Ahhhhhh the Philippines. A gem that most travelers don’t discover, the Philippines has secluded islands, sun-filled days, an animated nightlife and an endless array of activities. As if that wasn’t enough to entice you, the country also has a fair share of weird attractions.
Here are the top five:
1 – Thriller (Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center style)
Any youtube regulars have seen the Filipino prisoners perform Thriller on their computer screen but not many have actually witnessed the performance live. The debate is still out whether the warden–who enforces participation citing it as exercise–is violating human rights. Either way, lovers of music and zaniness alike need to make a stop in Cebu for this. The performances are open to the public on the last Saturday of each month.
Along with watching the over 1500 orange clad choreographed men, spectators can buy t-shirts and get photos with the "stars". Rumor has it that certain prisoners have been invited to perform at other venues, but these might be harder to catch as letting the convicts (some of whom are serving life sentences) out threatens public safety.
2 – Bizarre Burials
If you are looking for an eerie and interesting time in Manila, check out the Chinese Cemetery where the final resting places of residents are small houses. The shrines of the dead (ahem, WEALTHY dead) are immaculate and the cemetery is more like a small neighborhood. Each resting place is different; peek inside and you can find everything from tables to toilets. There are also apartments on the outer wall for those permanent residents with less money.
Be respectful as the portraits of the deceased are to be admired and not mocked. If the Chinese Cemetery leaves you wanting more unusual burial methods, head up to Sagada, in the northern region of Luzon about 6 hours from Manila. You can explore the area where ancestors were placed in coffins (carved logs) and hung (or stilted) on the side of cliffs.
3 – Chocolate Hills
This surreal landscape draws tourists to the island of Bohol year-round, but it’s only during dry season when the "chocolate" of the hills can be seen. Despite the touristy gimmicks at the lookout point, the 1268 hills really are mysterious. Their teardrop formation remains unproven, though several scientific explanations exist. A whimsical myth for the romantics describes the hills as created from a giant’s tears of a lost love.
You can get there by jeepney or bus but if you approach the hills by a habal habal (motorbike) the fantasy feeling is inescapable. Along the way–sticking with that abnormal theme–stop and see tarsiers (small, saucer-eyed primates).
4 – Balut (The abortion egg)
Balut is available all over the Philippines; look no further than the local street vendor calling out, "Baaaluuuut." Inexperienced eaters hoping for a boiled egg might be surprised to find some premature feathers inside and a small head. Balut is prepared by letting a duck fetus grow for approximately 7-9 days and then boiling it.
Eating methods vary from using sauce, to slurping it out of the shell. The smell can be off-putting but it doesn’t stop locals from digging in and boasting about the healthy (and aphrodisiacal) attributes. Try for yourself and if you need to close your eyes…no problem…the little Donald’s eyes are closed too.
5 – Siquijor
This island, located in the southwestern Visayas is famous for witchcraft but has other eccentricities as well. If you make it there (most don’t) with an ailment or injury you can have a session with a hilot or bolo bolo. A hilot–who is born with healing power–can locate your injury and appease your pain. Lay back as they use their skill to zone in and dull your aches. A bolo bolo is similar but uses a cup, a straw and a special stone to clear an infection from your skin.
Do not expect to find this sort of medical treatment in a resort–ask around. As you search, don’t be alarmed to find locals "taking care of business" in their outside toilets/showers. Both are a sign of wealth and owners want them on display for the neighbors.
Okay, so some of these are more creepy than weird. OR more disgusting than weird. But the WTF factor is undeniable and if you elect to experience all of the above you’ll not only learn about the Philippines (past and present), you have the potential to walk away from the Philippines more horny, healthy, happy and healed for the future.
Additional photo credit: Cebu Thriller by Pdknox on Flickr