Manila Crash Course
Manila has a bad reputation, and not entirely without reason. The usual developing world city problems of choking smog and traffic and appalling poverty are abundant here. This however should not dissuade any traveller from visiting this city for it is a warm, exciting and diverse place that is ripe for discovery by any adventurous tourist. English is widely spoken, prices are cheap and you get more than your fair share of sunshine. All in all, Manila is a fun and exciting place to be. Together with the warm and friendly people of the Philippines, tourists will find their Manila experience an enjoyable and unforgettable one.
Manila is divided into sixteen districts, and except for the Port area District, they were all once towns, with their own churches and individual government.
Some of the more interesting districts north of the Pasig River are;
- Binondo has always been the Philippine's version of Chinatown, even before the arrival of the Spanish in 1571, and today it is the Central Business District (CBD)-
- Quiapo is the hometown of the Black Nazarene, a wooden life-size carving of Jesus Christ made by an Aztec carpenter in Mexico, and now it is seen in the minor basilica in Quiapo. Also in Quiapo are discounted electronics and local handicrafts.
- Sampaloc has the oldest Asian university, the University of Santo Tomas. Also, you may be interested in seeing the flower market of Dangwa.
- San Miguel has many universities, government buildings and Malacañang Palace, the residence of the president of the Philippines, located on the north shore of the Pasig River.
- San Nicolas has the flea market, Divisoria, and is an adventure in cheap shopping, watch for touts and pickpockets.
- Tondo district is considered the planet's most densely populated, over 1100 years old, and one of the first [places to rebel against the Spanish.
Other interesting districts;
- Ermita is considered one of the touristy districts with lots of antique shops and a busy nightlife area.
- Intramuros district was taken from Latin to mean 'within the walls', it is what many consider the historic center, or Old Manila.
- Malate is the Gay Capital of the Philippines, and the center of unconventional nightlife, enough said!
- The Port District is the Philippin's major seaport, check out the famous sunsets over Manila Bay.
HistoryManila began around a thousand years ago, and was taken from the name 'Maynilad', referring to the 'Nilad' mangrove plant that was plentiful along the Pasig River and coastline. Before the Westerners arrived in the 1500s, Maynilad was poplated with Islamic peoplem who crossed over from Borneo into the Palawan Islands and from Indonesia who crossed the Celebes Sea. Fifty years after Magellan's horrific arrival to the Philippines, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in 1571, claimed the Philippines as a Spanish colony and with Manila to be its capital.
English and Filipino (Tagalog) are the common languages in the northern mainland of Luzon. If you speak English, you will have no problem being understood everywhere because it is the language of instruction in schools, as well as in business. Most Filipinos speak English well, no matter their level of education. This is because Filipinos learn the English language at home, and more formally when they start school. It is not unusual for school children to speak impeccable English. Moreover, Filipinos love American movies, television shows, music, food, and fashion.
The concept of 'embarrassment in public' is very important in Filipino culture and visitors should avoid offending or shaming anyone in public. hen one fails to live up to accepted standards of behaviour, shame will be brought upon the culprit as well as his whole family. Any food or drink offered must be accepted, as this is a sign of hospitality.
The climate of the Philippines is considered tropical monsoon. There are two seasons, the wet season from June to November, and the dry season from December to May. March and April are the hottest months with temperatures in Manila reaching into above 90F or 33C. December through February are the nicest months, clear and comfortable. During the cooler wet season, expect to be hit with monsoons in the Manila area, occasionally they are devastating.
The Philippines Peso is trading as of December, 2007 at 41 per US dollar.
Entering the Philippines
Nationals from nearly all countries who are traveling to the Philippines for business and tourism purposes are allowed to enter the Philippines without a visa for a stay not exceeding twenty-one days, provided they hold valid tickets for their return journey to port of origin or next port of destination and their passports are valid for a period of at least six months beyond the contemplated period of stay. However, immigration officers at ports of entry may exercise their discretion to admit holders of passports valid for only sixty days or more beyond the intended period of stay. Nacionals from Isreal and Brazil get longer stays, while those from Hong Kong, Macao and British Nacional Overseas passports can only stay for a week without a visa.
To extend your stay, you may get an application form from the Visa Extension Section located at the ground floor Annex building, Bureau of Immigration. Fill up the form, provide a photocopy of your passport, visa, latest arrival card, valid extension of stay, if any and other pertinent documents which will support your application. For non-restricted citizens it will take one day using the express processing lane and one week using the regular processing lane.
Arriving by airIf you are coming from anywhere overseas, generally you need to fly in. There are three international receiving airports. For a seamless transfer to domestic flights or back, try to use PAL (Philippine Airlines) because it has its own terminal at Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 (NAIA 2), that serves both international and domestic flights. With other carriers, you have to arrange a transfer service with other airlines.
Other international carriers use the NAIA Terminal 3 (NAIA 3) and the domestic carriers use the older domestic airport maybe a ten minute transfer from Terminal 1, so be aware.
Prepaid taxis can be taken from any of the airports bringing you into Manila. It is advisable to use these, even though using a metered taxi is a bit cheaper, they are no where near as convenient, and you are taking your chances for problems, the scenic route, that your hotel is full and he has a better one for you, etc. With the prepaid taxis, you are looking at anywhere from $10 to $15 to get into Manila depending upon your destination.Avoid the jeepneys and buses to and from the airports, they are just plain inconvenient.
The former Clark Air Force base an hour northwest of Manila caters to low cost air carriers such as Air Asia and Tiger Airways. There are buses that will bring you into Manila on newish toll highways for under $10.
Flying from one island to the next in the Philippines is relatively inexpensive, maybe slightly more than $100 each way. However, there are special promotions, keep your eyes open, called 'Go' fares promoted by the Cebu Pacific Airlines, that offer round trip flights from $50 to maybe $80.
Arriving by boat
You can take a ferry anywhere in the Philppines, however, the added 1st class fare is almost imperative for those used to comfort. Lax safety standards are another issue, but, when your number is up, it's up! Life's an adventure, isn't it?
Another excellent option for short jaunts between islands are the air-conditioned hydro-foils called fastcrafts or supercats. Far faster than the regular ferries, also, a much better safety record. Some of the more popular routes they take are Manila to Bataan, Manila to Cavite and Batangas to Puerto Galera.
Arriving by bus
The new Strong Republic Nautical Highway has made road travel possible between most of the islands. Ferries shuffle vehicles from the end of the highway on one island to the beginning of a highway on the next.
The route from Manila to Boracay for example, goes via Batangas then Calapan then Roxas in Mindoro then on to Caticlan. Philtranco. These trips take a lot longer, and unless your money is more important than your time, probably aren't worth any long haul trip.
On the Island of Luzon itself, there are inexpensive buses going everywhere from and to Manila, leaving from various bus terminals depending upon your destination.
Getting around in ManilaThe city offers up a variety of radial roads leaving central Manila like spokes on a half wheel for all parts of Luzon. There are also five concentric arc roads half circling downtown Manila. The roads can get quite congested the closer you get to the city center.
Like most Third World countries, if you are not familiar with the road system, it is best left to others. Manila drivers have a habit of not respecting stop lights, stop signs, or rights of ways, and are generally rude on the roads. Using public transportation is the best option, cheap, but, remember, the rush hours from 7 to 10am and 4 to 7pm are anything but a rush.
- Jeepneys evolved from the Jeep that the American Armed Forces used
- Most taxis are reasonably priced and air-conditioned, and use a meter. If they don't use a meter, negotiate the price beforehand. If you get ripped off, call the LTFRB (Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board) with the driver's name and identification number or plate number. Malls also police the conduct of taxi drivers, and will not permit a taxi from using them as home base if they are reported for bad conduct.
- There are many buses in Manila, regular ones which have regulated prices, and air-conditioned ones that can choose any price for you.
- Minivans a.k.a. FX are generaly air-conditioned, follow the basic routes of the Jeepneys, are more comfortable and costly than a Jeepney, but are less money that a taxi. You will probably have to share your FX with other passengers, as they hold up to ten people.
- Motorcycles with an attached side car a.k.a. tricycles are great for short jaunts where Jeepneys don't travel. Though rare in downtown Manila, you will see many of them in the outskirts. A variation of these are the pedicabs, same thing but it is a bicycle.
- The MRTMetro Rail Transit is the light rail transport system that goes along EDSA or Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, the main thoroughfare within downtown Manila. It goes from Quezon City's North Avenue station to Pasay City's Taft Avenue station. The rates are low (abour fifteen pesos for the whole length). Though air-conditioned, it will be quite crowded during rush hour. Insert you ticket into the turnstyle when entering the station.
- The Light Rail Transit Authority's LTR LRTAhas two lines within central Manila. Transferring costs you another fare, but so what, you're on your holidays, and things are cheap.
- And for those in love, take a horse-drawn carriage through the scenic parts of Manila.
Manila Bay has the most popular tourist sites.
The original Spanish settlement, Intramuros, is on the north of Manila Bay. It is an areas surrounded by high walls with many churches, museums, some ruins, patks, even restaurants and cafes.
At the northern end of the Bay lies the remnants of the old walled Spanish settlement of Manila called Intramuros (Spanish for 'within the walls'). Intramuros contains museums, churches, ruins, schools, parks, cafes and restaurants. You can even play a game of golf over the moat that surrounds the Intramuros. It's worth a stop if you are in the vicinity. All travellers are welcome to play on the city's most picturesque golf course which was built over the moat that used to surround Intramuros' walls. The Manila Cathedral inside, is one of the most significant churches in all of the Philippines, often destroyed and built again, and now the seat of the present Catholic Archdiocese.
On Manila Bay in front of Intramuros is the famous and elegant Manila Hotel where General MacArthur made his home before the WWII conflict. Also in the same area is the Luneta, home of several museums, ocean-front restaurants, free music concerts, and the planetarium. You'll see tai chi exercisers, morning jogers, and familt picnicers. Jose Rizal, the Philippines national hero was executed on these grounds by the Spanish in 1896.
Just sSouth of Luneta is a long park running beside Manila Bay, featuring several restaurants, bars, wandering acoustic guitar players, street performers, coconut trees, modern street lamps, and a blurr of Manila life.
Manila's Chinatown is on of the biggest anywhere, and offers up many traditional Chinese products, services, and oh, the food!
Things to do
If you are into it, enjoy the selection of churches that Manila has to offer, from the oldest rock church in the Philippines and UNESCO World Heritage Site, San Agustin Church to the all steel San Sebastian Cathedral, and even Las Pinas (the Pines Church) and the organ with bamboo pipes.
A popular tour guide, because of his sense of humour and his deep rooted understanding of Manila is Carlos Celdran, he comes highly recommended, go to Carlos Celdran
There has been a vast improvement over the years for museums that Manila now has available for you to check out. To name a few, try the Ayala Museum and National Museum of the Filipino People. Others such as the Bahay Chinoy, San Agustin Museum, the Casa Manila, and the Museum of Filipino Political History are worth your time to investigate.
The WWII American Military Cemetery is at the south-eastern part of Manila paying honour to the 36,285 American soldiers dead or lost. there are also several maps in mosaic at the chapel depicting the campaigns in the Pacific.
Enjoy English theatre performed by the group called Repertory Philippines, with musicals and plays happening all year. Many have moved on to Broadway and West London. There are also several other English speaking theatre groups, or enjoy a bit of the exotic, and understand it at the same time.
It is such a joy to be able to speak English in Manila, and to enjoy such things as ballet and dance, and classic music performances all seen at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Also check out the weekly concerts, ballet and plays in the open air theaters in Paco and Rizal Parks.
Malls all offer a multi-plex cinema where you can catch the latest Hollywood productions.
American hip hop and techno-music are having an affect on nightlife in Manila, and a becoming the basic backbone to young Manilan culture. Manila nightclubs are becoming second to none, even in first world standards in both vibrancy and luxury, and prices are following along as well. Alternative Philippine rock music, if American music isn't exotic enough for you in a foreign land, has taken over some of the more popular venues.
If you yearn for a traditional massage there are several places to relax you down to your toes, one technique is called the hilot, employing chiropractor-style manipulation massage for musculo-skeletal problems. Many hotels amd shopping mals have spas that offer these services at amazingly reasonable prices.
Rice is the staple for all three meals, and whatever else you add is only the condiment.
The country of the Philippines has the longest coastline on the planet, and as such, gets the majority of its protein consumed from fish and seafood. Philippinos never over-cook their food, but steam, roasting, boil and even saute without heat in vinegar and salt with red peppers, onions and ginger.
What would be considered a typical meal in the Philippines is Sinigang, a slightly boiled fish in a sour soup stock made from unripe mangos, tamarindo and guava, then add a variety of uncooked vegetables and a salty fish sauce, cook ever so slightly. The salty flavour comes from fish sauce or shrimp paste or soy sauce. Chinese introduced stir and deep frying and noodles, and they have become an integral part of Philippine cooking today. Later years, the Spanish introduced heavy meats and sauces, used dairy products, and today these are considered a delicacy. The Americans influenced everyone in the Philippines not just with their meat and potatoes diets but with fashion clothes, arts, music, even the English language.
Street vendors selling various types of food offer an excellent variety of things to eat on the run. However, be warned, only use the vendors with the best location and the fastest turn-over of inventory, especially when buying meat and seafood products. Also, their hygenic standards are never regulated by health inspectors, so you may be taking a chance, but for the food adventurous buff, go ahead, you'll probably be OK!
Here are a few of the most popular things sold on the street:
- Balut are boiled duck embryos, probably safe to consume as the entire egg is inside and untouched by human hands, and they are well-cooked. Seeing the wings, beak and feet may turn off the finicky eater however.
- Isaw, Helmet and Adidas are grilled chicken innards, the head and the feet (respectively).
- Banana Cue are bananas that are fried in oil then covered in liquid brown sugar, delicious!
- Barbecue or BBQ is the description for charcoal-grilled pork.
- Kwek Kwek and tokneneng are boiled fowl eggs then covered in batter then deep fried. Often they are later dipped in brown vinegar, and then chili, garlic and onions are added.
Some of the specialties that may interest you are lechon or suckling pig, grilled seafood, a kesong puti and tomato native white cheese salad, sizzling tofu, corned beef sinigang in a tamarindo sauce, pasta and oysters, garlic crab, tapas, stuffed milkfish, and roasted lamb.
Mostly in the Philippines you will find they love to cook with sour flavours, salt, garlic and onions. They are in everything!
NightlifeProbably the most popular sector of Manila for enjoying the nightlife is an area called the Greenbelt in the Central Business District (CBD). You will find many of the better Manila restaurants, bars, karaoke joints and cafes here all joined together around a park. The area called Bohemian Malate and its adjacent neighbour, Baywalk, along the Manila Bay have many options for food, drink, music and even comedy. Other nightlife clusters in the Metro area are Araneta Center, Eastwood, Timog and Marikina.
The oldest professionProstitution in Manila is a both illegal yet tollerated by bribes, and a type of caste system. The élite moonlight as prostitutes while holding down full-time office and other professional work, coddling up to foreign business people, who are often guests in luxurious hotels. Most hotels do not allow 'ladies of the night' to hang out in their loddies and bar, but these girls are young, attractive,
Generally Manila prostitutes that work in karaoke clubs and bars come from the countryside. They have no choice but to be drawn into the sex trade due to their dire economic conditions. Most start working in the industry by their own choice, perceiving that it as preferable to any other alternative, like menial factory work at about $5 per day. They must ask themselves what alternative is the least degrading, and conclude that if they can send money home on a regular basis to their families depending on it for survival, that hooking is superior. Women working in the bars have to be atleast eighteen years, and register with ID tags as GRO’s (Guest Relations Officers – how creative!), and are required to undergo frequent health checks, weekly for STDs and monthly tests for HIV. Recently, the government announced measures to battle the country's child prostitution and sex tourist image.
In the higher class clubs, barfines are paid to relieve the girls for the night so she can go with her customer to his hotel. It is equal to about ten 'lady drinks', then the customer needs to pay her for her services over and above the barfine. They usually stay the night.
The majority of business that Filipina ladies receive is through their fellow countrymen, even though sensational international images usually show old foreign men with young girls. The poorest, often youngest (under eighteen or they would be working in a bar) and most desperate girls live in 'casas' houses, in the poorest neighbourhoods, and ply their trade from there, meeting customers on the street. They are often not as pretty as the elite girls mentioned above, often speaking little or no English, and are far more vulnerable to be abused by their clients, tend to practise unsafe sex and thus have the greatest chance of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
Be careful in Manila, watch for pickpockets, leave your jewelry at home, nobody is impressed and just want to steal it, watch for bad food from food stalls, eat at restaurants with a high turnover of inventory, don't drink tap water, avoid ice in your drink, cab drivers are notorious for trying to rip you off, be sure the meter is on, no excuses or get out of the cab, travel with others atleast until you get to know the 'lay of the land'.
If you are new to travelling, or even if you have travelled the globe for years, I strongly recommend you check out the following link for some very interesting and informative reading about safe travelling in Manila and the Philippines, and the Third World in general. It is an accumulation of original thoughts and experiences of several worldly travellers, just go to Safely.Travel. It was written with the Third World in mind, where travelling disasters are around every corner, and a pre-emptor to what we may all expect someday in the First World as populations increase and desperate people become more brave and sophisticated in their survival techniques. It will make you aware of all sorts of scams, how to check into a hotel, advice for single lady travellers, advice for single men travellers, rip tides, credit card scams, driving in a foreign land, kidnapping, street people, you name it. It is an essential read for anyone travelling, and the most comprehensive discussion I know of!