This monster size city is not the place you go to relax. If anything, it is an assault on your senses ( especially your nose and ears), will jolt you awake and leave you yearning for stillness. Most tourists use it as a stopover to the islands and in truth, I feel that three or four days is more than enough to see Manila and do a day trip to nearby sights. Awaiting a flight home to South Africa, we spent a full week in this pulsating city and found delicious food, friendly people and ways to keep cool in the city…
1. Get High…
…up, that is. There only place you are going to find any semblance of peace and quiet is if you head up a couple of floors (whether it’s in an apartment or a mall). With all the loud hooting ( honking for Americans), traffic jams, passing trains and craziness going on 24 hours a day in Manila, you need to find quiet somewhere. Our hostel started on the fifth floor of an apartment block and even though the noise pollution is never fully drowned out, it fades away slightly.
2. Stay at a hostel/hotel with a pool.
Manila is hot and humid, so if you’re out of the aircon’s reach or wandering about in the streets, a pool can be a lifesaver. We came back sweaty and exhausted from a full day of exploring the city and whilst a cold shower does the trick, lounging in a pool as the sun sets over the city is just that much sweeter. It was Pink Manila Hotel’s finest feature.
3. Find a friend.
Make local friends or chat to people who have lived in the city for a while. They can guide you with regards to reasonable prices of cab fare and which routes are the quickest. The staff at Pink Manila hostel were extremely helpful when it came to finding good food nearby, which laundry to use and what time of day to see certain sights. Meeting up with a blogger buddy who lived in Manila was one of the highlights of our trip. He was able to share so much of their country’s history, took us out for delicious local cuisine, enlightened us on the role of the church here and pointed out where to watch un-censored films on campus of the University of the Philippines!
4. Try avoid the railway at peak hour.
This may your only way to get around and we certainly couldn’t afford to take a cab from Libertad to Katipunan, but it was an experience I’m glad never to repeat. At around 5pm we took a train from Katipunan to Recto which was empty with room enough to sit and swing a cat but the line from Dorothea Jose was a different story. I’ve had my share of packed trains, but this was extreme travel. Everyone is forced to pack their hot, sweaty, smelly bodies together so tightly that you cannot move even if you really needed to. I felt like I was drowning in a melting sea of bodies, plus this station and train is known as a hot spot for theft we clutched tightly onto our backpack and my camera praying our station was next. Not my idea of a good time.
5. Go ice-skating.
Even though we didn’t have time to do this in the end, the ice-rink in Mall of Asia is by far the coolest place in this city. Go anywhere near it and you will feel your first and only chill. Pay 300 pesos and ice-skate until your fingers, ears and nose go numb and by the time you’re tired, night would have fallen so it will be cooler outside.
6. Visit Mall of Asia.
South East Asia will turn anyone into a mall rat. We don’t like malls, but we go willingly in search of air-conditioning, wifi and quiet coffee shops to write in. This mall is said to be the biggest in Asia and has a plethora of restaurants, food stalls and coffee shops to choose from. Due to its size, the crowds of Manila will for once actually seem sparse and you’ll have own space back for a change. If you’re like my husband you’ll stay occupied in the technology rows for ages, or if you have kids there are jumping castles and play parks too.
7. Explore Intramuros in the late afternoon.
Most people will tell you that this ‘walled city’, once the seat of the Spanish government during the colonial years is the only real ‘place of interest’ to see in Manila. It certainly was the best part of the city for me and once within its walls, we visited art galleries, churches built in 1571, cathedrals which have survived the many devastating earthquakes, memorials of Filipino and American soldiers. Adorned horses pull beautifully-restored carriages through the cobble-stoned roads and statues of Spanish heroes stand atop water fountains. It is a massive place to explore on foot, so after attempting it on one day and getting exhausted in the heat (and breaking my shoe) we began again in the next after 4pm. Couples picnicked along the walls at sunset, we didn’t have to try hide from the harsh sun and the light falling on the buildings was lovely.
8. Watch your belongings.
For the most part, South East Asia (especially Taiwan, parts of Thailand and South Korea) is really safe. But with a population of about 12 million people, overcrowding, slums and extreme pockets of poverty throughout the city, there is bound to be crime. We were warned by locals to watch all belongings and be vigilant when moving around to avoid any incidents.
9. Eat Halo Halo in the heat of the day.
This is the popular dessert of the Philippines and probably one of the best things you can east to cool you down. It comes from the Tagalog word halo, meaning mix. It is a sweet combination of shaved ice, evaporated milk, sugar palm fruit and boiled sweet beans.
10. Watch the sunset along Roxas Boulevard in Manila Bay.
Aside from the heaps of washed up garbage on shore, the sunsets here are breathtaking. Horses and carriages transport passengers beneath the palm trees, men rest their weary heads along the wall and children run along the boardwalk.
How did you keep calm and enjoy Manila?