The Philippines used to be an old Asian shopping emporium, going back to those days when its coastal towns sold pearls, tortoise shells, beeswax and trading vessels from as far as Arabia. Today, the attraction of shopping is centered more on handicrafts, woodcarving and articles made of shells. Shopping in the cities of Philippines like Manila, Cebu, Baguio and Zamboanga can be quite a worthwhile experience and is bound to yield rewards.
Things to buy
The Philippines is known by many as a great handicraft center. There is a wide variety of handicrafts to choose from such as place mats, abaca hats, coasters, shell wind chimes, bamboo trays and ceramic pots. These handicrafts make great souvenirs for friends and relatives or even just as a memento of your visit to the country.
Once taken for granted by the Pinoys, Philippine baskets are now exported and found in many fashion capitals of the world. The uniqueness of the Philippine baskets is represented through their varying regional designs and recent streamlining. These baskets are made from a range of natural fibers like bamboo, rattan, nipa and various palms. They are a hit with many people. Apart from the unique designs, these baskets also come in a whole range of sizes and purposes, both decorative as well as functional. Philippine baskets can be found in tourist shops and sometimes, in bazaar-like display under the Quiapo Bridge, in the heart of Metro Manila. A visit to the Baguio market up in the mountain province is also worthwhile as this is the place where the antique designs of the mountain province converge with baskets from all over the Philippines.
Of late, another line of novelty baskets have caused a quite a stir among the more knowledgeable Philippine watchers. The smoked fish traps, locust baskets and lunch containers are among the line of novelty baskets. The lunch containers from the huts of Northern Luzon are considered family heirlooms.
Philippine mats, first cousin to the baskets are a colorful combination of pandan leaves weave together and is used to line the walls of hotels. The mats found in Luzon are mostly natural-colored pandan mats while those from Leyte and Samar in the Visayas have playful designs. The mats from Basilan and Sulu have dramatic geometries. Cebu, Davao and Zamboanga offer a wide selection of these inexpensive bits of folk art.
Shoes and Bags
With the help of former First Lady, Imelda Marcos, the Philippines is no longer a stranger when it comes to shoes and bags. Marikina, Rizal is the traditional bag and shoes capital of the country, producing fashionable footwear with matching bags to keep up with the increasing demands of fashion items. For stylish yet inexpensive shoes, the Philippines offers a better buy than any other country in the world. If you're planning to stay longer, you might want to order custom-made shoes.
There is hardly any first time visitors who can resist the tempting attractions of Philippine embroidery especially now that the barong tagalog has gained international recognition. This barong tagalog comes in many different versions, from the expensive branded type to the humbler polo barongs (short-sleeved) much favored by casual tourists. You can pick the translucent pineapple fiber called piqa as material with the finest hand-embroidery or the cheaper ramie with machine embroidery.
There is a wide selection of embroidered clothes for women such as the barong dress shaped like the barong tagalog but is longer in length, the embroidered kaftans and jelabas with scarves, bags, and handkerchiefs to match.
The two most common jewelry found in the Philippines are shell and silver jewelry. Mother-of-pearl is probably the most popular, followed by coral and tortoise shells that are increasing in popularity as well. In spite of that, tourists are discouraged from buying items made from coral and tortoise shells as this industry is slowly destroying the coral reefs and the surrounding habitats.
The best silver jewelry can be found in Baguio, where training from St. Louis University has produced skilled students to preserve the fine craftsmanship of creating jewelry.
Apart from shell and silver jewelry, there are also specialty shops at Ermita and Makati that sell wood and vine jewelry as well as beadwork such as necklaces, earrings and ornamental hair pieces of the T'boli, the Mangyan and the Igorot tribes.
Woodcarving is another must-buy item when visiting the Philippines. High-quality woodcarving produced by the Ifugao people can be found in North Luzon's Ifugao Province. Rice granary, god carvings and the animal totems from Palawan are some of the woodcarving items that are available in Ermita's tourist area.
Since the Philippines was on the Chinese trade route, it is hardly surprising that a number of porcelains can be found in shops of Manila. However, if you're planning to purchase any antiques, do be careful with what you're buying. Interesting santos (statues of saints) are also available in the antique shops at Ermita and Makati as well as other smaller shops in the older towns such as Vigan in Ilocos.
Brassware is a specialty in Mindanao as the first smiths of the Philippines were recorded there. Even today, they continue to manufacture jewel boxes, gongs, brass beds, betel nut boxes and canon replicas. Like antiques, tourists are advised to be careful when purchasing brassware. The shops selling these articles also sell ceremonial canopies embroidered and sequined for royal Muslim weddings and feasts.