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MANILA: How to learn to like the Philippine capital

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Brother and sister showing off for the camera in Manila.

This is the first article in a series of stories about South East Asia

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MANILA VISITOR’S TIPS. You can either hate Manila, or… well, maybe love isn’t the right word. But, despite its dubious reputation, you can certainally stand Manila, and maybe even like it.

But it takes some effort. First, the capital of The Philippines is chaotic. There are the taxis, whose drivers will try to overcharge you. Then there are the funny looking small buses, Jeepnys, powered by bad diesel engines and constatntly honking their horns while stuck in traffic.

On top of that, there are the ordinary buses, if you agree to a rather wide definition of the term ‘ordinary’. Apparently the size of the driver’s pay check depends on how many passengers he can get in the bus, resulting in suicide-like driving styles as chauffeurs cut lanes, hit brakes and swerve hard in any direction to make it to every potential passenger on the sidewalk.

Outside banks in Manila, guards carry shotguns to fend off potential robbers. In an entrence to a casino in the capital, a sign asks you to surrender your firearm before entering. Down at the river Pasig, heavy barges pulled by tugs pass by only meters from where poor kids play in the brown water.

Map of Manila, the Philippines


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Also, there is the pollution. Drag your finger over your forehead after a day out in Manila, and it will get brown or gray. Don’t wander around alone in the harbour looking like a tourist, the guide book says, beware of false or dishonest policemen, crooks and robbers. And, whatever you do, do not get drunk late at night.

So, there you have it. Welcome to Manila, the proud capital of The Philippines.

Well. While all of the above is true, more or less, the Traveling Reporter found another side of Manila that we really like, maybe just because the rest of it is so chaotic, dirty and in bad need of maintenance.

Here are our best tips on how to spend a day or two in one of the world’s messiest capitals.

Top-Five Manila traveler’s tips

A piece of Manila architecture.

1. Check out the architecture
You wouldn’t believe it, but Manila does have some interesting buildings that are worth a few hours time. One such is the large concert and conference hall down at the seaside walkway, designed as a huge concrete box. Overall, Philippine architecture often is characterized by somewhat bombastic features which can be quite interesting to take in.

At one of Manila’s museums.

2. Cave into Philippine history
Occupied during the World War II, dictator Ferdinand Marcus ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, when Maria Corazon-Aquino toppled the cruel dictatorship and restored democracy in the country. After her, though, presidents like Joseph Estrada have continued to add to a political and historical heritage that is rich, lively, broad and full of scandals, corruption, faulted political reforms, violence and, as it seems, pure insanity. Manila holds some museums, especially the historical museum down at the deserted oceanfront fort, which are good as getaways from the chaotic traffic.

Dinner in Manila.

3. Food & drinks
Food is generally cheap in Manila, which happens to hold some good restaurants too. When the Traveling Reporter visited Manila in 2008, a perfectly good dinner would set you back about €4. The country features a row of quite interesting breweries as well, although they tend to be of the rather light lager type.

4. Shopping

Philippine girls dress in world class style, and several large shopping malls kay spread around the capital. Prices are generally low, and you are able to find most major brands as well as copies of them. Check your guidebook’s shopping section.
I also ran into a massage and pool place, right i the middle of Manila, secluded in a back yard providing a fine shelter from dirt and noise. The name of the place has been lost, but it might be in your guidebook.

Demonstration in Manila.

5. Walk, look and connect with locals
There are areas in Manila where you shouldn’t walk around, not even in broad daylight. It’s as simple as that. But Philippines are generally friendly and helpful, and my experience is that they love fun, gambling, parties and foreigners.

Philippines usually regard their politicians with skepticism, if not open contempt, and often take to the streets to demonstrate against corruption of whatever the most recent cause for disbelief may be. While guidebooks usually asks you to stay away from such events, these demonstrations are often colorful and fun to watch, at some distance.

If you are from a European or North American city, the world of chaotic Manila is something very special, if not necessarily fantastic. Take the chance to indulge yourself in this strange world, one of South East Asia’s most colorful.

Manila guide: restaurants, lodging, sights

The editor of the Traveling Reporter works as a business news editor, and is a frequent traveler. When not doing any of that, he spends time on his boat and tries to figure out where to travel next. Two of his top destinations are the Philippines and San Francisco. Email Erik! Follow the Traveling Reporter at Stumbleupon, Tumblr, Chime In, Pinterest, Google+, Weibo, Storify, Facebook, Traveldudes, Myspace.