Practical Information

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When to go? For those who can choose their holiday dates the ideal time to visit the Philippines is during the dry season, between November and February. During summer (March to May) the heat is torrid (though all hotels and public buildings are air-conditioned, and the weather in the hill resorts like Baguio are very pleasant). From the end of June to October is the rainy season, when the southwest monsoon pours down large steep of water on the Visayas and Luzon and the Pacific coast is swept by typhoons. Only the southern regions, in particular Zamboanga, have an agreeable climate at this time of year.The visitor’s itinerary must therefore take account of these climatic factors. Zamboanga, Davao, Marawi and the island of Cebu can be visited at more or less any time of year. The Pacific region, from Mindanao to Leyte, Samar, Bicol region and eastern Luzon, is possible only during the November until June. The western part of the archipelago, including Manila and the rest of Luzon, is very wet in the months of June to October, and visitors must be prepared for a certain amount of inconvenience: air services may be interrupted for several days at a time, the streets may be flooded and taxis may refuse to operate, and so on. However, the scale of the problems should not be exaggerated: the Filipinos themselves are accustomed to these inconveniences, and life goes on just the same. The main thing is to remember that between July and September any travel plans may be upset without warning; and it is then that the services of a good travel agency will prove their worth. Time Philippine time is 8 hours ahead of GMT. Currency The unit of currency is the peso, of 100 centavos. There are coins in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 centavos and 1, 2, 5, and 10 pesos, and banknotes for 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 pesos. The rate of exchange normally varies between 40 and 42 pesos (as of March 2008) to the U.S. dollar, but may range more widely. The following currencies are freely convertible into the peso: the GBD pound sterling, the U.S. and Canadian dollars, the Australian and New Zealand dollars, the Euro, and Swiss francs, Singapore dollar, and the Japanese yen. Visitors may bring in as much foreign currency as they wish, but are not allowed to take out more than they have brought in. They can bring in a maximum of 1000 pesos of Philippine currency (not more than 50 pesos in coins) and can take out a maximum of 1000 pesos (not more than 10 pesos in coins). Foreign currency can be changed in banks, the larger hotels, travel agencies, the bigger shops, etc. The best currency to bring is U.S. dollars, which can be changed everywhere without difficulty. The main credit cards (American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Dinners Club) are accepted. Travelers’ cheques can be changed in banks and the larger hotels and shops. Greetings When greeting an elderly person the Filipinos show their respect by taking his right hand and bringing it up to their forehead. Foreigners are not expected to observe this custom. The usual greeting is “Kumusta?” a corruption of the Spanish “coma está?” (How are you?); when meeting someone for the first time, or someone older or higher in status, the polite form “Kumusta po kayo?” is used; for someone of particular importance the third person is used “Kumusta po sila?”. The reply to this greeting is “Mabuti po naman” (I am fine). “Mabuhay!” means “Welcome!” but it can also mean “Good day, Goodbye, Good luck, etc.”; the exact translation is “Long life”. “Maligayang pagdating” is an old fashion way of welcome and it is now rarely used. A man is addressed by his surname with the Mr. as in the English-speaking countries, women by Mrs. or Miss. The Tagalog equivalent is sometimes also used Ginoong for Mr., Ginang for Mrs. and Binibini for Miss. A handshake is the common form of greeting. Women kiss in token of affection; while men will sometimes embrace one another, Spanish-fashion, clapping one another vigorously on the back. Customs Visitors no longer have to fill in a customs declaration form, and as a rule their luggage is not inspected. It is necessary, however, to declare orally any dutiable articles. The following can be brought in without liability to duty: (a) Personal effects, including clothing, jewellery, toilet articles, a camera and similar items of personal luggage; (b) 400 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco, 1 litre of alcohol and 2 kg of tea. Passengers pay an airport service tax, higher for international than for domestic flights, on both arrival and departure. Railways At present only the southbound rail, Manila to Legazpi is operating, the northbound rail of PNR closed in 1980s while the PRC railways of Panay and Cebu are long gone. The trains have first-class air-conditioned coaches, and the night trains have couchettes. Nevertheless this mode of travel is hardly to be recommended for foreign visitors used to a certain degree of comfort. Inter-Island Boat Services The scattered islands of the Philippine archipelago are served by a busy network of local shipping. There are regular and frequent services between Manila and the Visayas and Mindanao by vessels which have cabins of all classes, and for those who have sufficient time at their disposal this can be a very pleasant way of seeing the principal towns in the Philippines. Small ferry boats serve short distances up to few numbers of miles for certified passengers of 20 to 60. Some of these companies run cruises lasting between 2 and 7 days. For information apply to a travel agency. Boats can also be hired from firms specializing in this type of business. Road Transport This is highly developed, and most Filipinos who have occasion to go from one town to another travel by bus, however there is no main bus terminal in Manila. There are many types of bus, from the luxury coaches with air conditioning, others with lavatories (which travel from Manila to Legazpi or from Manila to Ilocos in 10 hours) to ancient and rickety vehicles tightly packed with passengers. Car Hire Traffic conditions in the Philippines being what they are, it is inadvisable for visitors to hire a self-drive car and set out on their own. In hiring a car an international driving license is required but it is not much cheaper than hiring a car with driver. Tariffs vary enormously from one region to another, and are often calculated by the hour or the day rather than on the basis of mileage. City Transport The buses are often overcrowded. Metro Manila use buses for transport within the city. Air-conditioned buses running in Metro Manila can be recognized by their colours, which makes destination easily known by commuters. The metropolis also has air-conditioned vehicles called Love Buses, with a soft spacious seats running on a number of routes (Escolta-Makati, Escolta-Quezon City, Ninoy Aquino International Airport to Cubao and Caloocan City). Metro Manila ordinary buses are not comfortable but for some reason are exceptionally cheap. Taxis are numerous, and are driven with a virtuosity which is surely unequalled anywhere in the world. They have meters, and it is unnecessary to give any more by way of a tip than a convenient rounding-up. They can be booked in advance (though this is hardly necessary). The jeepneys of the Philippines are a local specialty going back to the last war. Lovingly remodeled and decorated with vigorous paintings in gaudy colours, accompanied by inscriptions. They tend to be decked with numerous rear-view mirrors and to have horses painted on the bonnet. Most have stereo equipment. They normally carry from 8 to 12 passengers, but on occasion they can be made to accommodate as many as 25. Jeepney routes are spread out in different destinations but mostly are combination of north and south leg. They can be hired, with or without driver. The light rail (metro-sky train) in Manila has three lines that serves the nearby cities: The Line 1 is the oldest one, it is fully elevated and runs through 15 miles with 18 stations (Monumento to Baclaran); The Line 2 or the Purple Line, is a mega train runs from the east-west (Santolan to Avenida) with 11 stations in 13.8 km; and the Line 3,also known as Metrostar (runs along North Avenue, EDSA to Pasay Taft), completely elevated except for the underground Buendia station in which it transformed into a subway. The horse-drawn buggies (calesas) to be seen in Manila; particularly in Binondo and Intramuros and other towns in the Philippines are a reminiscence of the past, a popular means of getting about for those who are not in a hurry. The fare to be paid should be agreed in advance: it varies according to distance and time. The tricycles found mainly in provincial towns are the successors to the traditional Chinese rickshaw, found also in India and Indonesia (but mostly with motors). They are a convenient way of getting about in crowded or narrow streets. It can take two or even three to four passengers. Weights and measures The metric system is in force in the Philippines. A number of older units survive locally, like the pulgada (a measure of length equivalent to 2.31 cm), the arroba (11.5 kg), the chupa (0.37 litre), the ganta (3 litres) and the kavan (75 litres). Electricity In Philippines electricity is 220 volts, 60 cycles. The outlets in the country are usually 2 flat blade plug, so it’s rather safe to bring a plug adapter. Tipping This is not a Filipino tradition, but it is spreading, as in other countries, with the development of tourism. As a rule service is included in hotel and restaurant bills; if it is not, allow 10%. Hairdressers and manicurists receive 10%. Porters at the airport and in hotels expect a small tip. No tips are given in theatres or cinemas, or to taxi-drivers, unless they have had to deal with heavy luggage or have given some special service. Some people may be offended by the offer of a tip: a small gift may serve the purpose better. Photography Do not offer money when taking photographs in villages, though a coin may be given if the prospective sitter asks for it. Opening Hours Government offices are open from 8 to 5 or 6, Monday to Friday. Most offices are closed on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. Most of the museums are open from 9-5 daily, however there museums that are closed during Mondays. Banks are open from 9 to 4, Monday to Friday. The opening hours of shops vary. As a rule they open about 9 or 10 and remain open until late in the evening (with the exception of department stores). Some shops are open on Sundays. Postal and Telephone Services Post offices are open on Monday to Saturday from 8 to 5, on Sundays and public holidays from 8 to 12. The Head Post Office in Manila is in Plaza Lawton, on the banks of the Pasig. The telephone system operates efficiently, like many other countries, it is necessary to dial 0 first for non-domestic calls before the area code, while for local calls dialing the subscriber’s number is enough. The Philippines has 10 digit cellular phone numbers, which include the 3 digit service provider code, and the 7 digit subscriber number. Since the country’s telephone system has an adequate service, it is relatively easy to put through a call to the United States or Europe or to any parts of the world. Dress The hottest months are April and May, the coldest December, January and February. Light clothing, casual wear should be taken as well as caps, hats and sunglasses since the country has a humid climate. Men can wear the national garment, the barong tagalog for formal occasions which can be bought ready-made or made to measure anywhere in the Philippines. Cotton clothes are essential with a jersey or similar garment during the rainy season, particularly in the hill regions. During the rainy season a light mackintosh and an umbrella are also required. Religion The great majority of Filipinos are Roman Catholics, practising their religion with a fervour reminiscent of the expression of religious feeling in Spain. There are also schismatic churches like the Church of Aglipay and the Iglesia ni Kristo. There are a number of Protestant churches in Manila (Methodist church; Anglican church; Baptist church) and churches belonging to various other sects (Seventh Day Adventists; Church of Christ of Latter-Day Saints). There are a synagogue, a Hindu temple and Taoist temples. In the Muslim areas of the south there are of course mosques (visitors should take off their shoes before entering). Cultural life The cultural life of the Philippines covers a wide range: the theatre, lectures, symphony concerts, choral concerts, folk dances, exhibitions, etc. In the Ermita and Malate districts of Manila and in Makati there are many galleries displaying both modern pictures and older works, and there are regular performances by dramatic companies and other artists in the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Bargaining This is practised only in markets and bazaars (when the purchaser should offer half or a third of the price asked). It is out of place in shops with fixed prices.