When we booked our visa hop trip to Modessa Island in the Phillippines, as we mentioned, we did it on an absolute whim.
Travelling there left us with a choice, with either rush and get to the island as quick as possible, or stop in Manilla and take in a bit of the capital of the country we’d be visiting.
So we decided to stop over in Manila and spend a full day (nearly 24 hours exactly) wandering aimlessly around the home of 1,700,000+ Philippine people.
Upon arrival we saw similarities with Columbo in Sri Lanka, the city was colourful, hectic and the modes of transport often looked like they’d been the basis of many of the vehicles in the Mad Max films.
It was our kind of place. A bit of dirt, a lot of energy and an overload of new things to look at. But as the surface got scratched away, we realised these idiots had been pretty naive. Shock.
Where We Stayed: Go Hotel Airport Roa, Manila
We were pretty aware we’d be spending the next week in a beach hut, so opted for a Go Hotel, which is sort of the Travelodge of the Philippines.
Facilities were fine, bed comfy and we had warm water for the first (and last) time in a while.
The transfer from the airport to the hotel cost us about $16, which we quickly learned was yet another rip off. A habit we seem to be forming when we arrive at any new country.
“What’s that you say? You’re a taxi offering a fair price?, No thanks. Not for us. 150% mark up or we’ll wait.”
Anyway, the ride took us god knows where. It took around 25 mins. Yet on the return trip, about 8.
Check in was a nightmare. But that was also our fault. As I (Eddie) insisted we book an extra few hours to catch up on sleep last minute. And explaining this to the hotel staff was never ending. 12am-6am travel though, it was worth it.
Everything else though was spot on and the staff extremely friendly. We even had our first “courtesy call” at 10pm. Which we later learned was for a more sinister reason.
Idiots Explore Manila
After a short nap we left the hotel and grabbed a taxi towards the centre. We ended up getting out at Rizal Park. Which was about a 30 minute walk in towards where we were heading.
The park is famous because it was the location for Dr Jose Rizal’s execution, a key point in the Philippine revolution against the Spanish.
The park is lovely, with monuments and a couple of museums in the vicinity, it’s well kept and worth a wander about.
Walking to Fort Santiago
From Rizal Park we decided to walk the 30-40 minutes towards Fort Santiago and the rest of Manilas old town.
Reaching the Baluarte de San Diego on the way, led us to following the wall of the old fortification right down until we were able to take a right turn and find somewhere to stop for Wifi to figure out exactly where we were.
It was on this road that the realisation of where we were began to set in. Manila, in all it’s chaotic and colourful beauty, had it’s own share of problems.
We’d been so ignorant and also so spoilt with our time in Vietnam, that we forgot to really research where we were going and what to expect.
And Manila was teaching us a valuable lesson. The atmosphere changed. Entire families were sleeping under trees. Their children, well trained in asking us for money.
It was pretty heartbreaking and a stark reminder that the Phillippines is in fact a ‘third world’ country.
Binondo – Chinatown
Binondo is the ‘Chinatown’ district of Manila and was a short walk from the fairly nondescript coffee shop. It is the ‘oldest Chinatown’ in the world, and something that so many probably want to tick off their bucket list.
We for one can’t wait to brag about it.
The area is bustling, busy and packed with Chinese restaurants and shops. There’s a few token lanterns dotted about and street sellers too.
It’s not really what we expected though. Brutal concrete apartment blocks dominate the air above, with the winding streets jam packed with cars.
We didn’t really get much from this area, and so didn’t hang around too long. In fact we decided, as we always do, to take the walk back to the hotel.
Our walk back saw us follow the ‘coast’ side of the city. This took us through docks, around the US Embassy and eventually through a huge area undergoing masses of development.
High rise apartments, shopping centres scattered everywhere, coupled with even more poverty and even more ‘what the hell are you doing here?’ sort of looks from locals.
When we got to the coast, we were shocked to see plastic pollution first hand. Flip flops, bottles, toys and god knows what else slapped the edges of the shore right by the American Embassy (sort it out lads). It wasn’t a bit of rubbish either, it was a blanket choking the waters edge and sprawling out into the sea.
Ahead of our week at Palawan Island, and being so close to the ocean and the reefs for this stay, this sight served as a sort of wake up call. The amount of shit we dump in the sea is serious, and it was no longer just something that cropped up occasionally when watching Sir Attenborough on a Sunday.
Sure Bye and Borrell aren’t going to solve all the issues with their handfuls of manky plastic, but seeing dead coral, struggling marine life and even just smelling it in Manila meant we will try and be way more conscious from now.
We found Manila to be a very weird place.
Maybe we’ve been spoilt with the friendliness of the Vietnamese locals and the positives that a collectivist society has?
Maybe we just didn’t spend long enough in Manila, or go the right places?
Or maybe the fact it has around 1.6 million people crammed into an area of 16.5 sqm means it would be near enough impossible for it to be a completely safe and friendly place…
Either way Manila was an experience. And for us, this 24 hours was long enough. We got told before we left, that there wasn’t much there. And after our visit told it’s so densely populated it’s where ‘bad people go to hide‘, which would explain our initial attraction to the place.
Would we go back? Absolutely, but this time, we’d go with a plan.