The second-largest archipelago in the world, with over 7000 tropical islands, the Philippines is one of the great treasures of Southeast Asia. Often overlooked by travellers because of its location on the ‘wrong’ side of the South China Sea, the Philippines rewards those who go the extra distance to reach it. And because it’s off the beaten path, the Philippines is a great place to escape the hordes who descend on other parts of Southeast Asia. First and foremost, the Philippines is a place of natural wonders – a string of coral-fringed islands strewn across a vast expanse of the western Pacific. Below sea level, the Philippines boasts some of the world’s best diving and snorkelling, including wreck diving around Coron and swimming with the whale sharks off Donsol. Above sea level, it has a fantastic landscape with wonders enough to stagger even the most jaded traveller: the Chocolate Hills of Bohol, Banaue & the Rice Terraces and fascinating reminders of the islands’ history in places such as Samar & Leyte and Vigan. And if you’re after palm-fringed, white-sand beaches, try laidback Sipalay or flat-out party town Boracay.
Of course, any traveller who has been here will tell you that it’s the people and their culture that makes the Philippines unique. Long poised at the centre of Southeast Asian trade, colonised by a succession of world powers, the Philippines is a vivid tapestry that reflects its varied cultural inheritance. And despite the poverty that afflicts much of the nation, the Filipinos themselves are among the most ebullient and easygoing people anywhere. The Philippines truly qualifies as one of the last great frontiers in Southeast Asian travel. Cross whichever ocean you need to and see for yourself.