We arrived in Manila at around 10am on Nov. 8th, 2017 after what felt like a lifetime in an airplane flying from Vancouver. Thankfully it was a direct flight, but 13 hours in a plane is no picnic (literally no picnic as they didn’t have vegan food!).
**If you have special meal requirements make sure to call more than 48 hours in advance**
Even though I didn’t sleep too well on the plane, as soon as the wheels hit the ground I instantly got my second wind and was excited to get out and explore a bit of the city. We waited for what felt like an eternity for our backpacks at the luggage conveyor belt and then hopped into a metered taxi right outside the airport.
**Only exchange up to 10,000 php (about $200 usd at the time of this post) or you will have to declare it at the airport**
Our 30-minute taxi to our hostel (Bahay Kubo Hostel) costed 202 php, which at the time was about $4 usd. Our taxi driver was nice, not overly chatty, but when asked what is nice to see suggested Tagaytay and Taal Volcano hiking.
When we arrived at the hostel we were greeted by the lovely Breezy and even though it was only around 11.00 we were able to check in to our room. We were shown to a small but cozy private room which costed 1,700 php ($33 usd) for two nights. Our room had a double bed, 2 storage lockers, a little desk, and two fans. Unfortunately there was no AC, but I thought it was a good way to start off our adventure given that this would be the case at probably several hostels along the way. Sophie did not agree so much, and also put our sleeping bags down, to avoid likely bed bugs.
After changing our clothes and brushing our teeth, we set off on a little walking tour of the area. Breezy gave us a photocopy of a hand-sketched map of the area and pointed out a few things that were within walking distance. We were both starving and luckily there was a restaurant practically right next door to the hostel that served vegan food, among other things.
The restaurant was called the Zing Cafe and as we entered we were warmly welcomed by our server Dave. We ordered to share a vegan shwarma, which was like a burrito that had spinach, beans, onions, and some other stuff. We also shared vegan pancit Bihon Guisado, which was rice noodles and vegetables. Both were really good with some added hot sauce, and filled us up.
After our meal, we set off and walked up Maria Orosa street, through a massive mall called Robinson Place, through Rizal Park, past the Museums of Anthropology and Natural History (separate, and impressive, buildings), and finally into the Intramuros area. It felt like we walked for hours…….. and hours ……..After the heat of the sun, we decided to head back to the hostel for a nap.
When we had rested up and were ready to take on Manila again, Sophie googled around to find a place we could go. She found a place called Art in Island that looked cool because it was basically a gallery of 3D art. It didn’t look too far away on google maps, but for some reason it gave over 1 hour as the travel time in a car. I thought maybe it was wrong…it wasn’t. I cannot over-exaggerate how long this bloody car journey was. After 1 hour and 45 minutes we had finally arrived to our destination, or so we thought. We were actually at a dead end in a dark alley and to get out our taxi driver had to do a 100 point turn with the help of a small village who would use knocking noises on the car to let the driver know when we was about to hit a wall. This palaver was so ridiculous it actually lightened the mood because at that point we were getting over the whole thing. When we finally emerged from the dead-end we turned a corner and were (at last!) at the Art in Island gallery.
Luckily when we did arrive, it was amazing and the photos prove it. Just outside the gallery, as we were leaving, we witnessed a music video production in progress featuring what looked like the filipino Justin Bieber.
**Wi-fi is quite limited in restaurants in the city so if you don’t have a SIM card with a data plan, do your best to pre-plan everything from your hotel or hostel to avoid being stuck without an Uber or a way to map out your destination. We found that regular metered taxis are about the same price and service almost as good as Uber, with the added benefit of being able to hail one easily from most places.
On our second day in Manila, we laced up our runners early and hit the gym, which was super. We found a good one in the Robinson Place mall called FitnessFirst. Afterwards we made our way to the vaccination center to get our final shot, which was for Japanese Encephalitis. We decided to get this because some of the places we are travelling to have a risk of contracting the virus, which could cause your brain to revert to a two-year old. As was becoming normal, our taxi dropped us in the wrong place and we had to ask our way around until we finally found it a 5 min walk away.
The highlight of our day was our journey through the craziest market/malls I’ve ever been to. It felt like the whole of Asia was in the 168 Mall. I took us there because I found a place called the Loving Hut on the Happy Cow app on my phone which locates restaurants nearby that serve vegan food. Nearby in Manila is relative because it takes an hour or more to move 10 km in any direction in a car! I had gotten Sophie’s hopes up thinking it was going to be a nice restaurant, but it turned out to be the smallest hole in the wall amidst the biggest most crowded food court in the world. Our food was served on prison plates that had sections in it. That being said…the food was good and the people we encountered were friendly and polite as usual. When we got back to the hostel, our local hostel-keeper gave us props for going there.
We set out with the intention of “keeping it local”, but after hours of walking and ongoing rain, we settled for pizza from a mall for dinner. It is only day 2….
In summary, the people we encountered in Manila were super friendly and helpful, more so than most places we have been so far. However, the traffic and pollution around the city, along with the horrible smells we encountered frequently whilst walking around are unfortunately what left a lasting impression. One of the locals we UberPooled with said that she felt like the city was imploding and that it was not a good thing that there is lots of construction throughout the city due to the already high density of people. Based on our first impressions, would we come back to Manila? Definitely not to the places where we went the way it is…