“Manila, Manila, I keep coming back to Manila,” says the ’80s Philippine hit song “Manila” by a band called Hotdog.
Interestingly, the song is about a man living overseas and aching to fly back home to Manila. Topping the charts in the ’80s, “Manila” has been the go-to song of homesick Filipinos and Filipinos at heart across the globe even to this day.
So what’s so special about Manila that even “the streets of San Francisco” can’t beat it? Here are the things you must know before you visit the capital of the Philippines for the first time!
What to Know Before You Visit Manila
1. You won’t need a lot of pocket money.
Unlike other tourist destinations in the world, traveling to Manila won’t break the bank. Sure, plane tickets might cost you a couple of bucks, but if you are to experience the Manileño lifestyle, it’s not going to cost a lot!
I was born and raised in the Philippines, but now I live and work overseas with yearly summer holidays to Manila. To be completely honest, it always feels like a “treat” to be coming home to Manila not only because I am a Filipino native, but also, Manila is all sorts of #travelgoals.
It is safe to say that your two-week itinerary in the capital alone is not enough! From museums and parks, to malls and cafes, there is a lot to check out in this 239.22 square miles wide city.
Everywhere is a shopping district in Manila. You can find your typical malls with your typical brands, but what I love about Manila is thrift shopping.
A place called Divisoria, situated near Quiapo Church, is the Manileño’s go-to shopping district from all walks of life. It’s a whole block of malls packed with stores that sell a variety of items that you can haggle. Kind of like Amazon, but more fun and adventurous!
Outside these malls are shopping tents, called tiange, that sell dirt cheap items. They are no different than the shops inside the malls, but these ones are literally outside in the streets. Sometimes, they are even cheaper but make no mistake, you can still negotiate!
I once got three tops that I wear to work for only Php300, or around $5.
Read This: 7 Tips for Night Markets in Southeast Asia
When you visit Manila, you imagine the island, summer life sipping pineapple juice while you’re soaking in vitamin D. That does not mean it gets boring at night.
Manila is like a little Spain when you know where to go. There are strip of clubs in the south where you can party and drink and still have money left to buy an iPhone! No, seriously. Entrance fee to most clubs can go as low as $10, and you can only imagine how cheap you can get drinks during happy hours. Yup, you don’t need a lot to get drunk! Manila is the way to go!
2. Prepare for adventurous modes of transportation.
Sarao, or popularly known as the jeepney, is the Manileño’s main mode of transportation.
For Filipinos, riding the jeepney on a daily basis is a normal task. Like, meh, just a regular day, nothing special about it. But for tourists, it is definitely an extreme sport.
I remember one time when I was on a jeepney going to a mall, a couple of foreigners got on and they were all smiles. I figured it was their first time riding a jeepney, and they all looked excited!
Jeepney drivers normally drive pretty fast so there are safety hand rails you can hold on to when stuff gets real. In the duration of the trip, I only ever heard the foreigners say “whoa” and “holy sh*t”. Yeah, pretty much sums it up!
Another mode of transportation in the city is the infamous tricycle. If you are going somewhere a bit far, you take the jeepney. But if it’s only a short distance, a tricycle will take care of you. There are tricycle terminals in every vicinity in Manila, so if you don’t feel like walking, you can take the trike.
In the recent years, Uber has been available in Manila as well. Compared to the previous two modes of transportation, this is the most convenient option, but less adventurous. You’re not gonna fly back home and say, “Oh, I took an Uber, it was amazing.” Don’t be boring!
3. The weather is ridiculously warm.
Upon riding the jeepney, you will notice your co-passengers are either using a hand fan or a portable mini electric fan. Don’t freak out! This is only normal, and quite wise.
The Philippines is a tropical country with only two moods of weather: scorching hot or soaking wet (wink wink).
When flying to Manila, your arsenal should include a hand fan or a portable mini electric fan, and an umbrella. An umbrella is a uuuuuuuuge necessity (insert Trump GIF here) since the sun can burn the hell out of you, and the rain can be so mean and disrespectful to your belongings.
Honestly, the weather in Manila is as moody as a PMS-ing woman. One minute, the sun could be shining. The next minute, rain could be pouring. I’ve lived there long enough to say that I’ve had more cancelled plans because of the rain than the number of years in my life.
4. Filipinos WILL stare. Deal with it.
I don’t know about people in other countries, but one thing I have noticed about Filipinos is they stare at people who are not one of them. Most of us are uncomfortable with it. However, they mean no disrespect!
Tourists mostly fly to other locations in the Philippines such as Palawan, Cebu, and the likes. So most people in Manila aren’t that accustomed to seeing non-Filipinos walking about in the streets. They might stare at you in admiration because of your fair skin, or your blue eyes, or whatever. Crack a smile for them and watch them giggle!
Heck, if they’re brave enough, they might ask for a picture with you! You’re the star, embrace it!
Story time: My dad literally did this a couple of years ago. We were in Frankfurt Airport and a man asked me how to set up the Wi-Fi on his phone. I helped him out and dad bravely (and shamelessly) asked him if we could take a picture. See? We weren’t even in Manila anymore, and we still did it! Urgh!
5. Staying in a friend’s place in Manila? You’re in for a surprise!
If you’re visiting Manila and staying at a friend’s house, you will find out that Filipinos have huge families. You will be meeting your friend’s mom, dad, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, second cousins once removed, third cousins once removed… I honestly could go on forever.
You will be meeting a lot of people! And you will be welcomed in the family and the warmth of their hospitality will embrace you. A little party will be held for you, and a wide variety of Filipino dishes will be served in the spirit of welcoming you.
This is how Filipinos in Manila, and the rest of the country, welcome a visitor. Once you step foot in their homes, you are part of the family. You will be having meaningful conversations with interesting people and you won’t even have to worry about language barrier, because we can speak English, even the young ones!
The definition of travel shouldn’t be solely slacking around in beaches and taking good photos. It should be enjoying your time, and making memories that will last you a lifetime.
6. Help is everywhere.
Always remember that help is everywhere. People in Manila are always open to helping you out. Whether it’s the direction to a place where you’re heading to, or just any random inquiry, Manileños got your back.
If you ask me what the strongest quality Filipinos have, the answer will always be hospitality.
The hustle and bustle of Manila streets do not silence the loud hi‘s and hello‘s and how can I help you‘s of the Filipinos, and that’s something I am proud about. No matter the challenges in a Filipinos life, they will still go out of their way to approach you and say, in the thickest accent, “Do you need any help?”
Now you are ready!
The rich culture of the Philippines reflects tremendously well in the everyday life of a Filipino in Manila. The food, the hospitality, the friendship, and the lifestyle speak for themselves. I know a lot of foreigners who keep coming back to Manila for various reasons, and hopefully you find yours!
I hope this blog has prepped you a bit for your Manila journey. Don’t worry! I did not spoil the fun for you for listing them all here, as you will find out more on your actual trip. These things above are only a heads-up for you, and hopefully, you enjoy your time in Manila, like I always do every year.