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We can’t say we have spent much time in Manila but have used it numerous times as a springboard to go to Palawan and Boracay. Jefferson of the blog, Coffee Grounds & Latitude, is originally from Manila and recently went on a deal. Here are his practical travel tips.
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It’s more fun in the Philippines. It’s not just a catchy slogan of choice by the tourism board of the Philippines; it’s a way of life in this southeast Asian country. Yes, I will be a little bit biased when it comes to my favorite country to visit as I was born and grew up in Manila for ten years. I did not choose to be born there, I just got lucky.
When to Visit
Thanks to The Flight Deal, my girlfriend Mallory and I snagged great round-trip tickets from San Francisco to Manila for $490 for early January. I highly suggest visiting the Philippines during the months of December to March as those months provide bearable humid weather to those who are not comfortable with temperate climates. When it comes to obtaining a visa, U.S. citizens arriving from the airport can obtain a 21-day entry stamp, free of charge, as long as the passport is valid for at least three months.
How to Withdraw Money Safely
I’ve never been a huge fan of currency exchange shops as they tend to charge exuberant amounts for the local currency. What I suggest for a hassle-free and safer way is to withdraw money from the ATM; this gives you the best rates minus the middleman currency exchange booths. The current exchange rate is $1 = $51 peso. I highly suggest getting a Charles Schwab ATM card so you do not have to worry about those annoying international withdrawal fees. Common and safe ATM machines are from Metrobank, Banco De Oro, and Philippine National Bank. These are the more recognizable ones and try to avoid sketchy looking ones on non-populated streets. Most merchants do take credit cards; however, cash is king.
For a more authentic experience of getting around town like the locals, use the Jeepneys or Jeeps. Just imagine a minibus on a fixed route that can pick up and drop off passengers on the side of the road. It’s inexpensive (8 pesos), can stop anywhere within the route, and guaranteed to be unforgettable. Uber is widely used as well in Manila as the base fare starts at 40 pesos ($.78 cents). If you are exploring the historic Spanish quarters of Intramuros, hire a horse-drawn carriage called “Kalesa,” chances are the Jockey will double up as an inexpensive tour-guide as well.
The beauty of Manila is within reach of all kinds of budget. Airbnb and Hostels are bursting and the demand for them has risen over the years. For the unrestrained ones, you can stay at City of Dreams, where rooms start at $300/night. The Manila Bay is being dubbed as the new Macau as its developments of Las Vegas-style casinos, hotels, restaurants, and nightlife will rival any hot spots in southeast Asia.
Petty crimes, like pickpockets, are uncommon as long as you don’t present yourself as a target. The police are in full force throughout the city and tourist/expats pose as an uncommon target for thieves. When entering a mall, the security guards will search your bags and proceed with a minor pat down for the safety of the people. It is a minor inconvenience for a safe shopping experience.
The Mall Life
These are not your mom and dad’s malls in America. Three of the top six biggest malls in the world are in the Philippines (hooray consumerism). These malls are a city within the city. The SM City North Edsa Mall has an average daily foot traffic of 950,000 people every day. That is almost a million people a day and that’s just for one mall! Everything you could ever think of buying is inside the mall. These malls offer retail shops, gyms, doctors’ offices, restaurants, bowling alleys, and even churches. Even nightclubs are inside the mall. These malls are not just a place for social gatherings but a way of life.
Wi-Fi and connectivity
With our T-Mobile free international data plan, we had unlimited free web data and text messages. T-Mobile piggybacks off of the local network and we were able to use internet speeds of up to 3G. 4GLTE is somewhat slow and unreliable even if it shows up on your phone (unsure if it even exists). It’s not the absolute fastest and the Philippines is notorious for having slow internet data compared to its neighboring southeast Asian countries. If you are interested in purchasing a sim card when you arrive, you are limited to essentially two options: Globe or Smart. These two had monopolized the terrible internet connectivity of the islands and has constantly remained neck to neck when it comes to snail-like pace connectivity. Just be patient as the loading speeds are not up to par with western standards. Wi-Fi is everywhere as promised but the slow speeds are still disappointing.
The Filipino Food
Here we go. One of the best reasons to experience Manila is to enjoy the delicious Filipino dishes. With influences from Chinese to Spanish culture, these dishes are mouthwatering as I’ve always remembered. First, start with Lumpia, the Filipino version of the Asian spring roll, stuffed with minced meat and chopped veggies. Lumpia is a crowd favorite and can be found everywhere. The second thing you should try is Chicken Adobo. It is a staple in the Filipino diet and easily one of the well-known Filipino dishes outside the Philippines.
If you are still undecided on what to eat, try the local food court at the malls. These mom and pop style cafeterias are everywhere. The locals are lined up at the most popular ones so you cannot go wrong with that.
Like most southeast Asian countries, tap water is not safe to drink in Manila and the rest of the Philippines. Knowing this, I had purchased a Lifestraw before this trip. Lifestraw is a portable on-the-go water filter that stores 22 oz. of safe drinkable water that can be topped off with regular tap water. You can also purchase bottled water pretty much everywhere for about .25 cents each.
Places to See
While the Philippines does consist of 7,000 islands, Manila has a lot to offer when it comes to the must-see. The historic Spanish quarters, called Intramuros, offers a lot of rich history and various cathedrals, like the Manila Cathedral that will take your breath away.
You can fill up that hungry appetite of yours at the very first Chinatown outside of China called Binondo. And during the sunset, enjoy the vibrant energy and street vendors at the famous Rizal Park. The Manila Baywalk also delivers various entertainment after 5pm. If you are interested in guided tours, TripAdvisor is widely used and reliable with spot-on reviews.
Manila, in my opinion, is underrated and always considered an afterthought for travelers. I insist on seeing this beautiful city and enjoy the warm and friendly locals for your next trip.
About the Author:
Jefferson first started on his love of travel by taking minor trips exploring the Western side of the United States. He decided to embark on the Fifty-state tour only to realize that his passion could not be limited inside the United States. Forty-Two countries later, he is just getting started. He currently resides and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on his blog, Coffee Grounds and Latitude.
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