First time in the Philippines !
I have many Filipino friends back in Hawaii (where there is a very strong Filipino population) and have learned so much about their culture and foods (I am a big fan of pork Adobo and lumpia….I am salivating just thinking about it, yum) that I could not wait to visit the archipelago. We did not plan our visit at all except for our first stop : bustling and colorful Manila !
When traveling to the Philippines, 151 countries are visa-exempt and are allowed to stay in the country for up to 30 days but need an onward ticket. Immigration did not ask us about our next destination but did ask when we intended to leave. Cebu Pacific airlines did ask to see our onward ticket to Indonesia when we checked-in for our flight to Manila. This leaves little room for spontaneity, as we had to pick a departure date and next destination before even reaching the Philippines.
From the airport to the neighborhood of Malate, we took a supposedly “official” airport taxi at a prepaid rate of 750PHP (USD $18)! Though it seemed pricey, we figured it was standard. We later found out this was quite a scam when we later returned to the airport in a taxi for 140PHP (about USD $3).
A friend of mine from Hawaii suggested staying in Malate and book a room at Tune hotel. Tune Hotel is much more than what our budget allows us for but again, due to unpreparedness, we settled for a higher price and a very comfortable and clean room. The hotel is located in a small street with hotels and very close to the Robinson Mall where there are lots of restaurant and shopping options,
Right below our hotel was the Molly Malone Irish Pub, which offered western cuisine, live music, and waitresses dressed in tight uniforms and knee-high socks…ahem. The clientele at Molly Malone’s wasn’t very backpack-y but very interesting as many of them were older Caucasian males, most of them in good company (I recently learned from a local friend that they are usually referred to as DOMs –Dirty Old Men, no judgment). While sitting on the terrace on the Irish Pub, there were children as little as three years old coming to sit with us to request food – they would sit until they got what they wanted. Most people would give them a slice of bacon or toast – but we quickly understood why people preferred sitting in the dark interiors of the restaurant instead of the sunny terrace.
There are many money changers in Malate, they all seemed to be located in the street of our hotel, each providing different rates so check a couple of them before you hand over your money. Depending on the amount exchanged, you may ask if you can get a higher exchange rate, though not always possible.
Transportation in Manila is quite an adventure. There are taxis everywhere but what is the fun in that? We rode the elevated subway system and jeepneys. Jeepneys are a lot of fun, you can’t miss them: they are bright and shiny and you usually see someone coming out of the car to shout the direction (which you can also read on the side of the car). You hop on and hop off wherever and pass your money to the person next to you until it reaches the driver, a ride costs about 10 PHP.
The Philippines are Asia’s largest Catholic country, so when we visited Quiapo Church on a Sunday, there were A LOT of people. A LOT. J and I almost got lost in the crowds before reaching the market across the church where they sell seafood and vegetables.
Another item on our list of must-visit in Manila was Intramuros, the district within walls, oldest district in the capital. There is no entrance fee. You can walk through Intramuros and visit the various museums (entrance fee required) or ride in a horse carriage. Watch out for scams as some drivers will give you, what may appear to be the total price for the ride, but ends up being the rate per half-hour. It is easy to get scammed so be sure to negotiate a good and final price before you hop on one of those. The carriage driver, at least, usually provides insightful information during your visit about the history of Intramuros.
Chinatown in Manila is supposedly the oldest one in the world. Of course we had to venture through it. It had everything that a Chinatown could and should have, gold shops, lots of smells entering your nostrils, a bit chaotic at times and great Chinese food.
There are a lot of malls in Manila, which makes you easily forget that you are in a developing country. The malls have strong air-conditioning (which provides some relief from the hot and humid weather) and somewhat remind you of the malls in the United States.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a trip to the capital of the Philippines if we did not try halo-halo! An icy sweet dessert made of shaved ice, condensed milk, ice-cream, beans, jello and fruits! Perfect to share after a long day of walking under the hot sun.
All in all, we enjoyed the diversity and many facets of Manila though I am sure a visit with a local connection would have made it even more fun in the capital of the Philippines!
Next stop is Banaue!
Thank you to my friend Leah for spending a great day around Manila with us!