The Philippines has been firmly at the top of my ‘places to visit’ list for so many years now. As soon as I glimpsed photos of the glorious beaches and lush vegetarian, I knew that I wouldn’t rest until I’d seen them for myself. I’ve gorged myself on articles about the friendly, welcoming culture and the best places to explore. There’s even a backpacking route planned out in the notes on my phone! But to this day, I’m still holding onto that dream of actually being able to visit.
If you’re familiar with my backpacking trip I took in 2017, I can imagine you’re scratching your head in puzzlement right now; “But Laura, you spent four months in South East Asia. Why didn’t you go then?!”
Well, I’m going to tell the full story now, but I suppose the long and short of it is: I didn’t want to miss a thing. CUE THE POWER BALLAD. Ok, just me? Maybe not.
When Jamie and I touched down in Indonesia, our bank accounts were significantly lighter after a two (and a bit) month stint in Australia and New Zealand. But hey, this was Asia! We could eat street food, drink cheap beers and stretch our money out endlessly. Right?
Well, kind of. I mean, prices are a lot cheaper than what you’d expect from a backpacking trip in New Zealand but that doesn’t mean they’re free. Plus, when things are cheaper, you generally end up going for nicer, just because you can. So, while we weren’t exactly living in luxury (in fact, we budgeted HARD), we did almost always opt for private rooms over sweaty dorms and regularly frequented hipster cafes when we needed a hit of aircon and avocado. Inevitably, your bank balance will drop.
So, when we arrived in Indonesia, we didn’t have much of a plan. We worked out our route as we went along, based on a combination of travel blogging advice and where the cheapest flights in the region would take us. We initially planned to move from Bali along to mainland Indonesia and into Borneo or Sumatra but, on realising that their wet season differs from much of South East Asia (and we were in the middle of it!), we decided to cut our losses and fly straight into Singapore.
Invigorated by a taste of city life, we decided to concentrate on the well-trodden backpacker route into Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia – although we lost Laos along the way when we realised that it was going to be unexpectedly expensive to get there. And as we discovered incredible food, savoured our time in Hoi An’s lantern-bedecked Ancient Town and learned the harrowing history about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, we didn’t regret a thing. In the back of my mind though, the Philippines was still calling and I knew that we’d make it when the time came.
But, as we came to the end of the trail and met one of my friends for a great week in South Thailand, we realised that we’d started counting the pounds so carefully that it was starting to become difficult to fully experience each place that we visited. We were missing out on day trips and that extra bus ride to a new town because we were having to prioritise a little too harshly. In those last few weeks, we found ourselves sticking to the most-visited towns and attractions because we didn’t have the security net that we needed to veer that little bit further off the beaten track. And also, as much as we hated to admit it, after six months on the road, we were becoming increasingly tired of long journeys in the intense humidity.
It was time to make a decision. The thought of booking a flight home was excruciating and we knew that we could budget for just one more destination before it was time to hang our backpacks up for a little while. I was spending hours on Skyscanner trying to work out our options and it came down to two: my beloved Philippines or Malaysia, home to a melting pot culture and the famous Petronas Towers.
Well, as I’m sure you guessed by the title of this blog post, we chose Malaysia. Two things pipped it to the post and I hope that you’ll agree that my reasons were solid. Firstly, while I’ve read that the Philippines is similarly budget friendly to the rest of South East Asia, getting around isn’t quite as simple as some of the more land-based countries. Internal flights were out of our budget but we didn’t have the time to do a number of slow but affordable ferry journeys. In contrast, getting around Malaysia is a total breeze (check out my travel guide to Malaysia here) with a reliable and comfortable network of buses so we were able to spend less time planning and more time exploring!
Secondly, with our budget so low, I knew that we’d be restricting our trip to the Philippines to two or three stops before we had to make our journey home. Without a doubt, it still would have been the most incredible experience but it’s always disappointing when you leave somewhere knowing that you’ve not managed to see everything you wanted. In contrast, Malaysia was somewhere that I was interested to visit but not necessarily somewhere that I would have chosen to go as a holiday alone. In my mind, it made more sense to save up and travel the Philippines when I had the time and budget to see everything that I wanted, rather than just visit to tick it off a list!
While I still yearn to visit the Philippines on a weekly basis (if constantly searching Skyscanner for cheap flights counts which I TOTALLY think it does), I have no regrets about choosing to visit Malaysia. We got so much from our time in this incredible country and having less concern over our purse strings meant that we were able to put our feet up and relax before we had to face the reality of the UK, colder temperatures and the dreaded General Election of 2017. Malaysia really does have a bit of everything going for it: we visited vibrant Kuala Lumpur, the rural Cameron Highlands, the cultural towns of Melaka and Penang as well as the unbelievable beaches of Langkawi and I can’t imagine anybody not falling in love with the country. But that amazing country is still waiting out there for me.
So, now for some exciting news…
I’ve been shortlisted for a Post Office Travel Blogger Award! This is the very first award I’ve been nominated for and with a prize of £5,000 to put towards the trip of a lifetime, I instantly knew where I’d be going if I were lucky enough to win – in my dreams, perhaps! Being able to finally explore the Philippines after coming so close last year would be the most incredible experience and who knows, perhaps that prize fund would even stretch to a stop off at one of the newer entries on my list of countries, Sri Lanka.
So, if you love my blog and want to help me to achieve my dream of finally getting seeing those stunning limestone formations in El Nido, you can vote for me from July 4th on this page. After two and a half years of pouring my heart and soul into this little travel blog, I can’t tell you how much it would mean to win and I’ll be crossing all my fingers as the judging goes into its final stages.
For now though, I hope you’ve been inspired by this travel story and perhaps it’s got you thinking about your own dream destination. Whether it’s a multi-country adventure or a tropical island escape, I’d absolutely love to hear your dream destination.
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