Metro Manila is a place that people tell you not to go to. If you want to visit the Idyllic islands of the Philippines then start in Manila but word is, stay the night and leave. If you do you’re missing something. Manila is raw energy, people, smiles, atmosphere, pollution and life laid bare. Its hot and fascinating. Arrival at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino Airport is to emerge into heat, endless cars, taxis and busses, people moving here and there in numbers and amazingly helpful people to put you on the right track. Never be afraid to ask a Filipino for help, they enjoy it. The drive into the city is like the images of Gotham, darkness at street level and tall high rise buildings lit but feeling empty. Its your first introduction to the whims of the Filipino driver. The aggressive and forceful driving habits of the Philippines would cause endless road rage elsewhere, but it’s the norm, everyone drives like that, no one complains and it works. In the end even you start to see the tiny opportunities to weave your way aggressively through the traffic and encourage the driver to take them. It becomes part of you, a sign that you are taking on board that energy.
Hotels in Manila are good, comparable with anywhere in range and price, but nothing new, open the door with your card, slide the card in to holder to put the lights on, on your right the bathroom, on your left the wardrobe with a safe inside etc etc. No surprises here but you can find the whole range. Everyone says good morning, is friendly, helpful and open, the lifts and halls full and cosmopolitan, often revealing older western men and young Filipinas, some up to no good but many actually married.
The Philippines is the land of the “tip”. They tell you negotiate taxi rates and you do and having done that the first time, and settled back into the seat feeling all good about the deal I did we threaded our way through the Manila traffic across town to my destination. The agreed fare 150 Pesos, and being fresh from the ATM I handed the driver the smallest note I had, 500 Pesos, and then spent 20 minutes arguing that the difference between 500 and 150 was not a tip as the driver claimed it was my change. Everyone wants a tip, get used to it, and learn to do it, its an art and fun too.
Intramuros. The original Spanish part of Manila offers these wonderful contrasts of ancient streets with Spanish names and buildings with running at right angles streets of modern day poor Filipinos making a living from the tourists. The favourite tourist part of manila, but beware the touts for tours and their costs. Two highlights Fort Santiago with museum dedicated to freedom figher Jose Rizal and manila Cathedral and Church of San Augustin.
It’s a great city to watch the world go by. Like all great cities it has a river, the Pasig River bordered by skyscrapers and the dwellings of riverside squatters
Take a walk down the road, find a roadside bar, buy a beer and sit and watch. This is a city that is full of people who came here to find work which isn’t there and make a living, somehow, and people who succeeded, rich and poor side by side. Many buildings grey and grimed from the traffic but the people hurry about on their missions. They always have an eye for a stranger, a look, a smile a flirt and they will always stop to talk. Ask a Filipino about their qualities and acceptance is one word that always comes out. Man walks into middle of street, traffic buzzing by either side. Stands and stands and stands for many minutes, then turns and walks back where he came from. The noise of scooter taxis roaring and racing helter skelter through the traffic, seemingly random and crazy with passengers sitting emotionless in the chaos. Stand in front of atm with a sleeping man at your feet. Chickens chained to railings to prevent escape, ubiquitous umbrellas against the sun, Streets of bars and gogo bars, massage girls, lady boys, surreptitious fake Viagra salesmen, punters, drinkers, party people, passers by, chaotic but everyone knows their place. Were it not for the endless intermittent flashes of neon signs it would be medieval. Stop to find my way, and a security guard at a bank, smart uniform pump action shotgun across his shoulders offers help and directions. Watch a woman at a table, attractive early 40s sits in front of 6 beers, listening to her music on earphones. Noone comes. Drinks 6 more beers and listens to music. Gets up to go to toilet, trips and falls down steps. Returns to table 4 more beers and puts earphones in. The whole
If you like cities and love to feel their souls it’s a great place. Don’t be afraid of it or be fooled by the fear mongers, its great and friendly and big and enveloping and fun. But keep your eyes open.