It has never been my intention to visit Manila. To me, the beaches of Philippines like Palawan, Cebu and Boracay are more famous than Manila itself. When we mention Manila, people usually will talk about poverty, kidnapping, crime etc. Therefore this is actually an accidental trip which I will not bore you with the details.
When I told my friends including Filipino friends that I will be visiting Manila alone, some of them look at me with disbelief. They will ask “Why are you going there alone and furthermore this is your first time stepping into the Philippines!” “You will really need a guide.” “Why are you courting trouble?”. These are some of the comments I have heard. Reading threads from the forum does not help either.
So am I worried going to Philippines? Yes I am. How worried am I? To give you some examples, this is the first time in my life that I need to buy a money belt for a trip. I upgraded my travel insurance to the max. I wanted to register myself with our Foreign Affairs in Philippines.
So how did my trip go, please read on if you are interested to know.
Instead of the usual way I present my trip report in chronological order, I will just list down the places I have visited since I did not visit many places in Manila.
I landed Aquino Airport in the morning about 3:30am. The arrival hall is dead. Yes, real dead. Banks were closed. The only money changer you can find is someone sitting behind a counter which obviously does not belong to any of the bank. I changed some small notes with the guy and proceed to find a taxi. Upon exiting the Arrival Hall, on the left here is a row of yellow taxis. There will be other taxis shouting at you for attention to take their cab. Always take the yellow cab. The meter starts with P70. One important rule is you must lock the doors of the taxi after getting into it!
At this early hour, traffic is light. I get to my hotel in 30mins and the fare is P490. The driver asks for P700. I was like “what?”. I said no and I gave him P500 only. I thought they are the safest but maybe will still try their luck to get more money from you.
Hotel – Go Hotel
This hotel is recommended by a TA user and to me this is a pretty good location. This hotel is located by the Pasig River and along EDSA. So when you are travelling back to the hotel, just tell the driver Mandaluyong, by EDSA. When taxi drivers hear Mandaluyong as the destination, some will be very hesitant to go and may instead offer a fix rate. If you encounter this, hop off and get another cab. The only time I agree to a fix fare is from Mall of Asia at 11pm where taxi is rare.
Many friends ask me why I don’t want to stay at Makati. There are two reasons. Though I have not seen Makati in my life but from other people’s description, it is a very well kept area in Manila. Many companies have setup offices there it may be even considered as an enclave for foreigners. To me, I would like to experience Manila more to see how locals stay and work and get on with their daily lives. Though I will not be so adventurous like staying in Quezon or deep inside Mandaluyong, this area will strike a balance in terms of distance travel to some tourist spots and cost. I got this room at about P888 excluding tax. To me it is a pretty good deal.
The hotel is located on the first floor of a commercial building, Cybergate Plaza. Check-in is fast and smooth. I was assigned the room 6022 and when I board the lift up, I found that there are actually only two floors of guest rooms. At that time, I have an impression that the number of rooms will be limited, say maybe 50?
When I exit from the place, I was shock! It was huge and there are about 113 guest rooms on the 6th floor alone. It has a large open area for you to have dinner (you are not supposed to have meals inside the room), power plugs for your laptop and newspaper are available too. There is free Wi-Fi but accessing it from the room is virtually impossible. You will need to access it from the lobby.
As this is a budget hotel, the room is simple. Bathroom amenities are kept to the minimum. Only towels, a packet soap and packet shampoo is provided. The bathroom has a rain shower! There are two types of room; with and without window. So it will depend on your luck as both cost the same price.
Cable channel selection to me is good. Better than some hotels I have stayed in Bangkok. The room I have assigned has a window and is facing Pasig River.
As this hotel is run like a budget airline, almost anything extra is chargeable. Things like put your bags in their storage, changing dates of your stay etc. The earlier you book the room, the cheaper it is. I got this room at P888 and when I search on their website during my stay there, it cost P1888. Sometimes they do have offer for P388 but those are really limited rooms.
The staffs are friendly and nice. I have no real complains about this hotel with the exception of their chambermaid. There is nothing wrong with them and they do make your room nicely. The issue is they will make your bed during anytime of the day. Unlike most hotels that will try to complete the room making before noon, Go Hotel will do it anytime during the day. That means when you come back at 4pm, they may not have clean up your room yet. If you really need them to make your room early, you will need to notify them and they will make your room between 11am to 2pm.
I went to Tagaytay on my first day just after I check in into the hotel. I left the hotel at 0600hrs and take a train from BONI station to TAFT station. I felt very insecure actually walking along the streets for the first time. When walking along the street, the buses were honking for passengers. The noise is pretty unberable actually but I got used to it by the 2nd day.
I located the train station and found that I have to queue up in front of a counter to buy a ticket and not by buying it from a ticket machine. I gave the counter girl a P1000 peso and she frowned at me. I then took a P100 and she immediately smile at me. She gave me my ticket and my change and I have to queue to enter the station. You will have to go through security checks before entering the station. The queue is usually split into two, male and female. They will really check the contents of your bag. I once saw a poor chap who has bought a new Nikon D90 camera; he has to take out the contents of the box in front of the security. Though this slow down the process but I do not see anyone complain. For your information, such security checks also applies to shopping malls or any establishment that needs them. The security staff do carry live ammunition and some of them even carry shotgun. So please co-operate with them!
When I reach the platform, I saw a section of the train is reserved for female, elderly, children and pregnant woman. This is good really. I walk to the middle of the platform and try to snap some pictures but the security stops me. I apologize and kept my camera.
When the train arrived, it is already pack like sardines. You will really need to fight your way into the train. When the train is travelling from Magellanes towards Taft station, I saw a row of bus terminals. Upon alight from the train, I find my way to the nearest bus terminal and ask is there any bus going to Tagaytay. I enquire the fare is P78 and I board an air-conditioned bus.
The bus conductor will come around to collect the fare. I told him that I wanted to go to Olivarez and request him to alert me once the bus reaches. He said no problem and collected the fare from me. 15mins into the journey, the bus air condition broke down. However, the bus driver decided to continue the journey. The bus soon become hot and the driver open the doors for some air circulation.
During the journey, I look at the traffic conditions of Manila. From here, I see the different mode of transport that Manila has. It seems like they can convert almost any four wheeler into a mass transport vehicle. Jeepney, van etc. I can even see some vehicle some passenger sitting on the roof (though not common)!
The bus finally reaches Olivarez and the weather is cooling. Here I saw motorised tricycle and some drivers offered to take me to Taal volcano. I said no but I do need a transport to Taal Yacht club. The driver quoted me P350 but I declined. He finally offers me P300 and I agree.
The ride takes about 20mins and the trip is not that enjoyable. It is a bumpy ride and the whole trishaw metal is cranking all the way. He stops at a place that offer boat rides to Taal volcano. I said no and insisted I go to Taal Yacht Club. He reluctantly brought me there with assistance from a local there.
Upon reaching the Taal Yacht club, he demanded P350 but I insisted on P300. I guess he left as an angry man.
The so call yacht club is not what I expected. It seems to be another shop to cater to tourist. I book a boat and a guide to bring me to Taal volcano. With the horse ride up to the volcano included, the total cost is about P2370 with all the taxes.
I board the boat and I was given a rain coat to cover myself. This is to prevent the water from making you wet. The boat ride takes about 25mins and the wave is calm and the wind is light.
When I reach to the other side, I was lead to the place where the horses are. While the guide is making the booking for the horse, the locals will try to sell you things like water, face mask, straw hat etc. The only thing worth getting if you do not have it is the face mask. It can be quite dusty during the journey. They will try to sell you for P50 but bargain down to P20.
I always thought riding a horse is enjoyable and easy but I was wrong. The ride is not tough but you must try to go along with the horse. The guide leading the horse keep whipping the horse and I felt so sorry for it.
Some parts of the journey is quite steep and try to look back when on the way up. The view is quite breathe taking. Along the way, you may see smoke coming out from the volcano.
When you reach the top, the locals up there will start selling you things like drinks for your guide, coconut drink, souvenirs etc. From the top, you can get a good view about the whole surrounding. They have even erect wooden tower for elevate your height so you can get an even better view. Fortunately all these are free.
I stayed there about 30mins and make my way down again. The ride is smooth except for some steep slopes where you must pay attention to. Though there is a guide but you will need to be alert to react if anything will to happen.
We board the boat and make our way back to the other side.
Now this is when the real adventure starts. On our way back, the wave and wind is pretty strong. We took longer than usual to get back to the shore as the boatman is trying to control the boat. Many times I thought I would sink or drown as the boat is hitting the wave badly. There are a few times that the boat tilted to a point that I thought it would capsize. I was a little frightened at that time and by the time I reach the shore, my clothes are all wet.
I then took a trishaw back to Olivarez at P350 but the driver hope I can tip him P50. I am tired by then and I have not eaten for the last 20 hours. I was actually having the intention to have my meal at Olivarez but he drives me all the way to the bus stop and as fate comes along, a bus going to Pasay arrived. He guides me up the non-aircon bus and I am on my way back to Manila!
The return journey on the bus is also an eye-opener for me. When the bus stops, hawkers will board the bus and sell anything from food, housewares etc. I was quite amaze at this system and it is definitely a norm in Philippines. The bus journey took a long time. It is so long that I even ask the conductor did I board the wrong bus. He assured me that this bus is headed for Pasay and true enough, we reach our destination in the next 30mins. A worthwhile P70 journey.
Mall of Asia
I visited Mall of Asia (MOA) immediately after coming back from Tagaytay. Since it is only about 3km east of Pasay, it make sense to visit it together to save time.
The easiest way for me is to hop into a taxi to MOA. I was waiting for a transport in EDSA towards MOA. I saw many transports actually going to MOA. I then yelled to a jeepney “Mall of Asia”? He yelled back “Yes!” I quickly walk towards it and board the jeepney. As this is my first time riding a jeepney, I hit my head against the roof. The other passenger felt so sorry for me. I then ask the driver how much the fare is. He replied P8. I pass the money to him. The trip takes about 5mins and the next thing I know I was in front of MOA. When the jeepney is leaving MOA, the co-driver knowing that I am not a local, gives me a thump up. Not bad for P8.
MOA is the largest shopping mall in South East Asia. It spans 800m in length and it is connected to Sunset Boulevard.
As I am not a big fan of shopping, I just take a quick stroll in the mall. I also visited the SM supermarket and was shock by the number of staff in it. I can easily find at least 2 staff manning an aisle. The staffs are very friendly and helpful. When I cannot find the items despite them have given me the instructions, they will lead me the way when the find me feeling lost.
However, what I like best about this Mall is not the Mall itself but the connecting walkway to Sunset Boulevard. Sitting here, you can see regular Filipino enjoying a fun day with their friends and family. I also can see that Filipinos are very sociable people. They readily pose pictures for strangers especially the kids.
At the mean time, you can view the sunset but unfortunately I did not stay till the end due to the sea water smell in me.
I stay till evening and went back.
I did make a return trip and see how MOA looks like in the night. I just snap some photos and bought some stuff from the supermarket.
I went Divasoria on the second morning. I took a train to Taft MRT Station, transferred to EDSA LRT station and alight at Doroteo Jose LRT station. Note that transferring from Taft MRT Station to EDSA LRT Station is not simply by just walking across the platform. You will need to exit Taft MRT Station, walk on a connecting bridge and then have to go through security check at EDSA LRT Station. The tickets used in the MRT is different from LRT. This means that you will have to purchase another ticket when entering EDSA LRT station.
I went down the station and looking for a jeepney to Divasoria. Strange that none of the jeepney is going there. However, all of them keep pointing to a single direction. I then ask one of the security staff and he pointed out I should take a jeepney from Recto LRT station instead. He gave directions to me and soon I am in a jeepney to Divasoria.
I actually do not know where to alight. I ask the rest of the passengers and they alert me once I have reach. I look around my surroundings but see nothing familiar like Mall 168 or Mall 999. I again look for security staff and ask for directions. He pointed me the way and before I left, he reminded me to take care of my belongings as I am carrying a bag with me. I thank him and walk my way there.
After about 10mins of walk, I reach Mall 999. I then walk further down to reach Mall 168.
Divasoria, I believe is the mother of all markets in Manila. It is huge and sprawled across several buildings and streets.
The section of Mall 168 that I have entered seems to be new. It is air conditioned, with a wide walking space and it look new. Things there are really cheap. For example, toys that my kids wanted like BeyBlade (Not original) can be just 50% off. This mall sells almost anything from clothes, toys, bags, home wares, DIY stuff etc.
Everybody talks to me in Tagalog. I remembered when I first arrived in Manila, everybody can identify me as a foreigner. After the trip to Taal volcano, maybe I have become even more tan.
In Divasoria, I do not dare to take too many pictures as I am afraid pickpockets will target me once they know that I am not local.
One funny incident is after purchasing some stuff from a shop in Mall 168, I took a picture of the stall. Many look at me strangely wondering why this guy wants to take a picture. It was later that the staff realise that I am a tourist and they immediately ask “Sir, do you want to buy any souvenirs?”
There is another section of Mall 168 which is older and narrower.
The open market of Divasoria is full of activities. Here they can sell anything from food, rabbits, vegetables, shirt, toys, stationery etc. Here you must be extra alert on your belongings.
Mall 999 is a similar concept to Mall 168.
I went to a building that has 2 storeys of shop selling toys. If you have an army of neice and nephew, this is the place to go.
I left Divasoria with my hands full of bags. On the street, there are people that will sell you plastic bags so you can consolidate your purchase.
I trace my way back and board a jeepney in the middle of a cross junction.
Imagine a traffic cross junction where all traffic comes to a standstill. Vehicles are in a zigzag manner within the junction. Cars on the right wanted to go left and jeepney on the left wants to go in the other direction. Basically the traffic is in a standstill. What amazes me is how the drivers of each vehicle can navigate the way out of the mess. I am truly impressed.
I took the jeepney all the way to Recto LRT and make my way to Doroteo Jose LRT station again.
I spend 4 hours there and guess I only covered 40% of it only. Where is the other 60%? I have no idea too. The place is just so huge!
I can understand visitors may find this place dirty but hey, this is a market in Manila. It can’t be as sanitized as Mall of Asia!
Divasoria. It is really an experience and I really enjoyed it.
Makati. It seems to be like an oasis in the desert. The road is clean, nice buildings and I can find more foreigners here.
All other places I have visited seems like I am the only tourist.
Makati is Manila business district. Many international companies setup offices here. It also has quite a number of shopping malls. When you enter Makati, it seems like you are not in Manila. It is just so different.
I did make a return visit at night to see how dos Makati looks like at night.
If every part of Manila will to look like this, it can easily be the best city in South East Asia. However, if every part of Manila will to look like Greenbelt, it would have lost its characteristic.
I actually visited Quiapo Church on my last day.
On my last day, I am wondering should I visit another swanky mall or something more local. I then decided the latter and I decided on Quiapo Church.
Again, I took a train to Taft Station and change to EDSA station. I alight at Carriedo Station. As usual, I do not know the way and start asking people for directions.
“Quiapo Church, officially known as Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, is a Roman Catholic church located in the District of Quiapo, Manila, in the Philippines. The church is one of the most popular churches in the country. It is home to the Black Nazarene, a much venerated statue of Jesus Christ which many people believe has miraculous attributes. The church was painted cream after the original Mexican Baroque edifice was burned down in 1928. It is expanded to its current form in 1984 for accommodation of thousands of devotees. Also known as St. John the Baptist Parish, the church at present belongs to the Archdiocese of Manila. The current rector is Rev. Msgr. Jose Clemente Ignacio, former Chancellor and Oeconomus of the Archdiocese of Manila, who succeeded Msgr. Josefino Ramirez (the Vicar General of the archdiocese) upon the latter’s appointment as rector of the Archdiocesan Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Maysilo, Mandaluyong City. Assisting Msgr. Clem are his Parochial Vicars Rev. Fr. Fernando Carpio, Rev. Fr. Frank Villanueva, Rev. Fr.”
There is also a market around the church again selling all kinds of stuff. There is this building just opposite the church sell mostly handphone and computer stuff.
Though the market is not as vibrant as Divasoria but I feel it is still worth going at least once.
One afternoon, I was just wandering around Ermita area. In this area, there are many money changers and they will try to make you go to them. I just ignore them and continue walking. Ermita security is also another cause for concern so if you are in this area, please be extra vigilant!
Feeling hungry, I chance upon a café and decided to have lunch. Strangely, a café playing loud music in the afternoon? Feeling tired and hungry and the music doesn’t sound too bad (I do not like loud music), I just order my food. It was then I notice that the cafe is filled with ladies. When I entered, all eyes are on me. I was thinking maybe I am a foreigner so I attract such attention.
While I am having my lunch, a lady sit next to me. Thinking Filipina is usually friendly, I did not sense anything wrong. She chatted up with me asking me where am I from, where do I stay etc.
I called this the Mandaluyong joke. When I told her I am staying in Mandaluyong, her eyes grow big and ask me whether am I staying in the inside or outside? I told her I was staying just beside the Pasig river and she broke into laughter. I then ask her why everybody have a weird look when I said I stay in Mandaluyong. She explained that Mandaluyong is the place where Manila housed all the mental patients. Ok, now I get the joke.
Finally, she pop the question whether I am looking for a lady. I flatly said no. She looks disappointed but I continue to chat with her. This actually turns out to become the most important conversation throughout my trip.
Let’s call her M. M is from Laguna which is a 2 hour bus ride to Manila. Every weekend, she will come to this café to look for customer.
I asked her why does she wants to do this and doesn’t she have a job?
She said that she works in a factory manufacturing GUESS products in Laguna earning P400 per day for 12 hours of work. Overtime is only about P50 per hour. I was stunned when I heard this. I knew the salary in Philippines is low but never expect to be this low.
So in order to feed the family, she has no choice but to look for more income. Without any ill intent, I ask her how much does she charge? She mentioned an 8 hour work till next morning 6am will give her as much as 1000% (yes, you read it right. One thousand percent) of what she earned per day in Laguna if she can find a customer. Sitting inside the café is not free either. The café do not charge a commission for their business but she has to buy drinks to keep herself as a valid customer. So if she is unlucky and did not manage to get any customer, she will lose her transport fare (P200), money on drinks (P110 for a bottle of San Miguel Pale Pilsner during regular hour) and time. She will go back to Laguna everyday to see her children regardless does she has any customer. Imagine 4 hours of travelling to work and back just to earn that few thousand pesos and the money is not even guaranteed.
I ask her for 1000 pesos, how long can she keep her family alive. She said only 3 days maximum. Her job with the factory is only for a 6 months contract. If the factory finds her unsatisfactory or for any reason, they can end the contract with her. With an abundance of manpower in the province, the factory will have an upper hand.
She further added that in the province, 8 hours of work usually will yield about P300+ and P400+ in Manila.
To me, this means that even a simple meal in Jollibee is considered a luxury to them!
I finally understand why Filipinos wanted to work as seamen, construction workers, healthcare workers and domestic helpers overseas. Now I also understand why when Libya is in chaos, it is the Filipinos who stayed back to continue their work, risking their lives while the rest are fleeing.
I now look back at the staff I saw in the Malls, supermarkets, shops etc. Despite such low pay, they still do their work well and greet customer with a warm smile. When they greet me, I can feel that it is from their heart and from their culture. Unlike our staff here where they do it mechanically.
I was very affected by what she has said. This conversation gave me a valuable insight how tough is life for an average Filipino.
I wish her well and tip her P200 for her time.
I book a transport from the hotel for P400 to the airport. I guess many of you will find it expensive but I really do not want to take the risk as I am leaving during the peak hour at 6pm. I enquire the taxi counter since my flight is 9pm, what time should I leave the hotel? The staff mentioned between 1830hrs to 1900hrs. I ask him is he positive that I can reach the airport in 30mins? He said yes. However, I told the to pick me up at 1800hrs instead. True enough, the time taken is 1 hour and I reach the airport at almost 1900hrs.
One important to note is you must print your travel or flight itinerary because before you enter the terminal, you will have to produce it to the staff there before entry.
Manila is quite affordable if you do not splurge. For my four days in Manila, I took the taxi less than 8 times. I mostly took the MRT, LRT and jeepney. I squeeze with the locals for a seat in the public transport. I am impressed how they can find a space in the jeepney where I am so sure that no one can squeeze into the jeepney anymore. I eat at Jollibee most of the time. Sometimes I did not have anything for 20 hours not that I am on diet but I am just too exhausted to eat.
Have I enjoyed Manila? Yes and no. To me, it is just a gigantic city many times larger than us.
What leaves an impression in me about Manila is not MOA, Makati or other shopping centres but the friendliness of the people. The sight of children sleeping in card boxes in Mandaluyong, whole families sleeping by the road side in Quiapo, beggars in Malate and people selling their wares or food in the middle of the road, risking their lives just for a few pesos. I can remember all these vividly and I was really affected by it.
I thought Bangkok is bad enough but Manila is worse.
WilI I come back?
Why not? Though I need to be extra vigilant at all times to avoid being pick pocketed or bag being slashed, Philippines is still a lovely country.
I do really hope I have a chance to visit Philippines again. What I really wanted to see is terraced rice fields and maybe some nice beaches that is within near reach of Manila.
More pictures are available here.