Traveling Solo in the Philippines: A Conversation with Monica Ehman
Tell us about yourself! What do you do when you’re not traveling the world? Where do you live? What made you decide to go traveling solo in the Philippines?
For the past 18 years I have been a flight attendant for a major U.S. commercial carrier. This past August I accepted a buyout and walked away from a career I once enjoyed. I bought a one-way ticket to Asia in hopes of finding clarity in my life. After eight months of solo traveling, I have found that clarity. I will return to Minneapolis next month to begin the process of opening my business (a dessert cafe). I chose to visit the Philippines as a friend and fellow flight attendant lives there part-time; I planned to visit her as well as tour the country.
How long did you go for? How did you spend your time?
I spent 28 days in the Philippines. I visited the capital city of Manila. From there I went north to the rice terraces of Batad and the hanging coffins of Sagada. I returned to Manila to catch a flight to the island of Cebu where I enjoyed a paddle on the Bojo River. I also visited Kawasan Falls where I got the adrenaline rushing by canyoneering. From Cebu I flew to Dumaguete then took a ferry to the island of Siquijor. On the island I rented a scooter to discover its magic and the friendliness of its people. Another ferry brought me to the island of Bohol and its tranquil countryside. From Bohol I worked my way back to Manila to wrap up my visit by spending time with my friend and her family.
What were your most memorable experiences? What were the biggest disappointments?
My most memorable experiences were the time spent with the Filipino people. They were friendly and gracious, often inviting me to their family gatherings or to sit and enjoy a cup of tea. The Bojo River experience is an eco-cultural tour and one I greatly enjoyed, especially knowing my money was directly helping the local people. I learned much about their way of life, and the scenery was breathtaking. Canyoneering was a blast, but definitely not for the faint of heart. The highest waterfall jump is 12 meters, but thankfully it is also the last. By then you are well prepared for it (or so you think).
As for disappointments, I would definitely say Sagada. I went to see and learn more about the hanging coffins. Despite the fact that you are forced to hire a guide, they know very little about the history of the coffins or their cultural significance. Getting to Sagada, however, was definitely a highlight – I sat on the roof of a Jeepney! The views were breathtaking and it was a rush traversing the steep mountain roads.
What do you wish you knew before traveling solo in the Philippines?
Here is the most important piece of advice I can give you for visiting the Philippines: waiting in line for a taxi at the airport can take hours (I am NOT kidding!) Walk or take the free shuttle bus to Resorts World, a hotel next door to the airport. From there, an Uber driver can pick you up. I had to fly into Manila numerous times during my visit and I did not know this secret. My last trip I waited almost four hours in line for a taxi. This was for a 20-minute ride.
Another tip is to research the islands to determine which to visit prior to your arrival, and also the logistics for visiting these islands. The Philippines consists of over 7000 islands; I figured it would be quite easy to island hop. Much to my surprise, very few ferries operate and only between the most heavily populated and visited islands. Flights are often your only option, and depending on the time of year, these can be quite expensive. As a backpacker I prefer to keep my options open and rarely plan too far in advance. This made visiting the Philippines much more challenging. My recommendations are Palawan and Suargao.
Any favorite restaurants/hotels/hostels/
sites you’d like to recommend? Tell us what made them great!
In Manila, I stayed at the MNL Boutique Hostel. I found the staff to be extremely helpful and knowledgeable. The location is central. It is near many restaurants, bars, shopping malls, and more. There is also a larger street market just blocks away that offers a wide variety of delicious food.
For the canyoneering experience I stayed at Kawasan Falls Canyoneering in Moalboal. Although the accommodations were basic, the spectacular sunset views more than made up for it. Definitely one of my lodging highlights of the past eight months.
In Bohol, I stayed at the Fox and Firefly, which also offers stand-up paddle board tours. Lodging options include a dorm-style cabin (my choice). The space was a bit cramped but I loved the tropical setting and the outdoor bathrooms complete with rain shower.
On Siquijor island, I enjoyed dining at Charisma Beach Resort and Restaurant. It was a bit more expensive for this backpacker’s budget, but the food was delicious and the staff was friendly. For transportation needs on Siquijor, I must recommend Danny (ph. 09354312075). He was one of the nicest men I have ever met anywhere and his family welcomed me to their holiday gathering with open arms. He wanted to ensure I had a traditional local experience.
Is there anything that women specifically should know before traveling solo in the Philippines?
In eight months of travel to nine countries in Asia, the Philippines still stands out as a highlight, and the people as some of the friendliest I have ever met. Do not be afraid to travel here alone. I had one minor incident with a local man but I never once felt in danger. Of course keep your guard up as we always should when traveling anywhere in the world.
I hope to return to the Philippines one day as it is a country that is easy to fall in love with and one could spend weeks there exploring the many different islands.