Manila, where to begin? First off I have admit there was some apprehension with Manila. People generally LOVE the Philippines but not many people are overly complimentary about the countries capital city. “Get in and get out” is a very common phrase when Manila is mentioned. People are often under the impression that it is, like many large Asian cities, over priced, hot, loud, dirty and full of scam artists. I have to say I agree with all of those things with regards to Manila. However, that doesn’t mean that I dislike the place. Much the same can be said for Bangkok, or Saigon, or Kuala Lumpur. I have to say that personally, I like the hustle and bustle of the crazy Asian cities. They are a killer hit to the senses and they definitely keep you on your toes.
Malate: An Interesting Intro to the Philippines
Manila is much the same. We stayed in an area outside of central Manila or the more popular tourist destination city of Makati in favor of Malate. Whilst very close in name, it is quite different in reality. The Wiki travel page for Malate puts it quite well I feel; “Malate is an interesting but gritty and dirty area in Manila”. . .Well there you have it. There isn’t much to add in fairness. It is very dirty, and gritty. It’s kind of cool, though, in it’s own little way. It has the feel of old Manila, the Manila that used to be. There aren’t many tourists in this part of town but the locals are still friendly enough. Some of them (the Women) a little too friendly it could be said. That probably explains why there is a random accumulation of white British/American/Aussie 50/60 somethings always lurking around, a half smoked cigarette hanging from their weathered mouths and the strong smell of cheap whisky on their clothes. Yeah. . .gross, I know.
Moving on. . .The hostel we stayed at was called ‘Wanderers’ and was super basic. I’m talking so basic that I couldn’t outstretch my arms in the room fully without hitting the walls. It’s hot, and the fan we were provided with felt like the luke-warm breath from a panting dog constantly breathing on you as you toss and turn, body almost keeping beat with the bad techno music that pumped from the streets below. Ahhhh, it really is good to be back
It was definitely a stark shock to the senses, delving back into the backpacker lifestyle so quickly after being away from this life for so long. The cold showers, the long and hot sleepless nights, the living out of a backpack, the constant moving and just the general lack of creature comforts. Although it should be so familiar by now, it still takes a little adjusting and I’m fine with that. It is all part of the process and it is always worth it. Trading comfort and security for adventure and travel is always something that I will welcome with an open heart and back pack.
Manila’s geography is a little wacky. The city of Manila is divided into sixteen officially defined administrative districts, of which these districts are subdivided into 896 barangays that are only known by sequential numbers instead of names. To put it in more basic terms. . .There really isn’t a city centre of Manila. It is basically a large population of cities within the region. With a population of 1,652,717 is the most densely populated city in the world. A staggering 42,857 people per square kilometer. It’s like London or New York on steroids. With the large population, many varying districts/cities and the huge divide between the poor and the rich, there are only several spots really open to tourism, so it was these spots that we set out to explore a little.
Makati: An upscale Stroll
First up was Makati. The most popular tourist destination when visiting Manila. Makati is a booming city full of foreigners and affluent Filipinos. The skyline is filled with views of sky-scrapers and construction, and the streets are lined with chain restaurants and worldly popular cafe/sandwich/food chains, which really gives you the feeling that Makati is everything that we have come to expect of a modern city. Fortunately, it isn’t all fast food and bad coffee shops. Makati still hangs onto its cultural roots and you can find some hidden gems with a little effort. The Salcedo market, for example. A hustling little street market filled with locals selling everything from health foods, crafts to deliciously random street eats from all over the world. Take this Japanese, peanut butter-filled, Pancake burger, for example. . .Delicious
Intramuros: Inside the Walled City
One of the more interesting things we did whilst in Manila was to visit Intramuros. Translated to Spanish means “Within the Walls”. Intramuros is the oldest district and historic core of Manila. Know as the ‘Walled City’ Intramuros was the first city of Manila and where government resided when the Philippines was a component realm of the Spanish Empire. Funnily enough Extramuros (outside the walls) was what people inside the walled city referred to their less fortunate counterparts. Within Intramuros lies Fort Santiago, a defensive fortress and now the premier spot for tourists to check out.
The gardens there were immaculately kept and it was clear to see that Filipinos really have a lot of pride in this site and town. Almost every tourist there was a native filipino that had travelled from one of the Philippines many islands to visit. It will come as no surprise to find that Intramuros (and most all of Manila) is littered with churches. Given the Spanish influence on Manila the population is now 95% Catholic, and the Filipinos are renowned for their religious nature. One of manilas premier churches lies with the town of Intramuros. The Manila Cathedral lies in the heart of the Plaza De Roma. A beautiful and large building, again, right at the top of the hit list for locals and tourists alike. We happened to get stuck in Sunday mass when we were there and although I have no religious affiliation, we just rolled with it. I even splashed some holy water on myself just in case (thanks Jesus).
After yet another restless night in Malate, the heat and unrelenting thump of music from below, it was time to move on and Tagaytay was to be the next destination.