Manila might be one of those cities I won’t revisit again in any other occasion. It looks and feels a lot like Jakarta, which I avoid most of the time. I mean, it’s a busy big city with the worst traffic jam ever. You can’t really walk in the city, and commuting from one place to another seems to be a day to day problem.
Manila, is pretty much the same with Jakarta. It’s pretty busy on its own.
1. Why Manila?
“If you don’t like big city, why chose Manila at the first place then?”
Well, we initially just need somewhere to transit on during our flight from Beijing, China to Jakarta, Indonesia. We don’t like a long 7-8 hours flight, and we don’t want to wait in the airport for several hours too. So we thought, why not stay in Manila for several days? It’s one of those transit cities beside Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and besides, we’ve never been to the Philippines before.
We should’ve booked another flight to Cebu right after arriving in Manila! Ah now it’s too late.
2. First Thing to do after Arrival
MONEY (EXCHANGE CURRENCY)
If you don’t bring Philippine Peso with you, like us, there are two options for you. One is to withdraw some cash from the ATM, like we did, or go to the money changer in the airport.
We noticed that money changers at the airport mostly offers you a terrible rate, especially if you wish to exchange it with your local currency. So avoid it at any cost. However, if you’re using US dollar, it won’t be that bad. This applies not only in Manila airport, but any airports.
That being said, we prefer to use ATM as it offers you a much much more acceptable rate. We did try this method in Thailand, Singapore, Hongkong, and now in the Philippines and we were charged at the fairest rate. So, if you don’t bring that much cash with you, go find an ATM in the airport that provide international cash withdrawal.
The next step then is to input your password and also the amount of cash you’d like to withdraw, like usual. Some of the ATM will ask if you would like to be charged in USD instead. If this happens, PRESS NO / CANCEL. That way, you only exchange your local currency once, to Philippines Peso, without exchanging it to USD before.
FREE TRAVELER SIM CARD
Here in Metro Manila, you can get a prepaid sim card for free. Just head to SMART or GLOBE stand at the airport, just right in front of the arrival gate. You’ll find some.They will give you a traveler sim card for free, but it comes with a very limited data. So make sure to buy some credits in your new sim card to purchase more data package. We bought SMART 1.5GB data that valids in 7 days of usage for PHP 300.
Still at the airport, with your new sim card, setup your Uber account (or install one if you haven’t) since it’s the most convenient transportation you can possibly find, for now.
Now, off to the city we go!
3. Transport from the Airport & around the City
Public transportation in Manila includes bus, jeepney (go google it if you have no idea what it is), taxi, and MRT. I read a lot of blogs and reviews about public transportation here, and none of them seem to fit us. We considered using MRT, but then we found that it always packed up, and what I mean by packed up is… packed up, like, tightly. And also, considering that there are a lot of pickpockets issue here, we decided that using Uber is our best choice, for now.
It provides a safer and cheaper alternatives of transportation than the normal taxi. Just try not to use it during rush hour (8-10am and 4-9pm) as most of the times, it will offer you the higher price. The Uber fare rates automatically increase, up to 3 times higher I think, when the taxi demand is higher than the number of drivers around you. So, keep an eye on it.
And oh, you can’t really walk from one place to another here in Manila. That’s why we depends on Uber a lot.
4. Where to Stay?
I stayed in Malate, but later I found that there’s not much to see and do around there. I would recommend to stay in Makati area, or anywhere near if you could, as most coffee shops and good restaurants are here. Makati itself is pretty big, so you might find yourself Uber-ing from here to there.
Another favorite area of mine is Bonifacio Global City. It feels a lot like big city, but it’s very neat and clean. Prices here are generally higher, though.
Just like any other developing countries, tap water here is not safe for drinking. So you might wanna bring some bottled water with you. Don’t worry if you’re planning to spend most of your time in coffee shop or restaurant, like we did. Most places will provide free iced water for you. They will even pour more water to you glass if they find it empty.
Cafe & Resto
My favorite topics in the world. Grins shows on my face as soon as I hear this word. If you’re new in the Philippines, do try some of their local food!
Here’s some of my safe choices to have nice Filipino food :
- Manam (my favorite!)
- Gerry’s Grill
- Sentro 1771
- Giligan’s Island Bar & Restaurant
Thanks to @enroutetoadventure for the recommendations!!!! Big hug!
No, I didn’t have the courage to try their famous Balut. So, no Balut pic here. Maybe next time? *grin*
If you like pork belly, do try their other version : Lechon Kawali, which is simply crispy fried pork belly.
I found that there’s not much of a variation of local food here, unlike Thailand. But this big city offers you a wide range of international food. So we did eat sushi, ramen, yakitori and western food here.
Here’s some non Filipino food resto you might want to check out :
- Nanbantei : go for their yakitori!
- Ramen Nagi : ramen, of course.
- Ilustrado : Spanish resto in Intramuros. We tried their Paella and we love it!
- Tsumura Sushi Bar & Restaurant : decent sushi in Makati.
Not gonna write much about it. Instead, I’m just gonna list some of my favorite coffee shop in Metro Manila. I will write another blog post in details for each coffee shop, I promise!
- Toby’s Estate (no wifi)
- Single Origin (slow wifi)
- Local Edition (fast wifi)
- Bo’s Coffee (fast wifi, limited usage time)
Also, check out my full review of Local Edition here.
6. WHAT TO SEE, WHAT TO DO?
We mostly spent our time in coffee shop, as we need to work 8 hours a day. That’s why we did cafe hopping a lot. But, if you have some free time, do check some of these places.
San Agustin Church, Intramuros
One of the most beautiful church I’ve been. We accidentally bumped into this beautiful wedding last week. Too bad that we missed the aisle walk!
Casa Manila, Intramuros
Casa Manila is another interesting part of Intramuros. It’s a museum but doesn’t really feel like it. Instead, it feels like someone else’s big old Spanish house! When we got there, the museum was already closed for public (closed around 5.30 pm I think). But we were allowed to explore the building. There were hotel, restaurant, shops, and even tour agency inside.
Enjoying Manila Sunset from SM By The Bay
Sounds pretty cliche, but we did enjoy our time in SM By The Bay. We took a ride on their ferris wheel (MoA Eye) for PHP 150 / person and catched the sunset from above. It was worth it.
Have Dinner at SM By The Bay
Right after you enjoy the sunset moment, have dinner at one of the restaurants by the bay. We chose 678 Korean BBQ and we really like it!
If you don’t like Korean BBQ, here are some of other alternatives :
7. Safe Tips
As dangerous as it might sound, Manila is a safe city to travel to when you know how to travel safely. Here’s some of my safe tips.
- Use commuting apps like Uber, or GrabTaxi instead of normal local taxi to ensure safety. Unlike those in Indonesia, I found that Uber drivers in Manila are very efficient. They don’t call you before picking you up, they don’t ask obvious questions like “where are you going?”, they just simply use Waze that navigate us to the destination.
- Keep an eye on your belongings when you’re in a crowded place, that’s where pickpockets mostly happens.
- Ignore those people who randomly come to you to offer something, if you don’t really need it.
That’s all from me, really 🙂
Don’t worry too much! Filipinos are generally very friendly, even to foreigners. And they speak very good English, too. You can always find someone to help you out, or someone to chat with.
Salamat! And I hope you enjoy Manila!
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