Shopping in Cebu or any major city in the Philippines

SM Mall Cebu

Many people ive come across on my travels (outside of the Philippines) have the assumption the Philippines due to it being a Developing nation (3rd world country) is very outdated on shopping. Which in some cases is very much the case, but regarding clothing and high street brands most are already here and a lot cheaper than europe. Even Marks & Spencer’s have stores here for clothing. Although i did find it funny in one of the food malls Marks and Spencer products being sold (the food mall wasn’t  Marks and Spencer). But either way there is plenty to be buying here at low prices. Custom clothing is possible because of the low-cost of highly skilled staff. I’m lucky enough to have a great mother in law who makes things like my silk shorts (for PJs) and can custom make almost anything from a drawing and your personal sizes. But food restaurants Pizza Hut, McDonald’s etc. Are already here but in most cases i would stick with other restaurants because eating out is cheap and heading to a better quality of restaurant you will be paying a European price for a big mac but for a real meal something i love is ostrich which i get at Ayala Mall but there is plenty of restaurants to choose from and from all over the world. The misconceptions ive come across are mainly due to charity projects that constantly put the Philippines like most developing nations as a picture of just ghettos and poverty. Although this is a major problem and more than 70% of the population are on or below the poverty line the shopping malls are some of the biggest in Asia here.

SM Mall Cebu (2) (600 x 450) - Photo by and copyright of Matt WilkieThe big malls in Cebu are SM and Ayala. They are each around the size of Merry Hill shopping centre in Dudley UK.  but they are expanding. As the photo shows this is a new section on one of the malls and it doesn’t look like no Ghetto.. The big thing i find hard here is the lack of small traders and it’s where the UK is heading with Tesco’s. The Ayala’s, SM and Gaisano owners not only control most of the products they sell which include owning most of the large grocery stores, some banks and huge departments stores but also down to the animal feeds for farmers. It’s difficult to be a business in this environment and the UK should wake up and look at what is happening to the skilled workers who take pride in theyre career (yes career NOT JOBS) and learn an important lesson. Getting back to shopping in the Philippines every major city has the malls and even minor Cities all seem to have a Gaisano or getting one soon. This is Gaisano Fiesta Mall in Tabunok, Cebu I shop here regularly and get mainly my food groceries here although im starting to try to buy locally due to many of the products being from Thailand or Australia not on a food crusade but i would much rather the products were produced locally when I know they can be or already are whats the point of a business going bust because it can’t sell goods yet stock is being shipped in?


Gaisano Tabunok, Cebu, Philippines (600 x 400) - Photo by and copyright of Matt Wilkie

Now what you can only just see on the left of the photo is construction work. All the malls are expanding either into other cities or like this one on land it already owns. BOs coffee and Pizza hut are the first new additions to this mall which is currently my nearest but another is already about to start construction between Naga and Minglanilla the thing is it forces up land prices which seems odd. Because OK it creates jobs. But the employees don’t earn enough to buy a new house and a small business can’t compete. If you look at food alone not only do they hold things like Greenwich Pizza, JollyBee, Pizza Hut to name but a few but they have food malls which have maybe 10 – 20 different food types in one location with a central eating area. As well as the added security. You are frisked on the way in and guards are at every entrance and on each store entrance (to the main Gaisano department store) not only is it guarded but the guards are armed. Not with a piece of wood but pistols and shotguns. So its unlikely this place is going to get robbed. But if you sit out in an open eatery who knows. Now if your here on a holiday best way to travel is via Taxi everywhere just tell them the malls your going to and they will take you directly. Inside and outside i always feel safe if security is a major concern you can always borrow me or a friend as a holiday companion to get you around and keep you out of the dangerous locations. If you’re looking for traditional items in Cebu i would head to Colon Market be aware the people there are very poor and full of pick pockets. If possible just take enough money for your shopping trip then if money goes missing you aren’t losing your holiday budget. But generally in Colon street you can find your “Fake” designer bags, as well as traditional weaved hand bags, hats, ropes and items made of shells aswell as the famous guitars I have to admit i was a bit disappointed on the traditional items as im a keen lover of history and keeping traditions alive. Most seem  to be disappearing here as Western money influences people too much to the electronic age. If you want to shop until you drop i would take a short-haul flight into Hong Kong where the city is geared for serious shopaholic’s same with Thailand. The Philippines is full of clothing but much of it can be bought cheaper in Thailand and the electronics and the fact the government tax it so high are cheaper in Hong Kong. The difference i find in the Philippines is the pace of life which is why i choose it over Hong Kong or Thailand because quite simply no one would batter an eyelid if you sat in a restaurant and havent ordered any extras after a meal when your sat chatting for nearly 3 hours its just normal. The Philippines has a lot to offer but you need to identify what your shopping for. The main malls all seem to cater around the OFWs and American market which drives me crazy as although not anti american most of the clothes that are for sale i wouldn’t put on a pensioner being too bland and boring. Although expect reasonable pricing on Levis (best to buy in Manila from a factory store!) or Bench which are all around 1/4 of UK pricing. Bench clothing i like personally although i find the Jeans shrink to much in the wash. Best jeans ive bought here are from Hammerhead who are a bit cheaper and they have some good designs on T-Shirts. Penshoppe seem to go over the top to sell products that are poor in design and quality. But its all to a persons taste.

Although i love it here it does become frustrating sometimes when you need something such as spares or add on’s for a camera or laptop because quite simply there is no market for it here. The rich goto Hong Kong to pickup goods. The locals can’t afford it and the people like me seem to make do until we are able to take a trip somewhere out of the country to get the parts we need. Recently i was reading about a person who waited a year for parts for a refrigerator which actually meant they had to get the spares when they went to the states on holiday and bring it back in theyre luggage. The tight grip that the rich families have here does affect the market severely and i wish they would just lapse it at least a little to help bring much-needed developments here.

A word of warning on arrival you are going to see some severe poverty people sleeping on street corners, kids constantly hounding you for money ghettos around the waterways and litter stacked high. Most of these people will just smile and give you a “hey Joe” and i would recommend if giving money don’t there is a major drug problem here with rugby glue sniffing aswell as shabu which is a crystal meth which is smoked and the kids you are giving money to is just feeding the habit. If you want to what i do is grab a jollybee or McDonald’s meal.