HELPFUL TIPS FOR FIRST-TIME TOURISTS to SULU ISLANDS (re-posted)

By Ahmad Musahari
asmusahari@gmail.com



Following my post on “The hidden beauty of Sulu”, a number of friends have appreciated the great scenes Sulu has. (That was my goal, from the beginning!) And I am happy for that. I became happier when some ‘new’ friends had emailed me asking information on how to reach the island and some had thought of the intention of paying my little homeland a visit. They want to witness those fascinating scenes with their own eyes! And then comes their inevitable curiosity about the “safety” of going to Sulu. ‘IS IT STILL SAFE TO VISIT YOUR PLACE?’, ‘SHOULD I WEAR TANDUNG/TURUNGS?’, ‘DO TAUSUGS UNDERSTAND ENGLISH?’, and an endless list of questions. So I end up doing this list of helpful and friendly TIPS FOR FIRST-TIME TOURISTS to SULU ISLANDS. I hope this would help the people out there and let a ‘new light’ penetrate their minds. Indeed Sulu is more peaceful that what the NEWS say.
See you in SULU!
WHAT TO BRING:
  • The Basics, of course! Your clothes, some belongings, some money and ATM cards, ID’s (don’t forget this one) and your electronics. Other people can’t live (and leave) without it, so you should, too.
  • A handy Camera. You don’t want to miss seeing some wonderful scenes without saving some photos as keep as souvenirs. From fascinating landscapes to people’s daily lives and culture, you just can’t help discovering new things here! (The camera would include its batteries, and extra batteries; films or SD Cards; and chargers, too).
  • A notebook or journal to write something about every time you experience new things. (It can also work as a ‘scribbling’ page for you while waiting for a long line at the bank). :-) Seriously.

  • Sulu Archipelago is a group of small islands and known for its white sand beaches. As first-time visitors, visiting the beaches and swimming (of course) is an inevitable temptation. So be ready with your swimming wears (please read the “WHAT to wear” section first). Swimming-for-dummies book/manuals and some sun-blocks would also be helpful.
  • Learn the local dialect of the people to understand more about their culture. You can buy a Tausug-English dictionary (if you are lucky to find one in town) or simply search the net for common “Tausug Words” and print a copy. Please do this step before going to Sulu, more preferred if you are still in Zamboanga City or other “Cities”.
  • You might want to decide whether to bring your laptop for the following reasons:
o There are no ‘strong’ internet connections in most areas in Sulu. (I could even say there is no internet connection, even broadbands!) So be ready to say bye-bye to your facebook friends and be sure to finish all your IMPORTANT ‘web-transactions’ before going to Sulu. Cellphone networks are good in the central town of Jolo, but not much in other districts. So ask the locals which ‘servers’ (either Smart or Globe/TM) are available in a certain place you want to go to, before deciding so.
o In more rural areas, electricity is still a scarcity. Some islands have ‘time-rations’ of opening their electricity and some do not have any. Jolo town and nearby areas and even islands (nowadays) are having good electricity recently, so it’s not much of a worry, actually.
o Snatching? I am proud to say, we do not have such thing. You just have to take care of your belongings of course, for safety measures. (I believe Laptops are good ways to elevate the ‘boredom’ at ties you got nothing to do.J)


  • You can bring a map. But I tell you, you will only find a green ‘peanut-shape’ map with some markings and names of municipalities. You are already lucky if you found one with the ‘streets’ of the central town of Jolo. I hardly find ‘road maps’ in Sulu, perhaps there were no roads to ‘map’ about in the first place (just kidding).
  • Yes, of course. At least bring SOMEONE who had been to Sulu, or someone who knows the place. Losing your way back home is the worst thing you can be in. Don’t even think about it. Someone knowledgeable about the local dialect, the historical scenes and the beautiful landmarks in Sulu is more preferable. Although you can find that ‘someone’ hard to find in the area (only a few cares about our historical landmarks and tourism). But it is still better to have a company with you than being alone to wander around this new place.

WHAT TO WEAR? (Especially for non-Muslims)
Sulu is a place populated by 98% Muslim (based on my own statistics), so it is quite a big question for non-muslims visiting Sulu whether or not to wear the traditional/Muslim attire to better blend with the locals. “Are there restrictions?” and the funniest-yet-quite-true question I got, “Won’t they (the Abus) kidnap me after knowing that I am a Christian?” Well, this is the end of your woes. I have some tips about ‘what to wear’ when you are in Sulu.
  • To wear Tandung/Turung or not? If you are having the idea of “being kidnapped if you are a Christian” at the back of your mind, keep it on ‘that’ place for it is not entirely TRUE.
  • Sulu is a place open for all religion. The people of Sulu (The Tausugs) respect other people’s beliefs. We even have a big cathedral right at the center of the town! So long as it is not ‘crossing’ the line, anyone having his/her own way of praying can do it in peace. That, I can give you my word. The ‘kidnapping’ things are only an exaggeration of the Media.
So you can still visit Sulu even without wearing the local costumes (I mean the ‘Turung’). It might even be a better way to let the locals know that some people are here to visit. But of course, it would be a great experience for our female visitors to experience wearing a ‘turung’ and learn the culture we have in Sulu!
  • No SHORTS, BIKINIS and other ‘Suggestive’ shirts (if I got the word right) even at BEACH. (in connection with the above pointers)
Muslims are quite sensitive in terms of ‘what you wear’, (particularly on what you let other people see) and the locals do not appreciate such way of clothing. Not that we are restricting one’s choice of clothing, we simply don’t want any misconceptions to occur during your stay in the area. Long pants and long-sleeve shirts won’t harm your adventurous visit in the island. And it won’t hurt the area’s culture, too. It’s a win-win gameJ.


FINALLY, WHERE TO GO? (Click here)

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