Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 1: Introduction

23.8: Kuala Lumpur -> Cebu
24.8: Cebu
25.8: Cebu
26.8: Cebu -> Bohol -> Cebu
27.8: Cebu
28.8: Cebu -> KL -> Kota Bharu

Overview and overall impression
We have been travelling to southeast Asia every year since 1999, but have never visited the Philippines before. There is no specific reason for this, or perhaps I should say that we have focused initially on the more interesting locations in the region, and the Philippines are a bit out of the way, i.e. it's not that easy to get there. Then, since our kids reached the school age we have only been able to travel to southeast Asia in August because this is the school holiday period, the only school holidays long enough to justify a long distance trip. And August is not exactly the best time to visit the Philippines due to the monsoon.
Also, feedback I've got from other people who visited the country was less than stellar.
Anyway, this year we finally decided to have a first look at the Philippines. We noted that the Visayas region around Cebu is not that affected by the August monsoon and there are direct flights with Airasia from KL to Cebu, so we took the plunge.
After having seen Cebu I must say that there are probably nicer places in the Philippines where to spend a holiday, because Cebu (and Mactan island) are not too impressive. Mactan island for instance has no nice beaches (it's all coral rock coast, with a few resorts having their own artificial sand beach). In Cebu city itself there is not that much to see in terms of sights, although the city is kind of interesting.
What strikes a visitor is the deep level of religiosity of the population in Cebu, i.e. how seriously local people take their catholic faith. On the Sunday when we visited the old church in Cebu, this was literally overrun by pilgrims. People lighting bundles of candles in the streets, atmosphere like in a rock star concert.
We might visit again the Philippines in the future, but are not exactly in a rush to do so.

Despite the probably low income levels in the Philippines costs for western level hotels are surprisingly high. Taxis, food and other stuff cost more or less the same as in Thailand and Malaysia.

For some reason we were not able to find Filipino restaurants and most of the time ate in the food courts of shopping malls or in Asian fast food chains. We saw local food in food stalls along the streets, but didn't dare to eat there because these places looked quite dirty.

We stayed in the overpriced Costabella Tropical Beach hotel in Mactan island. From feedback I got in the Lonely Planet forum, these kind of prices are not unusual in the Philippines. If true, this would mean that you get much more from the money in Thailand, where accomodation is less expensive and there is a very wide range of hotels for all budgets.

Money  / Exchange rate (August 2014)
1 Euro = 58 PHP (Philippines Pesos)
1 Euro = 1.32 USD 
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

ATMs are everywhere, so that you can easily get cash with a Cirrus/Maestro ATM card. 

Mobile phones and prepaid cards
We bought two SmartBro SIM cards, which cost 50 pesos each, together with a 200 pesos Internet package (unlimited Internet for five days, perfect for our trip) and a 100 pesos recharge. Very fast 4G network, which however was not available everywhere, i.e. was quite spotty.

Internet access
The WLAN in the hotel was so slow to be essentially unusable, so we relied on the Internet connection provided by the phone.

In spite of the monsoon season the weather was quite good over these five days, with a lot of sunshine and only rain every now and then.

Health / Vaccinations
The usual set of tropical vaccinations. We didn't refresh any immunisations for this trip. The area around Cebu is free of malaria.

VISA / Entry requirements
A visa on arrival is available for tourists of most western and developed countries. 

Overall the area we visited (Cebu and Bohol) made a good impression. We never felt unsafe.

Recommended things
While Cebu city and Mactan islands are rather unspectacular, the island of Bohol has a number of attractions which make it a worthwhile destination. The dried mangoes are delicious, but you need to buy the good quality ones.

Things to avoid
Nothing really, although the accomodation is quite poor value.

Getting around
We used primarily taxis to move around. These are affordable and fast. Try the easytaxi application, with which you can avoid the 50 pesos surcharge when you can them by phone. In the evenings it can happen that taxi drivers will refuse to use the meter and ask for a fixed price.
The ferries to/from Bohol island are not bad, although the boarding procedure is a bit cumbersome. You need to be at the jetty half an hour before the departure.

Copyright 2014 Alfred Molon