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By way of background I live with my wife in Naga City. I took an early retirement and moved here about a year after the embassy refused to interview my wife and denied her a visa. Prior to my move I made a number of trips, usually every four months or so to visit. I have traveled from Manila by plane, air-conditioned bus both during the day and at night and on one occasion took the bus that most locals use with wood and metal seats, no a/c, animals etc. (I'm not sure I would do that again but would not have missed the experience either.) Currently most of my travel to and from Naga is by a/c bus since I believe the cost of airline tickets are to high.
I have been living here now for 15 months and built a house. There are a few expats living in Naga but for the most part they keep to themselves. I know of one Army retiree that has lived here for 25 years. Another teaches at Ateneo University and coaches the girls basketball team. Another travels between Manila, Naga and the states and at present averages about two weeks a year here although he built a large house. There is another guy that lives with his fiancee in Philippines and has been on vacation here for about three months, drives a motorcycle, and goes out at night by himself to nightclubs etc. and there are some others. My in-laws live in San Fernando, a small town about 15 KM outside Naga. My father-in-law tells me there are NPA living in his subdivision but tells me it is safe for me to travel there. Of course I am known in his area and I help out some of the kids in the neighborhood. We own a car and drive to most places around Bicol. We recently drove to Sorsogon and stayed overnight in Donsol. We go to the beach in Pasacao and spend the night as we have done in Ragay.
We have also gone to Tigaon and Sagnay on the Pacific coast to the beach and spent the night. During all of these trips we have never had a problem and my family doesn't feel I am in any danger. The only caution I have gotten was that it was unwise to travel into the mountains where you may find NPA. We routinely make trips to Legazpi where we meet with a large group of expats. I belong to one of the local Rotary clubs and have made a number of local friends. I drive all over Naga by myself, both during the day and at night. I go to my Rotary meetings at night. I go downtown, even at night, to purchase items and to the malls by myself and it is not uncommon for me to come across Filipinos I know. I routinely take my daughter to school and pick her up while my wife stays at home. Bottom line, if you feel safe in Washington D.C. then you should feel safe here. Also if you were comfortable in Manila you should have no problems in Naga. We routinely use the MRT and LRT to travel around Manila.
Naga and Legazpi are the largest cities in Bicol with my preference being Naga. I find it cleaner and less congested for starters. Lots of the guys in Legazpi travel to Naga to shop so I guess the shopping is better here. There are no "retirement communities" anywhere in Bicol that I am aware of. I don't believe there are two expats living next door to each other either. Each of us finds the place that will work for us and integrates into the community. There are houses for rent but plan on taking a few months to find the right one. The same goes for buying a house. In fact we decided to build after we weren't able to find exactly what we wanted. There are a large number of subdivisions in Naga with varying prices and lot sizes. Some are gated while others are not. Our subdivision is gated and includes a large swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts as well as a community center. I like the pool because I can swim laps for exercise and not have to worry about keeping it clean etc. and it is only about one minute away from the house by car, five walking.
I would not recommend investing money in the Philippines. I know a couple of Filipinos in Rotary that started out with little and have made good money but they work ten to twelve hours a day seven days a week and it is cutthroat.
Jim Naga City, Bicol