Of all the countries in SE Asia, the Philippines is the one that stands apart and seems different. While it has all the common features of the rest of the region….stunning beaches, fascinating and varied food, amazing natural landscapes and a people whose welcome is warm and’s in its origins and ongoing cultural influences that it offers quite a different face to the traveller. Thanks to three centuries of Spanish colonialism, the Catholic church is the dominant social element in society, and the villages and towns give off a European influence not found elsewhere in Asia. And, with many years of recent American presence, the culture has shifted again, especially in the larger centres.

So, with your holiday, where to start, with so much variety on offer.

Manila, dominating the main island of Luzon, while not generally the main reason people visit the Philippines, is worth checking out. It’s chaotic frenzy envelops the city and the traveller, and delivers a wonderfully lively nightlife, with fascinating and diverse neighbourhoods to explore. Further north, Vigan offers an extreme contrast to this, delivering an experience more akin to 18th century Spain, with shuttered windows, cobblestone streets and even horse-drawn carriages. While it seems a bit touristy, it is totally authentic, and has a wonderfully laid back vibe to it.

Breaking out of the cities, you’re spoilt for choice. Of the 7,000 plus islands on offer, the long thin strip of Palawan probably takes top billing, as much for the incredible 5-mile underground river at Puerto Princesa as for its stunningly beautiful beaches, capped arguably by Coron and its pristine white beaches and limestone seascape. Tiny Boracay, reopening again after being rested and rehabilitated (after too much development) still serves up an amazing concentration of palm-lined coral beaches, but really, with so many awesome beaches on offer, look around and find the one that suits you.

If it’s activity you’re after Cebu, and the previously mentioned Coron are the pick of the bunch, with some of the most awe-inspiring dive sites in the world. Again, with so many islands and so many reefs, diving is an option in so many places, while canyoning, zip-lining and all sorts of other adrenalin-soaked activities are on offer across the islands. If you’re after land based activities, the Philippines provides 25 volcanoes to climb (some more lively than others - please check before setting out!) and the incredible two-thousand year old rice terraces at Banaue that have to be seen to be believed. These are just one of numerous rice terraces in a country that does them more spectacularly than anywhere else in the world.

Overall, the Philippines has so much more to offer than we can do justice to here. Those seeking relaxation in the sun are catered for in so many different ways, spectacular natural land and seascapes await those who go adventuring, while a culture rich with so many diverse influences rewards those who try and get under the skin of this beguiling country.

Image by R.M. Nunes, Shutterstock