Manila (Filipino: Lungsod ng Maynila) is the capital of the Philippines and the nation's center of education, business, and transportation. Metro Manila is the most populous metropolitan region composing the city of Manila and surrounding cities like Makati, Mandaluyong, Muntinlupa, Parañaque, Pasay, Pasig, Quezon City and Taguig.
Manila has a reputation as a congested, polluted concrete jungle, and is often overlooked as a mere stopover for travelers aiming to reach other Philippine provinces or islands. To an extent this reputation is deserved, but Manila is nevertheless rapidly developing and has its own rich history and experiences to offer. The city is sprawling, bustling, and culturally complicated, with a colorful multi-cultural heritage and varied nightlife.
Manila is distributed into 16 territorial districts, which are all original towns except one, the Port Area District. Each district is distinguished through its history, culture and cuisine.
The eight districts of the City of Manila (not to be confused with Metro Manila) north of the Pasig River are:
As we now see it, Manila is more modern and western judging from the steel and glass skyscrapers dotting the skyline.
For over three centuries Manila was colonised and administered by Spain which left an enduring architectural heritage throughout the Philippines, especially with respect to churches, forts and other colonial buildings which can still be seen in the ruins of Intramuros, built in the late 16th century. Manila began as a settlement on the banks of the Pasig River, and its name originates from "Maynilad," referring to the mangrove plant known as Nilad, which was abundant in the area. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, Manila was home to Muslim-Malays, who were descended from the Arabs, Indians, East Asians and other Southeast Asians. In 1571, 50 years after Magellan's discovery of the islands, Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi claimed the Philippines as a colony and established Manila as its capital. Manila was also briefly colonised by the British for two years. Manila was also part of the Spanish East Indies until 1898, when the U.S. took over the Philippines after the Spanish-American War.
Manila was first sought by the Spaniards, then the Americans. The Spaniards wanted a counterbalance to the expanding Portuguese empire which had almost taken a big slice of the pie in the lucrative Spice Trade. They got it through Manila, so strategically placed between China together with the rest of Asia, and Mexico - the next closest transit point for goods onwards from Asia to Europe.
Its location seemed a well thought out choice. Legazpi took five years after arriving in the Philippines and settling in Cebú in 1565 to mull over before deciding to finally move up north to Manila in 1571 and make it the capital of the new territory. By numbers, it shortened the travelling distance to the other side of the empire in Acapulco. Manila is also in a much easy and straighter drafting reach for sailing ships to catch the Pacific Trade Winds as it blow northeastward to Japan for Acapulco and blow precisely at San Bernardino Strait for the westward-bound return trip without being diverted any farther. Most importantly, Manila is much closer than Cebú to China.
When Mexico pushed for its independence from Spain and finally shoved her out, the Philippines' glittering importance began to dwindle due to the discontinuance of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade, cutting off the Acapulco to Vera Cruz segment and it accelerated more when the Suez Canal was opened enabling the Chinese exports to go opposite direction and making Singapore as most important transit hub to Europe in the region. A token administration was just maintained in Manila which confined it to the doldrums being one of the unreachable and hard to maintain colonies of Spain. Until a new imperialist era dawned, emboldened countries embarked on a new competition for raw materials and market.
Netherlands, Britain, and France are already there now with Germany, lurking somewhere and fit to fill in the voids about to be vacated by waning superpowers. Germany was already sniffing its way around the Pacific Ocean like a shark smelling a kill when the US, spurred by the windfall of acquiring Hawaii and which desperately wanted a toehold in Asia for her trade, notably with Japan and China, grabbed the first opportunity of coveting the Philippines. The Philippines once more, so strategically placed as the soon-to-be-linchpin of American imperialism extended her colonial servitude to the US.
With the dynamic geo-politics working, the Philippines and Manila in particular prove to be manna from heaven as Japan begins to flex her muscles. The result, the Philippines served as first line of defence for Australia and the mainland US to buy time and it really proves more beneficial as another realignment was in force after World War II when communism comes into the scene and is threatening to swallow the whole of East Asia except Japan, putting the Philippines as a buffer zone for whatever adverse contingency and as long as the Manila leadership sides with the US, things will be OK.
Now that communism is under control and every country on both sides of the Pacific seemed to be embracing free market economy, all of Southeast Asia are grinding strong and busy buzzing. The factors of time, location, and distance are not a consideration anymore and what needs to be important is that Manila is as peaceful, orderly, productive, and creative as all her neighbours to win visitors' attention.
Being a city with its ears and antennae acutely tuned in to American and some European trends, and in the forefront of modernisation and constant cultural refinement, Manila witnessed or hosted innovations - political, cultural, civic etc. more than any other city in Southeast Asia or Asia as a whole.
Manila sits on an archipelago just at the edge of the Asian continent, some 14° 35' N, 121º 00 E'. It’s 700 miles (1,100 km.) or 2 hours flight time from Hong Kong, 1,400 miles (2,200 km.) or 3:15 hours from Bangkok, 1,500 miles (2,400 km) or 3:35 hours from Singapore, 1,900 miles (3.000 km) or 4:15 hours from Tokyo, and 1,800 miles (2,800 km.) from 4:25 hours from Beijing.
Ever so physically endowed, it is sitting in the throes of two notoriously dangerous volcanoes - Pinatubo to the north, which made headlines in 1991 when it spewed dust all over the world and dropped global temperature by 2°, and Taal to the south which always makes headlines every decade or so, while this city straddles the Pacific Rim of Fire underneath. What more, it lies in the path of the tropical monsoon bringing those more and more powerful typhoons during the second half of the year. It is fringed to the south by the idyllic Lake Bai - a veritable scenic showcase of Hispanized native folk and traditional culture, and farther south by cool and refreshing Lake Taal.
The City of Manila is in the western part of Metro Manila. It is bordered on the west by Manila Bay, to the north by Navotas, Quezon City and Caloocan City, to the east by San Juan and Mandaluyong City and to the south by Pasay and Makati.
The Philippines has only six border crossings all of which are accessed only by sea, and all are all the way down south namely Bongao and Turtle Islands in Tawi Tawi, Taganac and Balabac in Palawan, and Batunganding and Tibanban, Davao del Sur. It is highly unlikely that foreigners will go to the trouble of crossing these border stations on their way to Manila by boat from Malaysia or Indonesia, its only close neighbors.
The most reasonable and practical way to reach Manila is by air.
The Ninoy Aquino International Airport is the Philippines´ most used gateway to the country and is the largest international airport in the country as well. Unfortunately it is divided into four terminals - Terminals 1, 2, 3 and newly open terminal 4 - without easy connections between them and the only way of hopping around terminals is through taxis and jeepneys (as of May 2014 there is a free transfer shuttle between terminals 3 and 4). Note that if you have transfer between terminal 1 and 3 (such as if you arrive on an international flight and transfer to a domestic Cebú Pacific flight) it may take up to an hour to get from T1 to T3 on taxi, as they're quite far apart. Most "close-to-airport" hotels are in fact close to T3, not T1.
The airport in past has been regarded as the worst airport in Asia. This situation changed with the opening of the Terminals 3 and 4, most international flights still use the old Terminal 1 which is in a rather bad shape, as it was not designed to accommodate the number of passengers going through it. Get yourself plenty of time if your flight departs from this terminal, as you can easily spend an hour in the immigration line. The immigration line can be long on arrival as well. Non-passengers who do not have the ticket for a flight open to check-in are not allowed into the T1 at all, neither the departure nor arrival area. Non-passengers are however allowed in T3, which is much larger and modern. There is a plan to move the international arrivals and departures into T3, but it has been put on hold because of political reasons.
The terminal fee for domestic flights originating from Manila is now included into the ticket price, and is not charged at the airport anymore. The 500PHP terminal fee for international departures, however, is still charged.
There are buses outside the arrival area heading to downtown Makati City and Quezón City via EDSA or Efipanio de Los Santos Ave..
Airport metered taxis are colored yellow, and have the right to stop and pick up passengers and line up the porte cochere area as you step out of the arrival hall. Each departing taxi is registered by a despatcher. The base fare is ₱70. It is possible to use a white taxi(standard colour for all city taxis) go up the lift to the departure level and catch one that has just dropped off their departing passengers and are heading their way out of the airport. Fortunately, they don't pass any airport fees to passengers they may pick up and that's the advantage. The pay-back is since the yellow ones have the exclusive right to pick up passengers, security guards are under orders to shoo away non-yellow (and non-registered) taxis picking up passengers in the departure area. But based on experiences by other travellers, yellow cabs, although registered, tend to have faster calibrated meters. So it may end up that a white cab can get you to your destination for less than half the fare it cost you to use the yellow cab. The yellow airport cabs can sometimes be about three times as much as a normal white one.
Which airline uses which terminal changes and airlines keep on moving their landing/take-off locations between the three within a year or so. However, the rule of thumb is all international airlines use Terminal 1 while Philippine Airlines uses Terminal 2 and Cebú Pacific uses Terminal 3 (including international departures which now use Terminal 4).
Clark airport 2 hours North of the city has a direct bus connection (450 Pesos) to the city centre area.
Other than taxis there are buses and jeepneys (small buses) that will take you places for much less than taxis (around 15 pesos). Most of them connect to the MRT/LRT train network which is just as cheap as the buses but could get very crowded during the rush hours. Some buses/jeepneys will drive down the ESDA road and makes a lot of the city accessible in one bus. The train stations of Taft Avenue/Pasay/EDSA Stations are a cluster of separated and confusing platforms or stations in the same area with unclear links - ask the locals if not sure where to go. Around here its also possible to catch buses and jeepneys to the various airport terminal. Seek helpful locals. See the airports voyage page for more detailed info. One word of warning as the jeepneys, buses and especially trains are jam packed and pick pockets are very likely. Protect your valuables and luggage well and remember you will be very tightly squeezed so moving your bag will be difficult. Exercise tough love and imagine that you are at one side of the train and the doors you need to exit by are on the other side.
Under Philippine customs´ regulation, for all residents and non-residents, each person may only up to PHP 10 000 through the customs. Exceeding amounts require authorisation from the Central Bank of the Philippines. Foreign currencies: up to USD 10,000.-, or its equivalent, the larger amounts must be declared. 400 cigarettes OR 250 g of rolling tobacco OR 50 cigars. 2 bottles of alcoholic spirit, no more than 1 litre per bottle.
- See more at: http://www.taxfreetravel.com/Philippines-Duty-Free-Allowances#sthash.6wEKBD41.dpuf The airport officer might charged you penalty if exceeded the amount. The luggage is not routinely screened, but the custom officers do spot checks.
Manila is the hub of the Philippine ferry network, and ferries to most major cities will stop at the Manila South Harbor, the city's main passenger seaport. Several companies operate ferries to Manila from points throughout the Philippines, and cruise ships occasionally stop in Manila throughout the year. Around the capital are numerous attractions for people desiring a quick daytrip away from the hustle and bustle of this mega-metropolis.
Provincial bus companies also operate their own terminals which are dispersed throughout the city. They concentrate mostly in EDSA in Cubao District, Quezon City for those destined north (Northern, Central, and Southern Luzon, the Bicol Region including Catanduanes & Masbate Islands), around the junction of EDSA and South Superhighway for those destined south (Southern Tagalog Bicol Region), and around the Sampaloc District in Manila for those heading north.
Although there are more than 170 indigenous languages in daily use, the most widely understood and, alongside English, one of two official languages, the language of Manila is Filipino and it is commonly spoken in many homes. Filipino is almost completely based on Tagalog and may be viewed as a prestige register of it.
English is also widely spoken in Manila as well. English is the language of the government and the preferred choice for formal written communications, be it in school or business. Tourists who have just arrived here can easily catch up with the latest gossip news in the local tinsel town, as well as government scuttlebutts, as there are plenty of English version newspapers and magazines.
In Binondo, Manila's Chinatown district, Hokkien is widely spoken while Mandarin might also be known as it is taught in Chinese educational institutions. It is fast becoming the third most important language following Filipino and English, unseating Spanish.
Spanish used to be the official language of the Philippines and gradually became the language of the old time generations; at one time it used to be taught for a 12-unit course in all university curriculi. A tertiary education is not complete unless one takes the whole course and must at least have basic conversation skills. Now, Spanish is hardly spoken in the Philippines, but the language has somehow percolated through the Filipino vocabulary.
Manila's economic growth has attracted people from provinces with a delusion that a better life can be attained in the city. These people had brought a diversity in Manila's culture from their home towns with tongues that speak Ilocano from the Ilocos regions, Pampango from Pampanga, Bicolano from the Bicol Region, Hiligaynon from Western Visayas, Cebuano from Cebu and Waray from Leyte and Samar.
Taglish has been part of everyday life of Manilans as they try to grapple with expressing themselves the easiest and the most effective way, mix n' matching English words and phrases with Tagalog and vice versa. It used to be frowned upon by teachers but as the quality of education deteriorates, they too found themselves committing the same act since this new wave of teachers are also a product of the newer generation.
The assault on purists comes both ways, those who have inadequate schooling in English at lost for words, and on the other side, those specifically bred and schooled in the US establishing their foothold back in the country struggling with their broken Tagalog; or finding experiences that can't be expressed in Tagalog, throwing in some English words as filler. It so happened that being "foreign", "western", and "American", they are more endeared and adorable to the grounded natives, their way of speaking becoming the "in" thing. Also, English being at the forefront of technological and cultural development produces new words and experiences that can't be purely translated.
Movie personalities being role models are more of the culprits as they magnify the popularity of Taglish (Tagalog and English combined).
Manila is crossed by three lines of the Strong Republic Transit System (SRTS), Metro Manila's (partially) integrated railway network. The SRTS Yellow and Purple lines, operated by the Light Rail Transit Authority, cross through Manila city proper, converging at the intersection of Rizal Avenue and C.M. Recto Avenue. The Yellow Line, also known as LRT Line 1 (LRT-1), serves Malate, Ermita, Quiapo, Binondo and Santa Cruz, while the Purple Line, also known as MRT Line 2 (MRT-2 or LRT-2), serves Quiapo, Sampaloc and Santa Mesa. Most tourist sites are along the Yellow Line.
Metro Manila's main regional passenger train station is Tutuban in Tondo. From Tutuban station, the Philippine National Railways (PNR) operates the Commuter Express (Commex), also referred to as the SRTS Orange Line. Fifty trains serve the commuter service daily, with the line crossing through Tondo, Sampaloc, Santa Mesa, Paco and San Andres before extending to Metro Manila. There is an interchange with the Yellow Line at Blumentritt station, and with the Purple Line at Santa Mesa station.
Fares on the SRTS are distance-based, with the base fare being ₱12 for the Yellow and Purple Lines, and ₱10 for the Orange Line. Each line has a differing fare structure:
Single-journey and ₱100 "stored value" tickets may be purchased at LRT stations. Stored value tickets are valid for six months after first use. The LRT has full fare integration for stored-value tickets: stored-value tickets purchased for use on one line are also valid on the other line. However, this does not extend to single-journey tickets, which are only valid for one line, and the Orange Line, which uses a separate paper-based ticket system.
Be advised that SRTS Blue Line (Metro Rail Transit; MRT-3) stored-value tickets are not valid on the LRT. However, the SRTS Flash Pass, available for ₱250, is valid for LRT journeys: the Flash Pass grants the bearer unlimited use of the LRT and MRT for one week. This, however, is available for purchase only at selected Blue Line stations.
The Manila Train Guide  has a map and tips on how to use the train system.
By bus or jeepney
Several city and provincial bus routes either cross through or terminate in Manila. Most buses which serve Manila proper will cross through the Lawton bus terminal, which is conveniently located in front of the Central Terminal LRT station. Routes include points in Metro Manila, Laguna, Cavite and Bulacan, and bus fares normally begin at ₱10.
Manila city bus routes are not numbered. However, the bus route is prominently displayed on the side of the bus as well as on the dashboard, listing both the route's endpoints and major points in between which will be served by that particular route. When in doubt, ask the bus conductor if a particular bus will go to a particular destination.
Manila is also served by several jeepney routes, some of which ply the routes previously served by Manila's pre-World War II tram system. The Lawton bus terminal is also a major jeepney terminal, with several jeepneys either crossing through, terminating or originating here. Fares begin at ₱8.00 for the first four kilometers. Like buses, jeepney routes are not numbered, but the route is prominently displayed on the sides of the jeepney as well as on the dashboard, and drivers, or specialized barkers announce their destination and departure at route origins.
By tricycle or pedicab
Tricycles and pedicabs are, in the City of Manila, limited to short distances as it can access hard-to-reach areas. Tricycle and pedicab terminals are found throughout the city: major points for taking tricycles and pedicabs within the downtown area include the Lawton bus terminal, the area around Doroteo Jose and Recto LRT Stations, Tutuban railway station, Plaza Lacson in Santa Cruz, and Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz in Binondo. Tricycle and pedicab terminals are normally located alongside jeepney terminals and LRT stations.
By law, tricycles and pedicabs must display a fare matrix which displays fares to areas served by the vehicle, and is normally adhered to for short distances. For longer distances, it is not uncommon to negotiate the fare beforehand with the driver.
In Ermita, Intramuros and Binondo, it is still possible to ride a calesa, or traditional horse-drawn carriage. While no longer used as a meaningful form of transport by most locals, calesas are useful for navigating through narrow streets (similar to tricycles and pedicabs), as well as getting a feel of transport in colonial Manila. Fares are negotiated beforehand with the cochero (driver), and a one-hour ride for two people normally costs around ₱50-70. SCAM ALERT: Be aware of the well known calesa scam. When you ride, they will just say 50 or so Pisos but while hopping off they'll ask for 50 US dollars.
The main tourist sites of Manila are located along Manila Bay.
Manila has seen a drastic improvement in its museum offerings with the recent renovation of old favorites such as the National Museum of the Filipino People and the Ayala Museum (located not in Manila but in nearby Makati City). Other must-see museums in the city are the Bahay Chinoy (Chinese House), Casa Manila, San Agustin Museum the Museum of Filipino Political History, the "Museo Pambata" children's museum'.
Nature and Wildlife
Spanish Colonial Churches
Baroque colonial churches where once proud showcases of the past especially before World War II but the wanton destruction of the Japanese and the equally guilty American soldiers during the Battle of Manila in 1945 dissolved all that except for a handful remaining. Lack of maintenance, vandalism, theft, and no proper awareness, guidance, or education by administering priests and architects who undertook renovation blunders (multiplied more incidents in the provinces) complicated the already pathetic state of remaining churches.
Beyond the City of Manila
Iglesia ni Cristo Churches
Aside from the interesting Spanish Colonial Churches, there is one group of church-structures belonging to the Iglesia ni Kristo, a homegrown reformist church established by a Manileño named Félix Manalo in 1914 that is uniquely Filipino somewhat parallels with the Latter-Day-Saints Mormons (its cultish-ness and disciplined regimen demanded from its congregation), that merit some curiosities. These unique churches have two outstanding features: that they are kept in pristine white condition (with some little colour highlights), and they soar to the sky like those gothic cathedrals, or Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, or the Salt Lake Temple in Utah. In some cases, they jot out in the middle of a green countryside off the suburbs of Metro Manila. But even in the midst of urban jungle in Manila, one can't help but notice its towers and sphires projecting through the clouds among the busy skyline.
No name yet is given to this architectural style but it may safely be called Philippine Gothic Revival and the churches show the usual suspects of Gothic tracery, lacework, and rosettas, with the emphasis of verticality and noticeable indigenous geometric motifs as substitute.
Its "Vatican" is located in the New Era District of Quezon City and can be easily seen from about two to three miles away from all directions heralding in a Cinderella-like castle fashion, their main shrine and headquarters.
Manilans are mostly very pious Catholic people. On a different angle, being afflicted with problems and ailments, Manilans may not have much alternative and feel that some things are just out of their control and the best way is to ask for answers and solutions to their favorite saints. It would be interesting to note that some streets leading to a patron saint's home church are extra tight during their special days.
For the anthropologically curious, it also provides a good peek into the daily life of the locals, young and old, men or women. It alo reveals a facet trait of the Filipino - being fatalistic and true blue believer of some higher spirits.
Fiestas & Festivals
Cash and Credit
The unit of currency is the Peso (symbol: ₱), and judging by the impressive performance of the economy and its big foreign currency reserves, the peso is at US$1 to ₱40 and dollar is still sliding down. Bill denominations are in ₱20, ₱50, ₱100, ₱500, & ₱1000 while coin denominations are in 25¢, 50¢, ₱1, ₱5, & ₱10. 25¢ has always been very common and the jeepney fare has decreased to a base fare of ₱8.00 (January 2013).
Banks and Money Changers are available in the airport but it's better to change money outside where competition abound. Money changers are everywhere and most homecoming Filipinos prefer to change them here than in banks, Western Union or M. Lhuillier branches. There is no commission. The farther it is from the Tourist Belt Area, and the nearer it is around a town or city public market, the better the exchange rate is. Safety is not a problem especially if you change them during busy hours (safety in numbers). Be sure to count everything and put them safe in your person before you leave the premises.
Money can be withdrawn from ATM and they are also everywhere. The Philippines are one of the countries with the most available ATM machines per capita.
Credit Cards are accepted almost everywhere especially at all upmarket shops.
A part of the Philippine's bustling capital is a remarkable melting pot of Asian, Oceanic, and Latin cultures, which are thick with history and flavor in tune with most traveler's interests. The best way to get a feel for Manila shopping is to go to a ‘tiangge’, a market of stalls where everything can be bargained. Market! Market!, St. Francis Square, Greenhills Shopping Center and Tiendesitas in Pasig City are examples of such. There are shopping centers catering to handicrafts, antiques, and curio souvenirs. Aside from Ilalim ng Tulay in Quiapo are the shops in the districts of Ermita and Malate around M. Adriatico, A.Mabini, and M.H. del Pilar.
If you are interested in a Western-type mall, you cannot pass SM Mall of Asia, currently the 4th largest mall in the world. Warning to shopaholics and their spouses: You could spend a day there and still not see every shop or have to time to ice skate. That's right, there is an ice rink as well.
Manilans, or Filipinos in general are avid mallers, the Philippines outranking affluent Thailand, Malaysia, or Indonesia, and to some degree, competing with Japan and China in mall per capita. It's best to see these living museums to observe Filipino behavior and culture.
Public markets are one microcosm of Manila. Practically, Manilans from all walks of life come here to buy their everyday needs. They are as lively and colorful as any market in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, or Vietnam. Generally, they are divided into wet and dry sections and another section for dining. Dining is very cheap and can be wholesomely hygenic. Just look out for the huge block of ice dragged along the floor on its way from the delivery truck to a dining stall. If you see one delivered in that manner, never mind, don't eat there, ever. Joking aside, a filling meal will cost you as little as US$1.25.
If you happen to see just about every Tom, Dick, and Harry in a blighted neighborhood in Manila wearing Abercrombie & Fitch & Levis jeans, chances are it's original and bought at Ukay Ukays. How can they afford it? Ukay Ukay is the answer. It's the Philippines' answer to Salvation Army. Nowadays, they are everywhere and Manilans love them. Ukay ukay happens to be a contraction of the Tagalog word "Hukay" meaning to dig, the description for the exact action done while rummaging through the bins of clothes. But there are actually no bins installed in those stores, only clothes neatly hanged on the racks. For less than $2, one can find hand me down good qualities of branded wear. The more enterprising provide home delivery and roaming services by hanging them on racks installed on pedicabs, as they make the run on neighborhoods. Judging by the unafforable cost of living to most of the middle class and the soaring gasoline prices, they may be here to stay.
It's also great for the budget tourist who would not want to have the hassle of packing and carrying tons of clothes by simply buying them here, then discarding them somewhere as his piles of souvenirs accumulate.
Make sure you buy the traditional barong Tagalog. These are long shirts made of very light-weight, semi translucent material, often with Filipino arts and decorations and are worn by both men and women on most special Filipino and formal occasions. Cotton varieties are much more affordable, but for the real deal, go for one made by the strands of a pineapple leaf. It is worn outside trousers - ie not "tucked in".
If you really want to look the "bee's knees" travel to the Visayan island of Negros and buy some barongs hand woven from Abacá fibre (used to be called Manila Hemp - made from the trunk of Musa textilis, a species of banana native to the Philippines) with geometric design details from the mountains to the west ofBais City.
Since Manila is part and parcel of the fabric of Metropolitan Manila, it is best to discuss it in general together with the adjacent and outlying areas same way as tourists will never want to just confine themselves inside the City of London when they enter Metropolitan London.
Manila is a national hub of regional cooking and has almost all the regions of the Philippines represented - either in exclusively regional eateries or featured with other cuisines. General restaurants, either catering for the working class or the elite, can offer varied dishes coming from every region and cater for almost everyone's taste palette. For example, the northern region called Ilocos has its favorite fare called Pinakbet approved by practically everyone but still closely identified as Ilocano fare.
Here are just some of the regional dishes that feature in the restaurants, canteens, and carinderias in Manila:
Northern Luzon Island Region or Ilocos (Ilocano)
Ilocanos, the most affluent of ethnic tribes next to the Tagalogs, are known as industrious and thrifty people who live in the limited cultivable strip of land bounded between China sea and the Cordillera mountain range in northern Luzon island.
Central Luzon Island Region (Kapampangan)
Pampaguenos lead in the art of combining the best of Spanish and Chinese legacies.
Central Luzon Island Region
Tagalogs are generally good cooks too:
Southern Luzon Peninsula Region (Bicol)
Bicolanos are considered the hotties because they can tolerate chili more than any other Filipinos. They also like coconut milk.
Western Visayas Islands Region
These islands, including Iloilo (Ilongo), are fertile and more blessed with rain than the other Visayan islands and the waters abound with fish. Ilongos are some of the most creative in the Visayas when it comes to cooking.
Central Visayas Islands Region
Cebuanos live on these dry and barren islands and are corn eating rather than rice eating people. They have been influenced by the Mexicans.
Eastern Visayas Islands Region or Samar-Leyte
Warays are coconut milk lovers minus the hot chili pepper.
Street Food/Comfort Food
Street Food is often described as "Pamatid Gutom" or food to tide over, something to temporarily hush a stomach growl, sold at small food stalls, food stands, or food carts set up in places with high amount of pedestrian traffic. Cheap and rushed, it could be something commuters can chew & swallow, or gulp in seconds while transferring from one route to another, or from station to station, with a quick standing stop at a sushi, siomai, barbecue, or hotdog stall.
The variety of street food available is tremendous and may reward the truly adventurous traveler. Because of the huge variety, we have split the examples into two sections: those dishes normally sold by Stationary Vendors and those often sold by Ambulant (or itinerant) Vendors:
Low income workers patronize them the most as they commute to their homes, often taking two-hour trips. These are noted in the open streets where they are the cheapest and these are what most bloggers and media immediately see. But there are ones that are as even cleaner as those found in Bangkok or at par with those in hawker centers in Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia, or Japan and Korea.
Mall walkways and Food Courts offer a wide selection of Street Food menu and that is some notches less in worrying about hygiene. Expect the cost to be a little bit higher, although that would just come up to be in cents difference.
For a taste of street food without the accompanying risk, try out the following establishments:
Carinderyas/Carinderias sound like Spanish style cooking but there is no relation to it. It's simply a collective term for a working class type of eating stall, now with table and seats for sit-in meals, more as a hole-in-the-wall or a makeshift school canteen (some may have wheels) for the lowly construction worker, the jeepney driver, or the student low and tight on budget. The style of presenting the food (no menus but some have posted menus) is laid out on a glass-covered or open counter in pots or deep square aluminum platters (for the more classy ones) and where the customer can just scan his eyes and choose what he wants.
Panaderyas/Panaderias are Bakeries dispensing bread and pastries. But the line is not clear if they are a separate class of their own or as Street Food. Goldilocks Bakeshop operate as a full-time restaurant but they can have some presence in malls as food stand types. Dunkin’ Donuts or Mister Donut also establish their presence as either a shop with dining tables or as a stand-alone stall.
This is a special class of Street Food distinguished from the stationary establishments. Vendors roam around in their carts in a certain route and a specific time, as some foods sold are time sensitive, meaning they can only be eaten say, in the morning, or as an afternoon snack. Some of their itineraries are neighborhoods, where their target clientèle are preschool or school age children, and some are office blocks, where their prime targets are lady workers. There are only a few types of these food that are mobile.
Breakfast in the city is described as dry - meaning not wet as in noodle and soup or porridge like what is taken in the morning in most Southeast Asian cities. More like an amalgam of the East and the West, specifically the American, Hispanic, and Malay, somehow as if McDonald's and Cuban entrees collided with Nasi Lemak to form these creations that are very catchy to begin with for they all end with "SILOG".
First, these are the key words in Tagalog: Sinangag for fried garlic rice and Itlog for egg more often sunny side up and rarely scrambled. They combine to form the portmanteau "SILOG". Along with these is the main item - meat or fish plus the given mainstays - Set A: lettuce-sliced tomato(s)-sliced cucumber(s), Set B: carrots and peas toppings over sinangag, Set C: achara or pickled unripe papaya and carrots, Set D: fried garlic or shallots over sinangag, or Set E: onion rings. The main items are as follows:
Of course, this is assisted with hot coffee, tea, or juice and a couple of morning bread called Pan de Sal (salted bread).
There are stalls or Carinderias/Carinderyas that specialize in this breakfast "SILOG" fare called "Tapsihan" named for the first type of of these combo ever concocted, the tapsilog, or "Silogan".
There are now food carts that sell these Silogs packed in paper bowls like instant noodles and eaten on the go.
Snacks or nibblers called Chichireya or Papak while office workers multi-task and at the same time working and chatting. Also, it is eaten on long journeys or while watching movies or simply doing school work.
When it comes to dining, in a nutshell, Filipino food can be described as timid in flavor, not much creativity, as well as care for presentation. Food is trained to have only one dominant flavor - either the bitterness, the sweetness, the sourness, the saltiness, or the umaminess is enhanced. For some reason, the ingredients used don't have that wide range like those in Malaysia, Vietnam or Thailand, its closest neighbors. Filipinos are just as happy and contented to limit their range of ingredients, people that have no sophisticated royalty, say as the Thais, who, among those that had/have a monarchy, developed their superior palate taste through the royal court. No particular doting attention to food is given other than it fills the stomach of the ordinary hungry person.
Just for example in a close comparison between the Philippines and Vietnam on a vegetable & spice market tour, the Philippine counterpart is limited. For seasoning, Filipino dishes do not digress from the daily triumvirate of garlic, onion, and tomatoes, sometimes ginger. No cinnamon, anise, or cardamom, available only in a high end specialty supermarket, not an everyday thing. On the herb section, only parsley, spring onion, and lemon grass are popularly known to Filipinos, while in Vietnam, there are so many kinds of herbs used in the daily diet by an average Vietnamese. While the troika of soy sauce, vinegar, and fish sauce defines the limited vocabulary of Philippine sauce condiments section. One glaring observation, basil and laurel are not eaten fresh, only as seasoning sold as dry as a dead leaf. As a side note, the saw-leaf herb which is an everyday ingredient in Vietnam which happened to originate in Mexico, ironically skipped the Philippines during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade.
Speaking of Acapulco, Mexicans drink tamarind as a beverage. Surprisingly another conundrum, tamarind juice coming from the tamarind fruit, being as Asian as rice, is surpisingly absent in the Philippine beverage menu even though it is popular in Latin America and the rest of the Southeast Asian countries, which are on its left and right spheres.
Noodle varieties are limited to a handful. The lack of creativity is also seen in rice wrappers for spring roll is just one type, unlike in Vietnam. Having plenty of variation and versatility for example as other people, the Vietnamese would use rice as sesamed crackers in their main meal. And even Mexicans would make their corn into taco shells, or Indians would use wheat as poppadoms. A far out creative imagination of rice for Filipinos would be granola-type dried rice snack bars.
Filipino food is safe to say more as a comfort food, a peasant food concocted at a time when all Filipinos were all living on agricultural-fishing existence, contented to eat simply on rice and one or two-dish meal - one dry and the other wet or soupy. Even if Filipinos have attained a higher degree of sophistication (although others would rather patronize Japanese and French cuisine to match their economic and educational attainment), the same ingredients are used and the same flavor is maintained. It's only now that Filipinos are slowly realizing after the diaspora of the 1970's to the present, startling revelations of how low their standard is in the totem pole of world cuisine are getting to consciousness. And with increasing pride and economic competition among neighboring countries, nowadays, one can find Manila restaurant offering haute cuisine adobo laced with cayenne pepper and Spanish paprika.
Most sit-down and casual dining restaurants in Manila would fall under the mid-range category. But there are budget ones as well. For budget dining, just follow the office workers making a beeline to building basements, canteens, or carinderias (road side stalls) during lunchbreak almost everywhere in the city and even in high class Makati area. The men usually wear short sleeved Barong Tagalog and the ladies, like bank teller attires. These are not lowly workers but they pay lunch as cheap as US$1.00 complete with a clear broth, a dish, and a cup of rice enough to energize the office worker for the rest of the day. University canteens open to the public offer student meals and have resident nutritionists too. Along Recto and Nicanor Reyes Sts., the epicenter of downtown university belt cosmos, there are dime a dozen shops that offer complete and filling budget meals as low as ₱35.
This oxymoron sums up what is all about eating in this genre of dining - eating high-end type seafood fares (prawns, tuna, abalone, and lobsters) most Filipinos can't afford, inside a humble shack. Dampa is a Tagalog term for a hovel on a roadside by the sea. That's where it all started. They may be there since time immemorial, mostly proliferating along the southern part of Metro Manila from the reclaimed area along Roxas Boulevard to Cavite - the next-door province south of Metro Manila, where the catch from the sea and Manila Bay was easily downloaded and freshly grilled for fish-loving Manilans, or may have been copied from dining experiences in trendsetting Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Bangkok, or Singapore. It has been transformed into more decent Singapore-style wet and fancy-free hawker center and to even air-conditioned "pearl-jade-dragon" style Chinese restaurant and now are scattered in every entertainment-dining district in the metropolis. But the billboard sign stays - Dampa-Style Dining.
The concept is simple: catch (or pick) it and throw in the fire in real time - no time lapse in between, right before your eyes, so to speak. So one can savor it as fresh as it gets. Simply as it is, a spin off of turo-turo style (point and take) where arrays of dishes are arranged on a counter and the customer checks and chooses by pointing his forefinger, this time the ingredient is still alive, some in aquarium boxes. Then, the next thing to do is instruct the attendant what style it should be cooked and what other spice and vegetable ingredients to be added.
This type of dining has also took-off from seafood to other ingredients like beef, pork, and chicken, etc.. And some variations, it may still be that lowly dampa-looking structure in the middle of a fish pen raising milk-fish or tilapia along Laguna de Bay or a rice paddy.
Gaining steady popularity, it's less ubiquitous than in other East Asian cities and Asian dominated enclaves in the United States especially in the Korean and Chinese sections, may be due to the fact that Manilans (or Filipinos) are expertly witty in outsmarting these restaurants in overstretching the definition of buffet, giving a slim profit to the coffers and headache to its managers. But its one or two presence in every mall is an indication.
Local Snack or Ice Cream Parlors
Some of the food offered by these parlors may be also be on restaurant menus (since these are categorically dessert items), those that specialize in local cuisine. But these parlors are also a separate category of their own. Goldilocks and Red Ribbon, super hygienic Americanized establishments stand out from the rest usually found in malls, and from the humble food stalls in the public markets where they originated. These two are basically bakeshops but they function as native ice cream parlors, serving more or less the following which are authentically or adaptively Filipino:
Even while the enlightened world hates McDonalds/Pizza Hut guts, Filipinos are great lovers of its dining style and menus - hotdogs on stick, hotdogs on bun, hamburgers, or cheeseburgers, pizzas, and spaghettis. Their pictures proliferate everywhere, be it as street food or sit-in meal. Manilans also love donuts in the personification of Mister Donut which has its creations not as sweet as its American competitions. On a side note, Philippine style spaghettis are done sweeter than normal. Fettucini and lasagna have already gained foothold, and lately carbonara is now fast becoming a favorite.
Manila has most of the usual American fast food chains such as McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Pizza Hut, Subway, Dairy Queen, Shakey's Pizza, Taco Bell, Dunkin Donuts, TGIF, Italianni's, Outback, and KFC. Jollibee, the Filipino counterpart of McDonald's now ecclipsing it's once held dominant position, it is very common in Manila. It started out as a spoof spin-off of McDonald's, copying its menu and business model but substituting it with local ingredients (ex. mango pie for apple pie) and taking consideration of the local palate, now has become a billion peso franchise business empire. Another spin-off of this business is Chow King, the same business model and packaging (styrofoams, plastics, and cardboards) but with Chinese influenced menus and has become as ubiquitous as Jollibee and McDonalds. Another spin-off to the spin-off is Mang Inasal, this time the theme is country or provincial style menu with packaging this time using banana leaf and cane and bamboo baskets as plates, and claypots as serving plates catering to native food lovers.
Coffeeshops such as Starbucks and Seattle's Best have also recently become quite common in malls and commercial centers. Meals could be as low as US$2 to 3 in most fast food joints. A typical burger meal with fries and a drink would fall under this range.
The Philippines has its own version of the Spanish Tapas but little is known about it outside the country even if Filipinos have invaded almost all corners of the globe, employed and even permanently residing in their host countries. Anyway, it's more or less the same kind of presentation - as a finger, toothpick, or fork food, and relevance - to accompany any alcoholic drink, mostly beer, on a social gathering between neighbors, relatives, work colleagues, peers, and clients and mostly fall under male-bonding or camaraderie social dining. It comes from the root word "PULUT" meaning "to pick up".
It is always served in a communal plate or bowl with plenty of forks (if it needs to pick up the food, otherwise finger is OK) arrayed on a plate like oars on a boat. If there's a need for a dipping sauce, then a bowl is also served with it to be used communally.
A very localised drinking experience in Manila are beer gardens (or beerhouses as commonly called). They are scattered mostly around the working districts of Sampaloc, Santa Mesa, Quiapo and even the tourist belt areas of Ermita and Malate. Every city in the metropolis has practically it's own adult entertainment strip, block, or district where these establishments can be found. These are heavily sexualized. It's mostly working class men and those working in the military and police establishments who are the clientèle with young sexy and provocatively dressed waitresses or euphemistically called GROs or Guest Relations Officers serving the customers. Some beer gardens take it up a level higher and have entertainment on the sides with scantily two-piece suit dancers taking turns on the stage. The kind of food served somewhat resemble the Spanish Tapas style ranging from the simple such as peanuts, corn, and peas - boiled or deep fried to mundane such as fried pork, beef, chicken to the adventurous such as other body parts - ears, gizzards, livers, hearts, intestines, brains, balls, blood, and what have you. They are categorized under the subject Pulutan.
For establishments resembling the western version of a pub, these establishments are concentrated in Remedios Circle in Malate district a very important hub of nightlife, as well as in Bonifacio Global Village in Taguig City, Tomas Morato in Kamuning District in Quezon City, and Eastwood in Libis District, Quezon City. Bohemian Malate, the older Ermita neighborhood and the Baywalk that stretches between them contains a variety of venues serving a combination of food, comedy, alcohol, and live music.
Karaoke and Videoke bars are also very common as the majority of Manilans are American Idol fans.
Manila has a largely English-speaking, educated, and low wage labor force. There are no readily available job opportunities for travelers. Common backpacker jobs found in other parts of Asia, such as English teaching, do not exist here.
That said there are a number of foreigners working in Manila. The thriving call center industry, in particular, employs a number of Americans in management or training roles. Keep in mind that virtually all hiring of foreigners takes place in their home country, and not in the Philippines.
Foreigners also occasionally work at NGOs, all types of which exist in the Philippines. Others have opened businesses.
Standard working time varies, especially with the proliferation of Call Centers, but the usual working hours are 8AM-5PM. Given that the traffic within the Manila escalates exponentially as the day begins, it's always better to leave early for meetings.
There is also a local saying known as "Filipino Time" wherein it was expected that the attendee would be late by up to one hour. However, this has been significantly reduced through the years, although the bad traffic is usually (and realistically) cited as the main cause for missing one's appointment.
Makati City is the country's main CBD, or Central Business District, and, on every given weekday, it seems that all roads lead here. Multinational firms and big businesses hold offices here.
Ortigas Center, which cuts across the borders of Mandaluyong City, Pasig City and Quezon City, seems to be the alternative CBD, with companies such as the Asian Development Bank headquarters and the World Bank Manila office located in this vicinity.
Check for accommodation listings in the appropriate districts
You can sleep in a Manila Hotel for as cheap as ₱500 per night if you wish. Don't expect many luxuries at this price though!
Manila has a lot of hotels, inns and apartelles. Most of these accommodations can be found within Roxas Boulevard overlooking Manila Bay, or in the districts of Ermita and Malate. Manila's hotel accommodations are 20 to 30 minutes away from the international and domestic airport.
There are many major international hotel chains which have a presence in Metro Manila. Rates are still generally cheaper here compared to the same class of hotels in western cities. A stay in these hotels however, would be considered a luxury by Philippine standards - particularly since these rates would represent a month's income for some Filipinos.
Airbnb.com has 1000 listings in Manila. Private rooms and entire apartments with prices starting around ₱750.
Payphones are very common in the city center. The use of mobile phones is also very extensive. To use your mobile phone, it has to be at least a dualband GSM phone. Globe and Smart are the Philippine's largest mobile carriers and they invite you to use them as a roaming partner (inquire from your home carrier if they have Globe and Smart as a roaming partner).
To call anywhere within Metro Manila, simply dial the 7-digit telephone number from a payphone or a landline. If you need to call anywhere else within the Philippines, dial 0 + area code + telephone number. To make an international phone call, dial 00 + country code + area code + telephone number.
Internet cafes have become a common sight in Metro Manila. Most malls would have at least one internet cafe. Most internet cafes provide broadband speeds. Netopia and Pacific Internet are common chains. Netopia also has a branch at the MRT Ayala Station. Cheap overseas calls can be made at Netopia branches via their VOIP service.
Most coffee shops now also have WiFi services available so you can surf the net while sipping a cuppa. Airborneaccess.net and WIZ are the most common WiFi providers. Ask around if usage is free of charge, otherwise, as the case is often, you will have to buy an internet access card at the counter.
Manila is a city where one should exercise caution.
As a slum haven, Manila is one of the most blighted cities in Asia rivaling Calcutta, Bombay, and Dacca. Sufficient to say that it is not convenient to wander around carefree as one would encounter sidewalks fringed with makeshift shanties that lead to a sudden turn into a labyrinth of squatter neighborhoods. It is very scary if not annoying encountering lolling group of male adult and teenage bystanders, although nowadays, these areas are most likely manned by village watchmen and everyone is more than willing to help and interact with lost strangers.
Nuisances that impedes a pleasurable walking tour are dirty and malnourished children who freely use the streets as their playground, manholes that were left open (or probably its cover stolen to be sold as metal scrap), dog feces, uncollected garbage, undisciplined cars and mostly jeepneys weaving in and out of the lanes as they pick up passengers, as well as political billboards.
A popular scam as of recent days is for someone to approach you and pretend they recognize you. They will say they work at your hotel (such as room service or security) and that they know you from there. They then say it is their day off and since they just happened to bump into you they want to show you something nice that is nearby. They may be very convincing even to experienced travelers. It is always a scam.
Another popular scam is for a con artist to befriend a tourist and offer to show them around, hang out, etc. After gaining the tourist's trust, the con artist then slips drugs into the tourist's food or drinks. The con artist then leads the drugged, groggy victim to an ATM and watches while he/she enters her pin. The con artist is then free to withdraw all the money from the account.
Get into a car or go anywhere with people only if you know them (even of they say that have helped you at the hotel on a previous occasion). Of course, if you ask them which hotel they will not be able to answer. They are best fended off if you just ignore them. If they persist, say, "Are you going to leave me alone or should I call the police?" That makes them leave quickly.
Theft is common, especially pick pocketing. You should act cautiously as you would in any other poor country, especially considering if you do not look Filipino. Thieves and scam artists are likely to see you as an easy target. However, most travelers from other Asian nations, especially from southeast Asia, should have no problem blending in with the crowd.
Never wear valuable jewelry or anything else to broadcast your wealth. Displaying that expensive mobile phone or digital camera out in the open is also a good way to attract thieves.
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