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Philippines usually paints a picture of a paradise with white sand beaches, turquoise clear waters, breathtaking island, gorgeous land formations and amazing wildlife for tourists.
Think about the world-renown topnotcher islands of Palawan, Boracay and Cebu. Most of the time though, Manila serves as a stopover for travelers because the country’s gateway airport, NAIA, is located here. Read along for an insider's guide to everything you need to know before coming to Manila.
Why Bother With Manila?
Just like any other big city in Southeast Asia, Manila has a reputation of being crowded and polluted, in addition to having a terrible traffic situation. However, its people and the rich culture that transpired from the Philippines’ colorful history are what you should not miss.
Being the capital of the Pearl of the Orient, Metro Manila or National Capital Region is a mix of Spaniard colonial architectures and booming westernized economic structures. The fast-paced westernized culture is evident in the business districts of Makati, Taguig, Pasig and Quezon City. More than its physical form though, what makes a visit to Manila worth your while is your encounter with one of the happiest people in the planet, the Filipinos.
- Population in Manila: Over 12 million (metro area).
- Money: The official currency is Peso (PHP)
- Time zone: Philippine Time Zone (UTC+8)
- Electricity: 220V
Philippine Airlines has daily direct flights from London to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL), prices starting from around 700 euros (normal return ticket, economy class) to around 2000 euros for a nonstop return business class seat.
If you, like us, prefer to fly on Oneworld member airlines, the cheapest option is usually to fly through Kuala Lumpur on Malaysian Airlines. Regular business class prices start around 2500 euros (November 2017) and if you plan your timing correctly you can explore the capital of Malaysia during the same trip.
Three things you will love about the Filipino people: they’re incredibly hospitable, genuinely happy, and mostly English-speaking. Find yourself in a hotel, a restaurant, a mall or any establishment and Filipinos will assist, serve or entertain you, in English. Most visitors claim that the best experience when coming to Manila is the cheerful and helpful spirit of the locals.
Manila appears in lists of cheapest cities to travel in the world. It’s next to Vietnam and Thailand in terms of cost of living. Even the premium accommodations and restaurants in Manila will still be cheaper compared to those in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Premier travellers' daily budget starts from $200-$300 a day, including accommodations and fine dining.
Civilian safety has tremendously improved since 2016 brought by the recent change in Philippine administration which strictly punishes law offenders such as thieves. It is important to always practice street smart skills, though, such as avoiding the use of gadgets in the streets or public places, and being accompanied when staying out late at night.
Although a tropical country, the Philippines’ geographical location brings about storms and typhoons around the second half of the year. Summer is at its peak during April and May, with oozing temperatures fluctuating to 36 degrees, combined with high humid factors that gives you a 40 degree feel.
That leaves the cooler months of January and February the best time to stroll around the city.
While a variety of transportation is available to get around the city such as the crowded public metrorail system, jeepneys, buses and taxis, the recommended mode for foreigners would be Uber or Grab. Aside from the all-in fixed fares, these transport services are also safe and convenient.
Among other Asian countries, the archipelagic form of the Philippines leaves it at the bottom when it comes to Internet reliability. However, high speed 4G or 3G connection is still accessible for a higher cost. A prepaid sim package of 1GB worth of data will cost at least $2. Some hotels and restaurants offer free internet, though speed is not guaranteed to make you smile.
Try the savory traditional Filipino cuisines such as the popular Adobo, Sisig, Sinigang, Fresh Lumpia, Lechon (Pork), Crispy Pata, Kare-kare and Kaldereta paired with rice. You can taste these classics by checking out the following restaurants.
The Lobby - The Peninsula in Makati City gives you a full meal for a budget of $50 for two people. While popular for the classic Kare-kare, it is also known for its Afternoon Tea buffet.
Sentro 1771 in BGC Taguig City lets you experience a revolutionized Filipino cuisine for at least $60 for two people.
Heat - Edsa Shangri-La in Ortigas, Mandaluyong City offers an extensive range of international and local dishes starting at $80 for two people.
Cafe Ilang-ilang is located at the oldest hotel in the region, Manila Hotel. Enjoy the delicious dishes garnished by the elegant native experience.
Aside from these, you can visit the food strips where tons of cozy restaurants are available to choose from. Burgos Circle and Serendra are westernized areas in Taguig City with numerous restaurants offering different specialties such Asian, American, Japanese, Mediterranean, and Chinese cuisines. The same variety can also be found from the recently established Capitol Commons in Pasig City.
Hyatt City Of Dreams Manila, a 5-star luxury hotel with spacious rooms and only a 12-minute ride from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. There are plenty of restaurants and a casino on site. There is also a large mall - Mall of Asia next to the hotel.
Edsa Shangri-La Hotel is a paradise that rests in the heart of the Metro, along the hustling and bustling road of EDSA. It’s strategic central location makes it the best option for travelers who want to explore more cities in the metro.
The newly opened Manila Marriott Hotel in Pasay City is only a walking distance from Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3, and a short 30-minute drive from Terminal 1 and 2. The rooms are modern and comfortable with plenty of drawer space. The hotel has an extensive breakfast buffet with Asian and European food options.
Address: 2 Resorts Drive, Pasay City Manila 1309 Philippines
Crowne Plaza Manila Galleria in Pasig City is a paradise that rests in the heart of the Metro, along the hustling and bustling road of EDSA. It’s strategic central location makes it the best option for travelers who want to explore more cities in the metro.
Address: Ortigas Ave Corner Asian Development Bank Ave Ortigas Center, Quezon City - 1100, Philippines
Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Makati lies in the middle of Makati City’s shopping center. It is adjacent with Glorietta and a couple of minutes walk from Greenbelt and Landmark. A prefect choice for budget oriented shopping enthusiasts!
Address: Glorietta Mall, Palm Drive, Ayala Center, Makati, 1224 Metro Manila, Philippines (inside Ayala Center Makati)
Phone: +63 2 909 0888
1. Stroll the walled city of Intramuros.
An early morning or late afternoon walk around Intramuros would satisfy the history buff in you. This well-kept and impressive “city within the walls” was first built in the 16th century, in the time of Spaniard occupation. Although it was well damaged during World War II, its rebuilding in the 1951 was successful. The walls and much of the inner buildings are still preserved until today. Book Carlo Celdran, the city’s most popular guide, for a performance art tour around the most historic spot in Manila.
2. Shop till you drop
You could easily spend all day shopping in Manila. Take your pick from among the luxury shopping malls scattered in different cities. The most popular mall chain belongs to SM which includes Mall of Asia in Pasay City, Megamall in Mandaluyong City, Aura in Taguig City, and North Edsa in Quezon City. Other favorite malls for locals and foreigners are Greenbelt in Makati and Robinsons’ malls in varied cities.
3. Adore the Architectural Magnificence of Cathedrals
Catholicism is the dominating religion in the Philippines as inculcated during the Spanish regime. Up to now, the ancient architecture of old churches continue to attract not just the devouts but even the travelers. San Agustin and Manila Cathedral Churches in Intramuros and San Sebastian Church in Manila are the most beautiful that you may want to visit.
4. Catch the sunset in Manila Bay
Head to Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City to catch the sun hide behind the Manila Bay’s horizon. From Mall of Asia, take a walk along the seaside strip where you will find a variety of bars and restaurants offering a good bayview. However, if chilling and relaxing is something you want to achieve, there’s a deck at Two E-com building with coffee shops and restaurants that give a more peaceful view of the sun and its amber light reflecting along the ocean’s surface.
5. Soothe Your Senses with Hilot Massage
Hilot is a Filipino verb that means rubbing the muscles and joints. This is more than just a massage, but rather an ancient way of healing, sometimes including herbal medication, resulting to increased blood circulation, stressed muscle relaxation, corrected misaligned bones, and cured frozen shoulders. Mandara Spa in McKinley Residences, Taguig City is a popular hilot spa that promises relief after its service.
6. Party The Night Out
Spend your late night in one of the foreigner-friendly bars in Metro Manila. B-side is a reggae bar in Makati City with an alternative crowd like you would see nowhere else. Best time to go during the Irie Sunday Reggae Nights. On a Tuesday night, experience a Retro Night in Privé Luxury Club, an exclusive nightclub in The Fort, Taguig City. Customers here are typically expats and executives.
7. Escape to the Tagaytay
If the city becomes too wearisome for you, come close to nature with a day trip to Tagaytay City, a favorite escapade for locals and foreigners reachable in just 1.5 hours. Rent a car from your hotel to catch a cooler weather while staring at the smallest active volcano in the world, the Taal Volcano. Weekends make the city crowded and heavy in traffic so try to visit on off peak days. Although a lot of restaurants and coffee shops are available along the Tagaytay Road, Twin Lakes Tagaytay offer the best atmosphere.
As mentioned from the beginning, the friendly Filipinos are the best thing that you could experience in Manila. One way you could maximize this is by towing a local with you during your entire stay. You can either find a friend and offer to pay him a day’s wage for touring you around, or book a local guide from toursbylocals.com or tourguides.viator.com. Aside from experiencing a good local tour, you might even find a new friend from Pearl of the Orient.