After cruising round the rustic Visayas for 9 days, experiencing the many aspects of Filipino island life, including terrifying traffic, seasickness from the ferry crossings, dodgy cocktails and of course occasional glimpses of indescribable paradise, we headed to the airport in Dumaguete. Our flight was inevitably delayed by 5 hours whilst we waited in the bus terminal-esque departure lounge, but we did eventually pile on to our Cebu Pacific flight, destined for the infamous capital city, Manila.
Pretty much everyone we’d come across had warned us about Manila. Most people merely pass through the airport en route to more alluring destinations elsewhere in the country, without venturing into the exhaust-choked concrete jungle of the city proper. Being the intrepid travellers we thought we were, we confidently decided to book 3 nights near the city centre. After landing and navigating our way around Manila’s obfuscatory airport, we jumped in a metered cab and set off into the eternal traffic jam of downtown.
40 minutes and 5km later, we found our hostel and checked in, which turned out to be pretty nice and the perfect refuge from Manila’s madness. Unfortunately, round about this time I began to feel very ill with stomach cramps and digestive discomfort (to word it politely)… which actually lasted for the entire time we stayed in the city. This, tied in with Manila clearly being a dreadful tourist destination, meant we spent the majority of our time in the hostel. We spent our time chatting with travellers and playing pool while I periodically ran to the loo.
The reason Manila is so horrible is because it’s overpopulated, super polluted and smelly, poor, there are hardly any green spaces, and has an infrastructure that cannot handle the sheer volume of people. Step outside in Manila and you’ll be faced with a honking mass of traffic and fumes, trash piled high on street corners, stray animals everywhere and delapidated shantytown buildings lining the streets. Consequently, when we did explore the city, we looked for anything that might offer some kind of respite from this.
One day we went to check out the old walled Spanish city of Intramuros. It was pretty disappointing, with the majority of the area being just as dirty and poor as the rest of the city. Children played in gutters, cockerels peered at you from inside cages and street stalls offered unappetising local fare. There was a scattering of beautiful old architecture, and we did spot a wedding occurring in the cathedral, but otherwise blink and you’d miss anything remotely pretty. Before long we went in search of Rizal Park, a rare bit of green space that offered some comparatively fresh air and non hazardous walking. We especially liked the relief map of the Philippines in the east of the park.
Another day we crammed ourselves into the trains to visit Makati, the upscale part of town with beautiful new malls and food courts. This was where we spent our Valentines day so we splurged on dinner at TGI Fridays and even shopped for books (pretty extravagant!). Catching the train was absurd. The guide book described it as a mosh pit and they weren’t wrong. You got packed in like sardines and had to properly push people out of your way if you wanted to get off the train at your stop. It was absolutely ridiculous (but kind of a fun experience in retrospect!)
One surprising thing about the city was the abundance of clean, modern and stylish cafes and restaurants to be found. We had awesome Korean food (twice), burgers and New York pizza… kinda surreal. And just before you get at me for not making the most of authentic Filipino cuisine, I just want to tell you how the country’s cuisine is not much good. It’s not easy to find, nor is it particularly interesting or varied. So we ate pizza.
Before long our time in Manila came to an end. Unfortunately, Jake spent his 24th birthday waiting in Manila airport for our flight to Thailand (he booked it for that day, forgetting it was his birthday) and we weren’t sad to leave. Our time in the Philippines had been quite… challenging. I think we were a little ambitious with our itinerary and made quite a few mistakes. If we were to revisit (and I think we will) we would definitely just head straight for Palawan, Boracay or Siquijor and chill out on an island paradise. But there was no point lamenting it, because we were already on our way to our next country; Thailand! woo!