Why you should give Manila a chance
“The Philippines is nice, you’ll really like it – but you have to get the hell out of Manila”.
That is the advice I received when I first told a friend I was headed to the Philippines. He went on to tell me that Manila is crowded, noisy, dirty, dangerous and everyone tries to take advantage of you.
Let me put your mind to rest about how bad Manila is. It’s real simple, Manila is the capital of the Philippines. Is it crowded? Yes it is. So is London, New York, Los Angeles and any other large city anywhere in the world. Is it noisy? Well name me a large city that isn’t noisy. Is it dirty? Yes it is. Worse than a lot of cities I have been to, but not as bad as some. (READ: Why the Philippines suits me)
Do people take advantage of you as a tourist? Some people do. You will find that a lot of places you travel to will have what I call a foreigner tax.
For example, if a Filipino takes a taxi, most times it is a reasonable pre-determined rate or the driver uses the meter. You will find a lot of taxi drivers will want to charge you 2-3 times the rate as a foreigner. The solution to that is before you get in the taxi, tell the driver where you want to go and tell him to use the meter. If they do not want to use the meter, find another taxi. Taxis that are lined up at taxi stands are supposed to use the meter, but even there some may try not to.
There are other times when you will run into the foreigner tax. This isn’t all that uncommon in some countries. Not everyone you come across will try to impose that on you. You have to decide just what, if any, you are willing to pay a little extra for at times.
Is Manila dangerous? In my opinion Manila is no more dangerous than any other large city. If you make yourself a target, you might get into trouble.
There are pickpockets just like there are in Prague, London and Paris. There are instances when tourists get robbed just like New York or Bangkok. All in all Manila is pretty safe as long as you don’t put yourself in a situation, like walking down a dark alley at midnight drunk or flashing jewelry.
Of course sometimes things just happen no matter how careful you are.
Tell someone you are headed to the Philippines and you will hear, “You have to go to Boracay or El Nido.” While both places are stunningly beautiful and well worthy of visiting, you seldom hear anyone tell you that you should visit Manila.
Manila has a lot to offer tourists, especially if you are willing to get out of your hotel, walk around and learn to enjoy the city. (READ: 5 delicious Binondo food discoveries)
There are numerous historical sites such as Fort Santiago, the walled city of Intramuros, Rizal Park, Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Malacañan Palace and others.
There are numerous churches, religious sites and museums. The San Agustin Church and Museum, Quiapo Church, Manila Cathedral and Binondo Church are just a few. (READ: 8 beautiful Manila churches)
For shopping you can visit one of the many shopping areas such as Fort Bonafacio with its upscale shops and restaurants, Eastwood Mall, Greenbelt shopping mall in Makati which has everything like Western restaurants, shops, a grocery store and even a church in one courtyard that holds regular services. The SM Mall of Asia is not only a shopping destination but a tourist destination as well, billing itself as the world’s third largest mall and located right on Manila Bay.
For a different shopping experience visit Chinatown and the Divisoria areas. These areas have everything you might ever need but beware – it is crowded and there are the occasional pickpockets. (READ: What not to buy in Divisoria)
If nightlife is your thing, then head to Quezon City, Eastwood, Makati, Malate or High Street at Fort Bonifacio. You will find upscale bars, restaurants, night food markets, live music and dance clubs.
Do you want to try your luck? Manila has some great casinos. Resorts World, Manila Pavillion Hotel and Casino, Manila Marriott and several stand alone casinos just to name a few. Along with the existing casinos and the construction of the new Entertainment City you should have no problem getting your game on. Entertainment City is being built as a Vegas Style attraction with hotels, resorts, shopping venues and casinos. (READ: Overview: What you'll see at City of Dreams Manila)
The bottom line is Manila is big, dirty, crowded and loud. It is also vibrant, full of historical sites and entertainment venues. There are upscale shopping locations, great restaurants and hotels. Manila is growing and evolving and a place you should not dismiss as a tourist.
Add to the fact that Manila was recently included in the top 30 cities of the world, in a study by global real estate services firm JLL, and you can see how my friend was wrong.
While I thoroughly enjoy the beautiful beaches in the Philippines I can also enjoy spending time in Manila and I never get bored. Instead of relying on negative articles by travel bloggers and misconceptions of well-meaning friends, give Manila a chance. – Rappler.com
Bob Bales aka The Traveling Fool is a history buff, cigar-lover and enthusiast of different cultures and places. He has had the privilege of living, working and traveling all over the world. A proponent of getting off the "tourist path" and experiencing all that the culture and people have to offer. Happiest on a white sand beach in SE Asia or anywhere tropical. Check out his blogThe Travelling Fool and follow on Twitter @thetravelfool