My first destination in the Philippines after a couple nights in Manila was Davao. Situated on the Southern coast of Mindanao island, Davao is the 3rd largest city in the Philippines and the “Durian Capital” of Philippines. Davao is also home of the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, the former Mayor of Davao. You can see his face and name are all over the city, and he has been in the world news lately, mostly for his controversial, yet effective policies for drug-trade prevention policies.
The island of Mindanao is often avoided by travelers because much of the island has been plagued by terrorist threats. The USA Department of State warns to avoid all nonessential travel to Mindanao and especially the Sulu Archipelago.
Unlike Western Mindanao, Davao is generally very safe. Walking around Davao, you’ll see police officers guarding the city. In fact, according to the locals Davao is the safest city in the Philippines. Also, on Numbeo.com it actually ranks as one of the safest city in the world. Much of this is due to Duterte’s success as mayor here. I walked around the city several times and never felt unsafe. Then again, I haven’t felt unsafe anywhere in Southeast Asia. Rough areas of American cities feel more dangerous than anywhere I’ve traveled to in Southeast Asia.
Due to the safety concerns in Mindanao island, there are few foreigners in Davao compared to other areas of Philippines. The travelers that do make it down typically stay in the nearby resort island Samal. While walking around Davao I got several double-takes from locals when they saw me, probably thinking “whoa was that a white person”. That didn’t happen nearly as much in the rest of Southeast Asia, where foreign travelers are ubiquitous.
Transportation In Davao
The taxis in Davao are among the most honest I’ve experienced in Southeast Asia, they’re always metered and they never once tried to rip me off. In fact, a couple times they tried to give me more change back than I needed. Of course, if you want to save money and get the real Philippines experience, take a jeepney or tricycle instead of a taxi.
My tour of the Hijo Resorts at the heart of Davao Gulf near Tagum City was the highlight of my stay in Davao. The resort is enormous and I didn’t realize how large it was until I toured it. With 1,000 hectares banana plantation and 92 hectares coconut plantation, there are more activities here than I could cover in a full day tour. The two resorts, Plantation House and Banana Beach Casitas include everything from a black sand beach to target practice with an M16.
From Davao, go to the Abreeza Mall and jump on the bus going to Tagum City. Tell the driver you need to get off at the kilometer 48 bus stop. From there you can ride the resort’s shuttle to the resort.
Banana Plantation Tours – Learn how bananas are grown and harvested, also includes sampling the coconut sugar, mmm.
Banana Beach – The “World’s Only Beach Inside a Banana Plantation” with an organic farm-to-table restaurant near the beach.
Rainforest Tour – I enjoyed this more than I expected. You get to hike through the forest on the long series of bridges. Keep your eyes peeled for monkeys and the wild boars.
Shooting Range – I’m really not a gun person but I’m glad they talked me into this one. While shooting at the targets, we saw a few wild boars run through the range.
Axe Throwing – This can be tricky, but somehow I managed to land a few axes on the target.
Other activities include fishing lakes, river tour, archery, kayaking, jet skiing, snorkeling, and paddle boarding.
Eden Nature Park
A must see if you’re visiting Davao and like thrill rides, Eden Nature Park will get your adrenaline pumping. When I looked at the pictures of this place online, I was sold when I saw pictures of people riding a bicycle on what looked like a tightrope from afar. I’ve never seen anything like this anywhere so I had to see what it was all about. I rode the bicycle and it was scary as hell, and a lot of fun. Check out the selfie video I made…
The simplest way that I could find to travel to Eden Nature Park is to take a taxi to Toril and then take a tricycle the rest of the way to the park. The cost of the tricycle is 100 pesos and I don’t remember exactly how much the taxi costed but it was very reasonable for the distance.
There are several activities you can try in the adventure section of the park. I tried the sky cycling, sky swing, and horse riding. The sky cycling and sky swing are a rush and lots of fun. The horse riding felt a little more like a kid’s ride, but I haven’t been on a horse in a long time so it was still nice. They also have ziplining but I skipped it because the sky cycling was similar.
During the week I stayed in Davao I mostly enjoyed the delicious meals prepared by my host. I did get out a few times to try some nice restaurants though.
Vegan Dinosaur – A delicious vegan restaurant on Ruby street. I’m not vegan but I went here a couple times because it was delicious. Plus it can be difficult to find vegetables in Philippines, so it was nice to find a restaurant serving nothing but vegetables. I really enjoyed the veggie burger and chai latte.
Jack’s Ridge – This restaurant is up on a peak and has nice view of the city and the gulf. Ride a bicycle around the city and up the hill to the restaurant and reward yourself with a smoothie.
Pankaj Indian Cuisine – There are many Indian restaurants in Davao. Go to this one to get delicious and inexpensive samosas with flavorful sauce packets to go.
Green Coffee – For delicious, full-bodied coffee and 24/7 location check out this place near Vegan Dinosaur.
The Peak at Gaisano Mall “G Mall” – A nice area at the top floor of Gaisano Mall which includes many good restaurant options with a view of the mountains and the city.
The nightlife in Davao is much tamer than the rest of the Philippines. For one, they stop serving drinks at 1:00 AM. There are still plenty of good options though. There seems to be a lot of live music, and of course, karaoke which I really enjoy after a few drinks of liquid courage.
Speaking of karaoke, singers in Philippines are very talented, wow! I learned that singing (and dancing) in the Philippines is super popular. You can hear people randomly singing in stores, taxis, restaurants… everywhere. It’s pretty cool. Plus I seem to hear a lot of 70s and 80s music playing in restaurants, bars, and especially in taxis, which is a lot of fun!
801 Infinity Resto Bar – Live music in a laid back bar
The Brick Lane – Upscale bar area with multiple bars in one section with a shared stage outside in the middle.
Reggae Grill – Live reggae music, what more can you ask for
Stre3ts Urban Lifestyle Pub – a busy bar with two floors and urban ambience
Cafe 52 – A small cafe & bar with karaoke. The one night I went they didn’t have karaoke, but my friend said it’s fun when they have it. Check in advance to make sure it’s karaoke night.
Alcatraz Penal Bar – Quintessential nightclub with loud, thumpin’ beats and plenty of room on two floors.
I wish I got to explore Samal island (and nearby Talikud island), but I ran out of time. The ferry runs from 5:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily. Check it out for a day or stay in one resorts on the island. I didn’t want to get stuck over there after the last ferry returns because I was staying in Davao with a friend.