For the past several years, I’ve employed people in the Philippines to help me run my business, including programmers, customer support staff, marketers, content writers, and virtual assistants. But I had never met any of them in person, or even spoken to them on the phone. All our correspondence was via email or chat, and lately, via managers I’ve hired. I was looking forward to finally meeting the families of the people who have been working so hard to grow my business, and also to see their country with my family.
The Philippines allows US citizens a 21 day visa on arrival, and we used all 21 days fully, exploring parts of Manila and the surrounding provinces, Cebu, Palawan / El Nido, and Davao. I was pleasantly surprised by the country and its people.
Even though the Philippines is in Asia, it reminded me more of Latin America. This is probably due mostly to it being a Catholic country and having strong U.S. influence. English is a main language there, as well as Tagalog, and most people were easy to understand. The people were very polite and friendly, and the service we received in most places was superb, as is typical in much of Asia. We were also addressed as “Sir” and “Madam” after almost every sentence.
The larger cities, such as the Makati area in Manila, are clean and modern, with all the shopping and international food you could want. The more rural areas are beautiful and green, and the people are even more relaxed and friendly.
I hadn’t heard much about Filipino food before we arrived, but they do have their own cuisine, and we were very impressed with it. Some of my favorite dishes are sinigang (tamarind soup, which we first had homemade by our friend’s sweet lola (grandmother) in a small town), kare-kare (a curry dish), and lechon (roasted pig, a traditional delicacy we enjoyed with our Davao programming team). In Davao, their mangos and mangosteens are the best I’ve had anywhere! I also tried some new fruit I’d never heard of called “marang” which was delicious! It looks similar to jackfruit on the outside and has a slightly doughy texture on the inside, like durian, but less chewy, and the flavor was sweet and fresh. The Vikings Buffet at the Mall of Asia in Manila was also the best buffet I’ve ever been to, with a huge variety of fresh and delicious food.
We also enjoyed a few days in the small town of San Ildefonso with our friends Denny & Rachelle, whom we met in Costa Rica. It was great to see them again and catch up, while also getting a taste of what life is like in the provinces. The girls convinced them to roast marshmallows for smores, and take them to a local swimming pool. We enjoyed several meals together, both at home and at restaurants, and they showed us true Filipino hospitality.
We felt safe everywhere we went in the Philippines. This may be due to the ever-present security guards. All entrances to big stores and shopping malls have a metal detector and a guard or two ready to check your bags. Even grocery stores seem to have a guard on every other aisle, which I sometimes found more disconcerting than comforting. I hear there are areas in parts of Mindanao and Manila which are not safe, but we didn’t go there. In Davao, the taxi drivers are even honest and use the meters without argument, and it’s against the law to smoke in any public place except for designated areas, which for the most part, people seem to follow.
Traffic in Manila can be an issue, both land and air traffic, and we missed two flights leaving from Manila because of this, and had to rebook. Besides the traffic, I found it to be an inefficient airport in general, with how it’s laid out. And twice the security tried to take my Pacsafe because it’s made of “wires”. But we talked them into letting us keep it both times (“It’s okay. We always travel with it because we got robbed.”, etc.)
Cebu was a fairly clean and growing city, where we met with one of my programmers and his girlfriend, went glow-in-the-dark miniature golfing, and checked out a local mall.
The Philippines has a wide variety of scenery, from jungle rain forests, to terraced rice fields in Baguio, to white sand beaches surrounded by blue water and limestone cliffs in Palawan. We flew into Palawan through Puerto Princesa, where we spent an evening on the beach walk, riding bikes and tricycles, eating street food, and chatting with the locals.
The next day was a 5-hour winding van ride to El Nido, followed by us realizing that most of the hotels in the area were already booked. Guess we should have planned ahead for this one. However, we were able to secure accommodations at the most luxurious resort in the area, The El Nido Resort at Pangulasian island. We really splurged staying here, but the service and location were phenomenal! From there we toured around to several islands, went kayaking, snorkeling with sharks (I saw a black tip reef shark!), reading in the library, playing at the beach, and relaxing in the beautiful atmosphere of these islands. We felt very well taken care of.
Look at this water! Yes, it really was that blue.
The nightly sunsets were spectacular, too. This photo was taken right outside our villa.
While in Davao, we also celebrated Aysia’s second birthday with a donut from Krispy Kreme, balloons, a new stuffed animal, a dog show, a movie at the theater, and her own luggage, which she is excited to be able to pull on her own.
I have to say that it feels good to know that the business I’ve created is now helping support over 20 individuals and their families in the US, Philippines, and elsewhere, to live and work wherever they choose. And I can see a lot of good reasons to choose the Philippines.
Here are some video clips and additional pictures I took during our time in the Philippines.
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5 Tips for Hiring a Programmer
31 Jul 2011
One of my most enjoyable vacations ever! It was such a great time for our family to bond closer together as well. I am thoroughly impressed by the people of the Philippines. They are so inclusive, kind, thoughtful, fun, and giving. I’m glad we could experience so much during our time there. I especially loved the cuisine, and all the fresh fruit and seafood. My favorite was the sinigang soup and the coconut pie that our friends Denny and Rachelle shared with us. The fruit we ate in Davao was also very delicious, especially the mangosteens. Our experience in Palawan was so amazing, too. I loved the snorkeling, and being on the beach for the girls to play in the sand. Such great memories all around. I would love to visit again sometime.
It is so great you were able to go and meet your programmers and other hard working employees and their families. Looks like you had a lovely visit.
One day I hope to try some of this interesting fruit you are experiencing, though hanging out on those beaches would be at the top of my list.
Oh my gosh, what a fun read. I was smiling through the whole thing – including all the video and pictures. The girls are growing up so quickly and look so happy and loved. Does Aysia ever NOT smile? Brandon, your hair makes me chuckle… I really like it – it’s just such a stark contrast to how you wore and wanted to wear your hear the previous 30 years of your life. Love how at home in your own skin all of you are.
How did Denny And Rachelle end up there at the same time? What an incredibly small world that you’re able to reconnect so frequently with people you’ve met in other parts of the world…
And yes, what a treat – both for you AND for your programmers/families to be able to meet and enjoy each others company. You’ve created something really wonderful.
Denny and Rachelle moved to the Philippines about six months ago to be closer to her family. It was so fun to spend time with them again. By the way, do you know the name of the flower in that photo above that has the pink, orange and yellow blossoms all in one clump together? I would love to know what they’re called.
It’s Lantana Camara :)
Yes, Jen – Otis called lantana. The hummingbirds love it! I can grow them during summer here, but the grow naturally in Hawaii and other tropical areas. The multicolored varieties are sooooo pretty .
Nice post on the Philippines @brandags. Made me want our move to happen tomorrow! >> http://t.co/OlfM1AUGaz
wow. Brandon, are very inspiring! I would love to not enter the 9-5 work week like my mom and dad have done, and to actually live my life with basically reversing the amount of time spent on work and free time. I just don’t have a clue how to get that cash flow coming in, like any ideas for a business. I’m curious as to where you got the ideas for your business? Also, have you looked into barefoot running/living? I’m sure this could add tremendously to your experience and connection with the Earth if you don’t already do so. Looking forward to hearing from you.
My business idea came out of a need I had to better manage my piano teaching studio. Yes, I walk barefoot much of the time, as do many people in Asia. :)
Cool. Of course you do live barefoot silly me! Just know that you are inspiring a 17 yr old from Michigan to live my life and not work it!
Cool. Work can be awesome too, though, as long as you love what you’re doing. :)
Thats true! Helping heal people through chiropractic is my other option. Thank you
Beautiful photos Brandon and loved reading about your trip. It’s nice to put the faces to the people we work with and must have been especially nice to physically meet them and spend time with them.
Absolutely loved the video — it was gorgeous. Looks so beautiful there.
I’m happy you and your family had such a great time. You have such a lovely family.
Great writeup guys
My wife and I visited Philippines around 8 years ago and had the same experience. Great place all round. We also went scuba diving in Palawan and Boracay and can attest to those areas being extremely beautiful. So inspired to do the same though and be able to return one day to do the same for my Phillipino VA that has changed our life! Look forward to your next writeup. Are you guys back in Indo now?
Brad, Bex and Kaiya
Yes, back in Bali for 6 weeks, then off to Italy! :)
Awesome. Another great place. Reply to the initial email I sent you when you are there with good internet so I can do my first Skype session with you. Thanks.
First, I love how many full-family photos there are! It’s great seeing pictures of all of you together. You look so happy :)
Second, hello blue water! Wow. I cannot believe that is real. How incredible!! Those are such amazing places that you were able to visit. Thanks for capturing it on film and showing it to us. BEAUTIFUL!
Third- I am amazed at how much the girls have grown in just 5 months. All of them! Emily has turned into a pre-teen, Marie has turned into a “big girl”, and Aysia is so much bigger! I am excited to see how much they change before I see them next.
Fourth (and last), your hair. lol. It’s awesome. You will definitely look like Jesus when you come to visit :)