First impressions of Manila were good and it was great to be back in an South-East Asian city! A few of the questions we began to ask ourselves were 'what is there to do' and where should we go and explore whilst on our extended stop over in Manila? Well, in this blog post we'll be answering those questions, sharing a bit about our experience in Manila and going over why you may or may not want to actually visit yourself.
Depending on who you ask about Manila, you're likely to hear a variety of things... That was certainly the case for us anyway before we flew to The Philippines and let's just say that they weren't all good - borderline scary in fact! Hearing those things definitely put us on edge a bit whilst we were there, which is absolutely not what you want when setting out for a round the world adventure to see exciting new places and experience amazing cultures that are different to your own! Trying to not let those things effect us, we were excited to check out some of the must-see sights and experience what Manila had to offer.
First of all, we noticed that the streets were surprisingly clean! There were a few stray dogs that we had to try stay away from and we also quite quickly noticed the distinct rich-poor divide, but the people were amazingly friendly and welcoming. An obvious mix of Spanish and American influence created a very charming culture, and that wasn't the only quirk to Manila - wait until you hear about the jeepneys!
It didn’t take long for us to notice the “jeepneys” driving about with their comical sounding car horns, bold colours and crazy, half-jeep, half-bus design! Jeepneys are by far the cheapest way of getting around in Manila with the average journey costing just 9 pesos (£0.13). If you’re on a tight budget, then they’re definitely the way to go, although they can be a bit confusing and quite daunting at first. They come highly recommended, but that might just be for the experience and to be able to say that you did it. Still, the jeepneys are supposedly safer than the buses and more efficient than the metro.
Most of the time, it was easy for us to walk from place to place in Manila, but another great option to get around was 'Grab' - South East Asia's very own ride hailing app just like Uber. We used Grab to get from the airport into the city and it cost only 160 pesos opposed to a 250-450 pesos in a private taxi. The taxi's are notorious for scamming people and they also looked like they could fall apart at any moment, whilst we had absolutely no issues with Grab. The other great thing about Grab is it's “GrabShare” feature, so you can share lifts and not contribute to the traffic problem and air pollution quite as much.
What To Do
With Manila's charm and quirks come a few cool things to do... Intramuros is the oldest area in the city, with some 400 year old buildings still standing today, as well as the surrounding wall, making it a must-do activity! When we arrived in the area, we were immediately approached by a man riding a tricycle with a metal cage on the side. He offered to give us a half an hour tour of Intramuros for 300 pesos and he was a fantastic guide!
Intramuros is famous for how it withstood wars, earthquakes and fires over the many centuries that it's stood. Some of the main points of interest that we got to see were Fort Santiargo and Manila Cathedral. The fort was 75 pesos (£1) each to get in and was full of art installations and old architecture to look at, as well as lots of history to learn about. Specifically, the fort is home to the last steps that Jose Rizal (the national hero) had to take before his execution.
On the way back to our hotel, we walked via Rizal park, which is a beautiful open space and a favourite place for locals to chill out and sometimes sleep in the shade of the trees. The National Museum is located close to Rizal Park, but jet lag was fighting us, so we gave it a miss and settled on the heaps of history we had just learnt about in Intramuros.
In Manila, other tourist attractions to visit include Ocean Park, Crocodile Park or Manila Zoo, which we aren't at all interested in for ethical reasons! Visiting one of the many malls is another popular thing to do in Manila, which we made a bit of time for, but we mostly just shopped for food to cook in our hotel.
Where To Stay
Manila is split into many smaller sections and mini cities, so there are a range of options when it comes to accommodation. We stayed in the Malate district at Hotel 2016 Manila Boutique and the location was great in that it was relatively close to Intramuros, Manila Bay and Mall Of Asia. The hotel itself was relatively budget with wifi issues and limited hot water for showering. But, on the other hand, it had attentive and helpful staff and one free meal a day each!
The second hotel that we stayed in was Zen Rooms, Gramercy Residence in the Makati district. Although it was further away from any of the tourist attractions, it was a nicer area and much more popular with tourists thanks to the bars, restaurants and convenience stores nearby. It was great to see in Makati that some shops offered paper straws and paper bags instead of plastic ones! Whilst our first hotel was hopeless when it came to single use plastic, we could only fault Zen Rooms for the disposable plastic toothbrushes that they gave away in their nice, little amenities pack. They certainly seemed more conscience of environmental and sustainability issues, as they advised against overusing electricity and water in the room.
Overall, they completely blew us away! We were staying on the 56th floor, so the views were unbelievable! We also had access to an outdoor pool that was up on the 36th floor, so we took full advantage of that! It was a little bit of luxury that we couldn't help but love.
Is Manila Safe?
A high crime rate has given some tourists cause for concern when visiting Manila, and even lead to our own misgivings and prejudices before arriving. There might've been some sketchy areas and some not-so-good stories being told to us even by the locals, but we never actually experienced anything that would make us think so harsh and negatively about it.
Because of our prejudices and the fearful mindset that they put us in, it's sad to think that we didn't always feel completely safe. Truthfully, you have to have a healthy amount of caution when travelling, but we're not so sure that that is any more the case for Manila than anywhere else we've been in South East Asia, or even Europe for that matter! It's strange to us that Manila seems to have such a stand out reputation, but, to be clear, do take a healthy amount of caution when visiting.
Should You Visit Manila?
It's a yes from us! Flying to The Philippines more often than not requires a stop over in Manila, and we think that it's well worth extending that stop over to allow for a few days of exploring. Sure, it's a strange introduction to The Philippines that you will more than likely go on to experience, with beautiful beaches and paradise island life, but there is plenty of sightseeing to be had and interesting history to learn about in Manila! It'd be a shame to miss it!