Manila is one of the busiest and craziest cities I have ever visited. I read a lot about it in advance, but nothing prepared me for how busy and frantic it would be. From the crazy and high-risk driving (on a number of occasions I thought our driver was going to crash or fall asleep), to the vendors wandering the roads selling things to those in traffic, the moment I got there I was amazed.
Manila is the biggest city in the Philippines and, like most city centres, offers a mix of cultural, historical and modern things to do. It’s also very heavily polluted. As soon as you step out at the airport you can see the haze and smell the pollution which, combined with the heat, makes it quite difficult for long periods of walking. Therefore planning ahead is key. We had to walk for an hour around the old quarter before we found somewhere to get a drink, so make sure you carry enough liquids on you at all time.
How long to stay
Before heading to the Philippines I read a lot of articles about Manila and whether or not it is worth visiting. Some articles said it was worth a visit while others suggested avoiding it like the plague. We decided to find out for ourselves and opted to spend one day and night in the city as a stopover on the way to Boracay. This didn’t give us much time to explore, but in my opinion was more than enough to see everything we wanted to.
Where to stay
We stayed in the Bayleaf Intramuros, which is located in the old quarter of Manila. Whilst this was within walking distance to most of the historical and cultural attractions, it wasn’t easy to get to from the airport – it took us a good couple of hours each way in slow moving traffic.
The only benefit of this location for us was that it meant that we could get up early and make the most of a full day exploring the nearby sites. If we had chosen one of the more popular or modern areas to stay, such as Makati, we would have found ourselves sitting in traffic for a lot of the day. The hotel also has a rooftop bar which is great for watching the sunrise and sunset.
Things to do
Tricycle Tour: With temperatures in the high thirties, walking around Manila was hard work! As a result, we decided to ditch walking and take a tricycle tour around the main sights. This was certainly worth doing. The guide not only took us round the main attractions, but also gave us a running commentary along the way. I would recommend doing this at the beginning of your stay to help get your bearings.
San Augustin Church: The oldest church in the Philippines, San Augustin church is definitely worth a visit. We were lucky to go at a time where we could see the inside for free, but I think other times you may have to pay so worth reading up on it in advance before you go.
Visit Rizal Park: Rizal Park comprises of 60 hectares of lawns, gardens, ponds, paved walks and wooded areas. It’s also where you will find the Rizal Monument flagpole – one of the main attractions in the city. It’s a nice scenic location and doesn’t cost anything to enter so certainly worth a stroll through if you have the chance.
Go shopping in Makati: Makati is the business and more upper class district of Manila and where the best shopping can be found. We visited both in the day and night and would recommend it for those that are looking for good shopping, dining and entertainment. A number of the bars have live entertainment in the evening, so it’s a great place to go if you want a few civilised drinks with your evening meal.
Watch Midget Wrestling: This has to be one of the most bizarre things I have ever witnessed. We never set out to watch midget wrestling, but after a struggle to find the best bars we jumped in a taxi and asked the driver to drop us at a busy bar area in Makati. Little did we know that where he dropped us turned out to be Manila’s red light district.
The streets were full of prostitutes and people offering all types of things such as drugs and taser guns to those passing by. We sat and had a couple of drinks in a bar just watching the world go by then wondered up the street where we discovered the Ringside Bar – a hostess bar with a boxing ring for midget wrestling.
One of the strangest things I have ever seen, we watched as pairs of midgets covered themselves in oil before throwing themselves in the ring and fighting. Meanwhile onlookers stood around cheering and drinking. We didn’t stay long as the whole scenario was a bit surreal, but certainly worth a visit if you’re looking for something slightly different from your usual bar!
Visit Chinatown: Chinatown in Manila is just like Chinatown in any other Asian city. However, it is worth a visit nonetheless. It’s not far from Intramuros and the old quarter, so we got dropped off as part of our tricycle tour and spent a while wondering round the streets, before heading back on foot.
Manila is an interesting city and in my opinion is worth a visit for the experience, but it certainly isn’t somewhere I would suggest spending more than a day or two, or visiting more than once. It is worth visiting as part of a stopover to any of the Philippines island, but it isn’t somewhere that I would suggest going out of your way to see.