First impressions of Manila were good and we really liked the look of it! However, it soon started to seem like there wasn’t going to be much for us to see or do. It was great to be back in an asian city, but we found ourselves comparing it to others and I guess you could say that we have our favourites... More importantly, the rich-poor divide was really quite prevalent and there were lots of stray dogs that we had to try to stay away from! That said, the streets were surprisingly clean in regards to litter… From what we saw, there was a pretty good street-sweeping service in place and a smoking ban in most public spaces.
After a warm arrival at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport, we could see three ways that we could get to our hotel. The options were bus, taxi or Grab (a "ride hailing" app just like Uber). Unfortunately, there was a bit of confusion with the bus operators, so we moved on to the Grab desk and waited for a few minutes in the queue. The staff happily arranged a car for us and it was surprisingly cheap (160 pesos opposed to a 250-450 pesos in a private taxi)! In fact, Grab is so cheap that it feels wrong to be giving the drivers so little! We can also vouch for Grab being the safest option, with nothing but good experiences, whilst some of the private taxis that we saw were almost falling apart.
Once in the city, there were even more choices when it came to public transport. It didn’t take long for us to notice the “jeepneys”, 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, but they’re also a little confusing and really quite daunting at first. Most of the time, we just chose to walk, or we took advantage of Grab's “GrabShare” feature, so that we could share lifts and not contribute to the traffic problem and air pollution quite as much.
What To Do
One of the few but fun things to do in Manila is to explore Intramuros - the oldest area in the city, with some 400 year old buildings still standing today, as well as the surrounding wall. When we arrived, we were immediately approached by a man riding a tricycle with a metal cage on the side. He said that he would give us a tour for 300 pesos, without making it clear that the price was actually 300 pesos per every half an hour, so I guess we got hustled. Nonetheless, we weren't bothered because he was a a fantastic tour guide and was very friendly. We even let him keep the change from our 1,000 peso note - or had to rather, because he had no change to give.
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 are the Fort Santiargo and the 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 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 because the captivity and confinement of animals is in no way cool or entertaining. 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 here that we started to see some shops using paper bags instead of non-biodegrade plastic ones, and we even saw some shops offering paper straws which was great to see! 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?
Now, that's a bit of a hard question for us to answer… Obviously, feeling safe and actually being safe are two entirely different things. There might've been some sketchy areas and some negative stories still being told, but you can’t let that stop you from enjoying your time there.
Should You Visit Manila?
Yes! It's the perfect place for a long stop over with some sightseeing to be had, interesting history to learn about and all of the beautiful islands nearby!