Mel Danglapin, assistant manager at Panda Travel in Honolulu // © 2016 Mel Danglapin
Feature image (above): Danglapin was born and raised in the Philippines and is a frequent visitor there. // © 2016 iStock
Born and raised in the Philippines, Mel Danglapin has been working in the tourism industry for more than 25 years. The longtime assistant manager at Panda Travel in Honolulu, Danglapin returns to the country of his birth as many as three times per year, often leading tours in the southeastern Asian island chain.
He spoke recently with TravelAge West about what makes the Philippines appealing to U.S. travelers and offered some insight about what activities and hotels travelers should consider during a vacation.
Why are the Philippines a destination U.S. travelers might enjoy visiting?
One reason is the language. More than 90 percent of the population in the Philippines can speak English. Education in schools and business and government transactions are all conducted in English. So in comparison to say, Japan or China, the Philippines are much easier in terms of language. Also, Filipino people are just attracted to foreign visitors. When there is an American or European walking in the street, the kids all come out to say hello, so foreigners really feel welcome. And with the currency exchange rate as it is now, the value of the U.S. dollar goes a lot farther in the Philippines than in some countries, such as Japan, for example.
What activities are available to visitors in the Philippines?
Right now, the department of tourism in the Philippines is really trying to push ecotourism, because the country has so many natural wonders. And the tourism department is really pushing that toward a younger generation of travelers, as well. The islands, the oceans and the beach and snorkeling, hiking and trekking, swimming with whale sharks and scuba diving — these are the things the department is trying to interest travelers in now. And many of those water activities just make a lot of sense because the country has one of the world’s largest amounts of coastline in the world.
Another thing that’s become more popular is surfing. A lot of people go to Baler now for surfing. When I’ve been there, I’ve actually seen people flying in on private planes just to surf in that area — most of them are European and Australian. There are some good waves, because that side faces the Pacific Ocean and not the China Sea, and that has contributed to the place having some big waves.
Are there some can’t-miss places in the Philippines you like to recommend to clients?
If you’re a first-timer, you should definitely see Manila, and also Cebu. People staying a little bit longer will want to explore the provinces some and maybe see places such as Baracay and Palawan.
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan was just voted one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. You can ride small “bangkas,” or little canoes, inside the cave. The river and cave are so big that you can have three or four bangkas in there at the same time. I’ve been there twice, and it’s just amazing. The limestone formations are wonderful, and the water inside is clear. Palawan is also a good place for snorkeling, and it has good beaches, too.
What hotels do you regularly recommend?
For high-end travelers, I recommend the recently-built City of Dreams Manila, which is a resort-casino area with three different hotels, including Hyatt City of Dreams Manila and Nobu Hotel. There are also a few different Shangri-La properties in Manila, including Makati Shangri-La and Edsa Shangri-La.
There’s also Shangri-La's Mactan Resort and Spa in Cebu, and Shangri-La's Boracay Resort & Spa on Boracay Island. The properties themselves are really nice, the service is great, and the restaurants are all upscale. These are definitely properties for people who have the budget for high-end resorts.
In Cebu there are a lot of nice beach resorts, but it’s also one of the fastest-growing cities in the Philippines. There’s a lot of development there, with new malls and shopping. It’s becoming a much more urban area. There are also many historical sites there, such as Ferdinand Magellan’s cross.
Every time I go to Manila, I love staying at Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila, because it has this excellent buffet restaurant, Spiral. It’s a little pricey, but it has a wonderful mix of Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Western foods there.