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Thursday, April 16, 2015

GOTCHA, WALDO

JASON P IN THE PHILIPPINES

An introduction on Jason.  I first met him when he was something like fifteen or sixteen years old.  We'd do tabletop roleplaying games together back in the heady days of the 'Swamp House'.  I've no idea why his mother thought it was OK to drop her teenager off with the creepy guy who lived in the swamp (me) but we've been friends for something like two decades.

Life went by as it often does and Jason met and fell in love with a nice girl named Julie.  Julie lives in the USA but her extended family lives in Philippines.  And I do mean 'extended'.  At fairly regular intervals, Jason and his wife - and now his child - go to Philippines to visit them.  Their extended family lives in the southern part of the islands.

The author and his immediate family.

Repeated visits and a huge family to find out information from have given Jason a lot of insight into these islands and he has been kind enough to share it with us and permit it to be published in the blog.

I'm hoping that other people who regularly travel and have insight into other lands will be compelled - nay, forced - into making contributions to the blog.

Let's see what Jason has to say about Philippines:



Manila

Traffic! Manila is a massive sprawl that is bustling at all hours. We arrived at the airport shortly after midnight and I was amazed at how busy the streets and sidewalks were.

 Manila is very commercialized with signage everywhere, more so than the U.S. in some ways. Kind of reminds me of the 'cityscapes' in Bladerunner. Manila is a giant city, as big and crowded as any international city. The sprawl is even larger and more populated than the Chicago metro.

You don't go anywhere quickly. Manila has the good sense to ban tricycles in certain areas so cars and trucks can actually reach top speeds over 25kmh, but there are so many vehicles on the main streets and highways. In the provinces it’s a constant battle with tricycles though. Manila competes for worse traffic world-wide, for sure.



General Santos City

Beautiful, lush, dirty and dusty all at the same time. Mindanao is a drier part of the country so it's a very tropical environment without being as wet as the northern provinces. November to May is the dry season, and probably the best time to visit.


Prices

Cheap labor. Minimum wage is about 450 pesos, $9-10 a day, and probably not enforced in many places, so many services are cheap by western standards. Personal servants, or helpers, are usually paid 200-300 day plus room and board. These are usually people that live deep inland and cant find work beyond plantation labor, so they migrate to the towns and work for middle class and wealthy folks. Which in itself is an interesting contrast to the US, where even middle-class folks are usually living paycheck to paycheck and don't have nearly the budget to afford live-in help.


The exchange rate for Pisos to Dollars is about 44-1 right now.


Food

You can easily eat well for 100-300p($3-7) a meal, half that, if you're having a small breakfast and lunch, or eating at local eateries and street diners vs restaurants in the shinier parts of town and in the big shopping malls. Rice is eaten with everything by the locals, even breakfast. If they're not eating rice 3 times a day, they're probably having a bad day.



You can find plenty of local food diners, native food and really cheap prices, or you can go to a mall and get just about anything you can in the US. McDonalds is there, but everything still tastes different, the beef is different than US Angus beef, sweeter almost, coconut oil permeates most other foods, most breads will have some coconut oil. You can find Indian food, Chinese, Italian and others too if you have a foreign craving, but they all have a local twist.


Alcohol

Can of beer 30-40p. San Miguel is good, as good as any western lager. 5th of tanduay rum for 60p. A liter, for about 200p. Western favorites can still be had at western prices too.


Real estate

Lodging can be had at any price point you desire, from $5 day on up depending on quality. You could rent a room house or apartment monthly fairly easily for $50-$350/mo depending on the build out and neighborhood and security level you're comfortable with.

I can see why the Philippines is attractive to retirees and expats. You can build or buy a home at any price range, from $20k on up. The challenge though is, you can't really own real estate or a business, with any real legal protection, unless you have family or a spouse, and hold titles in their name. You can still sign leases, you can open up utilities, and construct buildings on your lease, but you'll always require a local you trust to partner with for ownership of land or business permits.



Medicine, Services

Medicine for colds and coughs seems reasonable. 5-10p a dose. We typically get a little cough and runny nose the first couple days we’re there, probably just adjusting to local environment. Pharmacies are everywhere and can probably provide most things. I’m not sure how well most prescriptions are filled though.

Hospitals and clinics are available if you're really bad off.  Groceries, and markets are abundant, if you’re preparing some of your own food in a kitchen, you can easily eat for $3-5/day.

Haircuts 35p at the barber shop. Spa treatments and Massage are 200-400p on average. Professional quality places even by US standards, with comfortable lounge area’s and good service, they’ll wash your feet and serve tea.


Transport

Transportation is cheap. Tricycles are dominant mode of transport everywhere, and about 10p, per person around town. Jeepney about 15-20p. Car Taxi about 50p. More expensive rentals to be had as well. If you can afford your own car or truck, you don't go anywhere quickly, only as fast as the tricycle in front of you.

GenSan to Manila is about 1 hour 45 mins by plane. Airports are readily available throughout the big islands in the Philippines. Most are hot and no AC, but otherwise same typical process as in the States. Porters are every where though. 10p per bag plus whatever tip you're comfortable with. I usually tip 50-100p, they'll expect it from westerners but it's not mandatory. With such a favorable exchange rate I don't mind, and I'm typically traveling like a merchant caravan anyway, carrying a couple hundred pounds of pasalubong back and forth, both ways, so porters earn their pay with me.


Expats and Logan-Type Travelers

There are a lot of Western expats in GenSan, most of them are in their 50's or older, it's pretty rare to see a white guy under 60. Some of them are simply retiree's, some have relocated, or fled perhaps, making the most out of their pensions, some have done quite well and own farms and businesses with their families.

Backpackers are far less common in GenSan though, most brave enough to venture into Mindanao stick to Davao City, which is safer with far more tourist locations and resorts. Driving to Davao by air conditioned bus to and from GenSan is about 250-300p, and only takes 3-4 hours, it’s a beautiful ride too.

Davao City is one of the larger cities in the Philippines, and is probably one of the best places to visit as a foreigner, where its safer, yet not as commercialized as Cebu and Manila. Davao would be my recommendation if Logan wanted to try a couple months in the Philippines. Cebu, or Subik Bay in the north, being a close 2nd.


General thoughts on General Santos

As in most 3rd world areas,as a westerner, you're a target as soon as you step off the plane, avoid any flash and dress down. You're a novelty to everyone in the provincial areas so you'll be stared at wherever you go, but it’s not really impolite to stare, just stare back, nod and they'll probably start smiling at you. You’ll probably find that most Filipinos would want to talk to you and will enjoy getting a chance to talk with a westerner.

The average worker here is probably making $5 a day. You're carrying items on you that potentially equate to a years worth of wages to many folks, so don't let your guard down in public and exercise your usual caution. All the security precautions you write about will undoubtedly be put to the test here.

In public, Filipinos are more curious and friendly, in general, compared to the U.S. Its very easy to engage strangers in conversation and polite small talk. Most Filipinos have some skill in English and many are fluent so it's not hard to communicate and find what you need. In fact much of the signage and marketing is done in English, so it's very American friendly when it comes to finding what you need.

I get the feeling I'm in the tropical version of the Wild West of the frontier days due the lack of police presence . In fact, I rarely see any police, they don't patrol like they do in the US, and there are probably far fewer of them. Generally you'll see police, or military guarding checkpoints in and out cities along the main roads.

You see a lot of armed guards everywhere though, private contractors, that are generally protecting malls and larger business interests. Some of these guys are armed with some rather questionable weapons for crowded public spaces. Shotguns and Uzi's, for example, on a 20 year old kid. I'm in position to argue.


The glaring poverty is so casually mixed among wealth and modern tech and exotic landscapes, and makes for a very alien environment for a guy who rarely steps out past the suburbs of Illinois.


Thank you very much to Jason P for this look at Philippines!

Remember if YOU (yes, you) would like to submit something, go for it.  I can't guarantee much editing (not an editor) but I can copy paste it in.  If you submit pics, expect to see many of them in.  Do not submit 'Logan only' pics with the batch you send your article with or you may discover I have no discernment.



GEORGE TOWN TO KRABI TOWN
I decided to go with my buddy Chris to Krabi Town (Thailand).  Figured it would be nice to travel with someone else for a week or two and just hang out for a bit.

It ended up that he wanted to leave George Town about a week earlier than I'd expected.

Since I was still recovering from dengue, this was a bit of a bitch.  He kept turning around asking me if I wanted to sit down and rest.

When we had made our way through the port and over to the train, I wrung out my bandana three times and there was still more sweat within.  The puddle of sweat on the floor of the nice train station was a bit funny though.

The worst thing was having periodic bouts of dizziness.  Especially when walking up stairs.  That was my favorite.

Despite what many people told me about the train (Malaysian trains are better!) this turned out to be a complete lie.  It was exactly the same fucking train.  Indeed, we even had to buy an ongoing ticket for the border to Hat Yai.

Yes, I had to go back to the 'what the fuck are we doing here' town of Hat Yai.

Fortunately, it was just one night.
Early (seven) in the morning, we hopped a baht bus (think pickup truck with a roof in the back) for the bus station.

After waiting around for an hour there, we got into the cramped mini van and drove to Krabi.

My first thought upon arriving was 'why the fuck would anyone come here?'

This seems to be another 'way point'.   Not the kind of place anyone comes willingly but they come here in order to get somewhere better.  Even the places to stay we checked out (about five) really sucked ass.  Who can't put a fucking table in the room, really?  Yes, Chris and I managed to find one with a table eventually.


So now I'm back in fucking Thailand.

The town of Krabi seems completely uninteresting.

So, I'm going to hang out for a bit (have a one month visa) and see what I want to do here.

My guess is that I will be buying a plane ticket soon but I have been proven wrong so many times before.
Still interested in getting over to Indonesia but there are several places within striking distance.


In answer to those who are wondering about my physical condition, this is the slow recovery time.  I'm drinking a lot of water and anything else I can get hold of.



PRICES

Within Hat Yai - train station to the bus station to Krabi via 'baht bus', 100 baht.

Very cramped mini van from Hat Yai to Krabi Town, less than 300 baht.  Takes four hours including a fifteen minute stop over.  It seemed to take a lot longer than four hours.  So much longer.

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{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia | Michigan | Illinois | Colorado |

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