The multilingual Filipino

I finished my phone conversation with a silly grin on my face when I caught Nico* looking at me without disguising his curiosity.

“What language was that?” he asked.

The conversation was with my girlfriend from back home. We were sat having sandwiches outside the Fisher Fine Arts library in UPenn, where my friend and I normally studied. 

Visayan.” I said. “Why?”

“It didn’t sound like the same language you speak with Ryan.” he said, referring to another Filipino classmate of ours.

“That’s Tagalog.”

“But this language Cebuano–it must be your first language, yes?”

I confirmed, and he shot a grin back in triumph.

He said he knew because everyone always sound angrier in their own language. He said I certainly sounded angry, but knew I wasn’t, because I was laughing after every sentence.

“Unless, you laugh in anger in your culture,” he mused.

I thought about what he said for a while. He made a pretty good point. We are always nicer and more respectful in another language, saying everything in a more gentle, question manner, unsure of ourselves; like we become children conversing to adults once again.

Come to think of it, I do tend to take up different personalities in the different languages I speak. I feel more professional in English, more gentle in Tagalog and Hiligaynon, and I’m a foul-mouthed, warfreak, drunken sailor in Cebuano.

Being Filipino, I grew up to hearing different tongues–sometimes simultaneously–that it was the only kind of world I knew of. In my hometown, we spoke both Visayan, and our Muslim brothers Maranao; my father’s side spoke Hiligaynon, and my mother’s side Tagalog. You know my grandfather’s temper is on the upside when you hear cussing in Spanish, English is taught in our schools from prep to college, and French…simplyfrom dating a few of them.

Sounds impressive, but not really. This is not unusual in a typical Filipino household. The country, after all, has 7,000+ islands, 300+ dialects, with frequent movement and diaspora; long colonial Spanish history, and then raised by Hollywood and 80’s love ballads. With this hodge-podge history, it is already given for every Filipino-born to be multilingual (or bilingual at the least).

We don’t really think about the multilingual aptitude much. But when you go abroad and realize that most people speak only one language.

Some weren’t granted the opportunity or exposure to other foreign tongues and cultures. Some by choice and refuse to learn any other language. And some are just simply crippled by the convenience of being born spoilt into a culture that didn’t have the necessity (I’m looking at you, America).

Foreign peers compliment me at how ‘good my English is’, like I’m not supposed to get my v’s and f’s right. And then revel at how easily I can switch from one language to another. It’s kinda nice to show off once in a while, pretending it’s some sort of superpower.

The truth is, you don’t really need to be fluent in the languages–you just need to know enough. You only need to know ‘hi, nice to meet you’, ‘beer’ and ‘cheers’ in a dozen languages for them to look at you like black sorcery. Kanpai!

Nico, being European, was also multilingual.

And so I played around with the topic and shot back a question: “Nico, what language do you think?”

His blue eyes danced, like he had been expecting the discourse. “The German language is made perfectly for a thinking mind, I believe. The vocabulary is just so exact and concise, there’s little room for error.”

I shot back the question to myself. What language do I think? What language do I feel?

On formal and professional scenarios, English seemed the default. It was my rationalizing language. But in the social and emotional aspects, Cebuano is my preference. 

Especially when it came to bodily feelings, I feel I could better explain myself in my dialect. How can you translate gigil? Kilig? Binhod? Panuhot? Pasmo? Alimungawan? How do you translate them to English in one word, without giving people the context or comparison? The nuances of languages tell us how the people and culture are characteristically; and on this–it seems like Cebuanos are very attuned to their bodies and feelings.

Nothing is more satisfying than swearing in Cebuano. I would write some of my favorites down, but they might not make it out on print. Sometimes, the F-word just don’t cut it, you know? There’s just more meat in our dialect, it’s just so wrong , dirty and crude.Especially the B-words…

Ah, nothing beats the B-words.

Now that I think of it, when I need to make more rational and moral decisions, I should probably not process my thought processes in Cebuano.


Cebu’s sizzling salsa scene

You get tired of the night club scene after a while: same crowd, same scenario, same cliché dance moves. I’m not really a creature of habit so after a couple of recurring same-old, same-old  nights I was ready for a change of scene one evening of 2015.

So I got hooked. For the next three months I came with my girlfriends once a week to dance salsa and bachata. The community was then so small and closely knit. But it was a great change of scenery, where stranger bodies just don’t grind on you and touch you in inappropriate areas–you actually get to meet a lot of great friends through salsa!

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 12.41.23 AM.png

It’s so easy to approach someone and ask them to dance with you–no matter the language you speak, dance is universal. When I find myself alone (traveling/living), I reach out to the local salsa community to meet new and friendly faces. This is how I met some great people in Taiwan and US. I’ve never been to Latin America, but that’s next on the list!

Take note that everywhere in the world except New York dances ‘on 1’, whereas NY salsa dances ‘on 2’. You need to know these technicalities else you will feel lost like an idiot if you find yourself in a latin club that dances a different style than you do.

Still, nothing beats like home. I have moved several times over the past three years, but whenever I am in Cebu I always try to attend the socials were organized by Cebu Salsa Club. Essentially, it is part of the experience of ‘coming home’.

The Cebu salsa community has since then has grown by leaps (kudos to Jilly and John!). I don’t recognize most of the people now. Everyone is getting better each visit. It’s impressive! They have salsa nights three nights a week now, too!


Every Wednesday
No Cover Charge
2-for-1 on Bacardi Mojitos all night
Maya Mexican Restaurant
Crossroads Mall, Banilad
Call Maya for dinner table reservations ✆ (032) 238 9552
Salsa | Bachata | Merengue | Reggaeton

Every Friday
No Cover Charge
2-for-1 on Cuba Libre
Maya Mexican Lounge
Crossroads Mall, Banilad
Call Maya for dinner table reservations ✆ (032) 238 9552
Salsa | Bachata

Every Sunday
No Cover Charge
2-for-1 on Tequila Cazadores Margaritas all night
Maya Mexican Lounge
Crossroads Mall, Banilad
Call Maya for dinner table reservations ✆ (032) 238 9552
Salsa | Bachata | Kizomba

If you’re new to the scene and would like to learn social dancing (maybe as a dare, maybe as a new year’s resolution, or maybe to impress a date?), Cebu Salsa Club also offers classes on salsa, bachata and kizomba! Classes start in February, advance registration here:


If you want to keep connected with fellow enthusiasts and keep updated about salsa socials and events, join the Cebu Salsa Club FB group, Cebu Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba Dancers FB group.

Still haven’t convinced you enough? I’ll try to with 5 more reasons as to why everyone should dance salsa. Read the post here.

How to Apply for DSWD Minor Travel Clearance in Cebu

I remember the feeling of traveling alone when I was only 16. Well it wasn’t technically a solo trip–the rest of the family were already in Hong Kong and I had to follow after my finals–but I still remember the thrill of going to the airport, checking in my luggage, going through immigrations and finally arriving in one piece–all alone.

I was in college when I first applied for a DSWD travel clearance for myself. Now that I’m a single mom, I had applied for Caleb’s travel clearance so he can travel accompanied by other guardians (e.g. his grandparents).

dswd travel clearance for minors

Who Needs A Travel Clearance?

By Philippine law, all minors below the age of 18 are required to have a DSWD Minor Travel Clearance for the following:

  • for minors traveling alone
  • for minors traveling with companions other than his or her parents parents.

Even if a minor is traveling with a direct relative such as their own adult siblings or aunts or uncles, they are still required by law to travel with the DSWD document. This requirement is to ensure that children on transit are protected from child kidnapping or child trafficking.

Minors traveling with the legal guardians or parents are not required a DSWD clearance. However, illegitimate children traveling with father are still required to have a DSWD clearance.

When Should I Apply?

Once you have finalized travel plans, it’s best to apply as soon as possible, around a month or two weeks before the travel date. This will get you ample time to collate all required documents before the travel date.

Once you have all the requirements, it only takes around thirty minutes to an hour to get your DSWD document (at least in Cebu!) The people in the Cebu DSWD office are very efficient and accommodating (thanks, Ligaya!)

Where can I apply in Cebu?

The DSWD office in Cebu is located in MJ Cuenco Avenue cor. Gen. Maxilom Avenue, Cebu City. Office hours are on weekdays M to F, from 8am to 5pm.

What are the Requirements?

As of July 2017, here is the updated list of requirements for minors traveling abroad unaccompanied by parents:

  • Filled up DSWD application form
  • NSO birth certificate of the minor
  • Marriage certificate of minor’s parents (if legitimate); no need if parents are unmarried and child is illegitimate
  • Notarized affidavit of consent from parents . This must include:
    • destination,
    • date of intended travel,
    • purpose, and
    • name of companion/s
  • 3 pcs. passport size photos of the minor and companions
  • Photocopy of the passport and visa (if necessary) of the minor
  • Photocopy of the passport and visa  (if necessary) of the companion
  • 300 PHP payment per minor applicant.
  • If parents are not applying; you also need an authorization letter from minor’s parents to process application

Once again, if the child is illegitimate, it will only need requirements from the mother (sole parental authority) and not the father.

Also, the minor does not need to be present in the DSWD office to file for the clearance. The officer will only

Once you have everything, it only takes 30 minutes to process your travel clearance valid for one year. Always check the spelling of the names before you leave.


2016 Cebu nightlife guide

This blog post was written on 2016.

For a lot of travelers, nightlife is ineluctably part of their itinerary. Sure, sightseeing and tours are a great way to see the city–but how do you truly know a city unless you’ve seen the night lights… unless you’ve mingled with the locals?

To upcoming tourists and travelers to Cebu, this is a comprehensive-as-possible guide on nightlife in Cebu, and on how, where and when to party when in the Queen City of the South.

party in cebu

Mind you, this guide features bars and clubs that I personally frequent–bars great for socializing, drinking and just having clean, good fun. So, this isn’t exactly the guide on bars that can help you ‘score’ some girls… sorry, not an expert in that department. Although

How to Drink and Party in Cebu?

There’s this widely known credence that Asians ‘can’t drink’… but this does not apply to Filipinos. The men have beer as drink accompaniment with their meals–breakfast, lunch or dinner. Whether you are in the city or the province, you can walk around and will see groups of men huddled in a table, drinking together. They will often invite you to drink with them.

Filipinos love their beer and alcohol. Beer is the poison of choice for most Filipinos. In more formal occasions such as family gatherings where the titas and titos are sure to make an appearance, then they will take out their wine glasses. Otherwise, gin, rum and beer are a safe bet. Filipinos drink to get drunk. Period.

It’s amazing to see how many activities Filipinos can do intoxicated–they can drive, cook, go to work, and do their errands while under the influence of alcohol. It’s not something we’d recommend though.

Tagayan‘ is popular especially among Vis-Min area, a manner of drinking wherein instead of separate glasses for every drinker, only one cup is used and passed around. I know, it sounds very unsafe and unsanitary, but this is how Filipinos bond and show camaraderie.


Filipinos like to drink with some food, known as ‘pulutan‘. These are often fatty deep-fried foods like chicken skin, sisig or nuts.

Karaoke is another popular nightlife activity, as majority of the Filipino population aspire to become famous singer-celebrities someday.

In Cebu, EDM or electro dance music is the preference of most partygoers, although the hiphop/r&b scene is slowly gaining momentum lately. A lot of visitors complain that Filipino bars and clubs tend to be ‘too loud’, where you can barely hear or speak to each other.

Cebu parties start late and end late. The clubs start getting packed by midnight. The party usually starts to subside by 3AM, although on high peak season party could last until 5-6Am.

It’s customary for partygoers to eat after-party, to regenerate some lost energy. Cebuano’s favorite post-party food of choice is bulalo. Other favorites include siomai and puso, ramen or noodles, silog (breakfast) food at Gian’s or fast food like Jollibee or McDonald’s. Cebuanos don’t care much about eating healthy…

When to Party in Cebu?

There seems to be an annual trend in the party scene in Cebu, with a high peak and low peak season–plan your trip accordingly. The night scene is pretty dead during the summer school break, around on April time, before it starts to pick up again during July when school season starts and tourists coming in. It gets even busier during ‘-ber’ months, peaking on December and January, before winding down again on February.

The best time to come to Cebu to party is during December to January, which is holiday season leading up to Sinulog season. Cebuanos are on ‘party mood’ during this time, as many balikbayans and overseas relatives come home during the holiday season. This means an endless string of christmas parties, reunions, homecomings, family parties, and more. Lechon, lechon, lechon. And plenty of Jose Mari Chan.

Sinulog is a different experience on its own that i would like to immortalize in a separate future blog post. But it’s definitely something one needs to experience, to get to know what Cebu party life and hospitality is all about. I met the best people and had the best experience every Sinulog!


Off-peak season is a bit trickier. Unlike major Asian cities like Bangkok, Hong Kong or Manila where something’s always happening every day of the week, Cebu City still has some sleepy days. Nightlife is pretty good on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Saturdays being the busiest time of the week.

On Wednesdays, the most popular activity is Salsa Nights at MAYA, a Mexican restaurant of the Abaca Group in Crossroads, Banilad. Salsa night is every Wednesdays from 9PM to 12PM every Wednesdays. The crowd is hip and international, sharing the same love for latin music.

Where to Party?

Cebu nightlife is colorful, lively and loud. Filipinos  always have energy to go out and mingle.

  • LIV Superclub

LIV is the biggest nightclub in Cebu offers a club experience set at international standard. Famous local and international EDM DJs have played here, including Otto Knows, Dirty South, EVO-K and more. Even the Maria Ozawa has graced her presence here!

LIV Superclub is located at The Times Square, Mandaue City, Cebu. There is usually an entrance fee of Php300.

(photos grabbed from the LIV Superclub FB page)

  • Distillery

distillery crossroads cebu

Distillery is the default drinking place of choice for the people within my crowd. Distillery is located in the Crossroads, Banilad Cebu City. I could easily go there any day of the week alone, not make plans with anyone, and still find a friend or acquaintance lurking by (looking at you, Jedd and Alvin…).

The problem with Distillery is it can get a bit… clique-ish, because everyone knows everyone in here. It’s still a nice place to have drinks and listen to good music though.


  • The Sentral

The Sentral is Cebu’s first all-hiphop bar and lounge, providing the best of hiphop and R&B music in Cebu.The Sentral is located at Norkis Cyberpark, AS Fortuna, Mandaue.

  • Maya

Maya Mexican Restaurant is part of the Abaca group of restaurants and located in The Crossroads, Banilad, Cebu City.

Come to Maya at Wednesdays, when the second floor transforms into a salsa dance floor! Wednesday salsa nights attract a lively and international crowd. Maya Restaurant the best mojitos in town–which is 2-for-1 on salsa night! Starting mid-2016, Maya also has Salsa Sundays with 2-for-1 margaritas!

maya mexican restaurant cebu philippines

  • The Social

The Social is a restaurant and cafe by day, and a bar lounge by night. A lot of expats and foreign tourists prefer The Social because of its location and convenience, located in the 4F Ayala Center Cebu. They have Havana Nights on Tuesdays and one can also easily make friends by just chilling on the bar and watch football.

  • Ibiza

Ibiza Beach Club is a chic bar and lounge located in Movenpick Resort, Mactan. Modeled after the actual Ibiza in Spain, it offers a unique drinking and dining experience with a breathtaking ocean view. They have happy hour everyday from 3-5pm where drinks are 2-in-1, and have a lovely view of the sunset too.

Ibiza is one of my favorite spots in Cebu and would be here more frequently if it wasn’t so far away from the city central.

  • Morals and Malice

Morals and Malice is a posh and stylish lounge bar located about the Tinder Box, and right beside The Crossroads, Banilad. The interiors are a work of art, masterfully crafted by the famed Cebuano designer Kenneth Cobonpue himself.

The bar’s interesting namesake is based on the two-part, yin-and-yang concept nature of the establishment. Half of the place will be serving coffee and brunch (Morals), whereas the Malice part serves drinks and cocktails.

Image from The Inquirer
  • Mango Ave

I am not an expert when it comes to the party scene in Mango, but I’ve stumbled here on rare occasions when I already had that much to drink to make it ‘okay’ for me to venture out here. Something’s always going on in Mango–popular bars are J-Ave and Alchology. Things always seem to get weird here, one way or another… It’s definitely not boring though.

  • Other Chill Drink Areas

For wine nights, La Vie Parisienne and Ampersand are personal favorites. La Vie is affordable, while Ampersand is the more high-end choice with great food choices. Marriott Hotel offers unlimited wine on the evenings for only Php699/head, and is conveniently located beside Ayala Mall. Gusto Urban Deli + Cafe, District 53rd and Planet Grapes are also good choices.

Cebu has a growing number of pubs around the city to accommodate the growing population of expats and foreign visitors coming in. Aside from The Social, Marshall’s Irish Pub and Emerald Isle are recommended pubs to watch football or rugby (or your sport of choice).

For cocktails, I think Bellini is beautiful and underrated-this champagne lounge is located beside Anzani Restaurant in Nivel Hills, Lahug and offers a nice view. I’d recommend this place if you want some privacy or a quiet date night.

Bellini (image source: Zee Lifestyle)

Other Nighttime Activities

Not really a party animal? There’s still tons of activities to do in Cebu when the sun goes down. If you enjoy singing as much as most Filipinos do, karaoke is a good nighttime activity. There aren’t many hookah bars in Cebu–although I’ve seen some in IT Park (Figola) and in Times Square, Mandaue City.

If you’re a self-proclaimed geek, you will enjoy trivia nights, slogos nights and board game nights which happen on various days of the week. Cebu Trivia Night is every Wednesdays at Alejandro’s and every Thursdays at Politics. Slogos Night is every Wednesdays at Monkey’s Belly and every Friday’s at Handuraw Kasambagan. Tabletop Nights allow you to play board games with fellow enthusiasts, held every Mondays at Bubble Bee Tea House Escario Central.


The Filipino identity crisis

On my numerous trips, I’ve been constantly approached and asked where I come from. For fun, I make a game out of it to let them guess. Most commonly, I’ve been perceived to be Thai. I’ve also been thought to be: Singaporean, Nepali, Kazakhstani, and on rare occasions, Chinese or Japanese.

filipinos what do we look like
But never Filipino. When I tell them my real identity (like Batman), two reactions alternately happen.
Either: “Oh really? You don’t look Filipino!” they say it like a genuine compliment, so I say smile. But I couldn’t help but wonder what they really mean by that. What’s a Filipino supposed to look like, anyway?

Or: Utter ignorance. “Where is the Philippines? Oh wait, wasn’t that in the Bible?” During these times I sometimes wished we have something notoriously spectacular, like the Fidel Castro or the Angkor Wat or the Dalai Lama. Oh wait, a lot of people aren’t even familiar with these. Oh wait, we have Manny Pacquiao.

‘So, are Filipinos Asians or Pacific Islanders?’  

A fellow traveler asked as follow up, seeking to ensue an intellectual debate.

This gets a little more interesting. Before I could answer, another one butted in: ‘Neither? They seem more hispanic or latino to me.’

To note, these were raised by people who were neither Filipinos, but Americans. As westerners try to lump us into a particular ethnic group, we become more alienated and confused. Hence the understandable Filipino identity crisis. In the first place, we never classified ourselves as such or such before. It is all a western invention.

The Philippines is a creation by Western colonizers to begin with. If the Spanish never came, force-baptize the natives and named our islands after a historically unimportant king, there never would have been ‘The Philippine Islands’ in the first place. Our islands would probably have been absorbed by Chinese civilization from the north, or be integrated into the Muslim Malay nations from the south. Who knows?

To get back to my nationality guessing game, there was only one person who got it right once. Once. A Slovakian Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque guy we encountered in Ibiza.

Wow, you’re the very first person who got that right the first time!” I said, really impressed.

“It’s not that difficult. You’re a tan Asian with very good American English. So there you go. Filipino.”
I was stammered, because now this includes another element to the whole equation: the Filipino Americanization. This is getting more complicated than I thought.

Geography 101


Geographically, we are in Asia. Hence, we are Asians! I cross-checked and consulted the world map and I confirmed that we are in the right continent.
Likewise, we love our rice to death. There’s nothing more Asian than that!
To be more specific about it, we are Southeast Asians, particularly, of the Austronesian or Malay0-Polynesian ethnic group. Identifying features include: short face, mild epicanthic fold, straight, black hair, and a happy, light-hearted disposition. Sounds familiar?
filipina girls

‘Orphans of the Pacific’

On the other hand, being labeled as ‘Pacific Islander’ is not entirely wrong, either. Historically, we used to be part of the Spanish East Indies, which comprised of Moluccas (Indonesia), Guam, Mariana Islands and the Philippines.

Our islands were once called ‘The Philippine Islands of the Pacific’. We are located in the Pacific Ocean; a tropical island paradise, 7,000 of it. Even if most of the comprising ‘Pacific Islands’ are 4,000-8,000 km away, we see plenty of similarities in physical features and culture among people in Guam, Hawaii, etc.

Filipino migration to Guam has been happening for several centuries– the Spanish were fond of exiling Filipino rebels and prisoners to Guam. The Americans continued the practice when they took over.

Kumusta / Como estas?

The term Hispanic is a broad representation of the people and cultures with historical linkages to Spain. This term commonly referring to her former colonies, although strictly speaking, it refers to the former Spanish colonies in Latin America.

After 333 years of colonization, we have a rich hispanic heritage. The native tsokolate and mais made its way to the Philippines after centuries via the Galleon trade with our latino brothers. We share our fervent Roman Catholic faith with other hispanic cultures; as well as our love for lechons, siestas and fiestas. Do you know that ‘Filipino time’ and ‘Latino time’ is exactly the same?

And who else do we share our enduring obsession with boxing and beauty pagaents?

Today, very few people in the Philippines speak Spanish, although many of our abuelos still do when they’re angry. A few Filipinos also claim Spanish ancestry. I’d like to think my aquiline nose and freckles proves some European descent. Disclaimer: I swear I’m more modest in person.

are filipinos hispanic?

So the whole debate was really much ado about nothing.Our islands have been a melting pot of cultures for centuries.It’s okay to be a little confused about demonyms assigned to us. Identity crisis have always been part of us, and maybe that’s why it was so easy for foreign entities to colonize us. Who cares if you identify yourself as Asian, or Pacific Islander, or even Hispanic? It’s all a western invention.



Why everyone should dance salsa

You get tired of the night club scene after a while: same crowd, same scenario, same cliché dance moves. I’m not really a creature of habit so after a couple of recurring same-old, same-old  nights I was ready for a change of scene one evening of 2015.

I heard about salsa night at Maya Mexican finally decided to see it one Wednesday evening when I had nothing to do. And it’s just what it’s name means: salsa is hot, and I’m not talking about the dip!

salsa night maya cebu

Not convinced and still a little shy? I’ll give you five good reasons why salsa dancing should be mainstream!

1. Salsa is sexy.

Salsa is sexy. A guy friend I brought there said: “This is cool. It’s like a scene from the Dirty Dancing movie.” It unleashes the inner latino/a in you. Without noticing it, your hips start to do the talking.

It’s not that difficult too–and this is coming from someone with admittedly two left feet.  After learning a few basic steps from one salsa night, you can already look like you know what you’re doing. If your lead is exceptional, you’ll look just as awesome as well. Just go with it!

2. It will never be a cock fest.

Maya has a lively and more international crowd. At any given salsa night, male to female ratio is 1:3. What are the chances to having that ratio in any other party or event? Close to none.

So if you’re tired of dancing with other dudes and need more female eye candy, you’re always welcome to check Salsa Wednesdays out.

3. Salsa Nights also mean Buy 1 Take 1 on Mojitos!

Yes, you heard it. Maya Mexican Restaurant also offers Buy 1 Take 1 on Mojitos and P395 on all burritos all night long, only every Wednesdays.

4. There will be some respect of personal space.

I don’t like a lot of things about clubbing: the sweat, the smell, and the ‘accidental’ groping. Good thing you won’t have to deal with these with salsa. Sure, you’ll still be sweating(salsa is good cardio workout!), but at least you won’t come out smelling like smoke and a mixture of other people’s smells.

5. It’s free.

Oh shat, I had to wait ’til the end of my post to announce the most important thing: it’s free! There’s no cover charge. Grab your most comfortable heels and check it out.

Salsa Wednesdays are every Wednesdays at 8:30PM to 12:00 midnight at MAYA Mexican Restaurant, Crossroads, Banilad Cebu City.

If you’re new to the scene and would like to learn social dancing (maybe as a dare, maybe as a new year’s resolution, or maybe to impress a date?), Cebu Salsa Club also offers classes on salsa, bachata and kizomba! Classes start in February, advance registration here:

If you want to keep connected with fellow enthusiasts and keep updated about salsa socials and events, join the Cebu Salsa Club FB group, Cebu Salsa, Bachata and Kizomba Dancers FB group.

Siargao guide for non-surfers

This blog post was written on 2015.


The act of riding waves on wooden boards has been recorded as a human activity for thousands of years. The first surfers were the ancient Pacific Islanders and Polynesians who fish for a living, and discovered that riding the waves was an efficient way to get to shore quickly.

One of the First Known Photographs of a Surfer, 1800s. Photo from: Bishop Museum Archive
One of the First Known Photographs of a Surfer, 1800s. Photo from: Bishop Museum ArchiveSurfing and Siargao

Eventually riding waves transformed from a daily activity to a favorite pastime. There have been written records about people riding waves, from Capt. James Cook to Mark Twain. We can only guess how and when the modern form surfing was established, but one day some madcap decided it was a good idea to stand in his board during a swell and see what happens. The rest was history.

Surfing is now a sport and lifestyle that has taken a life of its own. Surfers travel around the world to catch the ‘perfect wave’. This is how the story of Siargao happened. Twenty years ago, two pro-surfers came to the Philippines to catch the fabled waves on a tear-shaped island called ‘Siargao’. Now known as ‘Cloud 9’, Siargao is acclaimed for her large, smooth and hollow-tubed waves that bring an international crowd of surfers every year. Siargao is now known as the Surfing Capital of the Philippines, and is the 9th Best Surfing Spot in the World (according to CNN).

But Wait! This Post is NOT for Surfers.

However, this post isn’t about surfing; I have no idea why I started my intro like that, but whatever. Of course, without surfing, Siargao wouldn’t be what it currently is now. Many surfers came for the waves, and fall in love with the island. Some never leave. The waves and the wonderful community is irresistible–making Siargao a little piece of paradise on Earth. I personally found the allure Siargao so seductive that I ended up booking another ticket to come back just a few days after I left!

In Siargao, surfing can be done all year round. There are different swells from different parts of the island, depending on the time of the year.


So What if I don’t surf?

Siargao is paradise for surfers— and non-surfers, too. If you don’t surf, there’s more to Siargao then just surfing. Of course, I would highly recommend that you make ‘learn to surf’ a top priority on your itinerary, but if it’s really not your thing, here are some activities you can do beyond surfing.

1. Magpupungko Tidal Pool

Magpupungko is named such from a unique rock formation in the area. The large boulder looks like it’s sitting on top of another flat rock. The beautiful pool only unveils itself during low tide.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 11.50.29 AM
Be careful when you jump! The rocks are razor sharp!

siargao magpupungko

There’s also a beach right next to the pool with massive waves that will wipeout any entity who dared swim in it!

Photo by Chester Baldicantos. Yes, this really happened to John.
Photo by Chester Baldicantos. Yes, this really happened to John.

From General Luna, it’s a 40 minute car ride to Magpupungko. Entrance is 50 per person.

2. Island Hopping

Go island hopping and check out Siargao’s three nearby islands: Naked Island, Daku Island and Guyam Island. Depending on your negotiation skills, you can rent a boat to visit the three islands from P1,000 to P1,500.

Naked Island is just what you would expect–naked. On this island you would not find any trees or vegetation, just a stretch of fine white sand. Daku Island is, ‘dako’ or big, in terms of the other islands we visited. Daku even has its own barangay. (The ancestors were very literal and not very creative with naming their locale) We had our lunch in Daku Island before we went to our last stop, Guyam Island.

If you have the time, you can also check Sohoton Lagoon. Sohoton is famous for its jellyfish sanctuary and enchanting caves. Sohoton is three hours away from Siargao though and is closer to Surigao del Norte, so we decided to reserve Sohoton for another future trip.

3. Food Trip!

Food is affordable and good in Siargao. General Luna has quite a few restaurants and cafes that are good, interesting and not cheesy. Locals like barbecue, and they have barbecue stalls even in their disco bars! You can get great comfort food at Pleasure Point Cafe, three-layered pizza at Aventino’s, sushi at Lux Siargao Sushi Bar, great coffee and view at Cafe Loka, barbecue at Mama’s, and more.

pleasure point
Food at Pleasure Point Cafe

Locals like barbecue, and they have barbecue stalls even at their disco bars! Siargao is not as touristy as Boracay, so you can’t find any big restaurant establishments here like fast food joints and international food chains. Heck, you can’t even find an ATM machine around GL!

Fresh seafood here abounds (it’s an island, duh). You can go spearfishing if that’s your thing and roast your catch, or if you’re more mainstream  just go to the local market and purchase their freshest catch and pay someone to cook it for you.

You can check out my blog post on some of Siargao’s Best Eats here.

4. Party

So you don’t surf–but you can at least hang out and party with fellow surfers and look the part! Surfers are among the most unpretentious bunch I know and will befriend just about anyone. Siargao parties here embody the vibe of the island–laid back and friendly. You can’t expect any EDM or hardcore parties here. They have great parties in Pagoda Beach Bar especially on Mondays (named appropriately ‘Monday Fundays’) so be sure not to miss that. Other local disco bars are Jungle Bar every Fridays and Stowaway Bar every Saturdays.


Other bars around the island include Reggae Bar, Nine Bar, La Luna Surf Buddha Resort (they also have acoustic nights on Thursdays). There are quite a few places to chill and drink around Gen. Luna especially around Cloud 9.

5. Explore the Island!

Aside from surfing, there are plenty of water activities you can do in Siargao. You can go diving, snorkeling and paddle boarding.


A fish out of water can find abundant activities on land, too. Hire a motorbike or bicycle and explore the island itself. I read that tarsiers are also present here, and unlike Bohol, these small primates still roam free in Siargao forests. Saltwater crocodiles exist in parts of Siargao — Del Carmen, Siargao is home to the largest mangrove forest reserves in Mindanao.

There’s so much more to discover–General Luna is just one municipality! Fellow traveler and colleague Radel strongly insist I come back to Siargao and explore Siargao’s west and north side.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 1.49.25 PM

Motorbike rentals are typically Php 500/day.

6. Caving


7. Relax

Relax! Don’t try to push in too many activities in one day. Tomorrow is another day in paradise. So yes, you deserve an afternoon’s rest in a hammock by the beach.

Relax! Tomorrow is another day in paradise.
Relax! Tomorrow is another day in paradise.
Kona is chillng like a German Shepherd boss.
Kona is chillng like a German Shepherd boss.

10 best eats in Siargao

This blog post was written in 2015.

10-best-siargaoI never knew ‘falling in love’ could occur outside of the desired sex, but that’s what happened when I came to Siargao. I fell in love with the island, the beaches, the food, the culture. Now I understood why a handful of my friends gave up city life to live here. I felt heartbreak when we had to leave; five days was not enough. One month won’t be either. Maybe I could live here with my son, I tinkered with the idea.

Siargao is (so far) my favorite island in the Philippines, and is considered as the Surfing Capital of the Philippines. Most of the tourist activity is centered in General Luna in Siargao, and there are plenty of gems in the area to dine, party, and do activities. If it’s your first time to visit the beautiful island, this blog will help you identify the must-sees:

  • Best Comfort Food
  • Best Coffee
  • Best Sushi
  • Best Pizza
  • Best Barbecue
  • Best Party
  • Best Surfer’s Hangout
  • Best Luxury Resort
  • Best Mid-Range Resort
  • Best Budget Resort


(Disclaimer, these are preferences coming from a local tourist/novice surfer and may not reflect the preference of the majority)

Getting around GL is not difficult, there are a lot of motorcycles who will take you anywhere for P20/head. It comes up to P25/head at night.

Siargao is still a small provincial town but starting to get more touristy every year. Currently, most establishments in General Luna only accept cash. You need to bring sufficient financial artillery because there is no ATM machine in the area, and are only accessible in Dapa, 30 minutes away from GL.

  • Best Comfort Food: Pleasure Point Cafe

pleasure point surf cafe siargao philippines

pleasure point

Pleasure Point is all about chill vibes and good conversations. We had breakfast here on our second day in the island, and our first taste of paradise. The cafe defines what Siargao is all about: life, surf and coffee–that’s all that matters.

Their menu perfectly complements the surfer’s lifestyle. They have lovely crepes, omelettes and other food that make perfect pairings with coffee or tea. We tried the French Toast (my personal favorite!), Sunny Side Up and Bacon Omelette (the boys’ favorite!), Parfait and Blueberry Cheesecake.

breakfast french toast pleasure point
French Toast
breakfast pleasure point siargao
Sunny Side Up and Bacon Crepe with Iced Coffee

If you’re feeling special for breakfast, try their Chia and Coconut Pudding with fruits–it’s divine.

chia pudding pleasure point cafe
Chia Pudding, Mangoes and Bananas

It’s the best place to unwind after riding the waves. They also have movie nights every Saturdays if you want to take it easy for the weekend.

  • Best Coffee: Cafe Loka

Cafe Loka is a charming little cafe located conveniently in Cloud 9. They offer healthy food, great coffee and fruit shakes. While waiting for your orders, one can jump in their giant trampoline (great for my overly hyper, slightly ADHD friends) or just lounge on the beach chairs and watch surfers catch waves (great for lazy bums like me).

boardwalk surfing siargao mindanao

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Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 9.57.26 AM

  • Best Sushi: Lux Siargao Sushi Bar

Technically, it is the only sushi restaurant in the island. But it is worth telling that it is the best sushi place I’ve tried in the whole Philippines! A Lithuanian sushi chef named Freeman heads the sushi bar, and he easily converted me to become a hardcore sushi lover (I was never really into raw fish before!) We burned most of our cash in here, eating sushi for dinner over sake and Cards Against Humanity.

Sushi Goodness! (Photo by Shari Quimbo
Sushi Goodness! (Photo by Shari Quimbo

It’s very affordable, too: P350/sushi set, which may sound like a lot when you’re in Siargao–but P350 is very cheap for the authentic sushi you get here. This is legit sushi that will give sushi bars in Cebu and Manila a run for their money.

I recommend you to get the Omakase Sushi (Chef’s Choice, in Japanese it means ‘I leave it to you’). I always let Chef Freeman do his magic and surprise me–he gets me all the time!

To sushi: 'I can't feel my face when I'm with you. But I love it!'
To sushi: ‘I can’t feel my face when I’m with you. But I love it!’
  • Best Pizza: Aventino’s

On our third day in Siargao our wallets were getting dry. We were splurging too much and we needed to fill our stomachs well with something more affordable. Aventino’s Pizza was the answer.

Aventino’s had me at their Tricia Pizza, three layers of meat, veggies and cheese. All their other pizzas were just as good too–plus they also offer great pasta, rice meals and wines.

Aventino’s is located near Cloud 9, and they also do delivery.

Photo by Shari Quimbo for Zee Lifestyle
Photo by Shari Quimbo for Zee Lifestyle
  • Best Barbecue: Mama’s BBQ

Siargao cuisine is fairly simple. It’s not commercialized yet, so you won’t expect to find any McDos or Jollibees in town. I was surprised not to see any lechon places even (not even roast chicken kiosks like Chooks-to-Go. If you wanted something roasted, you have to buy the animal and find someone to roast it for you-or do it yourself.

Like Cebuanos, they like their barbecues a lot. BBQ stalls are a staple; from the beaches to the disco clubs. Mama’s BBQ is to Siargao as Larsian is to Cebu. ‘Nuff said.

  • Best Party: Pagoda Beach Bar (UPDATE as of 2016: CLOSED already)

Thankfully Siargao’s night scene has become busier and livelier. To avoid splitting the crowd, parties alternate in the local clubs in a week. They have Acoustic Nights at Buddha Surf every other Thursdays, local disco at ‘Jungle Bar’ on Fridays, the raunchier budots-style music at ‘Stowaway Bar’ on Saturdays, and on Mondays, be sure to be at Pagoda Bar.

The Monday Parties at Pagoda Beach Bar are legendary, don’t miss them. The bar is located just by the beach and a great locale to meet new people–everyone’s so friendly in the island. More foreigners frequent here.

monday funday
Image grabbed from Pagoda Facebook Page
Image grabbed from Pagoda Facebook Page
Image grabbed from Pagoda Facebook Page

It’s odd that the best party’s held at the start of the week, but also makes perfect sense: it’s a lovely way to upstart your week!

Update: Recently, I’ve heard about epic parties that Lux Siargao hosts every Saturdays! Worth checking it out on my next visit!

  • Best Surfer’s Hangout: Jing’s Place

If you want to learn to surf, there are a lot of options in GL–one of the most famous surfer’s hangout is definitely Jing’s Place.

Jing’s Place is a family homestay owned by local surf god Jing, who was among the first to learn and teach surfing, and helped make Cloud 9 the famous surf spot that it is today. You can get accommodations, order food and drink, arrange island hopping, rent surfboards, or get a trainer.

Surf's up! Don't forget your zinc!
Surf’s up! Don’t forget your zinc!
  • Best Surfer Spot: The Boardwalk, Cloud 9

Photo by Zeke Sullano
Photo by Zeke Sullano

Cloud 9 is the reason why Siargao is known as The Surfing Capital of the Philippines. You can go down Cloud 9 to catch big waves that reach up to 10 ft, or go to the Jacking Horse for smaller waves. Even if you’re not a surfer, it’s still fun to get awestruck while watching the experts ride the waves.

  • Best Luxury Resort: Lux Siargao Resort

My friends and I, all ten of us, were able to book this place via Airbnb–and talk about the first-class luxury (redundant, but it’s that awesome!). Designed by famed architect Ed Gallego, Lux Siargao boasts a modern Asian aesthetic set in tropical paradise.

lux siargao and sushi restaurant philippines surf

lux siargao pool resort

lux siargao resort

The whole 5-bedroom, 7-bathroom beachfront estate can be rented exclusively. It can accommodate up to 16 guests and can enjoy full use of the kitchen, pool, beach, grill, and fire pit. If you’re all about exclusivity and comfort, Lux Siargao is the only best.

The owners and staff are very accommodating and friendly. In the evenings, we would make a bonfire and hang out. True enough, by the end of our stay we have gained new friends and fond memories.

bedroom lux siargao philippines

  • Best Mid-Range Resort: Arka Hayahay

For the mid-range budget, Arka Hayahay is a good choice. Designed like a boat (hence the name) and set against blue skies and swaying coconut trees, Arka Hayahay will provide you with cozy accommodations at an affordable rate. It’s just a short motorbike ride away from Cloud 9!

The resort provides both private and dorm-type rooms. Their dormitory fan rooms are 500/bed/night (without breakfast) and their standard rooms are P1,500/night.

arka hayahay 2
Photo grabbed from Arka FB page
arka hayahay hostel
Photo grabbed from Arka FB page
arka hayahay
Photo grabbed from Arka FB page
  • Best Budget Resort: Paglaom Resort

Paglaom Resort is rated #1 specialty lodging in General Luna by Tripadvisor. Paglaom offers bunk bed lodging to budget travelers and backpackers for a cheap rate of P250/night. Nothing can beat that price.

They have shared toilets, outdoor showers, common kitchen, lockers for your backpacks, and free wifi (which is of course the most important amenity!).

paglaom 2
Photos grabbed from Paglaom Website
Photos grabbed from Paglaom Website

10 Moments of Culture Shock in Europe as a Filipino

This post was written on 2014.

Traveling to an unfamiliar place is always full of surprises. Traveling takes you out of your comfort zone and urges you to leap unto the unknown. That’s why traveling can be so liberating and beautiful. Seeing the world gives you a whole change of perspective. The customs and beliefs you’ve learned since you were young suddenly get challenged when in a strange and new place.


Europe has always been a place of wonder and romance for me–a place from dreams of a little child. I thought I’ve read enough books seen enough Downton Abbey to prepare myself on what Europe is like. But, just like marriage, you can never be fully prepared for what’s to come.

Here are 10 moments of culture shock you’ll likely experience as a Filipino traveler!

1.  Sparkling Water

The first culture shock I experienced was in Venice after a long-haul flight & three stopovers from the Philippines. Thirsty and famished, my family and I found the first restaurant we could find in Venice. I ordered one bottle of water, and when it arrived I drank it up immediately, only to spit it out in shock because it tasted like gas.

People, why do you drink this.

In Europe, they serve two types of water but Filipinos are only used to drinking the still water kind.In some other areas, they serve two types of iced tea too–the still and carbonated kind. So be specific if you want your drinks without the bubbles.

2. You have to do a lot of walking.

You’ll get to do a lot of walking. A lot. One time, I was told we were going to visit a friend’s place and not to worry because it’s ‘just a five-minute walk away’. To me, a ‘five-minute walk’ meant walking to the next block. To them, it means a 1-km walk. I wasn’t prepared with layers so was not happy freezing to death.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 2.08.16 PM
Lovely view, but it’s been a long day!

The Philippines does not have the ideal setting to nurture the pedestrian culture. Blame it on a combination of climate, politics, urban planning and discipline (or lack thereof), but we grew up in a car-priority society. To get from point A to point B, we mostly ride the jeepney or taxi, we drive our cars (and get our licenses without taking any driver’s test). The option to walk is very limited in the Philippines, mainly because our cities are built to discourage walking. There are no safe place for pedestrians on the road, and walkers have to run for their lives even when walking on pedestrian lanes. Doctors say that walking is good for the heart, but how can we eliminate the risk of dying every time– either by getting run over or developing a pollution-causing terminal illness?

3. Sorry, we’re closing.

While in Europe, I’ve been refused by shops a number of times because they were going to close in a few minutes. I was appalled at first (the entrepreneur in me wanted to scream: but don’t you want my money?!?!). 

We are so used to the 24-hour convenience of Asia that the idea early closing times is distressing. What if I crave for 7-Eleven ice cream or Korean instant noodles in the middle of the night? What if I suddenly want to work out at Citigym Waterfront because I feel fat at 3am? In Cebu, many shops, restaurants and even gyms are open 24/7. In Europe, shops close early at around 5pm-7pm.

Many shops close on Sundays and holidays (museums close on Mondays, by the way). On some occasions, you will find your favorite store suddenly closed for the whole summer because the storekeeper is on vacation. Or closed for winter because no one really wants to work on winter. Did I mention that they don’t have 24 hour drive-thru? Nor a pizza delivery service? Tsk.

4. Don’t they feel just a little bit claustrophobic?

For such tall people, the Europeans seem to like everything tiny and cramped. All over Europe everything feels like it’s specifically Asian-tailored–their hotel rooms, wardrobes, toilets, cars… While I don’t mind, being Asian and all. But I wonder, If I’m a six-foot-tall European, I would probably feel just a little claustrophobic.

I wish Europeans would better take care of their cars though. Drivers would bump on to other people’s cars just to squeeze in a tiny parking space. But just as one Italian friend put it: ‘what’s the use of the bumper but to bump on it?’

5. Thinking about Clothes.

Dressing in the Philippines is relatively easy. You put on a shirt, shorts or jeans, snickers (slippers if you’re feeling more casual), and you’re good to go. Some people choose to suffer for fashion and put on boots and suits in this sweltering 30-degree weather. Dressing up in a place with four seasons is fun at first. Later on, it gets tedious. Dressing up takes at least 30 minutes for me on winter. I hate the fact that I have to wear five layers of clothing–and make sure all the clothes match together. I hate the fact that it adds 5kg to my weight. I hate that I couldn’t look cute if I wanted to. Nor the fact that clothes and shoes I got for UK would be impossible for me to use when I’m back in the Philippines.

5.1 …or the lack thereof.

I’ve seen a lot foreigners in Philippine beaches and it’s easy to tell which one’s American and which one’s European–their swimwear. Americans settle for the long swim shorts that Filipinos wear too. Again, Europeans seem to like everything teeny-weeny. (If I were male, I’d probably feel claustrophobic inside those Speedos too)

To illustrate my point…

Nude beaches are all the range in Europe. They are laissez-faire when it comes to public display of personal goods. However,  if you’re a little squeamish about nudity, do research on which beaches are ‘family-friendly’. All other beaches that aren’t family-friendly will most probably give you some degrees of a good boob show. I’ve been to a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea and have seen women go topless by the pool or on beaches in Greece. I have no problem with that but… based on my experience, most women who don’t go topless, should. Most women who go topless–really shouldn’t. I’m talking about you, Grandma.

6. Feels like you’re back in the past

It still amazes me how people in Europe still prefer to read a book in the subway, or sketch outdoors in the park, or actually talk to people and make actual eye contact. In cafes you’re forced to talk to your acquaintances because wi-fi is mostly not available (or horrible).

Sketching new ideas
Sketching new ideas

I remember coming back to Hong Kong from London and the moment I stepped out of the airport– each face is glued to their respective screens–and I’m suddenly reminded that I’m back in Asia. Technology hasn’t escaped Europe though, and you’ll find some people in their mobile phones. They aren’t as selfie-crazed. The kids still prefer to play in parks rather than stare down at tablets all the time.

I'm trying to take a selfie as subtle as possible or I might embarrass myself
I’m trying to take a selfie as subtle as possible because I don’t want to embarrass myself

7. Nothing ever costs like peanuts.

I remember exchanging my months’ worth of savings to euros–a thick wad of peso bills changed into five notes in the euro currency. Five notes–all my months’ salary worth and my confidence down the drain. Coming from a third world country, I can’t help but convert everything to local currency. Shopping in Europe means I would mentally convert it in peso and think really hard if I really need it. Who wouldn’t feel bad if a cup of nuts in the UK would be able to be feed you lunch and dinner in the Philippines?

Smile and pretend you didn’t regret buying this, Rachel…

8. PDA

Everywhere in Europe, especially Paris, I am forced to watch soft core porn–whether it’s on the romantic lock bridge by the river Seine or while queuing up for a crepe.

Even during the Je Suis Charlie rally.
Even during the Je Suis Charlie rally.

Yes, even during the Je Suis Charlie rally.

9. European smiles take a bit of effort.

Filipinos are generally cheerful– we love to laugh and smile. We give it openly and freely. We laugh when we’re happy, excited, embarrassed or even when we’re a little annoyed. In fact, even when I’m chatting with friends, if I don’t put a ‘hahaha’ at the end of every sentence they would think something’s wrong with me. That’s how we take our jovial attitude seriously.

Europeans look more stern and very serious. They keep a straight face when telling a joke. I thought at first that it probably hurts for them to move their zygomaticus major muscle. Or,maybe they have poor dental care. hehe. Kidding aside, Europeans aren’t really aloof or miserable, as is the common misconception– but they just don’t like to smile without reason. They are generally more reserved and somber compared to Americans or Filipinos.

10. The churches are empty.

I come from a country where it’s dominantly Catholic, people are very religious, and the church is still relatively powerful when it came to people’s and government’s decisions. Most Filipinos from middle to upper class studied in a Catholic institution where we were taught to memorize our prayers and observe religious practices strictly. Going to church every Sunday is part of every Filipino’s lives. So to get to Europe and to see all these beautiful churches and cathedrals–and to find their Sunday service almost empty–feels a bit weird. Most of Europe’s churches now work as museums for tourists to gawk at. While some churches still hold Sunday mass, attendees are sparse and few. Even the shoddiest chapel in a Philippine barangay get more attendees–and observers are willing to pack in like sardines just to observe mass.

Beautiful Florence Cathedral
Beautiful Florence Cathedral
Sunday Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Sunday Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

What are your personal moments of culture shock while you’re in Europe, or Asia, or other parts of the world? Share your own experiences in the comment box and let me know!

How to apply for UK Visa in Cebu, Philippines


Last December, I traded lechon, fruit salad and queso de bola for turkey, pudding and scones. I had a white Christmas in the UK with my one-year-old son.

My boy had been on a few domestic and Asian flights before, but it was his first long haul flight. If you want to know more about it you can read on my blog post on practical tips on How to Fly and Travel with Baby! (spoiler: we survived!)

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I love DIY travel arrangements: I plan flights and apply visas sans travel agencies. Travel agencies’ processing fees range from PHP 9,000 to 15,000 (screw that).It saves me money and I find joy in being my own travel planner! It can be time-consuming, but entirely doable (and pleasurable, at least in my case). Many friends and colleagues have asked me how I applied for my UK, US and Schengen visa, so to make it easier to everyone, I’ll be writing a series of Visa Applications 101.

All Filipino passport holders require a UK Visa if you plan to visit the following territories: England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. If you plan to visit other parts of Europe, you will need to apply for another type of visa. In my case, we made a short side trip to Paris so I needed to get a Schengen visa as well.

Applying for a UK visa doesn’t need to be stressful. You just need to be prepared and do ample research far ahead. If you’re reading my blog right now–good job! You just aced the research part. I have divided the UK tourist visa application process in four steps: 1. Preparation, 2. Online Application, 3. Appointment and 4. Waiting Period.

By the way, if you’re planning to make a side trip to other European countries, you will need another visa, a Schengen visa. Click on this link to read on How to Apply for a Schengen Visa.

I. Preparation

1. Type of Visa 

What is your purpose for visiting United Kingdom? Are you there to see family or friends, to get married, to study or to relocate?There are different types of visas for different purposes, and you can check UK website’s Visa and Immigration page to know what type of visa you need. For marriage, study or other types of visas, they require different requirements and information; but this blog can only provide information on how to get UK tourist and short stay visas only.

It is important to always be truthful regarding your purpose to visit UK. Any inconsistencies stated in your application or documents will get be refused a visa, or even get blacklisted. For General Visitor short stay visa (as is the focus on this blog), your maximum stay is only six months. You cannot work, study, or get married during your stay as a General Visitor.

Initially, I filled out the online application form for a General Visitor visa, but then after careful reading I realized that we actually needed a Family Visitor visa instead. Our primary purpose was to see my partner and his family to spend Christmas together; sightseeing and leisure being secondary. I canceled my primary applications and made new applications under Family Visitor. Again, be mindful of what type of visa you’ll need! 

2. When to Apply?

Applications are accepted up to three months before your travel date. You should apply for your visa as soon as you’ve finalized your travel schedule and booked that ticket! (you don’t need to buy a ticket just yet, a booked reservation will do). I recommend to apply 6-8 weeks before your travel date.

3. How to Apply?

Once you have all your travel information, passport and contact details on hand, you can start your visa application process. The only way to do it here is online. You can start your online application here and read through the second phase to guide you on how to fill up the online form. There’s no need to panic if you don’t have all the information on hand–you can always log in and out of your account any day and fill up the details when you have them ready.

4. Other Important Information

UK visa applications are done on a third party application center (currently VFS Global Services) and not submitted directly to the British Embassy. VFS does not have any control towards your visa application decision. Here are important details you might need to know (information lifted from VFS Website)

Manila Address:

VFS Global Services Philippines Private Inc.,
Mezzanine Floor Unit M01, Ecoplaza Building, 
2305 Chino Roces Avenue Extension Makati City, Metro Manila 1231

Cebu Address:

VFS Global Services Philippines Private Inc., 
9th Floor, Keppel Center, Unit 905, Samar Loop
cor. Cardinal Rosales Avenue, 
Cebu Business Park, Cebu City 6000

Opening Hours:

Application submission – with a prior appointment:
Monday to Friday
07:00 – 13:00

Application submission –prime time appointment (presently in Manila only)
Monday to Thursday
16:00 – 19:00

Pick up Time –
Monday to Friday
14:00 – 15:00

II. Online Application

In the Online Application process, you need to register for an account. Afterwards, you’ll need to fill in details of the following:

  • Applicant Basic Details and Contact Information
  • Your Visa Type
  • Passport details and Travel History
  • Family Details
  • Employment and Income
  • Family and Friends in the UK

Read through your applications twice before you click send! Once you submitted the application and paid the fee you cannot change any details anymore. Confirm that everything is correct, Book an Appointment, Pay the Visa fee and Print your Application.

  • UK Visa Fee

The UK visa fee is steep- on 2014 the short stay visa fee in the Philippines was USD 120-150, but since we lodged our applications in Cebu we had to pay an additional service fee of USD 101. Total cost per application was USD 143 or around PHP 11,000+. I paid the same amount for my son’s application and mine.

III. Appointment

In the online application, you are given the option to choose the date and time of your appointment. If I recall right, appointment times can be done on weekdays and from 8:00-12:00 only. I chose my appointment date on November 11, 2014 at 11am (not a morning person here). This gave me approximately two weeks to collect all the necessary documents I need.

For UK visa appointments in Cebu, you need to go to VFS Global Services which is at the 9th floor of Keppel Building, in Ayala Cebu Business Park. It’s not hard to find.

Keppel Building, image from Skyscrapercity

On the day of your Appointment, come early and be prepared. They are strict with their rule and will not let anyone in until 15 minutes before your appointment to avoid crowding in the center. If you came 16 minutes or earlier, you will have to wait outside.

You need to bring all necessary documents and need to take your biometrics (photo and fingerprints taken). The documents should be properly organized and arranged so you wouldn’t be fumbling around your papers on your appointment. Basically these documents support your purpose of UK visit, and show your ties in the Philippines (job, family, children, school, properties, business, etc.) and establish proof that you are coming back.

Checklist of supporting documents to bring:

  • Confirmation of Booking Appointment – this is sent to you via email which indicates the time and date of your appointment. I was not able to print this because I thought VFS already has a schedule of confirmed names and appointments. Since I came early, I had enough time to go down, look for an internet cafe and print the booking confirmation and return just in time.
  • Printed Application Form with Photo – print out your complete and signed application form and affix a photo (glue it in!).
    • Photograph Requirements – Most photo shops would already know the specifications needed for visa requirements-just tell them it’s for a UK visa. I had ours taken in Ayala Center Cebu.
      • recent photo taken within six months
      • 45mm x 35mm
      • White or cream background
      • Taken with nothing covering the face, without sunglasses or tinted spectacles, or a head covering unless for religious or medical reasons. The subject should have their mouth closed (no grinning, frowning or raised eye brows). Applicant should be facing forwarding, looking straight ahead.
  • Personal Supporting Documents – proof of your identification details & personal circumstances
    • NSO Birth Certificate
    • Marriage Certificate, if married
    • Current Passport and Previous Passport, to see travel history
  • Financial Supporting Documents – documents that prove you don’t need to work while you’re in the UK. This can include bank statements, pay slips, credit card statements, property titles; within the last six months or so.
  • School & Employment Supporting Documents – provides proof of coming back to the Philippines.
    • Student – a letter from your school or education provider confirming your enrollment and leave of absence
    • Employee – tax returns, pay slips, letter from your employer confirming employment, and confirming leave of absence.
    • Business Owner – tax returns, business registration documents (stating your name as business owner)
  • Travel Plans – this includes your flight ticket details, hotel/accommodation bookings and your itinerary. (Need help in your UK itinerary? Refer to my blog post, Suggested Itinerary: 5 Days in London!)
  • Supporting Documents from friends and family in the UK – If you’re planning to visit friends or family, include a letter of invitation from them, their financial documents and bio data of their passports attached as well.

Complete submission of these documents will be helpful in obtaining that visa, but does not guarantee a visa issuance. Missing or incomplete supporting documents may also result in a UK visa refusal.

Other Important Information:

  • No need to dress to kill–just look presentable. Wear comfortable, smart casual clothes that cover all the right areas. The application center’s task is to receive your application and documents only–a personal appearance is required but no interviews will be conducted for tourist visas, unless deemed necessary.
  • For the biometrics, you will need your photo and fingerprints taken, hence the need for a personal appearance. My baby boy needed to be there for his biometrics. Even newborn babies are now required to show up in the visa center.
  • You can not to bring your bags, mobile phone and other personal belongings inside, and you’ll be asked to leave them in the reception’s storage counter.
  • Store your documents in a transparent envelope. An enclosed folder or even a brown envelope is not allowed.
  • All transactions will be paid online.

It only took me an hour and a half to go through the process, although I heard the female guard comment that it was unusually not busy that day.

IV. Waiting Period

The most tedious part for me was the waiting game. Once you’ve done with the appointment phase and submitted all documents, I was told by VFS Cebu to wait 14 working days to get my results. This works for Cebu area, but Manila is said to take 7 working days only.

You can sign up for an SMS service to update you throughout your visa’s processing, but I haven’t tried it. Also, they will request for your email address and will email you if your documents and visa is ready for pickup.

I received two emails from them, and you will probably expect the same. I received the first email on November 14 and it looked something like this:

Your decision will be despatched shortly.  Passports can normally be collected from the Visa Application Centre after 3 working days unless you have been advised it will be returned by courier or have paid an additional courier fee.

This email means that the UK Embassy in Manila has already made a decision towards your application. This may mean either way that you’ve been approved a visa or not. I received this email on Friday, probably sent deliberately to give me an awfully nerve-wrecking weekend.

On November 17, I received another email from VFS, which looked like this:

The processed visa application for GWF reference number –  GWF___________ was received at the UK Visa Application Centre on date time.

If a courier service was purchased from VFS Global, your processed application will be delivered to the chosen address.

If not, your documents can be collected during the designated passport collection times.

This email means that your visa has landed in Cebu and is now ready for pickup. I got mine the day after on November 18.

V. Results!

You can choose to have your documents returned to you via courier or pick-up at the center. I chose the latter as I only lived nearby anyway.

As soon as I got my email, I went to the visa center the next day. I had my appointment on November 11, and on November 18, I was able to get our UK visas! That’s exactly 8 days, or 6 working days. Doesn’t it look lovely?

UK visas

Need help with planning your London, UK trip? Read my blog post, Suggested Itinerary: 5 Days in London, UK to help you through!

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