Get some basic infos of the Philippines
+ Geography
The Philippines are an archipelago with 7107 islands; the country ranges from the south of China to the northernmost tip Borneos. After Indonesia, Madagascar, Papua New-Guinea and Japan the Philippines are with a total area of 300.000 km the 5th biggest insular state worldwide. The insular state is encircled by the Pacific Ocean and some smaller bodies of water like the South China Sea, the Celebes Ocean, the Sulu Sea and the Philippine Sea. The island is split into 3 geographical zones. Luzon in the north, Mindanao in the south and the Visayas in the middle. Furthermore the country consists of 80 provinces as well as 120 chartered cities.
+ Major Cities
The capital of the Philippines is Manila with 11,4 Mio inhabitants. Other major cities are Davao with 1,48 Mio people, Cebu City with 845.000 people and Zamboanga with a population of 827.000 (2009)..
+ Politics
The Republic of the Philippines achieved its independence from Spain on June 12, 1898 and on July 4, 1946 from the US. The constitution was effective as of February 11, 1987.

The Philippines have a mixed legal system of civil, common, Islamic and customary law.

Since June 30, 2010 the President of the Philippines has been Benigno Aquino III. The president of the Philippines is the head of the state as well as the head of the government. President and vice president are elected on a six-year term. Therefore the next election will be held in May 2016.

The national anthem is called "Lupang Hinirang" which means “chosen land”. Originally written in Spanish, later English and Filipino versions have been created. Today only the Filipino version is used.
+ Flag description
Flag Philippines Two equal horizontal bands of blue (representing peace and justice) and red (representing courage) and a white equilateral triangle based on the hoist side which represents equality.

The center of the triangle displays a yellow sun with eight primary rays, each representing one of the first eight provinces that sought independence from Spain.

Each corner of the triangle contains a small, yellow, five-pointed star representing the three major geographical divisions of the country: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The design of the flag dates to 1897; in wartime the flag is used upside down with the red band at the top.
+ Population
Around 101 million people live on the Philippines (July 2011 est.). This is a 373 percent increase in the last 50 years (27.1 million in 1960).

In Southeast Asia the Philippines have the highest population growth with a rate of 1.93% in 2010. Comparatively in the US the population growth rate in 2010 was 0.97%, in Germany for example there was even a negative population growth rate of -0.06% in 2010.
+ Ethnic Groups and Dialects
There are several ethnic groups on the Philippines: Tagalog 28.1%, Cebuano 13.1%, Ilocano 9%, Bisaya/Binisaya 7.6%, Hiligaynon Ilonggo 7.5%, Bikol 6%, Waray 3.4%, other 25.3% (2000 census).

Therefore there are also plenty of different dialects. The official languages are Filipino which is based on Tagalog as well as English. Furthermore there are 8 different major dialects - Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Bicol, Waray, Pampango, and Pangasinan.
+ Religion
Most of the inhabitants, namely 81% are Catholics, 5.1% are Muslims (mainly found in Mindanao), 2.8% are Evangelical and the rest are members of the “Iglesia Ni Christo”, the Philippine independent Church, the Seventh-Day Adventist and Jehova´s Witnesses.
+ Economy
In 2010 the GDP per capita was 3500 US Dollar. Compared to this, the United States had a GDP per head of 47,200 US Dollar. Germany’s was 35,700 Dollars in 2010. After a very small growth rate of 1.1% in 2009 the Philippines listed a GDP real growth rate of 7.3 % in 2010. Compared to other countries this was a pretty big increase (US 2.8%, Germany 3.5% in 2010).

During the Macapagal-Arroyo administration the economic growth in the Philippines averaged 4.5%. Because of the high population growth rate and the inequitable distribution of income poverty still worsened even despite this economic growth.

Weak tax collection as well as tax breaks and incentives have also limited the government’s ability to address major challenges.

In 2010 the Philippines were having exports of 50.7 billion Dollars and imports of 61 billion Dollars. Main export commodities have been semiconductors and electronic products, transport equipment, garments, copper products, petroleum products, coconut oil and fruits. The most imported items are electronic products, mineral fuels, machinery and transport equipment, iron and steel, textile fabrics, grains, chemicals and plastic.

With 19% China is the main export partner followed by the US with 13.4% and Singapore with 13.2%. Most of the imports are coming from Japan (14.1%), China (13.6%) and the US (9.9%).
+ About accommodation
If you are travelling alone it might get more expensive than you think because you always pay for the whole room. It’s really rare that you get a single occupancy rate.
+ About money
In bigger cities you always find many ATMs. There are, however, plenty of places where there are no ATMs at all and where foreign debit or credit cards are not accepted (e.g. sometimes the Landbank). It happens pretty often that people have to leave a great place because they run out of money. If you are travelling for a bit longer, make sure that you always bring enough cash with you.

In the bigger, mostly foreign owned resorts, credit cards (mostly with extra charge) as well as foreign currencies are accepted (EURO, US Dollar and sometimes Swiss Francs).

Always bring some small money with you as sometimes it is not even possible to get change for a 500 Peso banknote.

Most of the ATMss do not give you more than 10.000 Pesos at once. That can be annoying since every time you take out money the Philippine as well as the foreign bank charges you a certain amount.
+ About transportation
For every flight you have to pay an airport fee which is 750 Pesos for international flights and 200 Pesos for domestic flights. It is also possible to pay the international fee in US Dollars but make sure that you bring some cash with you as credit cards are not accepted.

Cebu Pacific Airlines will weigh your hand luggage at some airports (e.g. Manila) after check in before going to the boarding area. They will send you back to check in your hand luggage if it is too heavy. If you e.g. have a small bag weighing 9kg you have to pay for 9kg even if 7kg hand luggage would have been allowed. 150 Pesos per extra kilo are charged.

If you rent a motorbike and you`re driving outside major cities, you will realize soon that fuel stations are pretty rare. You can still easily find gasoline. You will see many stands next to the road with coke bottles full of gasoline outside.

If you are tired of walking and there is no official taxi (which happens very often) - don’t worry. You can always take a “Habal Habal”. They are locals passing by with their motorbike who are always happy to make some extra money. Just stop them on the road, check the price first to avoid bad surprises, hop on and enjoy the ride. This might seem a bit scary for some tourists but on the Philippines it’s just a normal way of transportation.

Even if the distances on a map don’t seem to be that far, always keep in mind that roads are really bad, busses will stop plenty of times (not only at bus stations but every time somebody is waiting next to the road) and unexpected waiting time is pretty common. It mostly takes longer than you think.

If you are going on a Jeepney, you can get off anytime you want. Just take a coin and hit the metal of the car so that the driver can hear the sound and he knows that he has to stop.
+ About food
Unfortunately the Philippine cuisine does not have the same standard as the rest of the Asian kitchen. Where you can find amazing street food in Thailand or cheap and very delicious restaurants in Malaysia, the Philippines have lots of fried, unhealthy food to offer. You can really see the American influence on the Philippine cuisine. Fried chicken, lots of meat and hardly vegetables can be found.

Small “eateries” on the side of the road sometimes seem very daunting to tourists as the food is not prepared by order but there are pots with several dishes you can choose from. Even if it is sometimes hard to find out what is inside the pots, you still can find delicious local dishes here.

Outside of major cities where it is hard to find touristic restaurants, you just have to eat like a local. This, for example, means that you won’t find bread for breakfast (and if, only sweet bread) and you have to start your day with rice and eggs.

“Balut” is a specialty of the Philippines and locals love it. It is a fertilized duck or chicken embryo boiled alive and eaten in the shell with salt and a chili, garlic and vinegar mixture. It’s believed to be an aphrodisiac and considered as a high protein and hearty snack and it’s mostly sold as street food. Bon Appétit.

Even if the Philippine cuisine influenced by American culture there are some very delicious local dishes like “Adobo”, “Menudo” or “Tinola”. A very good and simple dish is Mungo which is mostly sold in eateries. This is a kind of a hot pot with lentils and different kind of herbs. Be careful if you are vegetarian because there might still be meat inside.

An amazing dessert loved by everybody is the “Mango Float” which is a little bit similar to a “tiramisu” but is made, as the name already says, with mangos, cookies and lots of cream. Yummy!

Especially in eateries, make sure that you double check if there is no meat in your dish if you are vegetarian. It’s not common to eat meat free dishes so even if you have asked only for vegetables, you might still be served a dish with chicken, fish or even pork inside if the meal contains vegetables as well.
+ About locals
Despite the huge poverty on the Philippines most people who have already been there will tell you that the Filipinos are always smiling and are unbelievably friendly people you hardly find anywhere else. You always feel welcome wherever you are and people are trying to help you. Even if there is a lack of culture (e.g. compared to Thailand), especially the locals make it worth visiting this country.
+ About income and social standards
As already mentioned in the part “Economy”, despite economic growth poverty is growing as well not only because of a high population growth but also because of an inequitable distribution of income.

Even if the minimum wage for Western standards is very low many people get paid paid even less. A salary of about 2.3 US Dollars (about 1,6 EURO) a day (!!) can be found very often. The sad thing is that many places run by foreigners, who know the importance of a social system from their home country, don’t even pay correctly.

Social insurance is also not standard. Even if there are laws also on the Philippines (e.g. minimum wage, working hours, overtime…) there is nobody who makes sure they are enforced.

Therefore everybody can do whatever he wants. And plenty of employers capitalize on that.

Avoiding places which are known for not treating their staff properly is one option to help the poor population but a more effective one is probably to ask about the situation in places you visit, to make people think about what they are doing, to openly criticize certain methods and to show employers that not everybody supports what they are doing. Always keep in mind that even if you feel like you are in paradise, the reality is different and many locals are treated badly even if they are smiling at you. Unfortunately we haven’t found many places so far where locals were paid and treated correctly.