The name Manila immediately conjures up an image of the Marcos family and their excesses during their autocratic reign in the Philippines. However, Manila, the capital city of the Philippines has a rich history associated with it. It was founded in 1571 on the east coast of Luzon by the Spanish Conquistadors. The evidence of this is seen in the oldest part of Manila, Intramuros which is the original Spanish settlement, a walled enclave containing old and historic edifices.
Metro Manila today is a crowded, buzzing, chaotic metropolis which is made up of the smaller cities of Makati, Manila, Passay, Quezon, Caloocan and Pasig along with 12 other towns. Like other countries in the developing world Manila is a city of great contrasts, where palatial mansions coexist with squatter slums. The largest slum in Manila is Tondo where piles of garbage called Smoky Mountain are regularly ignited.
Manila is home to approximately 10 million inhabitants and is the political, educational and commercial capital of the nation. The University of The Philippines is located in Manila. The city suffered considerable damage during the Second World War. It was rebuilt with much aid from the US and continues to be a US base till date. Manila, today competes with other Asian cities in ordere become an important hub for global outsourcing as most of its residents including the taxi drivers speak English.
Manila is blessed with hot and sultry weather year round with soaring temperatures recorded in the month of May. Temperatures during the day can touch 35C (94F). Temperatures are slightly less harsh in the months of December and January when day temperatures hover around 30C(86F) and nights are pleasant at 20C(69F). The Rainy season in Manila lasts from June to October.
Getting to Manila
Ninoy Aquino International Airport
The airport located 7 km from the city has two terminals; the new terminal is called Centennial Terminal II and serves international carriers as well as operates as a hub for the domestic airline Philippine Airlines which serves 43 domestic destinations. Other domestic and regional carriers are Air Philippines and Cebu Pacific. These are low cost airlines. The Airport has all the trappings of a modern airport. For the comfort of passengers it has a Manila Lounge which can be accessed for US$11. At the Lounge one can have a shower and get newspapers amongst other services .A jeepney service ( a jeep like contraption festooned with decorations) operates between the two terminals.
Transport to the City
By Road –Car Rental
Car rental agencies such as Avis and Hertz have offices at the airport as well as around Metro Manila. An International Drivers permit is required for one to drive in Manila. Drive time from the Airport to the city can be anything between half an hour and two hours. It is all contingent on traffic.
Yellow metered cabs are available outside the airport. One should book a cab at one of the Taxi desks and avoid the Taxi touts who hang around outside the terminal. One should use a Taxi which is accredited with Department of Tourism.
An Airport Shuttle bus takes 45 minutes to make the journey to the city center. A cheaper option is the regular Metrobus which makes the journey in double the time. Jeepneys transport tourists to the metro rail station at Baclaran for a connection to the city. Other destinations such as Makati, Quezon City can be reached by buses which leave from the airport at regular intervals.
The local currency is the Peso which is made up of 100 centavos. But the US $ is widely accepted in tourist areas.
English is generally spoken and understood in addition to the official Filipino language. Further, the locals converse in a popular dialect called Tagalog.
Travelling around Manila
Driving in Manila
Traffic in Manila is a chaotic maze and driving in these conditions requires considerable skill. Pollution can wreck havoc by producing a haze which further hampers a visitor’s ability to maneuver a vehicle in the heavy traffic. Gridlocks are a common occurrence. Car rentals agencies Avis, Budget and Hertz operate in the city. Car rentals from these internationals agencies are about P2,500 a day, local agencies operate in the market as well and are generally cheaper. Some of these agencies are JB rent a car and KEI transport. They usually charge P1,200 a day. One has to be 25 years old to hire a car in Manila.
To avoid the hassle of driving in Manila it is better to hail a cab . Be sure to ask the driver to turn on the meter to avoid being overcharged. The initial flag fall is P25. EMP and R&E are some of the Taxi companies. Avis Taxi is radio taxi service and has a surcharge of P35 when a call is placed to this service. A limousine service is available to the airport from most hotels.
Like the Tuk Tuks of Bangkok Manila has its native mode of transport the Jeepney. These are privately owned and decorated with various bells and whistles. Jeepneys operate everywhere in the city and available 24/7. The cost of riding a Jeepney is between P4 and P10. Pedi cabs provide another transport option in order to traverse the crowded Manila streets.
MRT and LRT
The LRT was completed in 1985 while the MRT(metro rail) is under construction it has two lines at present. The LRT has a swipe cards used on its system and the typical fare is P12. It has a system of a stored value card which is available for P120 and has a validity of 6 months. One must be vigilant while riding the LRT as pick pockets operate during peak hours. The LRT route is from Monumento to Baclran.The MRT has a minimum fare of P10 and affords easy access to the business districts of Makati and Ortigas Center.
Kalesa and Karitela
These horse drawn carriages are yet another indigenous mode of transport which a tourist can avail of to visit the local sites and markets.
Private Bus operators such as JD transit and DMTC operate air conditioned and open window buses. They traverse the EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue,) this Avenue was the site of people power, a congregation which helped to topple to corrupt regime of the Marcos government. Bus fares range between P4 and P15 depending on distance and if the vehicles are air-conditioned.
To See and Do in Manila
Binondo (Chinatown), Binondo
The Spanish didn’t allow the Chinese traders to live with the walled section of Intramuros and hence the Chinese settled in Binondo north of the Pasig River. Manila’s Chinatown is a noisy raucous area with numerous shops selling Chinese herbal remedies and potions, clothes jewelry, magazine kiosk, Chinese fruits and vegetables. There are cinema houses that show the latest Hong Kong movies and budget hotels which are often houses of ill repute. A 16 century church is located here which has a glass enshrouded Madonna.
Coconut Palace, Malate
This is one of the remnants of the Marcos regime and an indication of the excesses of the former first lady Imelda Marcos. It is located south of the area of Malate on Roxas Boulevard and was erected at the cost of 10 million $, it is built entirely of materials derived from the coconut tree and hence the name. Built in 1981 for the Pope John Paul’s visit to the Philippines it received a papal snub as the pope refused to stay there. Subsequently the elaborately decorated and adorned suites accommodated number of famous people who were guests of Imelda, such as Van Cliburn and Hollywood actress Brook Shields. An appointment has to be secured to visit the coconut palace.
Malacanang Palace JP Laurel Street San Miguel
Malacanang Palace was the summer residence of the Spanish Governor General. Today this grand palace which once housed Imelda Marcos’s collection of a gazillion pairs of shoes and bullet proof bra is the official residence of the Philippine head of state. A museum is located within the Palace with displays of arte facts associated with every president’s rule along with portraits of the former presidents. It is open to the public from Monday to Friday from 9am -3pm.
Rizal Park, Ermita
One of the biggest parks in S.East Asia, Rizal Park stretches over 128 acres and is an important center of recreation for the residents of Manila. The park is named after Dr. Jose Rizal, a prominent thinker and anti-colonialist. He was executed by the Spanish in 1896 for his progressive views and he was originally buried in another park but in 1912 his remains were interred in the park under the Rizal monument built in 1912. The Park has a Chinese Garden, an Orchidarium as well as a pond where the Philippines archipelago has been recreated. It is open from 7am to 7pm daily.
National Museum, Rizal Park
It was established in 1901 and is located in Rizal Park. It consists of two buildings with permanent exhibits which display the cultural and historical heritage of the Philippine people. The National Museum of The Filipino People is located in what the Old Congress building was formerly and the building which was formerly the Finance building houses the timbres of a wreck of a Spanish Galleon ‘San Diego’ which sunk off the coast of the Philippines in 1600. The Museum is divided into five sections namely Art, Botany, Geology, Zoology and Anthropology. In addition, the museum has as an exhibit the skull of the ‘Tabon Man’ the oldest human remains found in this cluster of Islands which make up the Philippines.
Intramuros, Bonifacio Drive
The medieval remains of the Spanish walled city are an important tourist attraction. Several gates and parts of the wall are located on the southern banks of the Pasig River.
It contains several religious sites, art galleries and a walk through the gates gives one a glimpse of colonial Philippines as many of the historical buildings are being today restored to their former glory. The Intramuros Visitor center is located at Fort Santiago and organizes walking tours to explore the Intramuros
Located within the Intramuros is the oldest stone church in the country it was completed in 1606 and the church has survived the earthquakes of 1863 and 1889. The Church has a beautiful engraved door and a trompe-l’oeil ceiling. The choirs seats are hand carved from a local wood called molave while the magnificent pipe organ dates back to the 18th Century. The church has fourteen chapels and also a small museum run by the Augustinian monks which has displays of religious artifacts, icons and religious garments.
The admission is P45 and the timings are from 9am to 12 noon and from 1pm to 5pm daily.
Also located in the Intramuros is the stone fort called Fort Santiago overlooking the Pasig River. It has been used by the Spanish, Japanese and the Americans. It has a verdant park now where Filipino plays are staged. The national hero Jose Rizal was imprisoned here. The dungeons of the fort are located below sea level and this often caused prisoners to drown when the tide came in. Many American POWs perished here
Chinese Cemetery, Aurora Avenue
The Chinese were not allowed to bury their dead with the Catholics and hence built their own cemetery in the 1850s. To ease the journey of the dead these graves are adorned with air conditioning, flushable toilets, chandeliers and other devices believed to help a corpse in its onward journey. These excesses are worth exploring and guided tours are available.
Nightlife and Shopping
Manila has a throbbing nightlife where live music is a centrifugal force. Filipinos are renowned for their vocal abilities, one can take in local acts at various places around the city. Tourists tend to congregate around the areas of Malate and Ermita. Cowboy grill in Ermita is a spot to enjoy local talent. Zu at the Manila Shangri-la hotel in Makati is popular with ex-pats. Upscale bars called Orchid Bar and Café Vogue are located on Adriatico Street. Jm Nakpil Street and Makati Avenue are known for their pulsating nightlife. Laser Planet, Synergy, Verve Room are some of the dance clubs located in these areas. An area called the Green belt in Makati is yet another locale for bars and cafes Absinthe is a bar located here which is popular with the trendy folk of Manila. Casinos in Manila provide a additional entertainment option with Casino Filipino in Ermita open 24 hours a day. However,it has a dress code and an admission charge of P100.
Manila is a showcase for cuisines from all over South East Asia but local Filipino fare must be sampled especially the local spring roll called ‘Lumpia’ An established restaurant serving local fare in a laid back setting is Harbor View located on a jetty on Southern Boulevard. Illustrado located in an old Spanish Colonial home setting on General Luna Street also has to be visited .It serves Spanish and Filipino fare.
Malls abound in Manila, Quezon city has most of the malls such as Robinsons Galleria, Shangri-la Plaza, Shoemart Mega Mall and Green Hills. Ayala Center is yet another mall in Makati . These malls have retail outlets sell western and designer goods at prices which are very attractive and cheaper than in other countries. Malls are generally open from 10 am to 10pm. Local Markets such as Divisoria Market near Quiapo, Chinatown and Central Market retail fabrics, local Filipino handicrafts such as carved bowls, plates, utensils and lamps made of sea shells.