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Philippines (Lonely Planet Country Guides) - Greg Bloom

Philippines (Lonely Planet Country Guides)

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Greg Bloom

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Pages: 492 (Paperback)

ISBN: 1741047218

Pub: Lonely Planet Publications

Pub date: 2009-05-01 Sales Rank: 26115

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Reader Reviews:

1/5 stars

Thoughts on LP Philippines guide, 10th Edition, 2009 (7/8 people found this helpful)

LP thinks a lot of itself. "Our travel information is the best in the world" (P468). This book thinks a lot of itself. It's all over the cover: "Experience the best of the Philippines with Lonely Planet". "Lonely Planet guides are written by experts (more later) who get to the heart of every destination they visit" (a lot more later). "100% researched and updated". 100% researched? How else, apart from plagiarising, do you write a guidebook? I can't tell if they mean it's also 100% updated. A question of scope. I'd be surprised. Authors of LP guides may change from one edition to the next but content carries over regularly. "This fully updated edition is packed with accurate, practical and honest advice, designed to give you the information you need to make the most of your trip." The self-praise doesn't stop. Is it justified or is it hubris?

The writers ("experts") present themselves twice: P4 and P468-9 ('full author biographies'). P4 is meant to be fun but is actually quite embarrassing with its Facebook-like content and poor photos. One of the writers delights in getting lost. Paragraph 4 is incomprehensible. The co-ordinating author advocates travelling on the roofs of buses on mountain roads (P4) so unsurprisingly he gets thrown out of the back of a jeepney (P468). LOL for teenage facebookers. Experts? They know a lot but I'm not totally convinced. There's a tension in the book reflected in the ostensibly opposing approaches adopted in P4 and P468-9 between informal Facebook-style vacuity and more formal, serious information and advice, and it's not resolved satisfactorily. In any case, the vacuous makes the greater impression.

LP seems to think maps are a main attraction. 106 maps, the cover tells us in a large font. I don't know whether to be impressed. Is this an impressive number? I'm not going to count them. I've been using LP guides since the very first yellow book, SE Asia on a Shoestring. The maps, historically, can best be described as approximate. I find Rough Guide maps more readable "We go further". Really? In what sense and where to? "More insider tips than any other guide." I'd like to see the evidence for this. "Insider tip", like "fully updated" or "expert", could mean anything. Has LP really defined the term 'insider tip', counted the number in this guide and compared the result with all the insider tips in every other guide to the Philippines in every language? I'd be amazed.

Insider tips are only useful if an individual reader finds them useful. I look for cultural festivals in guidebooks. I couldn't find much of interest to me in the LP guide (more later). The Rough Guide to the Philippines (2nd edition, 2007), on the other hand, gave me details of one specific event of great interest to me: the fertility festival in Obando. I don't know if this counts as an insider tip but the LP guide doesn't even mention Obando, never mind the festival. I went - loved it

The best things in the Philippines are the festivals. LP doesn't quite say this but does allow that 'the Philippines just isn't the Philippines without the colourful festivals that rage ('rage'!!??) across the country throughout the year'. So they're important, if not quite important enough for LP to write much about. The Philippines is actually one of the best destinations in the world for festivals. A simple sentence but you wouldn't know it by reading this guide. There must be thousands. The back cover refers us to P22 for the "top festivals". LP's 'favourite' festivals are actually listed first on P20. LP experts manage eight. On P22-24 we get a few lines on each of just 36 festivals. This list is padded out by repeating the eight festivals already listed on P20. But after a derisory preamble, this list and a few further listings under individual cities, that's it for festivals in the Philippines. LP experts go no further than providing very limited information that anyone could pick up for nothing from a few Filipino festival websites. So, far from providing in-depth, worthwhile information on festivals (and I repeat: "the Philippines just isn't the Philippines without the colourful festivals"), LP experts show little interest in the topic and barely touch the surface. Two and half pages are considered sufficient to cover this major topic. I wonder how long someone spent deciding which "top" festivals should be made "favourite" festivals?

I also wonder how updated the festivals section really is? The cursory descriptions of individual festivals read like they come from general tourist brochures. The writing is generic. The descriptions sadly don't convince me that LP's experts went to any of them. The omission of Manila's Aliwan festival is unforgivable (see below). The National Tourist Office in Manila has hundreds and hundreds of pages of information on festivals. I was shown all those taking place in region 2 (and found the one I wanted). You have to be persistent and find the right office for each region but research can be done. LP don't seem to have done it.

The information and advice provided on at least one festival is not very helpful or accurate, or even consistent. The Pahiyas festival in Lucban is mentioned three times in the book. It's a "top festival" and also one of their favourite eight. On P20 it is listed as taking place on 15 May; on P23 it is listed tantalizingly as taking place 'around 15 May' (there's no further detail and exact dates are very important for festivals). On P126 we're told "Lucban comes alive on 15 May for Pahiyas". It actually comes alive before then. It's wonderful on 14 May too. This isn't mentioned. Nor are the parades, the street dancing or the fashion competition etc etc.

Lucban is a very small provincial town so there's naturally hardly any accommodation there. One hotel is listed in the guide. We're told severely by LP: 'if you want a room, book a year in advance'. What use is this? No one will do it. People will presumably be put off by this blank assertion and not bother going, if they take the guide on trust. It's all made to sound too hard. LP could so easily have helpful. How about writing, for example, that people can stay at the hotel next to the bus station in the nearest large town, Lucena (around an hour from Lucban), and commute? That's what I did. Or stay anywhere else in the area. (And a lot of towns and villages around Lucban hold festivals at this time so it's a good time to go.) There's an awful lot of frequent transport on festival days.

Street dancing parades in the Philippines are simply dazzling, even in small towns. There are costumes, choreography, commitment, energy, pride and there are always prizes. Festival-related street dancing isn't mentioned in the book, even in the Culture section. Festivals in the Philippines invariably include beauty pageants. These are not mentioned anywhere in the guide either as far as I could tell (I looked hard), and I'd be interested to learn why. Doesn't LP know about them? Unthinkable. I'll bet they've been included in previous editions of the book. I reckon (even if I can only surmise) that LP disapproves. But it's not an answer just to leave them out. The Rough Guide acknowledges their prevalence and introduces the topic quickly and elegantly, with humour too, in a well-written, informative single paragraph (P7).

Bars, on the other hand, never fail to excite Lonely Planet experts. At sunset, a lonely planeteer is apparently gagging for it (booze, not a beauty pageant), and LP is only too happy to provide. For we apparently need to be told - in great detail. And we need to be advised how to avoid the wrong (i.e. unfashionable) establishments. 106 maps? 1,123 bars would have been a good strap for the book's cover. OK, I made that up, but that's just about what you get. Here we are in the city of Cebu: "After dark you can pull up a plastic chair at any number of street-side barbecue stalls that serve chilled beer, and settle in for some serious people-watching (p242). The heart of the country, indeed. The talk moves to 'pumping nightspots' and hip joints. Even the text is jumping. But then LP gets carried away and there's no restraining editor. Try this on the Paseo, an area of 20 bars in Cebu: 'See how far you can crawl around in a single night but don't forget to write the name of your hotel on the back of your hand' (p242). Gosh and LOL. Responsible, serious, practical and honest advice designed to help you get the most out of your trip? Only if you want to broaden your experience and meet a few local muggers, police officers and hospital staff. If you follow the advice and need the phone number of your embassy or consulate, some are helpfully provided on P.435. They'll be delighted to hear from you. LP advises 'keeping your ear to the ground' to help you in the all-important mission of patronising only the hippest bars in Cebu. Do this and you'll be lucky to get up again. We're even told about the latest-closing bar in Cebu. Why not simply promote responsible and respectful tourism in all activities? There's a Travelling Responsibly' section on P19 and a 'Responsible Diving' section on P71, but when the detail comes, it's too often irresponsible. This is the sort of guide that will nudge you not to forget to smuggle your booze into a 'detoxification centre' as you won't be able to buy it inside. This reminder, which really only undermines the ethos of the place, is provided on P123.

For more mixed messages, try getting an answer to the basic issue of personal safety. Is the Philippines a dangerous destination? The question is introduced quickly. It's even on the back cover, striking a sour note in a chirpy tone amid the otherwise unrelieved joy and excitement: 'ESSENTIAL safety information for Mindanao'. Mindanao is partly a war zone but, see P.361, it's mostly OK really. Another place to keep your ear to the ground, we're told.

"Many arrive expecting the country to be 'dangerous', to discover instead a land of shiny happy people" (p.16). Condescending, not particularly good English and not completely true. You get a few clues when you arrive in Manila that it's not completely safe. You may not be surprised to find security guards with guns lining the entrances to banks. You may be more surprised to find security guards with guns frisking you before you can enter a shopping mall. I couldn't find this mentioned in the LP guide. Further clues include the number of people warning you against walking anywhere. It was almost the only thing anyone said to me in Manila during my stay. But I sometimes carried a camera openly so attracted that sort of attention, especially from the police. LP offers excuses for the "unfair" reputation of the country. It blames Filipinos living abroad (P435). I'd like to see the evidence for this, but LP doesn't provide a reference. Using the same anecdotal method presumably employed by LP, I blame Filipinos living in the Philippines. Outside (and inside) Manila, many people I spoke to appeared very wary and sometimes even terrified of their capital city, especially the trip to the airport.

So what does LP say about personal safety in Manila?. It starts off unironically: "As in any big city, crime is a part of life in Manila" (P79). So it's just like Tokyo or Hong Kong or Taipei or Bangkok, is it? No, it isn't. LP goes on and things go downhill quickly with talk of pickpockets, notorious scams and rip offs targeting tourists. On P113, you're advised to "lock your doors" in a taxi. Back on P79, you're told to "be on your guard if walking around on your own at night." Doesn't sound good, does it? "Unfair" reputation? This is surprisingly direct for LP and suggests Manila is not just like any other big city after all. No qualification here, no special, limited areas to be aware of: the whole of Metro-Manila. LP does however recommend a walk along Roxas Boulevard for sunset over the bay. The guide doesn't mention the hundreds of homeless people you can barely see on the poorly lit road but might have to step over on your way to or from that sunset. On P73, Manila is 'a great city' with an 'unfortunate reputation', is 'misunderstood' and is a little rough around the edges. It all becomes too ambivalent. Manila is, at best, disconcerting. It doesn't feel comfortable. LP largely confuses itself and the reader in series of qualified qualifiers and inconsistencies and ultimately provides a contradictory and uncertain picture on just how safe Manila and the country are. This picture may perhaps be summed up as follows: it isn't dangerous but it is. Of course, this may be the truth, but it takes quite a bit of working out.

Very few tourists stay in Manila, particularly compared to Bangkok. It may and may not be dangerous but maybe Manila, for all its possible problems, just isn't very interesting either? LP won't say this directly, so sometimes tries to make it sound more interesting than it is. At other times it misses the chance to provide information of potentially enormous interest.

"Manila for kids", unlike beauty pageants, is a correct subject for LP. So what do we get in the box on P.80? A 'fair number' of attractions. Not much then. LP draws up its list. Museo Pambata - sounds OK. Manila Ocean Park - 'mobbed'. Childrens' Theatre - doesn't exist. That's helpful. Manila Zoo - 'rough around the edges' i.e. decrepit. Avilon Zoo - miles away and "impossible to find". That's useful. Star City: not bad but packed. The list is probably an editorial requirement.

There are a few lines on festivals in Manila (P.92). The usual LP lack of interest applies. The preamble is short, pointless, meaningless and untrue. Here it is, in full: 'Manila's best events are pegged to the religious festivals found throughout the country. See p22 for details of countrywide festivals'. It sounds as though it's providing information, but it's actually saying nothing of any use. If you want to know about festivals in Manila, look at our list of nationwide festivals as there may be some spurious link you might like to work out for yourselves. Maybe it means that events such as Flores de Mayo processions take place in Manila as well as in the rest of the country. This is true. But we're not told. You certainly won't find anything to help you by following the advice to look at P22-24. Only two events in Manila are mentioned (P92). Aliwan, a dazzling enormous national grand final of competitive street dancing (in its seventh year in 2009) is unaccountably ignored. LP possibly hasn't heard of it or maybe doesn't think it's worthwhile. I can only repeat: it's utterly dazzling. Maybe LP knows more than me and the festival isn't going to happen in 2010. No idea. But's it's a bit like listing the best events in London and leaving out the Notting Hill Carnival. Other significant events that could have been included with little effort, such as Pakalog, are also simply ignored.

Some LP guides have more than doubled in size over the years. Mexico and Thailand were naturally very thin when they first appeared but now pass 1,000 pages each. The guide to the Philippines remains resolutely below 500 pages. It's a big country. Maybe there's not much to write about? Or maybe LP just doesn't get round to doing it properly? LP has been updating this guide since the first edition in 1981. The ninth edition wasn't any good. The cover of this tenth edition makes big claims which I think LP fails to meet. There may be a lot of bars in the book, but it's hopeless at culture. Maybe it's better at beaches than culture? I don't know - I'm not interested. Is this really "the best travel information in the world"? In pre-Internet days, LP had the independent travel guide market more or less to itself. There's more competition now and almost limitless information on the web. This book, for me, simply doesn't get to the heart of the Philippines in any seriousness, depth or detail. It leaves a great deal to be desired in terms of content, information, advice, writing and tone. It will sadly remain on sale for another coupe of years at least. I'm a tourist, not an expert. I went to the Philippines with the 9th edition of this guide (this edition is no improvement) along with the Rough Guide - which LP considers inferior. I found the Rough Guide (longer by 50 pages) much more useful and informative and threw away the Lonely Planet. The Rough Guide is also well-written.

4/5 stars

For short breaks, buy the relevant chapters (4/5 people found this helpful)

I must admit, I'm usually more of a Rough Guide fan than Lonely Planet, though alongside how the book has been set out and its format, it's more often than not the author of the guide that makes me pick which one.

However, this proved to be a different case.
If you are going to spend a month or more in The Philippines, there's little to choose between the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet - both are good all-round books, being informative and well written. Yet on this trip, I only had five days of travel - two spent in North Luzon at the Rice Terraces, and three in El Nido in the Palawan Bacuit Archipelago. For such a short journey, buying Lonely Planet's individual chapters is the better option - I only bought the two chapters I needed, rather than the full book, and these took up a tiny ammount of space in my backpack.

My general conclusion - if you're going for a long time, buy the Rough Guide; if you're going to limited places on a very tight schedule, buy Lonely Planet's individual chapters (these are also downloadable and can be printed out when you need them, so you don't have to carry them halfway accross the world with you!)

2/5 stars

Dont waste your money (5/6 people found this helpful)

This book is seriously out of date and obviously written by tourists who made no local contacts. Prices, times and travel information are misleading. Its attempts at comedy regarding western men and younger Filipina are insulting. All in all not the usual Lonely Planet informative and trusted guide book - No longer written by travellers for travellers

1/5 stars

Dreadful (5/6 people found this helpful)

After spending a couple of weeks in the Philippines consulting this guide I became so frustrated that I switched to Rough Guides. The sections on nightlife are truly atrocious - bog standard chain store rubbish without a trace of local colour. And there is nothing to speak of on music or culture. The Rough Guide has stacks of great places and a whole essay on Philippines music. And one on diving. This is the third Lonely Planet I have become disenchanted with - Brazil and Thailand being the others. Buy the Rough Guide. It's not perfect but it's a whole lot better that this.

1/5 stars

complete rubbish (10/12 people found this helpful)

Very disappointed with this supposedly updated edition. Hotel reviews were woefully inaccurate and have obviously been done without being visited - on my trip I came across the previous edition which described one hotel as being rundown - the same hotel was described as the best hotel in town in the new edition and it was obvious it hadn't been done up in the intervening period! Restaurant recommendations rarely describe the food on offer and, when they do, seem to focus on pizza or burgers. And I would truly love to know what is meant by a 'cookie cutter' hotel which is how one place is described. Easily the worst LP guidebook I've ever come across - and unsurprisingly a view shared by several other travellers I met. My top tip? Never stay at the first hotel listed by LP as it always seems to represent astonishingly bad value for money with complacent staff and inflated prices.

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