I’m a local who lived south of Manila, somewhere in Calabarzon, but I’m here in the US now. If you prefer living on the countryside, I highly recommend you staying at my hometown, Los Banos, Laguna, because the reception is good.
Hot springs and pools are very much common plus you can go to its nearest university, UPLB. I tried staying at one of the resorts for several nights there (Monte Vista) only with my Smart BRO pocket wifi and I was able to take VOIP/Skype calls. There’s an onsen and a Korean resort along the highway you can also try.
The reception in Calamba before you reach Los Banos is also nice but I think it’s better to have both Globe and Smart pocket wifis in most areas because there are times that Smart towers are very far from another. If you have an unlocked pocket wifi, prepaid sims are a must. There’s no difference with the speed whether you’re on postpaid or not. The prepaid sims there are mad cheap! So yeah, don’t rely too much on free Wifis here because this is not like other countries where you can even stream videos or music.
Places to avoid are obviously the shady areas. Do not be tempted to go to places near Bagong Kalsada, Timugan, Bambang, even UPLB during at night. Better stick to places along the national highway. Do not rely too much on Google Maps. Most stores there close before 8pm so it’s really dark. You cannot go around beyond 9pm alone unlike Manila.
I don’t think a lot of nomads go there because Philippines has the slowest internet by far lol or maybe people just can’t stand the slowness where I’m very much happy having 3-5mbps. It’s very easy to mingle with locals they would be very much happy to guide you and give you directions.
An overnight stay at Monte Vista costs around $32-34 dollars and you can eat good food for less than a dollar per meal. You get to ride the jeepneys for less than a quarter dollar but the travel from Calamba to Los Banos costs ~P20 or ~$0.50. Buses from Manila to Los Banos costs more than $2 and that’s 2-3 hours including traffic. That’s the standard price even in Manila. You mustn’t go lower than that. I also don’t think a lot of people stay more than one night especially during summer but they can be fully booked since a lot of people from Manila and other places go to Los Banos.
Best time to visit? Well, if you are not used to the 86 degrees heat then you should go there from October to January. That’s the rainy season and it could be really chilly in December. Summer starts from March to May sometimes it extends till June but that’s pretty rare. In Los Banos, we have Banamos Festival where you get to watch the streetdancing and then there’s the UP Feb Fair held every second or third week of February where local bands play and people from different places stay till past 1am. I must also highlight the most famous buko pie (made from coconut) sold along the national highway. Look for “The Original Buko Pie” and you’ll see the lines are long outside most of the day. Calamba, Laguna has a museum and you can get to visit Jose Rizal’s house. I can say the food is nice but if you want to experience real good food then you must go to the Elbi Square along the Lopez Ave.
I can’t think of any other tips but if you want to live there like a local then you shouldn’t look like a tourist. You know, plain clothes, no sarongs. You can go outside with a shirt, shorts and slippers lol no big deal. It’s ok to speak in English even if you’re just asking for directions. Most locals there know how You have to learn to say “Bayad po” to pay for your jeepney or bus fare or “Para” to ask the driver to stop. There are no taxi cabs in Los Banos or any provinces outside Manila. Davao and Cebu have those if you will be going there. We have pedicabs (bicycle+cab), tricycles among the jeepneys so you can explore those places at the inner part of the town. I don’t think that’s necessary unless you know someone there.
Feel free to ask me on Slack if you still have any questions.
Msscorpio, thanks so much for your detailed advice! Loved reading about your point of view. The place really does look amazing. So far I haven’t needed a Globe/ pocket wifi anywhere, but in every country I do have a sim with Data. I’m a freelancer, so I need to provide a high and consistent service level as that’s what allows me to keep going. I’m hoping there is a hub or place where startups/ freelancers and other remote workers have spent some time and can say with certainty the internet is not a problem for them. If I go, I’ll definitely pay a visit to your home town msscorpio!
No problem! Most people I’ve seen here in the forums and on Slack is that they prefer staying in Davao, Cebu or Palawan but everything’s real pricey there to be honest. You can meet some freelancers there for sure. These places are where tourists usually go so you have to expect that they can be 2-3x the actual price.
There are lots of places in the Philippines you can get nice views like in Puerto Galera or Bohol. Indeed there are lots of freelancers here but most of them are living in Manila and the Calabarzon area. I’ve met someone in Davao but really, these people are paying monthly that may cost ~$100/month. If most of your work can be done by browsing and doesn’t take a lot of Skype calls then you can survive with only mobile internet. If you have good reception, Smart’s LTE can give you more than 10mbps. It has a cap of 800mb but I confirmed you can get by with a VPN. I’ve tried it before and it worked.