In February, my husband and I went to the Philippines and had an amazing time with family in the Manila area. We even visited two other islands! For those unfamiliar, the Philippines has over 7,500 islands, with Luzon the biggest and most populous island and it’s where the nation’s capital Manila is located. It has been decades since I’ve gone back to the motherland, and there is something truly special about connecting with relatives you haven’t seen in person in a long while, while being around the culture and people just like you — all the Filipinos!
During my trip, I was able to squeeze in some gamine and visited a Gaming Library store (the one inside Alter Ego in Mangaluyong City) and buy some games. The employees were really nice and answered my questions about games, mainly if the Tagalog version of a particular game was similar to the English version or was it something different. I ended up purchasing Just One — in Tagalog!
I also asked if they had a copy of the card game Darna at ang Nawawalang Bato, and they searched high and low to give me a demo copy that was a little beat up. It absolutely did not matter to me its condition, as I was so happy to take it! Darna is a Filipina superheroine that first appeared in 1950.
I also purchased my own sungka game at another store in the mall. Sungka is a Filipino mancala-type game that uses this wooden board and seashells as the counters.
I also played a bunch of games with my game-loving family. During one weekend, we played a bunch of games outdoors near the pool. My cousin gifted us Games of the Generals, a Stratego-type “fog of war” game where you’re trying to capture your opponent’s Flag by marching your army pieces, which has a hierarchical order to their strengths. The game can play 3 players, with one person playing as the arbiter, who determines which piece wins battles, as you and your opponent can only see what’s behind your metal pieces. You and your opponent then only can deduce which army piece eliminated your piece, and a lot of the game is remembering where your opponent’s potentially strong pieces are. You can also play as a 2-player game, and in that version, when a battle happens, players reveal the two pieces in the battle, and you both can figure out which piece is stronger. I also learned this game is also called Salpakan, which means to slap. Let the slapping commence!
Next up was chess. (I am very bad at chess but I know all the rules to play it. My nephew totally kicked my butt!) I also learned that when their pawn gets to the other side of the board, it gets promoted to a stronger piece. I told Chris that I never saw that on “Queen’s Gambit,” and he’s like, it doesn’t happen when people are good at playing chess. 🙃
We also played backgammon on an old set from Greece. My cousin owned this board after a neighbor gave it to her before they moved, but she never played it, so she gifted it to us. One of the pieces is missing, so there’s a 10 peso coin on the board in its place, and it’ll always remind me that it came from the Philippines.
If you ever attend a Filipino party, there’s always mahjong. This is the quintessential gambling game that Filipinos love to play. The rules are a little different depending on each culture, but it’s a game that I’ve grown up playing and it always makes me feel nostalgic for the family parties of my childhood.
My other cousin also owned this charming deck of Byzantine-themed playing cards that Byzantine Time Traveler designed and sells. I was able to buy a deck when we visited the Ayala Museum in Makati later in the trip.
Lastly, we also played a lot of Pusoy Dos. According to Wikipedia, “Pusoy dos (or Filipino poker, also known as chikicha or sikitcha), a variation of big two, is a popular type of “shedding” card game.” The object of the game is to be the first to discard your hand by playing poker hands to the table. I played A LOT of this game in college because it’s fast, strategic and can be played with any deck of cards. The lowest value card, according to the rules I play, is the 3 of spades and the highest is the 2 of diamonds. I use the the mnemonic Daly City High School to remember the order of the suits. When someone plays a pair of 4’s, then the next person has to play 4’s of a higher suit or a higher pair in general. If everyone passes, then that person can lead the next thing to beat.
In addition to spending time in the Manila area, we island hopped to Coron in Palawan as well as Boracay. Though a little remote and rural, Coron was breathtakingly gorgeous. I had never ever seen water so clean and clear — it was just like a movie set!
We took an all-day boat tour to explore small nearby islands and we snorkeled, kayaked, hiked and swam, even eating a seafood lunch on picnic tables with food cooked on the boat. We especially loved seeing the fish, the Twin Lagoon Lake and Kayagan Lake, which requires climbing 163 steps up and 204 steps down to access the lake. And then you need to climb the reverse of that to get back to your boat! Just stunning!
During our time in the Philippines, we also visited Boracay, which has a completely different vibe than Palawan. Boracay is a resort town with lots of hotels, restaurants and water activities.
We signed up for helmet diving, which is walking across the ocean floor in a pressurized helmet. It takes a little getting used to to pressurize your ears as you climb down the ladder, but nothing too bad. It was so much fun! We did helmet diving on Valentine’s Day and snapped this photo.
Overall, the Philippines is a must-recommend travel destination! The Manila area is just like a big city — densely populated with lots of traffic — but it was nice staying in a walkable city with access to so many restaurants, malls and things to do. For the other islands, we took small planes via Philippine Airlines, and stayed at beautiful resorts there. Most everyone speaks English in the country, the food is so diverse, yummy and cheap (based on the U.S. dollar exchange rate), and the hospitality is top-notch.
We did so much and visited so many places in two weeks, and I’m so grateful to be able to spend time with my relatives. Can’t wait to go back (hopefully it won’t be decades until we return) and visit other islands next time!