Four or five of my foreigner friends are visiting Manila in the next few days and they’ve been asking me for tips on how to maximize their time in the Philippines. I’ve received emails from them and I thought I’d answer all their questions here. But first, I’d like to clarify that I’m not an authority on the subject. I just happen to be a Filipino who has lived in Manila for a good number of years. There are millions of things I still don’t know and understand about the city although I have learned to love Manila despite all the negative things said and written about it. Second, I have been away from my country for almost three years now so some of the things I will be saying might be already outdated. But anyway, I’ll fire away just the same. Here are my answers to your questions.
1. How safe is Manila?
It is not the safest place in the world but it could be both safe and dangerous depending on which part of Manila you are in. The cosmopolitan side of Metro Manila is generally safer. If you want to experience the seedier side of the city, though, it is always wise to have a companion with you. Rule of thumb is, whether you’re traveling alone or in a group, always watch your back. If you’re staying in a hotel, ask the front desk staff for recommendations regarding places to visit.
2. Is the traffic really that bad?
Honestly, yes, it could be really bad especially on weekends during rush hour and/or rainy days. So you have to be patient and must prepare and brace yourselves for a long journey. In my experience, if I have a 9am appointment on the other side of the city, I usually have to leave my house two or three hours before my appointment so that I won’t be late. The MRT and LRT system could be a big help but queuing up can also be difficult during rush hours.
3. Does everyone know how to speak English?
Almost everyone can understand English but not everyone can converse fluently. However, compared to other Asian countries, you can communicate in English more easily in Manila.
4. Which Philippine restaurants do you recommend?
I have two personal favorites: Abe restaurant and Café Juanita. But I’m sure there are a lot of new good restaurants in malls all over Metro Manila now.
5. What about your must-see list of places to visit in Manila?
The walled city of Intramuros tops my list. I highly recommend you join the walking tours of activist and artist Carlos Celdran, one of the best tour guides of Manila. There’s also the CCP complex, Makati Commercial Center, Mall of Asia, Bonifacio City, Malate, Ayala Museum, Manila Bay.
6. And your Manila Do’s and Dont’s?:
- Do eat the famous adobo, crispy pata, kinilaw na tuna, Manila mango;
- Do watch a Filipino cultural show in Zamboanga restaurant in Malate or a local pop gig in Strumms or Hard Rock Cafe;
- Do watch the sunset in Manila bay or at the Mall of Asia;
- Do lock the door of your cabs/cars/vans when you’re traveling around the city;
- Do visit the countryside or try the beaches if you have the time to get out of Manila;
- Don’t wear fancy jewelry and display your cell phones when roaming the streets or even in malls;
- Don’t walk alone at night;
- Don’t leave your things unattended.
There’s something about the city’s bustling rhythm and people’s friendly smiles that many foreigners find really charming in Manila. So to all my friends, have a happy and safe trip to my country. I hope you enjoy Dan Brown’s “Gates of Hell” as you struggle rolling your tongues in saying the two phrases I have taught you. “Kumusta ka” and “salamat po!
Thank you, Google images for the Manila skyscrapers picture.