South-East Asian Travel Diary, Part 2: The Philippines

South-East Asian Travel Diary, Part 2: The Philippines

Matt, Luke, Phil and Russ leap from pilons by Tambo Lake
Jump shot!

Part 2 of Matt’s travel diary from the recent UX Mastery workshop series in South-East Asia.

Matt makes us jealous with tales of riding quad-bikes, volcano trekking, and drinking coconut from its shell—all in the name of user experience training!

Last week Luke and I arrived home from teaching our “Introduction to User Experience” workshops in South-East Asia, in partnership with the lovely folks from UX Malaysia and UX MNL.

Here’s the second part of my travel diary (read Part 1: Malaysia).

Day 4

The next day we flew to Manila, Philippines. Russ and Phil, the founders of UX Manila (UX MNL), picked us up at the airport and delivered us to our new home—a sweet condo in the heart of Makati that came with a maid who cooked us breakfast each morning (it felt awkward at first, but we embraced the concept!) We struck up an instant rapport with our hosts—and it wasn’t just because they’d gone out of their way to make us feel welcome (how’s this for creating a good experience: a fresh bread stick on the bench and a fridge stocked with beer at a sweet AirBNB condo round the corner from the workshop venue!). We genuinely hit it off from the start, and only built upon this friendship during our time in Manila.

The boys took us out for an amazing dinner at one of the bigger Dampa fish markets—here was a bustling marketplace containing some the largest, freshest seafood that I’ve ever seen, which we could then take to one of the nearby restaurants to be cooked into a range of amazing dishes. It doesn’t get much fresher than that!

Luke takes a selfie on the plane
All aboard!
Luke relaxes with a beer and a book, the night lights of Manila shine in the distance
Relaxing in the conservatory
A collection of fresh fish lines the alleys
Dampa Fish Market
Matt, Luke, Russ and Phil smile mid-meal
A delicious seafood meal
A delicious spread of tasty seafood
Tasty seafood delicacies
View from Manila apartment
View from Manila apartment


With our appetites satiated it was time to get some rest—the next two days were to be spent teaching workshops.

Days 5 & 6

Our workshops in Manila were fantastic. The logistics of the event, the energy levels of the participants, and the quality of the deliverables produced during the activities were all high. Part of this is due a couple of minor changes that we made to the material, but part of it, I suspect, was cultural—Filipinos are an enthusiastic, energetic people. Students were eager to dive in and try something new, and were uninhibited about getting up in front of the class to present what they’d done.

An affinity map of colourful post-its
Pain points
An affinity map
Affinity map
Diligent students creating paper prototypes
Diligent students
A workshop participant conducts a usability test on a mobile app
Mobile usability testing
Matt and Luke pose with Russ and Phil from UX MNL
With the UX MNL founders
Students work diligently
Hard at work

After both workshops, we continued the conversations over drinks and nibbles at a local bar, with a tab kindly sponsored by the UX MNL team. We got to know our students better and hear their stories—it was eye-opening to hear about their experiences and their backgrounds (and gave us some new insights into the challenges faced by offshore workers who are employed by foreign employers). It was also an opportunity to pick their brains for the best places to visit in the Philippines …

Day 7

With our teaching obligations out the way, we were free to indulge in a little sightseeing. Russ and Phil were eager to take us trekking at Mount Pinatubo, a picturesque (and active—the eruption in 1991 killed hundreds!) volcano north of Manila. Despite taking full advantage of the bar tab the night before, we managed to join them for the 2.5 hour drive, and as we drove through the outskirts of Manila, the divide between the haves and have-nots in Manila became even more obvious—heartbreaking degrees of poverty were a stark reminder of just how fortunate a position we are in.

When we arrived we were informed that last tour group had departed already, so we wouldn’t be able to make the trek. The silver lining to this unfortunate discovery is that, while we couldn’t get to the top of the volcano, we were still welcome to partake in an alternative activity—riding ATV bikes to the nearby Tambo Lake. This turned out to be an extraordinary amount of fun—probably even more fun than the trek would have been (although I do plan on going back next time, to hike to the top). And while cruising around on a four-wheel bike is enjoyable in and of itself, swimming in the serene Tambo Lake with only a lone fisherman nearby was an experience I’ll remember for a long time.

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Russ, Phil, Matt and Luke stand proudly on their ATVs
Quad bikes. Yeah!
Driving ATVs across volcanic ash
Fun with ATVs
Luke drinks some coconut milk from the shell
Coconut milk
A jeepney
Matt and Luke stand in front of Tambo Lake
Posing by Tambo Lake
Matt, Luke, Phil and Russ leap from pilons by Tambo Lake
Jump shot!

After a day of adventure, we’d worked up quite the appetite, and a restaurant recommendation from the ATV tour operator saw us feasting on traditional Filipino dishes such as Chicken Adobo, Lechon and coconut milk (from the shell!). What a day!

Day 8

For our final day in the Philippines, we opted again to get out of Manila, this time to head south to another volcano, Mt Taal—also known as Volcano Island—near the town of Tagaytay. Mt Taal is described as a “complex volcano”, which is somewhat of an understatement. The lake inside the volcano has an island in its centre, but itself sits on an island, in a lake, in a volcano crater, which sits on an island, which is inside a … Inception, anyone?

Because driving in the Philippines requires some … acclimatisation … we hired a driver for the day. This meant that we had the freedom to explore without having to acquire the skills necessary to navigate the chaotic streets. However, our driver was perhaps not, erm, Manila’s most experienced when it came to actually driving. He managed to get us lost a couple of times, and in fact nearly got us killed when he misjudged the slippery descent from Tagaytay and almost sent us careening off the edge of the road and down a cliff (no, I’m not exaggerating!). Thankfully, through sheer musclepower by Luke, myself and a handful of bemused locals (Everybody PUSH!) we were able to safely return the car to the road (!).

Boat to volcano island
Boat to volcano island
Matt poses at the top of Mt Taal
Mount Taal
Sulphur rises from Mt Taal
Sulphur rises from Mt Taal
Boat ride home
Boat ride home
Typhoon damage south of Manila, Philippines
Typhoon damage
End-of-day selfie: Luke, Matt, Randall and Reggie
Team photo

Getting to Mt Taal required us to take a boat from Tagaytay, a picturesque town along the ridge of the caldera. We caught a boat out to Mt Taal, and forewent the offer of a horse ride to the top (we’d missed out on our trek the day before, so we were keen to walk!).

The hike to the top of Mt Taal was not especially strenuous, but the extreme humidity and 35 degree heat meant we were particularly thirsty by the time we made it to the top. The view from the top was impressive—the small island in the centre of the volcano iconic scenery, with mountains and islands surrounding us.

After another day of adventure, we joined our friends for one final dinner before saying our farewells.

Day 9

The final day of our trip was not especially memorable, but it was a brutal enough day that it would feel wrong to simply omit it. On Day 9 I flip-flopped between gritting my teeth at the prospect of spending 20 hours in taxis, aeroplanes, passport queues, and duty free stores, and reminding myself that it was a privilege, no matter how rundown my body would feel at the end of it (I got sick the very next day, and am still recovering over a week later!).

This trip truly was one of the highlights of my life. I couldn’t have hoped for a better combination of fulfilling work, inspiring adventure, and making new friends, and I’m sure Luke feels the same way. We’re extremely grateful to Izwan from UX Malaysia, and Russ & Phil from UX MNL, for the opportunity. However, “real life” beckoned, and while part of me was sad to leave the hyper-realistic world of teaching and travelling behind, the prospect of returning to my family—and sleeping in our my own bed—was very, very welcome.

So, which country should we take our workshop series to next?

Written by
Matthew Magain
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