What if I told you there was a beautiful place where it’s cheap to live and everyone treats you like a celebrity?
Such a place exists, and it has a name: Davao, Philippines.
Davao is the third major city in the Philippines behind Manila and Cebu. Almost no foreigners go to Davao because it is located on the southern island of Mindano, which is notorious for having a terrorism problem. However, the terrorism problems are on the other side of the island. The city of Davao itself is actually quite safe (much safer than Manila or Cebu) because the Davao City Mayor ruled with an iron fist and cracked down on crime hard.
Davao’s city mayor helped make the city safe, clean, and well off economically (compared to the rest of the Philippines). I can’t stand being in Manila for more than a few days because it is so polluted, crowded, and unsafe, but Davao has more of a small town feel and is actually quite pleasant to live in.
The people of Davao are friendly, honest, and surprised/happy to see a foreigner in their city. I could count the number of foreigners I met while in Davao on my two hands. You are instantly promoted to Brad Pitt status the second you step off the plane.
You will be the center of attention everywhere you go and girls will swoon for you. In the checkout line at the supermarket the cashier girl asked me if I would marry her (I politely declined). I am a decent looking guy, but nothing like that would ever happen in America.
This is one of the benefits to having a location independent lifestyle – you can live and set up businesses in different places depending on what suits you best. According to the Five Flag Theory of organizing different parts of your life into different physical locations, Davao would be a “playground”.
Cool Stuff To Do In Davao:
Party on Torres Street – Grab a beer for $1 at the bars/clubs and experience what it’s like to be Brad Pitt for a night. The nightlife in Davao is small but fun and (in my opinion) preferable compared to most of the Philippines where girlie bars are the norm.
Kadayawan Festival in August – this “king of festivals” is a huge deal for Davao and the Philippines. There are lots of events during this weeklong festival such as float parades, concerts, and people dancing in traditional tribal wear in the streets.
Visit Samal Island – This is a cool place for a day trip and it is just a short ferry ride from Davao. The scenery is nice and there are several resorts to hang out at. The beaches are small though and travelling around the island on motorbike is not pleasant. My friends and I rented a boat with a local tour guide to go island hopping which was cool.
Weekend Trip to Mati – called the “Boracay of the South” and for good reason. Mati is exceptionally beautiful and the Dahican beach is better looking than your desktop background. Unlike Boracay almost no foreigners know about Mati and it’s inexpensive. The bus ride to get there is 4 hours from Davao, but well worth it. In 2012 an airport in Mati will be finished and I expect it will bring a lot more visitors.
Best Places To Stay in Davao:
Short Term – Ponce Suites Hotel
I was really impressed by this unique and well-run hotel. The owner’s son is a prolific artist/sculptor and his work fills the premises. Ponce Suites is within walking distance of downtown and a great value for the price. For 700 pesos ($17 per night) you get a good-sized room with a comfortable bed, A/C, hot water, and TV.
Don’t stay at Magallanes Residences
It is really difficult to find a good available apartment in Davao. I’ve actually changed my mind – don’t stay at Magallanes Residences apartment complex because it is pricey (lots of hidden fees) and not a good value.
Every Rose Has Its Thorns – The Downsides Of Davao
Even though Davao is pretty awesome, there are negatives lurking underneath that become more apparent the longer you stay there.
Filipino food is mediocre. There are some good dishes, but in general the food is unhealthy and there is a real lack of vegetables. The food just can’t compete with cuisine powerhouses like Thailand or Indonesia. Expect occasional intestinal discomfort.
Lack of expat community. There are almost no interesting expats in the Philippines compared to a place like Bali. As my TMBA boss and mentor Dan Andrews said – “You are a rockstar at a concert that no one cares about.”
You will be stared at wherever you go and even though the people are friendly, after a while it can get annoying to answer the same “where are you from?” “why are you here?” type questions over and over again.
It can be really hard to get work done. The lure of partying, cute girls, and island adventures can be really distracting. After a while your mindset changes and you start to take it all for granted… it’s easy to forget just how great the experience truly is.
You may “go bamboo” and never leave. I initially planned to stay in Davao for 2 weeks, and now I’ve been here 2 months and counting. It feels like I’ve been living in a dream, and I guess sooner or later I have to wake up.
Maybe I’ll just hit the snooze button once more…