The Philippines is a popular tourist destination, but most folk decide to visit the beautiful islands instead of Metro Manila. There's a lot of stigma about the place. I've been warned about how dangerous it is before I went and how run down it is. Many people often asked why I was visiting or why I went there. My answer is, I've never been! I have now and think it's a wonderful place.
Unlike some cities (them Seoul), English is widely spoken. Almost everyone speaks English in Manila and pretty fluent, too! It's easy to get around as all signs are written in English. Manila is also relatively cheap. Average meals cost around 100-200PHP (under $5).
Here are some tips to help you enjoy your visit.
1. Go there with an open mind!
Just like other capital cities like London, Seoul and Tokyo, Manila is a busy metropolian city. There are huge traffic jams and there are many people. However, Manila is a bit more run down. From the first look, it doesn't look the cleanest or the prettiest place to explore.
Manila had to be rebuilt, due to the damage from WWII. They are still in process of making the city bigger and better. There is a huge difference between social classes and you can clearly see this as you explore Manila.
2. Don't believe the stigma
I have heard a lot about the Philippines being an awful place to travel due to the petty crimes people commit. A lot of Manila is in poverty, and there are many homeless people. People will warn you about pick pockets and criminals. Manila is like any other city, there are decent people and also criminals. I had no problems with criminals when I was there. All of the locals who I met were nice and friendly. Of course, as with most places, keep your valuables safe and don't leave anything lying
Many taxi drivers will try to dupe you into paying more. A lot of the taxi drivers will not put the metre on for you, and tell you a set price. Depending on where you want to go, Manila taxis should not be more than 350PHP if you're traveling within metro Manila.
During rush hour, taxis might hike their prices up. I advise that you get a taxi near a security guard, or taxi rank.
Uber and Grab are the common apps used in Manila. For Grab, you agree on a price before they come and pick you up.
4. When to go
There are only two seasons, dry and rainy. I went in July and it was overcast with on and off rain.
Rainy season in Manila is July-December. The coolest is around February.
There are many rickshaws. They will often harass you to the point of despair. I had one rickshaw guy follow me for almost 30 minutes in Intramuros. It's horrible tactic and I'm guessing most visitors give in to them. Prices are expensive in Intramuros. A 30 minute tour on a rickshaw is 350PHP each. The whole tour will take longer than an hour! Set a time before hand, and when that time is up, tell the guy no more and pay him. He will try to get you to stay, but don't give in.
6. Intramuros attractions
You can choose a rickshaw if you want, but you can easily walk it. It's better to walk through Intramuros as you can take in the Spanish architecture. The distance between the attractions isn't too far. Rickshaw drivers have it easy, they pedal short distances then wait for you to come out of the attractions. You still have to pay for the time not spent in the rickshaw.
I stayed for 5 days and took around 20,000PHP. I don't advise you to carry all of it around with you.
I took with me a maximum of 2000PHP and hid the money in various pockets.
Food is cheap and depending on what you want to do, 2000PHP is more than enough.
Of course, if you're going to go to Ocean Park or plan to ride the rickshaw, I'd take more out with you.
I wouldn't use your card, as these can be copied without you noticing.
8. How to ride a jeepney
The most popular form of transport is a jeepney! They are the coolest transport I've ever seen. Each jeepney has a unique design. I even saw a Hello Kitty themed jeep.
Find out the area you want to go to, e.g. Divisoria or Quiapo. Look on the front and side of the jeepney for a sign which says the destination. Hop on, and tell the driver the place you want to go to and hand him over money. It costs around 8PHP for a ride, so use small notes or the exact change.
When you want to get off, hop off when the jeepney is stationary or ask him to stop.
It's harder when the jeepney is crowded.
9. Don't drink tap water
Like most places don't drink the water. Although it is safe to drink, your body won't be used to it. Stick to boiled tap water and NO ICE! I didn't remember the no ice part, and totally forgot and drank a few classes of iced tea. I got a nasty stomach bug during my stay - boo!
10. Money Changing
Don't use any money changers. I really do not trust them and they totally rip you off. If you need to, go to the airport or change it at the airport you left at.
Lastly, have fun! Manila isn't that scary.