've travelled both solo and with my friend (a native). But I've stayed out of areas I've been told are an issue. Outside of the city and in Luzon and Visayas it's generally safe. Armed police and guards are everywhere and this makes public places feel quite secure. However, due to extensive corruption in many levels of society I would always keep my wits about me. Currently the President is tackling the drug problem with a heavy-hand to say the least. Opinions of this method are generally mixed and "if" that were your scene it would be best to steer clear whilst there.

Health: I've never needed it so don't know much. Hospitals exist but I'd imagine any serious concerns would need to be sent to the city. You could always use a witch doctor/ faith healer.

Now... In terms of your specific requests.

 

What to pack: I have never had to find anything bike related. I have seen some stores in the city and that is about all. Because it's not super popular it may be a slight hassle to find specific things. Mail is something I am completely confused about. I assume it exists, and I have been with my friend to pick up parcels in post offices, but I'm really not sure how it works. I think you will be surprised at just how Americanised it is. Many similar brands and products will be available in major cities.

Places to visit: The list is endless of course. Depending on what you like to see determines where you could ride. If you like beaches and the party nightlife Palawan and Cebu are going to be some of the best places. If you like more remote beaches the smaller islands in Visayas and the far northern coast of Luzon are better. I'm a sucker for mountains, for the challenge, for the view, and more often for the cooler climate so some of the places I want to go back to on bike are Mountain Province including Baguio, Banaue, Bontoc, and Sagada. There are infinitely many ways to get between these places it seems( via paved and unpaved roads). Further north to Ilocos, Cagayan, Apayao, Kalinga are all places I want to go. I met a Triathlete, beer micro brewer, and beekeeper in Sagada who regularly rides from his house to the coast via Cervantes. some 180km and around 5000m of climbing. I took this road on motor bike and am desperate to return on the bike.

 

I hope some of that is useful to you. If you have any other questions just ask.