Going to Cebu Island, Philippines? 4 Things You Should Know
Spontaneous holidays are always great, especially if it's somewhere you've never been before. Living in Tokyo, Japan, the Philippines is only a four hour flight away, and after deciding we wanted to go somewhere with a beach, we booked a four-night stay on Cebu Island in the Philippines.
We knew nothing about the country, and that was our first mistake.
This article aims to give you a heads up about what it's really like on Cebu Island - not only the beautiful blue seas and posh hotels you see in travel catalogue. Here's our first-hand experience; the good, the bad and the oh-so-very-ugly.
Big, beautiful rich areas are right next to slums
The pictures that come up if you search "Cebu City, Philippines" in Google will show you blue seas, gorgeous views and metropolitan buildings. These nice views are in very particular places, places the rich own. What they don't tell you is that these places are literally next door to slums.
Here's an example. We went to a Korean restaurant (more on that later), and decided to walk to the Starbucks we had seen before to take a taxi from there. It was a ten minute walk.
Next to the enormous busy roads we picked our way along a broken street, where piles of trash, cracked cemented streets and dusty, battered cars lined the walkway. People without shoes, children who looked like they'd never seen a bath, and people just sitting around stared at us the whole time we wandered over. I felt a bit scared, but before anything happened we reached the Starbucks.
And that was the weirdest part. The rich area had no slums at all. No people. It was like they knew they weren't supposed to go there, that the rich area was off-limits to them.
Customer Service is good... depending on where you are
Many people sing praises of Filipino hospitality, but it really depends on where you are. We managed to find a huge hotel that let us use their pool and beach for a fee, so we didn't have to spend time in the city. In that five-star hotel, the English speaking staff were smiling, kind, and everything you'd expect from customer service in general.
The Korean restaurant I mentioned earlier was the exact opposite.
We really wanted to eat Korean food, so it had been a bit of a mission to get to the restaurant. The taxi guy got lost, tempers (and appetites) were running high, so it was a relief when we arrived.
The first thing we saw when we walked inside was a rat.
There were ants on the table, too, and when we told the waitress, she looked down at us and impatiently gestured to the next table. She pretty much threw the food down in front of us. I often wonder if I unknowingly ate rat that day.
DON'T Stay in the City
When we were cluelessly looking for a hotel, we decided to go with affordable, and found a three-star place in the centre of the city. Great! We could check out the nightlife and the local restaurants.
Basically the hotel (City Suites Ramos Tower) was filthy, there were ants in our room, the shower didn't work properly and the TV only showed CNN. The cleaner didn't tidy the room until we told the staff we wanted her to. The staff themselves looked at us like we were being a huge thorn in their side, and when I told her about the ants, she rolled her eyes at me.
The city itself was awful. Begging children, cracked and unkempt roads, slums and even what we are pretty sure was a dead body. I hated it there, and the four-night trip seemed much longer.
Don't stay in the city.
What's most important to you when you go travelling?
Finally - something positive!
One good thing I can say about Cebu Island (and most likely the Philippines in general) is that taxis are super cheap. We paid about $5 US for an hour long taxi ride from our slum hellhouse to the 5-star hotel on the beach.
That hotel, the Mövenpick, was the only good thing about our vacation. Even though we weren't staying, there, we could use their pool, beach and eat lunch for 3000 Filipino pesos. After the horrors we'd seen in the city, it was a more than fair price.
If you're just looking for somewhere with a beach (like we were), there are many other better places than Cebu Island. Unless you have the money to stay in the Mövenpick and never leave your hotel, maybe it's for you. But then what's the point?
I was hoping to find some culture during my journey, too. I love checking out historical sites and sampling a country's local food, but unless the culture involves dead bodies and ants, I'm none the wiser.
My advice: find somewhere else.