MANILA. Five things to know
Think of Manila and your first thought is likely to be “traffic”. Or maybe crime, or pollution or a whole host of other negative preconceptions which will be either well founded or totally wrong. I had many before I arrived 6 months ago, either based in shocking political news stories or my own misguided, stereotypical fears about this Asian megacity which wasn't the well travelled streets of Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong. In short, I didn't really have much of a clue, and I've come to realise my preconceived ideas about the place made me unnecessarily nervous. Not everything is great, far from it, but I've discovered the good generally outweighs the bad when it comes to Manila. Here are five things to know before you arrive.
Yes, the traffic is as bad as they say. But it's not the end of the world. This is probably Manila's best known difficulty – the traffic here is indeed horrendous. Think an hour to travel 2km sort of bad. The city's chronic lack of public transport is to blame for the bumper to bumper tail backs that clog the streets night and day. But that said, the traffic won't actually prevent you from doing anything. You just need to plan your day around it. The golden hours of 10am-3pm are as quiet as the roads get (still jammed but moving) making this the best time to travel. It's easy and extremely cheap to use the Grab taxi app to get around and road rage is virtually non-existent, so even though everyone is frustrated, the mood is pretty relaxed. Download a few podcasts, read a book or just watch the city go by. The traffic is a pain, but you can't avoid it. https://www.grab.com/sg/
Filipino people are some of the most eternally optimistic and friendly folks around. Despite all the difficulties of living in Manila the local Filipinos are some of the warmest people I've met. It's ridiculously easy to spark up a conversation on anything from boxing to traffic woes to your favourite 80s soft rock ballad (the radio stations appear to play nothing but). Everyone knows at least some English, and most people speak it flawlessly so if English is your first or even second language, chatting is easy. If the people make the place, then the Filipinos make Manila way nicer than it looks.
There are a dizzying array of secret speakeasy bars The global speakeasy bar trend of the late 2000's is alive and well in Manila. Cosy, cool and “secret” (except everyone knows about them) the bars here would give any in London or New York a run for their money. My favourite hides behind an innocuous doorway next to the cashier in a busy 7Eleven – Bank Bar is all art deco fixtures, low lighting, plush furnishings and a happy hour to die for - 3 full hours of all you can drink cocktail heaven for the equivalent of £10. Be sure to spend a night combing the city for the best places to sip martinis in (relative) secret. https://www.wheninmanila.com/14-secret-bars-in-manila/
You won't need much money Unlike many other Asian cities, especially compared to pricey Hong Kong and Singapore, Manila is incredibly good value for money. Transportation is very cheap (a ride on a jeepney, the colourful jeep “buses” that tear through the streets, will set you back around 20p), eating out is a bargain if you chose your spot wisely and Airbnbs and hotels are much cheaper than those found elsewhere. Entry into the city's excellent museums and art galleries is either free or basically free (think no more than a couple of quid). Manila is somewhere your bank balance will thank you for visiting.
Don't worry, it isn't as dangerous as you think It may be because of the huge and very visible security presence throughout the city, or maybe my own idea of how dangerous Manila would be was grossly overestimated (more likely) but you are likely to feel safer than you might think. Being a single female exploring alone most of the time, I've never had a problem. You rarely get hassled and if you stick to the main streets of the downtown areas of Makati, Bonifacio Global City and Intramuros you'll be fine. Usual precautions with mobile phones and wallets apply, but I've been pleasantly surprised by how safe I've felt.
In short, Manila isn't as bad as you no doubt think it'll be. If you're a tourist that is. The city has many issues, but if you're thinking of visiting on your way to the islands, don't be put off - the place is unexpectedly charming in lots of ways, and you can never accuse it of being boring.