I’m back! The annual New Year’s Adventure v.2012 has commenced. Over the next few days, I’ll be writing about my time in the Philippines sharing pics and tips along the way. Here goes…
Manila represents everything that is the heart of the island nation, the Philippines. The city is jovial, laid back, gritty and dipping into the new. Not the tourist trap in the slightest, most travelers overlook this bustling metropolis as they head straight to one of the pristine beaches or volcanic jungle is country is known for. Those who do not give Manila a chance are truly missing out.
To get to the Philippines from the U.S. is not the easiest task. With no direct flights from New York city the journey is upwards of 20+ hours and requires a stop over in one of Asia’s many hubs. The tickets themselves are not cheap either: $1250 is on the lower end of the scale with costs tending to total closer to $1700 and up for peak seasons. With all the effort necessary to make it to the Philippines taking a few days to explore the capital is well worth it. On my most recent trip abroad, Krystina and I did just that.
Our trip began at New York’s JFK airport where numerous flights to Asia depart daily. Ours was a China Airlines flight via Beijing. Twenty hours later, and a little worse for the wear, we arrived at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Getting from the airport to your hotel is pretty easy. Buses are available but taxis here are relatively cheap. Coupon taxis to most parts of the city will cost around PHP400 (about 9 USD) and standard metered closer to PHP200.
Deciding on where to sleep in Manila is a little more complicated. The city is distributed to 17 territorial districts each with their own distinct flavor. Ermita and Malate form the original tourist belts with the standard Red Districts, bars, nightclubs and shops that come along with that. Makati is the financial center of Manila (and the Philippines) and is home to a bohemian nightlife, the city’s best restaurants and high end shopping. Krystina and I decided that Makati would be our home base for exploration during our time in the city. In Makati there are many hotels to chose from- all the big name brands and real estate here. The Dusit Thani, Shangri-La, Peninsula and Intercontinental are all good luxury bets in the district and cost between $130-180 a night. The Picasso Boutique Services Residences offer chic accommodations at a slightly lower price point (around $100 per night). If you are on a real shoestring, I recommend the Makati Apartelle which provides private en-suite apartments beginning at only $12.
The hotel should be the least of your concerns when visiting Manila. There is so much to see and do you shouldn’t spend too much time in your room relaxing. Our first day in the city began at Quiapo Market. The market encompasses the many narrow streets surrounding the Quiapo Church- home of Manila’s famed Black Nazarene. With it being Christmas Day the market was even more so packed than what I could imagine would be typical.
Though we could purchase almost anything imaginable in the maze of vendors, Krystina and I decided to use the market as an introduction to Filipino food. We spent the morning wandering street by street and ate our way through the stalls offering local Filipino treats. With generally everything costing under PHP50 (slightly over a dollar) eating through the market was an easy and cheap way to taste and experience local culture.
After indulging on our fair share of Filipino market delights, Krystina and I were off on our first jeepney ride. The jeepney is a collective form of transportation popular throughout the Philippines and joked about by many as the national symbol. For around PHP16 they offer a hop on hop off ride system throughout the city. The jeepneys are intricately decorated, given names and treated with much regard. On the side of each vehicle, the route to be taken is clearly portrayed. Use of a jeepney is the cheapest, fastest and most authentic way to traverse Manila’s districts.
Our inaugural jeepney ride to us to Rizal Park. Clearly, jeepneys took thousands of Manila residents here too. The equivalent to Central Park in Manila the grounds were filled with families getting together to celebrate the holiday (The Philippines is one of two predominantly Christian countries in East Asia, East Timor is the other).
After a little time mixing and mingling with the locals we decided to eat once again. This time the dish we were after was the notorious fruit: the durian. A jeepney ride to the San Andres fruit market and we found what we were after. Durian is a large pineapple looking fruit native to Southeast Asia. Though it looks innocuous enough, the fruit has an odor that smells frankly like a babies diaper mixed with some sweaty socks. If that wasn’t enough to scare most people off the texture is consistent with a warm grainy custard. Nevertheless, when in Asia, eat as the Asians, right? Wrong. Will never have this stuff again. Who knew a fruit could be so offending but durian was truly a horrible experience.
After the harrowing experience with durian, Krystina and I were in need of a little R & R. Manila is not a city known for its beauty, but Manila Bay is the notable exception. Local Filipinos and tourists (the few that do come through the city) gather along the bay walk daily to watch the boats float in and out of Manila Harbor. The sight of moving ships against the ocean is exceptionally popular and stunning at sunset and a walk here later in the day to catch it is highly recommended.
A stroll along Manila Bay was the perfect end to the first day of our Philippines adventure. I also think that with Manila Bay, I will end my first posting on my latest adventure. Tune in tomorrow for day two….