Our visit to the Philippines was interesting right from the first moment. This fascinating country brought one surprise after the other, and I have to say that it is in my opinion, one of the most “adventurous” you can find in this part of the world without paying much.
Getting There and Where to Stay
As if our horrible flight (read here) had not been enough, making our way into the country was not easy either, as we did not have an outbound flight because we didn’t know what our next destination would be. We were told we had to purchase a ticket on the spot, but eventually managed to get through customs without doing so by showing an itinerary we had printed a few days before as a possible flight combination. Next step wast to get to Manila from Clark airport; we took the bus which is 350 pesos per person ( 1 euro is aboyut 67 Filipino Pesos) and a 1.5 hour ride. This should give enough time to decide where you’re going to stay because at 11.5 million people Manila is no easy city to be tamed.
Using ould LP guide we decided to check out a hostel in Ermita, not far from Intramuros(Manila’s old Spanish quarter), which sounded good. But upon arrival it was a bit to pricey for what it ofered and we tried several hotels close by that were a much better value for just a bit more money. After checking availability in many of them Cherry Blossoms Hotel (odd name I must admit) was our pick and we called it come for 2 days. They have superb food (boy were those spaguetti awesome) and very friendly staff.
Very Little to Enjoy
Unfortunately Manila (city) does not have much going on for cultural travelers. The city was sadly exactly what I imagined and reflects what most movies portray of it. Traffic, noise, pollution and fast food restaurants are all- or almost- over the city, except in Intramuros, the area surrounded by a wall built by the Spanish during colonization that has changed very little since. This was by far the nicest area I found as a tourist-in fact the only one. Quiet, clean streets, historical buildings… it is the only district of Manila where old Spanish-era influences are still plentiful. Fort Santiago is now a well-maintained park and popular tourist destination, and adjacent to it is the reconstructed Maestranza Wall, which was removed by the Americans in 1903 to widen the wharves thus opening the city to Pasig River.
But other than this I could not find a reason to extend the stay. Finding affordable but good quality food seemed almost impossible, and in fact I even recommend that if you really want a burger you stay away from Jollibee restaurants and make your way to McDonald’s or Burger King instead because the burgers are much better: those at Jollibee lacked flavor, had little meat and the fries were over-fried and oily. No good.
So We Left
Realizing that there was not much more to enjoy we decided to leave early and checked transportation to Donsol, a small town in SE Luzon that doesn’t have much going on except probably being the best place in the world to see whale sharks. However despite only being 450 km away the bus apparently takes about 14 hours to get there from Manila. Further research said that Moalboal in Cebu was also a good spot to see the whale sharks and sea turtles. Cebu is the main hub of the Visayas, a stretch of islands world famous for its beaches, plus it was a good place from which to continue our trip south towards Mindanao. We also looked into a nearby volcano that is said to be a great day tour, but unfortunately we didn’t visit it because we found a cheap flight with Cebu Pacific Air (the Philippines LCA) to Cebu and the thankfully smooth flight had us there by mid morning of the following day.
Have you visited Manila? Do you live in Manila? What do you think about the city? Why do you like- or dislike- it? Is there anything travelers like myself should visit that it little known? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below and this post too if you think other might find it useful!