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Visitors Guide

Manila, Philippines Travel Guide

By Ross Williams, Contributing Editor
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There is much to like about the Philippines’ up-and-coming capital city Manila. This colorful and crowded metropolis has an interesting mix of lively party atmosphere, laid back Filipino culture, and raw energy. This city is often viewed as merely a stopover for travelers heading to more scenic regions of the Philippines, but there is plenty on offer here for those who stop and pay attention. Sure it is a concrete jungle that is largely congested and slightly over-polluted, but behind the scenes Manila reveals a hidden identity that is more representative of this city’s rich history.

Manila is made of 16 districts, each with their own unique identity. In order to get a true flavor of the city it is best not to stay in one place for the entire trip. One tip would be for you to try and spend one day in a different part of the city for your entire trip. You can become immersed in the bustling atmosphere of the world’s oldest Chinatown, located in the district of Binodo, or party the night away in the party district of Ermita. Whatever your style, Manila is certain to have activities to match it.

Getting There

The best way to get to the Philippines from anywhere in the world is by air. There is one major airport in the Philippines called Ninoy Aquino International Airport, or otherwise known as Manila International Airport. There are four terminals at this airport, with the fourth serving mainly domestic carriers, and they are not very well connected. Be prepared to take taxis or jeepneys if you need to get from one terminal to the next. Large carriers such as Delta Airlines, Emirates, and Qantas serve this airport so most countries are fairly well connected.

Taxis are fairly cheap here in Manila and this is the best option for transferring from and to the airport to your accommodation, particularly if you have a lot of luggage. There are buses available to a handful of destinations in downtown Manila, but this option should only really be considered if you are travelling light. The base fares for a yellow taxi is ?70 (which converts to roughly $1.71), but the overall fare will depend on your exact destination. White taxis are not authorized to pick up passengers from the airport, but if you manage to get one you could get a cheaper deal on the fare.

Getting around the city

Manila has a fairly decent train service that connects much of the city. It is called the Strong Republic Transit System (SRTS), and consists of three lines that serve stops throughout the city and beyond. There are the Yellow, Purple, and Orange lines all with different fare structures, but based on the distance you will travel. Most of the mainstream tourist hot-spots are situated along the Yellow Line.

Other options for getting around the city, particularly for shorter journeys are jeepneys and buses. These vehicles can be boarded at various stops located around the city and near the Central Terminal, which is where you can also conveniently get a train. Fares for the bus usually start at ?10 and jeepneys start at ?8, but again these fares are based on the distance you intend to travel.

Things to see and do

There are several excellent landmarks for you to visit in Manila. These landmarks capture a unique mixture of modern Philippines and the rich history that it holds:

• Intramuros – This is the spot that Miguel Lopez de Legazpi chose to erect his fortress after he won control of Manila back in the late 1500s. Since then the fortress has literally been through the wars, surviving most of WWII before it was destroyed by a US bombing campaign. These days it is home to museums, churches, ruins, and historical memories.
• Rizal Park – This is a whopping 60-hectares of open space that houses ornamental gardens, well kept open lawns, and wooded areas along with many different monuments of Filipino heroes gone by. There is plenty of activity to get involved in or relax and watch here.
• Makati – This area has become known as the business center of Manila and is also an up-and-coming hotspot for nightlife. Two large towers house most of the major Filipino corporations as well as a few decent hotels. This is a good representation of the cities modernization efforts.
• Chinatown – A trip to Manila would not be complete without a gander over to one of the largest Chinatowns in the world. As you would expect from a Chinatown there are plenty of little teahouses, tasty cuisine, and shops selling ancient Chinese herbs.

You can take advantage of one of the tours that are offered by a number of different operators around the city in order to ensure you get to see all the main landmarks. There are special tours for Intramuros, Rizal Park, Downtown Manila, and more.

Staying in Manila

Hotels in Manila are relatively cheap so for the most part it will not be necessary to search for hostels. With that said, the price you pay will vary depending on which district you end up staying in, but not by much. You could probably find a hotel at the lower end, without any luxuries, for around ?500 (approx. $12) per night. A more realistic accommodation budget would be for ?2600, which works out to around $65. At these prices you can get a 3-star rated hotel in the heart of Manila such as the Pearl Garden Hotel. Don’t let the rating of these hotels put you off as Filipinos always seem to go the extra mile and 3-stars will generally far exceed its official rating.

If your budget simply won’t stretch that far then there are still some great hostels to choose from. This includes the Red Carabao Hostel, which is located in the district of Santa Crus. Private rooms at this hostel will cost around ?800 ($20) per night, while shared rooms start from ?370 ($10).

Things to note

Watch out for scam artists who may approach you and try to build your trust before sneakily trying to get your money from you and pickpockets who will never resist the opportunity to help themselves to your personal belongings if they are not well secured. Most Filipinos are friendly and helpful, but be aware that some of them are overly because of their own devious agenda. It is not a good idea to walk around with flashy jewelry, show off your expensive new phone, or generally flaunt your wealth as this will just attract unwanted attention.

Manila is more westernized than most Asian countries and the large majority of residents you encounter will speak fluent English, understand western cultures and will generally be welcoming to all visitors. On the whole you can immerse yourself in the culture, take in the sights, and learn more about the country relatively hassle free. It is a good idea to stick to the main tourist routes in Manila because straying too far behind the scenes could see you end up in the slums of Manila, which is not too pleasant. THE END

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