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- Manila is a huge city with several district articles containing sightseeing, restaurant, nightlife and accommodation listings — have a look at each of them.
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Manila (Tagalog: 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 travellers 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.
Map of Manila with its Districts
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:
- Tondo — The densest, poorest, most dangerous, and undeveloped part of Manila
- Binondo — The world's oldest Chinatown thriving before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1571 and the city's original center for business, finance, and wholesale, as well as retail trade ranging from jewelry to aromatic essences. It's famous for its authentic Chinese, mostly Hong Kong cuisine and quaint interesting Chinese shop-houses. Its church is a fascinating fusion of Spanish Baroque & Chinese styles as shown in its pagoda bell tower.
- San Nicolás — shares Divisoria Market (see Tondo) with other co-district is the hub for the adventurous shoppers that may venture for cheap and wholesale bargains.
- Santa Cruz — is on the edge of Chinatown, which is the district of usual frenzied mix of commercial and residential premises. It's where Escolta starts - the main artery that used to be Manila's old Wall Street and 5th Avenue during the early American Colonial period to the 1960's. Carriedo St. is where a hodge podge of stalls selling locally-made clothes, export overruns, and household items. It is also home to a cultural curio and the second oldest cemetery in the city - the Chinese Cemetery, where the Chinese community's burials were relegated due to restrictions by the colonial Spanish administration. It features palatial mausoleums with hotel-like suites, some with jacuzzis.
- Quiapo — Home to Plaza Miranda, Manila's original answer to Trafalgar Square, and most especially to the Black Nazarene, an enduring Catholic icon brought from Mexico in the early 1600s. It is also a place famous for flowers, herbal remedies, love potions, fortune tellers, religious items, as well as electronic goods (Raon St.) to native handicrafts and tourist curios sold at Quinta Market and under an overhead bridge fondly called by some locals as Ille de Toule a French corruption of Tagalog "Ilalim ng Tulay" translated in English as "Under the Bridge". Old and delightful Art-Nouveau elite houses are now converted to tumbledown slum enclaves sharing space with B-rated movie houses past their grandeur and glory days. The premier and oldest mosque in the city serves as a centerpiece for Manila's small rendition of Arab & Muslim Town, a concept set up by Imelda Marcos to imbibe some sense of cosmopolitanism in the city.
- Sampaloc — the word for tamarind, this University Belt district, an easily identifiable nerve center of the country's major institutions of learning and a hotbed of diploma mills, is where the University of Santo Tomas, Asia's oldest university (founded in 1611), famous not more for its notoriously morally bankrupt and corrupt Dominican Friars during the Spanish colonial days as the inspiration portrayed by the National Hero Jose Rizal in his fiction novels, nor for its movers and shakers alumni, but also for being converted into the biggest concentration camp of international civilians held by the Japanese during WWII. Also, it's where lies the Dangwa Flower Market. It is also the student dorm central of the Philippines where most Filipinos nationwide claim temporary board and lodging - in the myriad of apartment houses and ever rising condo-dorms (some as high as forty plus stories) lining a warren of narrow streets - while enrolled in the more than a dozen universities, colleges, and review centers within it, along with service shops such as bookstores, copier & printing (including fake diplomas, identification cards, and certification papers a white collar jobseeker needs) shops, thesis and reports mills, and computer rental shops, as well as entertainment joints catering to a student clientèle such as internet and video games, bootleg DVD & software shops, billiard halls, and student-budget sex and related vices safe houses. The imposing San Sebastian Church, inside the campus of a university, is the first and only iron pre-fabricated church in the Philippines manufactured in Belgium in the mid 1800s.
- San Miguel — still part of the University Belt hosting some spillover colleges and universities outside of Sampaloc district, it’s where the Malacañán Palace is located, the official executive seat and residence of the sitting Philippine President as well as museum. It is also the birthplace of the famous and namesake San Miguel Beer.
- Santa Mesa — from the Spanish term holy table, this working class district is not so holy anymore as it hosts most of the city's short time love hotels and motels; marks the first shot of the Filipino-American War.
- Port Area — the country's chief seaport consisting of North and South Ports, where warehouses are arrayed elbow to elbow along docking and refueling stations for all ships, ferries, and cruise liners, and where one can witness the dramatic sunset of Manila Bay.
- Intramuros — taken from the Spanish, intra & muros, literally "within the walls", the History Town of the Philippines and considered as Old Manila itself during Spanish times, just right south of the mouth of the traversing Pasig River. First of all, it is a fortress city used to be surrounded by a moat now transformed into a putting green, and it is where the old Spanish Fort Santiago was headquartered. The fort, converted into a museum, a very historical piece of landmark where almost all the who's who of Philippine colonial resistance - Spanish, American, & Japanese were incarcerated. It used to house a dozen or so churches and congregation mother houses that during clear skies, the skyline was picturesquely lined with cupolas and spires and the morning air was deafening with peeling bells coming from belfries; the finest assembly of colonial architecture, just reduced to ashes with the exception of San Agustín Church during the last World War. Sir Banister Fletcher, a noted architectural historian wrote "Until...years ago the Philippines could offer many well-preserved examples of Spanish architecture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Intramuros, the old walled stronghold of Manila, the capital, which was once a treasure-house of ultramarine Hispanic art, suffered irreparable damage during World War II." Ultramarine Hispanic Art, whatever it was, must have been another lost 8th Wonder of the World which this and future generations have sorely missed. A great plan was under way in the late 70's by Imelda Marcos to reconstruct the old city but since everything else associated with her means opulence and extravagance, it fizzled off. The Manila Cathedral styled as Philippine version of Romanesque-Byzantine Revival, prominently stands within the walls of this district. There is a patch of land east of the walled city informally called Extramuros, the new Civic Centre designated by the Americans where the Classical Revival style Post Office Building majestically visible, built on an imposing spot that should have been used for a more important stately building such as the Classic Senate House sited on a spot where it can only be viewed obliquely and less grandly on a passing glance, and by now demoted as the National Art Gallery, The Art-Deco stylish Metropolitan Theater, and the City Hall with its subdued Mughal-Big Ben style clock tower are situated nearby.
- Ermita — one of the two Tourist Districts (another is the Malate district) south of Intramuros, used to be the one and only Red Light District, bars, pubs, cafes, bistros, night clubs, and massage parloirs, share equal billing (and rent) with most of the city's overseas job recruitment firms, a cosy set up for mostly Middle Eastern employers to unwind after a day's round of interviewing applicants on a business with pleasure trip. It has a lively and diverse nightlife; also offers numerous coin, art and antique, and souvenir shops. Ermita is also where the American Embassy is located, together with Rizal Park, where the National Hero-Martyr José Rizal was executed by firing squad by the Spaniards, now immortalised by his statue-and-obelisk-on-a-pedestal memorial; and also Manila's mini rendition of New York's Central Park, the only biggest lung of the city used as promenade with a dual role as a national mall. The Manila Ocean Park, Manila's answer to Singapore's Sentosa Aquarium is also located in this park complex, as well as the Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Artist's Gardens, the Orchidarium, the Open-Air Auditorium hosting the weekly Concert-at-the-Park and foreign film screenings, the Planetarium, and the Classical Revival style National Museum renamed Museum of the Filipino People building as well as the pathetic looking 1950's style National Library. At the east end of the Park is where used to be Wallace Field where the American-style Mardi Gras festival Manila Carnival was yearly held for 32 years until it was abruptly ended by World War II. Around and nearby is where one can also find the grand Manila Hotel, one of the finest hotels in the Far East, dusty outside due to air pollution. And much farther down a few blocks south is the Supreme Court building back to back with the equally Greek/Roman Classical styled campus of the Manila branch of the premier state university, the University of the Philippines (and its signature welcoming cruciform figure, the Oblation), which location is the very first campus of the University built around 1900 before it was transferred to Quezón City after World War II.
- Malate — just right south of Ermita, an equally very colourful hotel district, used to be famous for its mansions where the city's cream of the crop resides and its elite girls convent schools as well as the De La Salle University, which started as an elite boys school now transformed into a learning center of choice for the country's Chinese elite class. Malate is now more known as the center of bohemian night life in the city and the whole metropolis. Also, the site of the fiercest atrocity done by the Japanese to any civilians at the closing of World War II where whole neighbourhoods were forced to assemble in the nearby Rizal Memorial Sports Coliseum to be dealt with mass orgy of rape and massacre. The district has a quaint and handsome Philippine-Baroque style church. The Manila Zoo, Asia's oldest zoo and, together with the title, is probably the most haggard looking.
- Imelda Marcos' dreamy City by the Bay called the Cultural Centre of the Philippines Complex or CCP Complex for short, a flat extended open space reclaimed from the bay that resembles Beijing's Tienanmen or Moscow's Red Square lined with coconut palm trees, as Civic Center and breezily tropical as it gets and an inspiration for Singapore's Marina, is bannered by the zen-like and boxy Cultural Centre of the Philippines - home for national theatrical performances, co-inaugurated by then Marcos buddy and Governor Ronald Reagan. Designed by Leandro Locsin, King Bolkiah of Brunei and Imelda's favorite architect, in the mold of Oscar Niemeyer and Meis Van Der Rohe, this travertine veneered masterpiece is typical of those "less is more" fancies of the 1960's-70's. Other similar structures in the vicinity designed by him are the Philippine International Convention Centre, the National Design Centre, a supporting institution for the growth of industrial design arts, the Folk Arts Theater, built specifically to host the 1974 Miss Universe Pageant, and the sharp and still spiffy Philippine Plaza Hotel. Most are now in their not-so-pristinely-intended condition. The two other important landmarks in the complex not designed by him is the said to be haunted Manila Film Centre, the venue for the first and only Manila International Film Festival which premiered the film "Gandhi" in 1982, now the repository National Film Archives, and the architecturally intriguing, humble and yet tasteful Coconut Palace now as the Office of the Vice President of the Philippines. The last important structure here is the GSIS Building or the Government Service Insurance System, meant as the social security apparatus of government workers with the Banawe Rice Terraces concept in mind, also architecturally engaging, now temporarily housing the National Senate, the senior legislative arm of the government. Although technically contiguous, these landmarks, except for the Cultural Center, are not part of the district anymore and belong to the city of Pasay.
- Pandacan — district home to many of the country's literary and musical geniuses, originally named after the pandan plant species.
- Paco — a working class district that started out as Little Tokyo during the Spanish era, lies the city's historic but ruined and abandoned Paco Train Station where overhead, Japanese and American planes combated in a dogfight showdown after the Pearl Harbor attacks and the run-up to the invasion of Manila by the Japanese. It's also the location of the mysterious circular cemetery now simply called Paco Park, the first burial site of the national hero - Jose Rizal, after he was executed by the Spanish, now used as venue for chamber music symphony concerts. Paco Market, another of the city's major wet-dry public market, has one of the most frenzied, colorful, and interesting market scenes in the city with it's boisterous itinerant vendors, busy Chinese owned stalls, and hawker market food. The district specializes in furniture and hardware items.
- Santa Ana— known as Sapa in ancient times, this district is the old capital of Namayan Kingdom which is the precursor of modern Metro Manila and used to be a quiet upmarket residential neighborhood comparable to Chelsea district in London during the American colonial era, but now a blighted working class district with its defunct Santa Ana Hippodrome (located in next door Makati City which used to be suburbia), once, one of the finest horse racetracks in Asia, now bought by Ayala Corporation and is now being converted and developed as another of their signature mixed commercial-residential development projects. A small museum by the colonial church of Our Lady of the Abandoned or simply Santa Ana Church, shows remnants of a pre-Spanish settlement.
- San Andres Bukid — also known as St. Andrew Fields in English, was previously part of Santa Ana. It is also home to San Andrés Market - another major public market, famous for it's variegated fruit stalls and a little bit touristy ambiance.
San Agustin Church, Intramuros Manila
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.
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 Kuala Lumpur/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.
Manila has a tropical savannah climate and along with the rest of the Phillipines lies entirely within the tropics. This means that the city experiences very small seasonal variations, while humidity persists year-round (74% on average). In fact, there is only 4°C (7°F) difference between the average temperatures in January and May, the coolest and hottest month prespectively. Temperatures have never fallen below 14°C (57°F), or risen above 38°C (100°F). The city also features a distinct wet (May-November) and dry season (December-April). Typhoons are also common from June to September.
The Philippines has only six official entry points 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. These serve sea voyages from Malaysia or Indonesia, its only close neighbors.)
The most reasonable and practical way to reach Manila is by air.
Ninoy Aquino International Airport
The Philippines´ primary international airport. Terminals 1, 2, 3, 4, are not internally-connected, and require an actual drive through the crowded city streets in taxis or jeepneys. Allow lots of time for connection. Better yet, book your flights on 1 reservation so you are "protected" with continuity. See guide here for connection logistics and times: http://www.silent-gardens.com/air-transfer.php
Update: As of October 2016, there is a free bus transfer service from Terminal 4 to Terminal 1 (and possibly to other terminals) if you are making a connection. The bus goes within the airport, so it does not get stuck in traffic (travel time ~10 minutes, waited 30 minutes for a bus). From Terminal 4, inquire inside near the baggage claim.
Terminal 1 is used for most international flights.
Terminal 2 is used exclusively by Philippine Airlines.
Terminal 3 is used by domestic carriers like Cebu Pacific and now includes several international airlines.
Terminal 4 is used by budget carriers AirAsia and Air Swift.
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 PHP500 terminal fee for international departures is now also included in the ticket price.
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 dispatcher. Despite this, there have been frequent scams (accelerated meters, charging full days' mileage, etc). Do not let the yellow taxi driver retain both taxi slips. You should not need to pay more than ₱250 to most hotels in the city. Keep an eye on the meter at all times.
White taxis are warned as "not officially sanctioned" by NAIA, but often times are much more honest and cheaper. Base fare start at ₱40. But they can only be caught in the departure level, where they are dropping off departing passengers.
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 a train line 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 PHP50,000 through the customs. Exceeding amounts require authorisation from the Central Bank of the Philippines. Foreign currencies: up to USD10,000 or its equivalent, the larger amounts must be declared.
400 cigarettes OR 250g 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
- 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's light rail transit system
Manila is crossed by four lines of the Strong Republic Transit System (SRTS), Metro Manila's (partially) integrated railway network. The LRT 1 and LRT 2 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 LRT Line 1 (LRT-1), serves Malate, Ermita, Quiapo, Binondo and Santa Cruz, while the LRT Line 2 (LRT-2), serves Quiapo, Sampaloc and Santa Mesa. Most tourist sites are along the LRT-1 Line. The MRT-3 Line goes along EDSA Avenue, from Taft Avenue, Pasay to North Avenue, Quezon City.
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 LRT 1 Line at Blumentritt station, and with the LRT 2 Line at Santa Mesa station.
Fares on the SRTS are distance-based. Each line has a different fare structure (updated August 2019):
- LRT Line 1: Between ₱15 and ₱30, depending on the number of stations traveled. Using A Beep Card reduces the fares to ₱12 - ₱29.
- LRT Line 2: Between ₱15 and ₱25. Using A Beep Card reduces the fares to ₱12 - ₱24.
- MRT Line 3: Between ₱13 and ₱28.
- PNR (Train) Line: Between ₱15 and ₱60 for air-conditioned trains, and ₱12-₱48 for non-aircon trains.
The Manila Train Guide  has a map and tips on how to use the train system.
Here is an updated (August 2019) map of the public transportation options in Metro Manila: Manila Public Transport Map
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 LRT-1 Central Terminal 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 LRT-1 Doroteo Jose and MRT-2 Recto 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 train 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.
Fort Santiago, Intramuros
The main tourist sites of Manila are located along Manila Bay.
- Baywalk - South of the Luneta is the renovated Baywalk a linear park adjacent to Manila Bay. Restaurants formerly on the actual baywalk have been moved inwards to allow a clear view of Manila's legendary sunsets.
- Bonifacio Shrine - A shrine in honour of Andrés Bonifacio who was one of the Filipinos who struggled and fought for freedom for the country against the Spanish forces.
- Chinatown - Manila has one of the largest Chinatowns in the world, where one can find exotic Chinese goods and delicious cuisine. The area, however, is dirty and polluted, plus getting there can be a hassle given heavy traffic.
- Coconut Palace - a residence commissioned and built along the waterfront by First Lady Imelda Marcos for Pope John Paul II's visit in 1981. While open to the public at some point, it is currently (as of June 2011) occupied by the current Vice President and still open for public visits (by appointment by calling the Office of the Vice President, leaving a return call number and waiting for a confirmation).
- Intramuros - At the northern end of the Bay lies the remnants of the old walled Spanish settlement of Manila, Intramuros (Spanish for 'within the walls'). Intramuros contains some of the city's most interesting museums, ruins, and churches including the Manila Cathedral, the most important church in the country.
- Mabini Shrine - Apolinario Mabini's former home. Mabini was a Lawyer and fought for Philippine Independence. During the American Occupation, this home became the first intellectual headquarters of the First Philippine Republic.
- Malacañán Palace - Manila is the host of the official residence of the president of the Philippines. While heading your way here, you will see wonderful places. People can roam the garden afterwards.
- Manila Hotel - Just outside Intramuros and on the edge of Manila Bay is the beautiful and historic Manila Hotel, a legacy of the American colonial era and the place where General Douglas MacArthur made his home before World War II.
- Plaza San Luis - A commercial complex consisting five house; Casa Manila, Casa Urdaneta, Casa Blanca, Los Hidalgos and El Hogar Filipino. Plaza San Luis showcases Filipino-Hispanic Architecture. Other than Souvenir shops there is a museum in Casa Manila.
- University of Santo Tomás (Universidad de Santo Tomás (UST)). This University, constructed by the Spanish, is the oldest existing University in the whole of Far East and second to be founded in the Philippines. Used as a concentration camp by the Japanese during their occupation and cramming about 10 000, exceeding the maximum capacity of 4000. The University has a museum housing a collection that dates back to 1682 mostly natural history, coins & medals, ethnography, oriental arts, and catholic iconography. The building where the museum sits, known as the paraninfo or simply Main Building to most, has a lobby containing powerfully steering wall-to-wall mural by National Artist Botong Francisco in the genre of his contemporary, Diego Rivera. Fee.
- Manila Metropolitan Theater - The Manila Metropolitan Theatre or MET is an art deco building designed by the Filipino architect Juan M. de Guzman Arellano, and inaugurated on 10 December 1931, with a capacity of 1670. The theatre is located on Padre Burgos Avenue, near the Manila Central Post Office. Renovated under the auspices of Imelda Marcos, it now falls back under the management of neglect and decadence.
- Manila Central Post Office - Designed by Filipino architect Juan Marcos de Guzman Arellano, located in a very prominent visual and commanding spot of the first Civic Centre in Manila and could have been perfect location for a Senate building, the Post Office building was built in neoclassical architecture in 1926. It was severely damaged in World War II, and rebuilt in 1946 preserving most of its original design. It is located in the Intramuros district of the city, at the bank of the Pasig River. The front of the building faces the Liwasang Bonifacio plaza (now known as Plaza Lawton).
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'.
- National Museum of the Philippines (Pambansang Museo), P. Burgos Ave, ☎ +63 2-527 1209, . Built and opened in the 1900s The museum showcases significant collections from archaeology, arts, cultural properties, zoology, botany and many more. This museum boasts of amassing over a million artifacts but in actual, only 125 pieces or so are on show. An optimist would describe something as a glass half full, and for one, this museum is less than half full for one would see halls and halls of empty space. A floor would have just about a maximum of two utilised halls with displays in it. The museum is comprised of three separate buildings - this one and the one facing it as showcases for anthropological and archaeological artefacts while the third one, the former Senate Building functions as the National Art Gallery where paintings and sculptures are housed. All three provide free admission.
- The National Art Gallery as explained, took over the premises of the former Senate Building and the repository of works of Filipino masters. The more than life-sized painting of Juan Luna titled "Spolarium", a powerful imagery in the mold of classical theme and Romanticist in style is the museum's version of "Mona Lisa", meaning the most priced Philippine artwork.
- Museum of Philippine Political History (National Historical Institute Museum), T.M. Kalaw Ave., Manila. Includes documents such as the signing of Independence displayed in a holy grail-like showcase.
- Metropolitan Museum of Manila (Met Museum), Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Complex, Roxas Boulevard, Manila, ☎ +63 2-521 1517, . M-Sa 9AM-6PM. Inaugurated during Imelda's heyday, it used to display works by Caravaggio. This overrated art museum showcases both traditional, hispanic and modern art through its exhibits. Located along Roxas boulevard, across the Manila Yacht club.
- Bahay Tsinoy (Museum of Chinese in Philippine Life), 8 Anda, corner Cabildo Street, Intramuros (Facing the Manila Cathedral, take the right side street. Turn left two blocks after Manila Cathedral, about 50 m is the entrance to Bahay Tsinoy museum.), ☎ +63 2-527 6083, . 9am-5pm. Bahay Tsinoy is the only museum of its kind in Southeast Asia and, arguably, the world. The Chinese, having come to the Philippines in batches since pre-Spanish colonial times, have been settling and assimilating as Filipinos. The museum gives an idea of the nuanced past that Chinese immigrants had to live through, and details their impressive journey from largely being itinerant vendors and coolies during the Spanish Occupation to being captains of industry and prominent figures in art, politics, media and government today. Museum is closed on Mondays, but open on Sundays. Although Bahay Tsinoy is open by 9AM, try to go there at 1PM at the earliest; only then is the air-conditioning turned on, for electricity-saving reasons. ₱100.
- Museo Pambata, Roxas Boulevard corner South Drive Manila, Philippines 1000 (From EDSA, turn right on Roxas Boulevard then take a U-turn on T.M. Kalaw Street. From Quiapo, take Quezon Bridge going to Padre Burgos Street then turn left on Roxas Boulevard. Or you may take the LRT-1 or a jeepney (A. Mabini route), get off on United Nations Avenue, and walk to Roxas Boulevard. Museo Pambata is right beside the U.S. Embassy), ☎ +63 2-523 1797 or +63 985-360595 (mobile), . Aug-Mar: 8AM-5PM daily; Apr-Jul: 9AM-5PM daily. The Museo Pambata is a children's interactive museum, the first of its kind in the Philippines. Opened in 1994, Museo Pambata is the dream come true of Nina Lim-Yuson, who was inspired by the Boston Children’s Museum to open up a similar facility in Manila. ₱100.
- Rizal Park  Right outside the walled city is Rizal Park more widely known as the Luneta. The Luneta is the venue for the national museums, bayside restaurants, an open-air theater featuring free classical music concerts and acclaimed international films, a planetarium, an open gym for early morning jogging and tai chi enthusiasts, or a night ballroom, as well as Japanese, Chinese, Filipino gardens, an orchidarium, an aquarium, and a children's museum. It is a popular meeting spot for family picnics and lovers' trysts, and was the site of the execution of José Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, and where a monument and final resting place most importantly - but sadly and disrespectfully overshadowed by poking skyscrapers nearby - is erected, as well as the inaugural grandstand for the incoming President.
- Paco Park was actually built as a final resting place for Spanish families residing in Manila. After José Rizal's execution, his remains were sent and buried here, which is today commemorated by a monument in the park. It is now a public park with jogging lanes and open air concerts, and is also a popular venue for weddings. It is accessible by taxi and bus, as well as a 10 minute walk from the LRT-1 United Nations Ave. station.
Nature and Wildlife
- Manila Zoo is rather decrepit, and in need of drastic renovations. The Manila Zoo covers an area of 0.055 square kilometres. Accessible via LRT-1 Quirino station. Also here is housed its famous occupant, the lonely elephant Mali, the Philippines' only living elephant, known and friend, but not intimately, to Hollywood stars such as Sir Paul McCartney & Pamela Anderson who have yet to personally inspect her condition and 'solitary confinement'.
- Manila Ocean Park is a much better maintained marine wildlife facility which was recently opened in 2008 and is located behind the Quirino Grandstand at Rizal Park. The 8000 square metres (86,000 sq ft) oceanarium is larger than the Sentosa Underwater World oceanarium in Singapore, and features a 25 metres (82 ft) underwater acrylic tunnel. Mostly accessible by taxi, but can be walked if you are in the vicinity of Rizal Park.
- Arroceros Forest Park Situated in the heart of downtown Manila, Arroceros Forest Park is a 2.2-hectare piece of land behind the old art deco Metropolitan Theatre. Arroceros got its name, which means “rice dealers,” from the rice trade along the Pasig riverbank during the early colonial period.
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.
- San Agustín Church
- Manila Cathedral
- Malate Church
- Santa Ana Church
- Binondo Church
- Santa Cruz Church
- Quiapo Church
- San Nicolás Church
- Tondo Church
- Basilica of San Sebastián - The only all steel church of the Asia, the Spanish were tired of building the church over and over again after fires and earthquakes, they finally decided to build the cathedral in solid steel. The materials were ordered from Europe while the architect is Gustav Eiffel; the architect of the Eiffel tower in France. Its Gothic architecture might make you think you're somewhere in the middle of Europe.
Beyond the City of Manila
- Parish Church of St. Joseph - See the Las Piñas Bamboo organ here.
- Pasig Cathedral
- St. Peter & Paul Church of Makati
- Guadalupe Nuevo Church
- San Felipe Neri Church of Mandaluyong
- Santuario de Santo Cristo Church of San Juan
- San Bartolomé Church of Malabón
Iglesia ni Cristo Churches
Aside from the interesting Spanish Colonial Churches, there is one group of church-structures belonging to the Iglesia ni Cristo, 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), 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 spires 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.
- St. Jude Thaddeus Shrine, San Miguel District, Manila - Near Malacañán Palace, this church is the busiest on Thursdays.
- Our Lady of Perpetual Help Shrine, Not in the City of Manila but situated in Baclaran District of Pasay City. Nevertheless heavy traffic affects the southern portion of the city towards the cities of Pasay-Parañaque, all interconnected by the LRT-1. This Church is the liveliest on Wednesdays much more especially so because the surrounding area is carpeted by a flea market.
- The Black Nazarene Minor Basilica, Quiapo District, Manila - Its feast day is on 9 January but its special day of the week falls on Fridays.
- Intramuros Tour - visit the Walled City starting from Fort Santiago. Inside is the Rizal Shrine, honoring the country's National Hero, Jose Rizal - polymath, doctor, engineer, scientist, artist, linguist, propagandist, and most of all, an avid traveler who was incarcerated in exactly that same cell before he was executed, now transformed into his shrine. His patriotism and nationalist advocacy preceded that of Mahatma Gandhi's by about 20 years. His shrine houses his memorabilia. Other places to see are the Plaza Mayor, Plaza de Roma, Ayuntamiento, Palacio del Gobernador, and the Manila Cathedral. San Agustin Church needs more than a passing glance. The monastery-church complex houses priceless collection of religious art. Across is Plaza San Luis Complex comprising a group of houses replete with authentic furnishings of the colonial period. Trace the walls of the city and the interestingly unique gates of the walls, eight in all and stopping at Parian Gate, the gate leading to Bahay Tsinoy, meaning House of the Filipino-Chinese, Philippines' version of the Peranakan House-Museums in Singapore and Malacca. The House-Museum extolls also the economic, political, and cultural, among other things, from the humble beginnings to, achievements and contributions of the Filipino-Chinese community.
- Rizal Park Tour - Designed by Daniel Burnham, this park is the Philippines' answer to Paris' Jardin des Tuileries or Washington Mall. Gaze at Rizal Monument, a must stopping point for Heads of State visits, the Japanese & Chinese Gardens, the National Museum, the Planetarium, the Ocean Park, the Museo Pambata, as well as the Quirino Grandstand, the oath-taking stand for Presidential inaugurations.
- Downtown Manila Tour - This self-guided tour starts at Bahay Nakpil on Bautista St. in Quiapo, on a turn-of-the-century house, then to Plaza Miranda, now teeming with vendors of religious, herbal merchandizes, as well as fortune tellers and prayer proxies as you make your way to the Quiapo Basilica housing the Black Nazarene. Stroll to Raon, Villalobos, and Palanca Sts. on your way to Quinta Market and the Ile de Toule (Ilalim ng Tulay) for handicrafts and souvenirs. Pass by Carriedo and Juan Luna Sts. another commercial strips towards Chinatown at Binondo where it ends in Binondo Church, the heart of town.
- Malate & Ermita Tour - Cover this area starting from Plaza Rajah Sulayman and Malate Church, a quiant baroque church, then meander in any direction along Adriatico, Mabini, Del Pilar Sts., and Roxas Blvd. Make sure to stop at San Andres Market.
- CCP Complex Tour - Probe into the mind of Imelda Marcos by strolling, jogging, or biking into the reclaimed CCP Complex where a menagerie of her showcase art-beauty-culture projects stands, albeit not in its spic-n'-span condition. See Districts/Malate' and Understand sections. These public buildings except for the Cultural Center Building or Theater for the Performing Arts, used to be accesible but have now been reduced to being admired from the outside. The Coconut Palace, always unpredictably closed, is now open for viewing, albeit by appointment.
- Skyscraper Gazing Tour - Outside of the City of Manila, get a hands on experience of the modern city with four greatest and latest skyscraper showcases of the metropolis starting via LRT-1 to MRT-3 stopping at Ayala Center in Makati, the oldest at 50 plus years and kept on re-inventing itself. Step into Ayala Avenue, the new Fifth Avenue of the Philippines and walk breezily in its 5-meter wide, flat, and very feet-friendly sidewalks (a rarity in Manila) while gazing at the ever becoming higher and higher skyscrapers. The walking tour heads to Ayala Triangle - a mini park spotted with sprawling acacia trees and a green carpet of turf, home to the Makati and Philippine Stock Exchanges buildings. The vertices of the triangle-park are highlighted by significant Filipino heroes. On the South vertex and first approach is the image of the fiery and enraging female heroine-on-horseback of the Spanish Revolt - Gabriela Silang, on the North vertex, the hubris-full and regal posing Muslim Sultan Kudarat, and on the East vertex, the meek and helpless nerd-looking assassinated hero, Ninoy Aquino. Trace back towards EDSA and switch to another mode of transport, a taxi or on an AUV in order to get to the second major destination, the BGC or Bonifacio Global City, then back again to EDSA, on the way skirting through the third cluster of skyscrapers in an area called the Rockwell Center, then finally to EDSA at MRT-3 Guadalupe Station. The line to the north heads to another concentration of skyscrapers, the Ortigas Center, the last end of the tour. There are alternative routes connecting these four. As you go along, you will be arching back your neck and staring upwards. Manila has seen another period of construction boom in practically the busiest areas in the metropolis (and these areas are just a sample) with an upward sales growth of condominium units). Be discreet on taking photos. Just like in traumatized New York or Los Angeles, here in Manila, skyscrapers and camera equals trouble. People here are not used to seeing a lot of tourists and mostly will have some second thoughts why you are doing this thing, unless you are white.
- Electric Chariots Tour of Intramuros - tour in style, meaning in segway rented from White Knight Hotel, Intramuros.
- City Tour of Metro Manila Via train - This do-it-yourself tour provides a panoramic view of the city from a different vantage point, exactly from a moving elevated train about 15 feet above street level. It comes in three lines - Line-1 (Yellow) for the North to South Route which is mostly within the City of Manila, Line-2 (Purple) for the East to West Route, a quarter of which is in the City of Manila, and Line-3 (Blue) for the circumferencial route, totally out of the city. For an all female-tour, LRT-1 and MRT-3 has an exclusive all female coach just for discerning takers.
Fiestas & Festivals
- New Year Welcoming Festival, not a recommended place to be where Manila is converted into a war zone with unbearable noise, blanket haze, and stray bullets fired from unknown sources.
- Chinese New Year Welcoming Festival, Chinatown, Binondo District
- Oblation Run, University of the Philippines Campus, Diliman District, Quezon City not in Manila although it may have its own version.
- Feast of the Black Nazarene and Caroza Parade, Quiapo District, Manila, January 9
- Fiesta del Santo Niño, Tondo District, Manila, 3rd Sunday of January
- EDSA People's Power Revolution Comemmoration, not in the City of Manila
- Manila Summer Sea Sports Festival, March along Roxas Boulevard
- Holy Week or Semana Santa, Catholic Churches throughout Metropolitan Manila
- Santacruzan Festival, the famous one hosted by Manila Hotel
- Flores de Mayo
- Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, not in the City of Manila
- Philippine Independence Day Celebration at the Luneta
- La Naval Fluvial Parade at the Pasig River
- All Souls & Saints Day Celebration, Cemeteries throughout Metropolitan Manila
- Marián Festival in Intramuros
- Misa De Gallo held in all churches.
- Christmas Day held in all Christian homes
- Metro Manila Film Festival along Roxas Boulevard
- Pageant of the Three Kings held in all churches
- Bota De Flores, Ermita District, Manila
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 ₱50 and dollar is still sliding down. Bill denominations are in ₱20, ₱50, ₱100, ₱200, ₱500, & ₱1000 while coin denominations are in 25¢, ₱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 exchange offices are available in the airport and surprisingly, they offer better rates than the numerous money changers elsewhere around town. There is no commission. Most regular banks outside the airport will only change foreign currency for their own customers so you will probably be forced to use a money changer. 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. there is a 200-250 fee to use ATMs for overseas cards. The only ATMs with out the 200-250 fee is HSBC.
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.
- Pinakbet - vegetable dish seasoned with fermented fish
- Papaetan - tripe seasoned with bile secretion
- Dinengdeng -
Central Luzon Island Region (Kapampangan)
Pampaguenos lead in the art of combining the best of Spanish and Chinese legacies.
- Relleno - stuffed fish or chicken.
- Pastel -
- Cocido -
- Pansit Palabok - noodle dish.
- Sisig - a dish of chopped meat or seafoof creamed with mayonnaise and spiced with Philippine chili.
- They also excel in fine desserts such as Turon de Casuy, Mazapan, Leche Flan and Biscochos Borrachos.
Central Luzon Island Region
Tagalogs are generally good cooks too:
- Adobo - now considered as National Dish, it's pork, beef, chicken, or practically anything marinated in soy sauce and vinegar.
- Sinigang - Philippines' answer to Thailand's Tom Yam, a meat or seafood boiled in a sour fruit.
- Dinuguan - internal organs of butchered animals and cooked with pork blood. (Note: eating animal organs was introduced by the Spaniards).
- Hipong Halabos - boiled shrimp.
- Kari-Kari - beef parts flavored by vegetables and pounded peanut turned into sauce.
- Biya with Gata - fish cooked in coconut milk.
- Pangat - fish cooked without coconut milk.
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.
- Pinangat - minced young coconut meat with either shrimps or freshwater fish (mudfish, tilapia, catfish)and hot pepper wrapped in taro leaves then cook boiled in pure coconut milk.
- Tanaguktok - (also called sinanglay) fish stuffed with tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger and the inevitable hot pepper wrapped in banana leaf and then cooked in cocomilk.
- Gulay na Natong - Taro leaves cooked in coconut milk.
- Bicol Express (the local recipe)- a dish comprising of 70% julienned chilli peppers with a mixture of pork fat, salted small shrimps (locally known as balaw)sauteed in onions, garlic, ginger and sometimes tomatoes then cooked in cocomilk.
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.
- Pansit Molo - soup with wanton like dumplings.
- Laswa - vegetables cooked in little water with fermented fish.
- Linagpang - broiled fish.
- Inasal - another fish cooked over charcoal.
- Kadyos - vegetables with fish or meat.
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.
- Corn Suman - dessert made from corn meal re-wrapped in the husk.
- Utap or Hojaldres - Cebuano biscuit.
Eastern Visayas Islands Region or Samar-Leyte
Warays are coconut milk lovers minus the hot chili pepper.
- Kinilao - raw fish in lime and vinegar.
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 Mobile Vendors:
- Boiled Eggs
- Balut – boiled duck embryo, generally safe to eat as the whole duck egg is intact and well cooked. The sight of the fully formed duckling complete with wings, ribbed feet and beak may not be too easily swallowed by the squeamish however.
- Penoy – boiled undeveloped duck egg - just the white and the yolk.
- Quail Egg – boiled quail egg.
- Grilled Meat Cuts
- Barbecue – the term barbecue in the Philippines usually means bite size pieces of pork marinated, skewered and charcoal grilled. Chicken barbecue (bbq for short) is also common.
- Isaw, Helmet, Adidas and Betamax - grilled chicken (or pork) intestines, chicken head, chicken feet, and chicken or pork blood with funny names, respectively.
- Atay, Balun-Balunan, Puso - body parts liver, gizzard, heart, skewered.
- Deep Fried or Grilled Processed Meat
- Kikyam – ground meat wrapped in bean curd sheets, then deep fried.
- Sausage – small cured meat cuts then deep fried.
- Hotdog – deep fried hotdog, in different sizes - bite size, jumbo, meat types, grilled and topped with sauces - New York Style, Chili, Pesto, etc.
- Meat-Flavored Dough Balls
- Bola Bola – deep fried dough balls (totally without the meat) with flavor variations extracted from fish, squid, shrimp, pork, chicken, beef; or combination of two or more of them, and sometimes with thrown in mix of chopped parsley or spring onion.
- Batter With Filling Added
- Kwek Kwek and Tokneneng – very uniquely Filipino and ubiquitous, voted by Class D & E Manilans as the choiced comfort food, consist of boiled egg (duck, chicken, or quail) dipped and coated in an artificial orange colored batter, then deep fried. When eaten, usually floated in a small bowl of vinegar sauce with chopped cucumbers, onions, chili peppers, and garlic, while being mashed or cut into pieces by fork or bamboo stick.
- Ukoy - shrimp, mung sprouts, carrots or any veggie thrown in and formed into flat pattie from a batter and deep fried.
- Waffle Hotdog - a hotdog wrapped in waffle dough.
- Meat & Bread
- Empanada - with variation in fillings such as cheese, chicken, tuna, pork, beef, etc.
- Burgers - exactly American style but half the size.
- Sandwiches - exactly American style, most common are cheese, salami, ham, tuna, or simply mayonnaise, none of the veggies.
- Pita - like Persian and Italian styles but more similar to Greek gyros.
- Shawarma - introduced by Filipinos who have worked in Middle East and acquired Middle Eastern taste.
- Dimsum - Cantonese is the most influential of Chinese food contribution to Filipino palette.
- Siomai - meat dumpling wrapped in wonton wrapper with variations as either pork, shrimp, chicken, beef, sharks fin, or beef & shrimp.
- Siopao - steamed bun with stuffings such as asado, bola bola, or egg, or combination, lately there is now a baked wheat version.
- Noodles - maybe dry such as bihon, palabok, canton, miki; or wet such as sotanghon, molo, luglug, etc..
- Hong Kong Style Dry Fried Noodles - a basic combination of fried dry noodles and a choice of fried pork, BBQ pork, beef, chicken, tuna, meatballs, or siomai balls and then topped with do-it-yourself concoction from an array of choices - teriyaki, garlic chili, barbeque, sweet chili, chili, sweet, sweet & sour, peanut, oyster, to be topped again with Philippine lemon and garlic, etc., eaten on a paper bowl and chopsticks.
- Sisig To Go - hot spicy, from one basic ingredient of chopped chicken, chicken liver, pork, beef, milkfish, tuna, or squid, topped by fish, chicharon, and garlic flakes, and mixed all together with mayonnaise, local lemon (or calamansi), then garnished with the local chili. This type of preparation mimics that of a SUBWAY outlet's where there is a plethora of choices of cuts, ingredients, and condiments.
- Boiled Saba – Philippine plantain, boiled.
- Banana Cue/Q – Philippine plantain fried in hot oil coated with caramelized brown sugar and served on a barbecue stick like a barbecue.
- Maruya – deep fried plantain slices held together by a batter.
- Turon – sweet spring rolled plantain with a slice of jackfruit flesh, deep fried.
- Root Crops
- Camote Cue/Q – sweet potato served the same way as banana cue/q.
- Kalingking - sweet potato cut french fries style, a handful are held together in batter and deep fried.
- Fresh Fruits - these are popular snack fruits:
- Pakwan - sliced watermelon on stick (May-June).
- Singkamas – sliced jicama topped with fermented shrimp (May-June).
- Pinya – sliced pineapple on stick (year-round).
- Mangga – sliced or chopped crunchy mango topped with salt or fermented shrimp paste (year-round).
- Lanzones - (September-October).
- Lychee - Chinese import.
- Rambutan - (August-September).
- Santol - (August-September).
- Guapple - giant guava the size of a big apple, sprinkled with salt; very crunchy.
- Indian Mango
- Pancake – simply slattered in margarine.
- Crepe – with variation in fillings.
- Waffle– with variation in fillings.
- Native Cakes
- Puto Bungbong – exact Philippine version of the Puto Bambu sold at Pasar Seni in Kuala Lumpur and where "white" tourists are going gaga. Here, the mixture of grounded rice and sugar is steamed over a real bamboo over charcoal on a claypot and not by industrial stove as the Malaysian version. Sold especially during the 9 days of "Misa de Gallo" a very long time tradition of early morning mass prelude to the eave of Christmas.
- Nilupak – a steady fixture along the streets abutting markets, this local pudding variety is made from sweetened pounded root crop tuber and formed in a style of mashed potato but with drier and stickier consistency.
- Pichi Pichi - cassava patties.
- Ube Halaya
- Sapin Sapin
- Suman - glutinous sweet rice or cassava wrapped in leaf and steamed.
- Japanese and Chinese Cakes
- Peanut Ampao
- Japanese Cake - with variation in jelly fillings similar to donuts.
- European Bread & Pastries
- Pan de Coco - bread stuffed with coconut gratings
- Buko Pie - coconut pie
- Pineapple Pie
- Putopao - another Philippine product of fusion ingenuity, the common Chinese pao or bao or steamed meat bun has its dough substituted by steamed rice cake instead.
- Beverage or Palamig - very popular, cheap, and are now spinning into other variations and combinations
- Gulaman - one of the most ubiquitous, refreshing drink made from sugar syrup and water, made heavier by adding colorful squiggly pieces of jelly from agar agar sometimes mixed with evaporated milk.
- Sago - another very popular drink by the locals, sugar syrup mixed on iced water with tapioca balls similar to Korean Boba.
- Mix - mix of gulaman & sago.
- Buko Juice - coconut juice and shredings.
- Melon Juice
- Pineapple Juice
- Other Popular Combination Palamig - the first three sugar syrup based beverages above may be combined with other ingredients to form the following:
- Fruit Salad Juice - just like a fruit salad but with thinner consistency to be gulped and not spooned.
- Halo Halo Juice - same principle as in fruit salad but with Halo-halo ingredients.
- Ube Macapuno Juice - yam & coconut sport or abnormally formed coconut flesh.
- Corn Juice
- Coffee Juice
- Creamed Palamig - much thicker in consistency and less as a beverage.
- Buko Macapuno Cream - young sport coconut shredded with very diluted cream almost like evaporated milk, in a portable cup.
- Buko Macapuno Pandan Cream - likewise, with Pandan flavor distinguished by its green color.
- Buko Macapuno and Nata de Coco Cream - likewise but added with Nata from coconut, the jelly cream formed from fermented coconut juice.
- Jelly Cream - an all-jelly cast, including nata.
- Combined Macapuno & Jelly
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:
- Balut Eggspress - serves balut, kwek kwek and one day old chicks, which are quite literally day old chicks marinated and fried in hot oil then eaten whole including the bones. They have a stall in the MRT-3 Ayala Station.
- Nanay Q - serving special pork and chicken BBQ, liempo, grilled fish and shrimps. They also serve special Pinoy dishes such as Beef Caldereta, Menudo, Pinapaitan, Gambas and Sinigang. Sisig is also their specialty. They have branches at Robinsons Pioneer and Edsa Central. You may visit  for more info..
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.
- Taho - this ubiquitous mushy tofu, found in the whole Southeast Asia has this Philippine version topped with sugar syrup and tapioca balls. It's patronized mostly by children and construction workers in the morning.
- Mais - boiled corn-on-the-cob sold in the early to late afternoon.
- Binatog - boiled glutinous corn topped with coconut milk, sugar, and fresh coconut gratings.
- Bola Bola - fried fish balls, small hotdogs, etc...
- Assorted Fruits
- Ice Cream or Dirty Ice Cream - sold in folksy carts, it announces its presence with a bell that looks more like a collector's item. Flavors are as native themed as its cart - mango, carabao cheese, pandan, and yam.
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:
- Tapsilog - for tapa or cured beef jerky
- Dasilog - for daing or any sun-dried fish
- Adosilog - for adobo (vinegar & soy sauce marinated chicken, pork or beef)
- Hamsilog - for ham
- Disilog - for dilis or fried smelt or anchovy
- Cornsilog - for corned beef
- Bacsilog - for bacon
- Bangsilog - for bangus or milkfish
- Bisteksilog - for beef steak
- Dangsilog - for danggit or rabbitfish
- Vicsilog - for vic or chinless hogfish
- Chosilog - for chorizo or Spanish style sausage
- Chiksilog - for fried chicken
- Embotidosilog - for embotido or Philippine-style meatloaf
- Shanghaisilog - for shanghai roll or Philippine-style fried spring roll
- Hotsilog - for hotdog or Philippine-style red hotdog
- Longsilog - for longganisa or Philippine-style sausage (derived from Chinese style)
- Tosilog - for tosino or sugar/honey cured meat
- Masilog - for 'Ma Ling' brand Chinese luncheon meat
- SPAMsilog - for 'SPAM' brand luncheon meat
- Nuggetsilog - for chicken nuggets
- Porksilog - for chuleta or porkchop
- Lechonsilog - for roasted pork
- Liemposilog - for crispy pork
- Bangusilog - for fried milkfish
- Baloneysilog - for Bologna sausage
- Pusitsilog - for fried breaded squid rings or octopus tentacles, or plain midget squids
- Siomaisilog - for siomai ( a type of meat dumpling)
- Tuyosilog - for sun dried mackerel
- Isawsilog - for a piece of pork intestines
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.
- Peanut - garlic-flavored fried peanuts.
- Adobo Peanut - adobo-flavored fried peanuts.
- Hot Chili Peanut - chili-flavored fried peanuts.
- Skinless Peanut
- Japanese Peanut - batter cracker coated, sometimes with minutely chopped seaweeds.
- Peanut Brittle - caramel coated peanuts.
- Sung Sung
- Pop Beans
- Sweet Beans
- Tip Top - local version of M&Ms.
- Shrimp Chicha - shrimp-flavored crackers.
- Onion Twist Chicha - dipped in vinegar.
- Onion & Garlic Potato Chicha - dipped just like any Mexican corn snacks.
- Shing-A-Ling - fried stick crackers.
- Chicharon Ilocos - pork crackers styled from Ilocos region.
- Chicharon Classic
- Cornick - garlic-flavored fried corn kernels.
- Cornick Ilocos - styled from Ilocos region.
- Cheese Cornick - cheese-flavored fried corn kernels.
- Green Pea - garlic-flavored fried green peas.
- Butong Pakwan - watermelon seeds.
- Sunflower Seed
- Sampaloc - preserved tamarind flesh.
- Santol - preserved santol seed & flesh.
- Champoy - preserved dried fruits.
- Kiamoy - preserved dried plums.
- Dikiam - preserved dried plum variety.
- Cherry - preserved dried cherry.
- Haw Flakes - imported from China, extracted from dry sweet plums, formed into super thin, small communion wafers
- Macapuno Balls - soft glutinous candy from coconut flesh.
- Ube Balls - soft yam balls.
- Yema Balls - candy from carabao milk.
- Macapuno Pastillas - coconut sport with solidified carabao milk candy.
- Ube Pastillas - yam with solidified carabao milk candy.
- Egg Dilis - fried anchovies coated with egg.
- Squid - squid in thick semi-dry dark caramel syrup.
- Cheese Curls - popular junk food from corn.
- Chippy - popular junk food from corn.
- Ampao - pop rice molded in blocks by sugar syrup.
- Banana Chips
- Camote Chips - cheese-flavored Pringles-type from sweet potato chips.
- Polvoron - some foreigners call this volcano candy because it inevitably spews the powdery concoction once the mouth is opened while chewing it, a Spanish shortbread from flour, sugar, carabao milk, and nuts.
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.
Only half a century of American rule was enough to establish burgers and fried Filipino chicken as daily staples, while tapsilogan are where you need to go for access traditional Filipino cuisine which still has all of the delicious and unique elements that unite the food traditions here.
One good thing for those with reticent palates is the absence of heavy spicing. For example in a close comparison between the Philippines and Vietnam on a vegetable & spice market tour, the Philippine counterpart is limited. For seasoning, many Filipino dishes do not digress from the simplest use of garlic, onion, and tomatoes. 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.
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.
Filipino food is safe to say more as a comfort food, that has some very different origins to other asian foods. Its good if you seek it out.
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. 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.
For those seeking access to the robustly independent and creative cuisine that exists here, hop in a cab to Mandaluyong. On Boni Avenue, just before the roundabout, you will find the Filipino food mecca of Manila, R&J Bulalohan Tapsilogan. This unpublished, undiscovered 24 hour establishmento is always packed with locals, chowing into every dish discussed in the introduction. It's the "Line Clear" of the Philippines. Their Bulalo is number one in town, photos of local celebrities adorn the bamboo walls, and a bucket of 6 beers will set you back only 240 pesos. If you only eat local once in your trip, you must eat here. It's incredible.
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:
- Ice Cream- mostly serving never heard flavors at least in the western world such as purple yam, avocado, carabao cheese, coconut, or pandan.
- Sago Parfait - tapioca balls parfait.
- Creamed Coconut and Pandan flavored Jellies
- Almond Jellies Lychees - also with shaved ice.
- Sweetened Sport Coconut Flesh - also with shaved ice.
- Frozen Fruit Salad
- Halo-Halo - the queen of Philippine Snacks/Desserts, a Japanese invention of a salad of sweet beans and peas, jellies, and fruits and shaved ice found everywhere in the Far East. The Philippine version always has these ingredients - young sweetened coconut shreddings called Macapuno, nipa palm nut flesh or Kaong, Pinipig or toasted sweet rice, Ube or purple yam paste, Leche Flan or egg custard, and ice cream.
- Guinomis - Pinipig or toasted sweet rice and sago in coconut syrup and shaved ice.
- Mango Jam
- Mais Con Yelo (Hielo) - iced sweet corn porridge in syrup.
- Saba Con Yelo (Hielo) - iced stewed plantain in syrup.
- Langka Con Yelo (Hielo)- fresh jackfruit in syrup.
- Mangga at Sumang Malagkit – Philippine version of the Thai mango and glutinous sweet rice. In this case the rice is steamed while wrapped in banana or palm leaf.
- Banana and Young Coconut Pies
- Leche Flan or Custard
- Mango Pudding
- Crema de Fruta - layered fruit cocktail cake.
- Cashew Tart
- Egg Bonbon
Filipinos are great lovers of McDonalds and Pizza Hut, their dining style and menus. Hotdogs on sticks, hotdogs on buns, hamburgers or cheeseburgers, pizzas, and spaghettis are all popular. Their pictures proliferate everywhere, be it as street food or sit-in meal. Manilans also love donuts, particularly from Mister Donut whose products are not as sweet as its American counterparts. As a side note, Philippine style spaghettis are also done sweeter than elsewhere in the world. Fettucini and lasagna have already gained a foothold, and lately carbonara is 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 is eclipsing its American-based competitor, who has long held a dominant position in the city. 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 into consideration the local palate. It has now has become a billion peso franchise business empire. Another spin-off of this business is Chow King, which has the same business model and packaging (styrofoams, plastics, and cardboards) but with Chinese influenced menus and has become as ubiquitous as Jollibee and McDonalds. Similarly, Mang Inasal follows the same pattern, but this time the theme is country or provincial style menu with banana leaf packaging, cane/bamboo baskets as plates, and claypots as serving plates catering to native food lovers.
Coffee shops 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$2-3 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.
- Mani - (peanuts) are often sold boiled in the shell, salted. (Note that peanut is also called Mani in Latin America.)
- Balut - duck embryo.
- Fried & Boiled
- Tokwa't Baboy - tofu fried with boiled pork the particular part of the pig is the face and ears or mask as they call it, all diced and mixed together then dipped in a garlic-flavored soy sauce or vinegar dip.
- Deep Fried
- Chicharón - (also spelled chicharon or tsitsaron), pork rinds that have been salted, dried, then fried.
- Chicharong Bituka - pig intestines that have been deep fried to a crisp.
- Chicharong Bulaklak - similar to chicharong bituka it is made from mesenteries of pig intestines and has a bulaklak or flower appearance.
- Chicharong Manok - chicken skin that has been deep fried until crisp.
- Mani - (peanuts) deep fried in garlic, and may be spiced.
- Pea - all varieties from chick peas to edamame (not fried), same as peanuts.
- Kropeck - fish and shrimp crackers.
- Pusit - Squid.
- Octopus -
- Hipon - Shrimp
- Isda - skewered fish, all sorts.
- Barbekyung Isaw - chicken or pig intestines marinated and skewered.
- Barbekyung Tenga - pig ears that have been marinated and skewered.
- Barbekyung Baboy or Pork Barbecue - skewered pork marinated in a usually sweet blend.
- Lechong Manok - skewered piece or rotisseried whole chicken marinated in a usually sweet blend.
- Betamax - salted solidified pork or chicken blood which is skewered.
- Adidas - which is grilled or sautéed chicken feet.
- Sisig- made from the pig's cheek skin, ears, liver, and even brains that are initially boiled, then grilled over charcoal and afterwards minced and cooked with chopped onions, chillies, and spices.
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 its 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!
There are dorms for ₱99/night near the Clover Leaf Cafe in Kalayaan Avenue, Makati. These are massive single-sex rooms with 20-30 beds; mostly locals come here for job training/interviews.
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.
- Bayview Park Hotel Manila, 1118 Roxas Boulevard corner United Nations Avenue, Manila, 1000, Philippines, ☎ +63-02-5261555, . Standing proud and strong along the famous Roxas Boulevard is Bayview Park Hotel Manila. The hotel has 282 rooms and suites that provide utmost comfort for all types of travelers. All rooms have free WiFi access, air conditioning, cable TV, mini bar, and NDD/IDD phone. Bayview Park Hotel Manila in Roxas Boulevard offers a range of excellent facilities like coffee shop, massage and reflexology, swimming pool, fitness gym, conference room, business center, babysitting, airport and city transfer, car rental, currency exchange, laundry service, safety deposit box, lounge, and valet parking that you can enjoy during your stay.
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-3 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.
Suffice it 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?" in Filipino. That makes them leave quickly, though they are likely to return to rob you if you do not react and leave the incident the moment they come back armed.
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 like a local. Thieves and scam artists are likely to see you as an easy target.
Avoid wearing jewelry or other valuables that will broadcast your wealth. Displaying that expensive mobile phone or digital camera out in the open is also a good way to attract thieves.
In the event of a medical emergency, Adventist Medical Center Manila is a recommended hospital for travelers.
Hours: 24/7, [email protected], Phone: (+63)2-525-9191 (local), Direct Line: (+63)2-536-3676, Address: 1975 Donada Street, Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Embassies and Consulates
- Canada, Level 6-8, Tower 2, RCBC Plaza, 6819 Ayala Avenue, Makati City 1200, ☎ +63 2 857-9000 ([email protected], fax: +632 843-1082), .
- China, 4896 Pasay Rd, Dasmarinas Village, Makati, ☎ +63 2 8443148 ([email protected], fax: +63 2 8452465), .
- Greece, 12th Floor, Sage House, 110 Rufino Str.Legaspi Village, Makati City, Manila, ☎ +632 817-4444, Emergencies: +639279677637 ([email protected], fax: +632 812-0202).
- Grenada, 2135 Pasong Tamo, Makati, ☎ +632 818-6175 (fax: +632 819-1152).
- India, 2190 Paraiso, Makati, Dasmariñas Village, Makati City, Metro Manila, ☎ +63-2-8430101/2; +63-94778-36524 (Emergency) ([email protected], fax: +63-2-8445757), .
- Japan, 2627 Roxas Blvd, Pasay City, ☎ +63 2 551-5710 (fax: +63 2 551-5780), .
- Russia, 1245 Acacia Road, Dasmariñas Village, Makati, ☎ +63 2 817-5406 ([email protected], fax: +63 2 810-9614), . Monday – Thursday 08.00-15.15 Friday 08.00-15.00.
- Spain, 5th Floor, ACT Tower, 135 Sen. Gil J. Puyal Avenue, Makati, ☎ +632 818-3561 ([email protected], fax: +632 810-2885), .
- United States, 1201 Roxas Blvd, ☎ ACS +632 301-2000 (fax: ACS +63 2 301-2017), .
- Venezuela, Unit 17a, Multinational Bancorporation Center, 6805 Ayala Avenue, Makati City 1226, ☎ +632 845-2841 ([email protected], fax: +632 845-2866), .
- Antipolo City — Manilenos make their annual summertime pilgrimage to the shrine of the Nuestra Senora dela Paz y Buenviaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) in this hilltop town. Once there, you can partake of the delicacies such as roasted cashew nuts and kalamay (glutinuous rice pudding). The Hinulugang Taktak Falls are nearby and prove a welcome respite to the city's hustle and bustle. On the way up to Antipolo via the Sumulong Highway are restaurants and bars which provide an excellent view of the Metro skyline. (around 1.5 hours from airport)
- Baguio — lies further north and up in the mountains of the Cordilleras. With its cool climate and pine trees, Baguio is said to be the summer capital of the Philippines. (around 8 hours from airport)
- Batangas - Visit Taal which is a heritage town in Batangas where many Spanish colonial houses built from coffee, sugar and other 19th century export crops. Many of these homes have been converted into heritage museums which allow visitors to imagine life during the colonial era. Among other sights are Gerthel Beach, Submarine Garden, Mahabang Buhangin Beach, Hugon Beach, Matabungkay Beach, Mt. Maculot, Calijon Falls, Mainit Hot Springs, Cueva Sitio, Ilijan Falls, Sepok Point, and Bulalacao Falls.
- Mount Batulao is a popular trekking destination near Tagaytay, with the same nice views and cool weather, making for a nice dayhike. Other nearby dayhikes include Pico de Loro and Mount Maculot (which has nice views of Taal Lake).
- Bicol- Mayon Volcano, Caramoan (where several Survivor shows was held in this location), CWC (wakeboarding enthusiast.
- Cavite - Puerto Azul, Marbella Beach, Caylabne
- Subic Freeport Zone — This former American military base has been converted into an industrial park and ironically, an eco-tourism zone. Within the confines of the freeport one can partake of practically all of the activities that most tourists generally experience in the Philippines: sun-tanning on white sand beaches, bay side dining, studying English, forest canopy walking, wreck diving, casino gaming, survival trekking with native Aeta guides, bar hopping, golfing, getting a massage (one spa even offers synchronized massage with two masseuses) and other spa treatments, outlet shopping, you name it. (around 3.5 hours from airport)
- Tagaytay — is a city located on a ridge overlooking Taal Lake. The spectacular view of the Taal volcano in the middle of the lake, combined with the exquisite cuisine from the numerous ridge-side restaurants has made this a favorite weekend excursion for Manila residents. (roughly 1 hour from Ninoy Aquino International Airport)
- Scenic and Folkloric Lake Bai Tour. tour of idyllic towns of Lake Bai - Angono - art town, haven for painters specializing on romanticist and folk genre, notably the Blanco family; concentration of art galleries; Pagsanjan - shooting the rapids and ancestral homes, Biñan - coco pie, native pastries, and candies, Calamba - hometown of National Hero Jose Rizal and Charice - You Tube singing sensation.
- Villa Escudero
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