I arrived in the Philippines for my first visit to Manila just about two weeks ago after a flight from Boston to Toronto, Toronto to Seoul, and then Seoul to Manila. And all I can say is that I had no idea just how incredibly hot this country would be. Here are some of my initial thoughts on my stay.
Transportation Is Varied and Interesting
To get anywhere, especially without a car as I don’t have one here, transportation can be interesting. You can take a pedicab a short distance in order to catch another form of transportation, a tricycle.
A tricycle basically allows you to ride in a sidecar alongside a motorcycle to get to your next destination.
This may mean taking a jeepney, a shuttle, bus, or train. What you might think will be a 20 or 30 minute trip ends up being far longer. Most trips I take anywhere result in a typical 3-hour commute.
TSG Tip: While Filipinos are polite and will queue nicely for pedicabs, tricycles, etc., this all goes out the window when grabbing the train. I have never seen full out chaos that looked like it would erupt into an NHL hockey fight mid-game. It really was scary despite the fact that there clearly was enough room for everyone to get on the train so I’m so unsure why they do that, but you should prepare for it.
Grab is the Asian Uber and it’s definitely an app that you should download and have on your phone before your first visit to the Philippines. The price is dependent on time of day, demand, number of drivers, and so on, but it’s still far less than anything I’ve ever had to pay in the US. I took one the other night for a one hour ride from Quezon City to Manila and it cost about 400 pesos or about $7.46. Insane right? Best part is you pay in cash and know the total cost of the ride up front before you ever get in the car.
Anywhere you go in Manila, there’s bound to be traffic. Now I’m used to traffic living in Boston and having traveled to large cities like New York City, London, Madrid, etc. But nothing can prepare you for the never ending cycle of traffic that exists in Manila.
Traffic exists all day and all night no matter where you need or want to go. Trying to get a shuttle or a taxi at high peak traffic times is pretty much useless. It can be frustrating but when you accept this is a way of life, then you stop fighting it. Seems as though a few years ago cars became more affordable and now everyone is driving and the highway infrastructure just can’t seem to keep up with it.
Shopping Is A Sport Here
Shopping is a big deal here in the Philippines. Filipinos may not recognize it, but there are stores, malls, vendors, markets, and pretty much shopping on every corner everywhere in Manila. Feel like grabbing a quick drink? Sure, go ahead and buy a pair of jeans, shoes, or a rug for your kitchen while you’re at it. You can’t escape the non-stop offers that are constantly in your face.
This is true even if you’re going to the wet market to buy fruits and veggies. Guaranteed you’ll be able to buy something out of the ordinary like clothing or electronics if you look hard enough.
I will add that Filipinos do love brand names, too. You can find most popular brands like Michael Kors, Calvin Klein, Skechers, and so on just like you would in the US along with other brands maybe less popular for westerners like Anello. But people here will shop and then eat and then shop again especially at the large malls like SM Mall of Asia with its own amusement park and even the tallest Ferris wheel in the Philippines, the MOA Eye.
TSG Tip: Did I not mention the other popular Filipino past time is eating? Let’s just say that if you think you might go hungry here, give that thought a rest as you’ll be fed constantly, whether you want to or not. 🙂
Eating in Manila
I’ve been quite fortunate to enjoy more than one home cooked meal in Manila and the cooks were kind enough to make sure I got vegan food. That meant tofu, veggies, rice, and salad and the food was delicious.
Eating out can be another story. I’ve eaten at a couple of Thai restaurants, which meant I could get both tofu and veggies. But other than that, I had to suffice with some sides at restaurants I might not normally visit.
For example, I stopped at the national treasure of the Philippines, Jollibee, and all I could have was fries. So I chose the wasabi fries, which are fries dipped in wasabi powder. You better like wasabi if you want to eat these bad boys.
I stopped off with a friend for KFC, where shocker — they serve rice with the chicken and unlimited gravy from containers you pump yourself in the dining room. I could only find fries, but on the way out saw they had salad. Next time KFC, next time.
Although I didn’t stop here, I absolutely loved the signage for Botoy’s.
One of my favorite on the go snacks was served by a street vendor on a bike. Yes, he had heated tofu on the back of his bike to create the one of a kind snack called taho.
Made from silken tofu, arnibal (a sweetener and flavoring), and sago pearls, which are like tapioca pearls. I paid 20 pesos or about $0.37 USD for this yummy vegan snack that you just slurp right from the cup. Not bad at all, right?
Let me just add that sometimes I trip across things in the weirdest of places and this is definitely one of those things. Chicarones, or pork rinds, would never be something I could have. But a veggie version? I’m so into them and they come in a variety of flavors including salt and vinegar and extra spicy. I definitely need to limit my interaction with these bad boys.
Fruit is your friend here in the Philippines and I enjoy having a fruit smoothie as often as I can. I had a mango pineapple smoothie from a kiosk at the mall for all of 89 pesos or $1.66.
When I saw a Chatime store at the SM Mall of Asia, I quickly ran in to get passionfruit green tea with bubbles, less ice and 50% sugar.
TSG Tip: Keep in mind that Filipinos love sugar and I could’ve easily gone down to 25% sugar or even none as it was way sweeter than what I’m used to back in the US.
I was hot as hell going to the train the other night and opted for a pineapple juice even though the mango concoction looked good. Unfortunately, they all contained dairy so none for me.
We all know I love a good piece of architecture, especially religious ones like churches, cathedrals, synagogues, mosques, and the like. So when I heard about Baclaran Church, which enshrines the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, I knew I wanted to visit. It’s also the largest Marian church in the Philippines and since I never see my name anywhere, it was yet another reason to go.
I was surprised to see the many love locks on this pergola on the grounds of the church, but it was a nice place for couples to do a photo op.
Before entering the church you can light a candle or two with a donation.
Then you can enter the large church built in 1958 on your own and take a seat in one of the pews. On Wednesday the church is flooded with devotees who attend mass so keep that in mind when choosing a day to visit.
Final Thoughts for My First Two Weeks
I’ve touched on it lightly, but it’s hot as hell here in Manila. They don’t always have the air conditioning on and since it’s considered rainy season, they try to enjoy the cool air from the rain. As someone who always does her hair and makeup, let’s just say I’ve pretty much given up on that. My hair is a curly wreck of a mess that’s dry and frizzy and my makeup doesn’t stay on in the heat. Maybe as I adjust I’ll start doing it more often.
I fell on the sidewalk and nearly did a split within the first hour or so of being in Manila and scraped the hell out of my knee. Then I decided to kick a pedicab with that same knee. So I’m basically bruised on both legs like I’ve been doing some kind of secret underground fight club while here in Manila.
One week into being here I developed what is called “travelers diarrhea” and have been sick for days. Today is the first day that I’m eating and keeping things down. I’m convinced the Philippines is trying to kill me, but I won’t allow that to happen. I’m planning a trip to the province of Bicol for some cooler air and to explore outside the city of Manila and hoping the Philippines will cut me a break.
Do you have any ideas, suggestions, or comments for me for my visit to the Philippines that you’d like to share? Leave your comments below. Discover some other great destinations and travel ideas here on the Travel Shop Girl website.
On my new SPONTANEOUS TRAVEL SCALE of 1-5, with 1 being super easy and spontaneous and 5 being you better plan far in advance, Manila scores a 3 for spontaneous travel as this large city has so much for tourists and locals to see and do if they can plan their trip carefully to avoid high traffic times.