It took a lot of time to revamp our blog. Seriously, it was an all-consuming-of-any-second-of-free-time sort of thing. But more importantly it meant we never had the chance to post about our Manila weekend getaway we took a few weeks ago. So get cozy, relax and let us take you back.
A few months ago we bought two tickets to Manila, Philippines. We needed some sort of ongoing flight (out of Taiwan) to receive our 60-day Taiwanese visa, so we decided to buy the cheapest flights available at the time—2 flights to Manila leaving at 1 a.m. on Sunday morning of September 11th (I know, you’re pretty jealous you weren’t on that flight too). We quickly forgot about the tickets, never planning on really using them. But as luck would have it, we had Monday the 12th off work for Moon Festival. So when planning what we would do for the long weekend, we obviously realized that Manila was now on the table. The only problem? We would have exactly 48 hours in the country celebrated for it’s picturesque islands and top-notch scuba diving, but with only enough time to experience Manila. After a hard-fought battle of pros vs. cons that wasn’t actually that difficult, we decided the trip would still be worth it (of course!).
So while we are by no means experts after having only spent 48 hours in the city, here is our list of dos and don’ts for a successful weekend in Manila.
Do: Mi Casa Su Casa
We don’t normally spend money on accommodation, but what CouchSurfers would want us banging on their door at 4am after groggily passing through customs? We decided to spend a little bit more than we would have at a hostel to stay at a decent hotel within walking distance of Manila Bay. Casa Nicarosa was our choice, and we found it absolutely fabulous. The hotel has Spanish-Mediterranean decor, with whitewashed walls and a great veranda where you can order breakfast. It’s still very basic and the WiFi only works in the lobby, but for the price, location and friendliness of the staff, it has our vote.
Don’t: Bring Your Bling
That might be basic knowledge for most, but we just wanted to throw it in. Like any city anywhere in the world, Manila has good areas and bad areas. There’s no reason to walk around scared to death, but use common sense and leave the solid gold dollar-symbol necklace at home.
Do: Wow Your Friends with Historical Facts, Then Check Out the Sights
We’re not going to give a history lesson here, but if you aren’t familiar with the Philippines, we recommend a quick Wiki search to at least learn the basics. (A few bullet points: the Spanish colonized the Philippines, the Spanish ceded the islands to the U.S., and Manila was the second most damaged city in WWII.) We know you’ll bust that out at the next party you go to!
- Intramuros: Literally meaning ‘within the walls’, this fortified city surrounded by defensive walls was built under the Spanish. Although the oldest part of modern day Manila, the majority of Intramuros had to be rebuilt after it was severely destroyed during WWII by both Japanese and US air forces (sorry guys). Parts of Intramuros are of course touristy—including the 18-hole golf course flirting with the perimeter—but communities of locals (most of whom don’t play golf) also live here. When walking around, it doesn’t take long to stumble across slum dwellers going about their daily activities while barefoot children play ball in the street.
- Fort Santiago: Also built by the Spanish, the fortress is essentially part of Intramuros. Historically constructed to protect against pirates, the fort had many other roles throughout its history, including prison and Japanese torture chamber. Today it’s slightly kinder to outsiders, and is perhaps the most preserved area of Intramuros. An entrance fee of 40 pesos (about $1 US) grants access to the fortress where you can also relax at a café, shop in a gift store, and lounge on the park grounds while quiet music plays in the background.
- Rizal Park: Also known as Luneta Park, it’s located right outside of Intramuros. The park is a common place to see families lounging around and kids flying kites, and often there are free concerts on the grounds. Jose Rizal, famous for starting the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish, was executed on the park grounds; the Rizal Monument, one of the more famous landmarks in Manila and Rizal Park, commemorates his martyrdom.
- Quiapo Church: The main reason to visit this Roman Catholic Church is to catch a glimpse of the Black Nazarene. The statue of Jesus is believed to have miraculous properties, and every Friday night thousands of Filipinos attend a novena, or devotion, to the Black Nazarene.
Don’t: Be Afraid of the Path Less Trodden by Travelers
While the aforementioned sights are important for understanding the history and culture of Manila, there is so much more to what Manila actually is. The best way to get a feel of the city is to walk around where the people truly live. A good place to warm-up is the Divisoria, a crowded and chaotic market with tons of cheap goods and prime bargain shopping.
Do: Put a Smile on your Face (Especially in a Jeepney)
Filipinos are awesome. Obviously I know that’s a generalization about an entire nation of people based off of the few encounters we had; however, we still want to say it. The jeepneys are the most common, and possibly the most practical, mode of public transportation in Manila. They’re cheap and the drivers cram you in like sardines, so they are a great way to start chatting it up with the locals, most of whom speak ENGLISH. We met one man who insisted he pay for our jeepneys while giving us the lowdown on Manila and the entire jeepney system. We met another woman who toured us around the Quiapo Church, submitted her ID so we could take pictures of the Black Nazarene, and then took us out to lunch. There is no point in traveling to another country if you aren’t going to talk to anyone for fear they will mug/kill/sell you into a brothel like something straight out of Taken. More than likely, that’s not their intention. Plus, how are you really going to learn about a place if you don’t talk to anyone? We’re not telling you to jump into a tinted-glass vehicle or give them all yo digits, just chat it up over some Filipino kare-kare.
Don’t: JUMP INTO A RANDOM TINTED-GLASS VEHICLE
That being said, when you do take a taxi make sure it’s legit. Look for a registration and make sure they see you study it, just in case. Nothing puts a damper on a trip like a taxi driver taking you into a back alley. It’s also not fun if someone hijacks the taxi driver while your stopped at a red light, so go ahead and roll up those windows and lock the doors.
Do: Stay Up Past Midnight
Manila has great nightlife that includes way more than go-go girl bars. We choose a bar adjacent to our hotel with cheap pitchers of the local brew, San Miguel, but there are tons of options in Remedios Circle, along Manila Bay, and in the business district of Makati. We had quite a surprise when 20 minutes into the night a heavy metal/screamo band came on stage, to the excitement of the Filipino crowd. Not typically our scene, but really fun to watch the locals jamming to Metallica and System of a Down covers.
Don’t: Take Deals That Sound Too Good To Be True
If the horse carriage driver says that he will drive you 20 minutes to the Mall of Asia for only 20 pesos, or 50 American cents, he’s lying. That goes for any mode of transportation. We actually have first-hand experience on this one. Details to come in the next blog post…
Do: Put Your Tummy To The Test
The Aristocrat is the place to chow down on a Sunday afternoon. They claim to have the best chicken barbeque in town, and we can certainly see why. This is a great place to try some local cuisine, whether it’s lumpiang ubod (spring rolls), crispy pata (deep fried pork knuckles) or kare-kare (oxtail and vegetables in a peanut sauce). It’s located right by the Manila Bay, so go crazy at dinner before hopping over to the Bay to capture a bit of its famous sunsets.
Don’t: Flip Out When Bicycle/Taxi Drivers Harass You
It was hard not to lose our temper when we walked past a taxi stand and literally every single one of the 30 cycle rickshaw/bicycle taxi drivers asked if they could bring us somewhere. Seriously, most of the time we were exactly where we wanted to be! But hey, they’re just trying to make a living like everyone else, and it’s hard to actually get annoyed when you see a lot of them sleeping in their cart at night. We’re still visitors in their country, so if you’re like us and really don’t want a ride, politely say no (and no and no and no).
It was a whirlwind of a weekend. We had to take a taxi to take a train to take a bus to take a plane to take another taxi before we even arrived! But we will definitely be back. While we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Manila, 48 hours was just not nearly enough.