In a country as rich in diversity, history, and culture as the Philippines, it’s main travel hub, center of business, and capital, Manila, should be a great place to visit. It has Intramuros, the old Spanish walled city, one of the oldest Chinatowns in the world, and countless malls– some of which seem too shi-shi for the depraved and sprawling mess that is Manila.

Our time in Manila was–to put it lightly–not the best. Maybe it was due to it being the end of our time in the Philippines, coming from the paradise island of Boracay–which barely feels Filipino at all–or the fact that we had read so many negative encounters of the city online. Whatever the reason, we did not enjoy our time there.

Originally, we had planned on putting Manila off until the very end of our stay in the Philippines. However, due to bad planning on my behalf and bad luck with an hour late flight from Kalibo to Manila, we missed our continuing flight to Vigan, a quaint colonial-era town in Northern Luzon, and had to spend an extra day in Manila.

Our distaste for Manila began upon arriving in Terminal 4 of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino airport. We had about twenty minutes before the counter closed to check-in for our next flight to Vigan. Luckily, we were off the plane and out of the terminal fast. Outside everything changed– there was no frequent terminal transfer shuttle, tram, train, bus, or anything! We asked several attendants how to get to Terminal 3 and they all replied the same: “Take a taxi.” Desperately, we lined up in a 50+ people line and waited. After waiting 10 minutes and seeing a maximum of two taxis, we gave up. What kind of central airport hub has multiple terminals with no transfers between them and only two taxis waiting outside?!

Hesitantly, we decided to spend a night and day in Manila. We  managed to find a restaurant, grab a few beers, use the internet, and book two beds at Where2Next hostel. We had to grab a cab to the hostel since Manila’s public transit system is limited.

Manila’s accommodation scene is not the best. Where2Next was not a bad place to stay; it had free breakfast, A/C (although it was turned up to antarctic temperatures and I nearly froze the first night), and spotty WIFI, but for around 11USD per bed, it still felt like a rip-off. Unfortunately, most hostels in Manila– at least the most reputable ones– charge about the same price. The hostel itself is located in a fairly ritzy district and was close to Intramuros, a sight we were interested in seeing. Upon arriving in the ‘upper-class’ neighborhood, we were met with Japanese, Korean, and Chinese signs; host clubs and go-go bars; and hookers. For the most part they all ignored us throughout our stay.

The next morning we bought tickets for a night bus to Banaue (450 pesos each), a mountain town and the home of remarkable rice terraces. Erin will talk about the trip and our stay in Sagada in her next post. We now had a day to kill in Manila and decided to spend it walking around Intramuros. The trip there was short, maybe 30 minutes maximum, but it was awful.

Everything that is wrong in the Philippines can be seen on the streets of Manila. Poverty runs rampant and countless homeless families lay along the crowded streets. Toddlers wander the corners with hands outstretched, following anyone who attempts to pass. Corruption pulses through the veins of the city as well. Although we, luckily, did not encounter it through the government or police, all of the cab drivers live by it. Each driver requires an extra ‘tip’ on top of the metered fee–if they are kind enough to use the meter at all. This tip can be as low as 50 pesos (a little over 1USD), but it becomes exasperating when every interaction is tinged with dishonesty.

Monument near Intramuros completely overgrown.

Overgrown monument near Intramuros

Intramuros and the adjacent Fort Santiago (75 pesos per person) seem out of place in an Asian country. For some, especially Europeans and Latin Americans, they are unimpressive, as the architecture is not exotic or Asian but rather Spanish colonial. However, when we wandered though the alleyways and cobblestone roads, the Filipino flare became very apparent, such as 獅 or shi, the Chinese guardian lions posted at the entrance of the San Augustine Church.

Colonial architecture in Intramuros

Colonial architecture in Intramuros

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A inner courtyard

A courtyard

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A gardian lion standing under a catholic saint--a perfect mix of East and West that is the Philippines!

A gardian lion standing under a catholic saint–the perfect mix of East and West that is the Philippines!

Erin outside of Fort Santiago

Erin outside of Fort Santiago

The old entrance to the fort

The old entrance to the fort

On the battlements

On the overgrown battlements

Chinatown from the fort

Chinatown from the fort

A Chinese garden in Rizal Park

A Chinese garden in Rizal Park–more of the Chinese influence

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By the time we returned to our hostel, we were exhausted and covered in grime. A few hours of walking though clouds of pollution, on uneven sidewalks, and being constantly harassed by hawkers made us ecstatic to be leaving Manila for Sagada and fresh air of the Mountain Province.

I know this post was extremely negative and our time in Manila probably seemed horrible, but under the right circumstances (visiting Manila towards the beginning of our trip or having had more time to actually explore) could have swayed our opinions of the city. Regardless, we loved our time in the Philippines as a whole.


Oh, I forgot to mention, for all of you Americans out there:

Filipinos LOVE General MacArthur. His statues are literally everywhere.

Filipinos LOVE General MacArthur. Statues of him are literally everywhere.


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  1. Lee says:

    Is the lion hugging his baby?

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