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.
Far above the city’s loudness.
From our hostel lounge or hammocks on the roof, you almost forget that you’re in a jam-packed city.
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.
Best place to be after walking through the city in the heat of the day.
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!
Paul showing us the beautiful campus where he studied: The University of the Philippines.
The peaceful, tree-lined streets of UP where students run, walk and exercise.
Tapa sinangag itlog (Beef, fried rice and egg)is a classic Filipino breakfast which we ate a small, cheap restaurant on UP campus.
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.
A young guy taking selfies instead of skating.
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.
A bike parked in front of Plaza de Roma.
Manila Cathedral in the late hours of the afternoon.
One of the many pedicabs cycling through Intramuros.
A young boy with the greatest smile who ran towards me as I walked along the walls of the city. He was one of the many impoverished children we saw living and begging on the streets of Manila.
Vaughan getting hot and stuffy in a pedicab. Loving the new graffiti in this old, Spanish part of the city.
A young, couple having a shoot on a corner in front of this beautiful building.
A horse and carriage filled with people outside San Augustine Church.
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.
Can you tell the real men from the statues?
Horse and carriage looking for passengers in search of a romantic ride.
Heaps of garbage has washed up on shore tainting this otherwise beautiful promenade.
How did you keep calm and enjoy Manila?
paul | walkflypinoy says
Agree with everything here 100 percent! This post gets my Manileño seal of approval. Ha. Seriously though, I think they’re doing some fine restoration work in Old Manila. Your lovely photos of it are showing me things I have never seen before. I guess time to re-explore it then!
Coming from a talented photographer, this is such a compliment! Thank you Paul, glad I get the approval of a local 🙂
Raymond Waruhari says
Great post Lauren. From photography to what to do, everything is excellent.
Thank you Raymond! Really appreciate the feedback. Manila-what a city!
Been to the Philippines, but I never experience those things. Need to explore more when I come back. What I really love visiting in the Philippines is the beach. EL Nido simply awesome.
We only stayed in busy Manila for a few days and sadly never got to see the coastal areas of Philippines. It’s so sad about the massive loss of life and damage to the central Philippines.
Jack Falconer says
What?! You really missed out then. Why where you there for such a short time?
Lauren Manuel McShane says
Tragic I know. Only a stopover on our way home to South Africa, it was cheaper to fly home from there than Taiwan 😉
Jack Falconer says
Next time you can bypass manila and fly directly into Cebu international airport and from there are many awesome islands…. bohol, malapascua, apo, siquijor etc… I have lived in the Philippines previously and go there regularly and try and avoid manila these days…. hope you manage to get back there to explore ?
Thanks again for the love for the Philippines. Manila gets a bad rep (for good reason). We don’t like staying here but it’s where are friends are. Since you left the economy’s been booming, there’s tons of construction and improvements happening to the infrastructure (creating more traffic) , and it’s an election year (so all the politicians are quick to pretend like their spending money on projects). It’s crazy!
Intramuros is a must. Mall of Asia is full of people and things to do and if you’re just killing time a great place to do so as it has everything you need. More food should be on this list, great buffet abound, there are tons of nice restaurants and budget options, and the Filipino cuisine is one of the most underrated but is finally getting it’s share of international attention. Anthony Bourdain’s excited to come back for a second time and we’re all waiting for him to throw out more love.
Hopefully you do get to come back and visit the islands. The people are incredible, the beaches are worldclass, and there’s tons of off beaten paths to be discovered by you.
Love from Manila,
Mark and Camille
Lauren Manuel McShane says
More traffic in Manila? I can’t even imagine how anyone gets anywhere hehe!? How long have you guys lived there for- are you guys locals? Which islands would you suggest? While we are keen on Boracay we’d love to see some quieter islands too. We really loved the genuine friendliness and warmth of the Filipino people, they are tops! thanks for reading 🙂
Well you just opened yourself up to a huge list. Depending on what you like I’d say Boracay has some of the best water and sand but it’s not quiet.
I’d recommend going to Palawan (specifically Coron and El Nido) lots of island hopping from both places. Gorgeous tours, clear waters, amazing snorkeling and diving.
Oslob or Donsol (swim with whale sharks), climb Mt Pinatubo, Mayon, or the rice fields in the north. Swim with turtles go to Apo Island.
Cebu is a big island and there are tons of spots all around it. I haven’t even mentioned the southern islands but there are some places you just can’t go to for security reasons.
Camille’s full Filipina and she was born and raised out here. My folks are Filipino but I grew up in the states then came out here to take my masters degree.
Now just roaming the world but have been in Manila for a couple of months. Currently waiting for a visa to work in Austria.
Will message you if we ever go to South Africa. I visited for a month and I caught the travel bug there.
Mark and Camille