With one final day in Manila I headed to a hostel in the city itself. Due to the crazy traffic, the 10-mile ride from Las Pinas to central Manila took an hour and 45 minutes in an Uber. I was slightly worried about how much the waiting time was costing me as unlike taxis there’s no meter to look at. You just get emailed the bill afterwards. When this arrived I felt bad for the driver as the fare was just £7. If I’d have known that at the time I’d have given him a few extra pesos. On the ride I saw a lot more of the concrete jungle that is Manila, a world away from the glossy shopping malls and fancy car showrooms around where I had been staying. There seems to be a huge disparity in living standards here. It is not common to see gleaming modern high-rise apartments immediately next to corrugated iron shacks.
Guns seem to be all over the place in Manila. All banks and most shops are watched over by security guards armed with shooters that would likely do a fair bit of damage. There is also high gun ownership among the general public. Most bars, hotels and shops have signs asking customers not to bring their weapons in. I walked past a garage where a member of staff was walking around holding a pistol as though it was a spare tyre. It wasn’t in a threatening manner, more as though it was a perfectly natural thing to do here.
Perhaps on a related manner, the Philippines has a reputation for crime. In Manila this is especially so. Alongside Jakarta it is often regarded as the most dangerous city in South-East Asia. I still had an afternoon to look around the city. As with anywhere I visit, I try to research safety. With the internet it’s easy to find tips on getting around, areas to avoid, common scams and so on. When you type into Google, “Is Manila safe to visit?” by the “i” in Manila has been typed, all sorts of results will appear, from horror stories to others saying that it’s completely fine. Reading between the lines it seemed that so long as you know where you are going and stick to the touristy areas during daylight hours, use a bit of common sense and are aware of what’s going on around you, then you should be OK. With my hotel being next to the light-rail I decided to visit stuff accessible by this. Of TripAdvisor’s Top Things to Do in Manila, I managed to fit in numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7.
Prior to visiting the Philippines I’d have been struggling to name a Manila landmark. My only reference points would have been The Thriller in Manila and the Mall of Asia. I vaguely remember seeing an advert for the mall (thinly disguised as a documentary) when it opened when at the time it was the world’s largest shopping mall.
I exited the light-rail next to Rizal Park, an area that provides a welcome break from the claustrophobic feel of the buildings and swarms of people. Around the park are some decent looking museums which would have been nice to visit if I had a bit more time. Next to Rizal Park is Intramuros, the walled-city area. A lot of buildings in Manila from the Spanish colonial days haven’t survived numerous earthquakes and the like, but there’s a fair bit left in this part of the city. Within Intramuros is Manila’s top TripAdvisor attraction. San Agustin Church is nice enough but could hardly be rated as a world-class landmark. I couldn’t even get a decent photo as the car park goes right up to the entrance. Around the corner is the third entry on the list, Manila Cathedral. From the outside I probably prefer this to San Agustin Church. A couple of hours was plenty of time to look around Intramuros. On the way back to the light-rail station I came across an impressive looking Central Post Office and the beautiful Art Deco Manila Metropolitan Theater which appears to be getting renovated. That was my brief look around Manila. There’s a couple of other things supposedly worth seeing. A bloke at the hostel said he enjoyed Fort Santiago, the historic fortress. You can also visit the presidential Malacanang Palace but this requires advance registration.
There’s no doubting that a lot of Manila is a little rough around the edges. I didn’t notice a huge amount of tourists and I got pestered a fair bit, usually for tours or taxis. That said, nothing untoward happened and I never felt especially threatened but it had the feel of the sort of place where you shouldn’t let your guard down.