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Ooaj Travel Guide, tourism, hotel reservation, residence, plane, cheap pension for you holidays in manila
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Manila, capital of the Philippines, just like any metropolis in the world, has its fair share of negatives. This however should not dissuade any traveller from visiting this city for it is a warm, exciting and diverse place that is ripe for discovery by any adventurous tourist.
English is widely spoken, prices are cheap and you get more than your fair share of sunshine. All in all, Manila is a fun and exciting place to be. Together with the warm and friendly people of the Philippines, tourists will find their Manila experience an enjoyable and unforgettable one.
Manila is but one of 13 cities and 4 municipalities that comprise the area known as Metro Manila or the National Capital Region (NCR) of the Philippines. The NCR is located in the southern portion of the island of Luzon, in between the Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog Regions, between Manila Bay and the inland lake of Laguna de Bay. The City of Manila, where most of the historical attractions are located, lies at the confluence of Manila Bay and the Pasig River.
The usual developing world city problems of choking smog and traffic and appalling poverty are abundant here. However, there are also pockets of development (particularly in the Makati Central Business District, Ortigas business district, and the Eastwood City development in Libis) to rival many First World downtown areas.
The City of Manila is in the western part of Metro Manila. It is bordered to the west by Manila Bay, to the north by Quezon City and Kalookan City, to the east by San Juan and Mandaluyong City and to the south by Pasay and Makati.
Makati is Metro Manila's business district with tall buildings, luxurious hotels, vast shopping malls, lively entertainment spots, and numerous restaurants.
Quezon City also has its share of large shopping malls, and electronic and automotive parts discount centres. The Ortigas Centre at the confluence of Quezon City, Mandaluyong and San Juan is also a shopper's paradise.
English and Pilipino (Tagalog) are the common languages in the northern mainland of Luzon. If you speak English, you will have no problem being understood everywhere because it is the language of instruction in schools, as well as in business. Most Filipinos speak English well, no matter their level of education. This is because Filipinos learn the English language at home, and more formally when they start school. It is not unusual for school children to speak impeccable English.
Moreover, Filipinos love American movies, television shows, music, food, and fashion.
The Philippines is a tropical country that has basically two seasons, a wet season and a dry season. Typhoons and tropical storms are a common occurrence during the wet season particularly in the northern part of the Philippines where Manila is located. The wet season lasts from June to early November. Late November to May is then the dry season with the Philippine summer months of March to May being the hottest. December to February is still relatively pleasant particularly if you are coming from the northern hemisphere where this is the winter period and sub-zero temperatures prevail. Temperatures during this time would range from 24 to 30°C at its peak. From March to May, temperatures heat up but as Manila is by the coast, it rarely goes beyond 36 to 37°C.
From overseas, most visitors arrive by plane. Manila is served by three international airports. Philippine Airlines (PAL) has its own airport, called Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 (NAIA 2), that serves both international and domestic flights. PAL usually provides seamless transfers between their international and domestic network whereas you would generally not be given this service on other carriers.
All other international airlines use NAIA Terminal 1, which is due to be replaced by the newly built modern NAIA Terminal 3 (NAIA 3) in 2006; while other domestic airlines use the old domestic airport which is about a 5 to 10 minute ride from Terminal 1. Be wary of this if you have a connection between a domestic and international flight arriving/departing from these airports.
Coupon (pre-paid) taxis are available at the airports to bring you to your hotel or wherever you may be going. Rates are fixed and dependent on the destination and generally are more expensive compared to what you would pay in a metered taxi. Coupon taxi counters usually are found immediately after exiting customs in both Terminals 1 and 2. Expect to pay somewhere between 10 to 15 USD for destinations within Metro Manila. The usual metered taxis are generally not allowed at the Arrival Terminal so you would either need to catch one unloading at the Departure Area or outside the airport complex. This may be easier said than done however, particularly when lugging around kilos upon kilos of baggage.
Apart from taxis, there are no regular public transport services to the airports except for buses and jeepneys plying routes that pass nearby. It will take a few minutes walk however before you get to a place where you can board and all this effort may not be worth the hassle so most opt to take the coupon taxis.
Low cost carriers such as Air Asia and Tiger Airways utilize the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in Clark, Pampanga, approximately one hour north of Manila. These airlines have dedicated bus transfer services from Megamall in Mandaluyong, Manila that ferries passengers to and from the DMIA via newly renovated toll roads.
Air travel between islands is reasonably priced, with tickets averaging P4,000 to P5,000 round trip to most popular destinations. Promotions, particularly the "Go" fares offered by Cebu Pacific airlines, have pushed domestic roundtrip prices to the P2,000-P3,500 range.
Ferries run all over the Philippines, but should you not reserve a first class cabin be prepared for uncomfortable cramped conditions. There seems to be lax enforcement of Western safety standards.
Supercats and fastcrafts connect short distances between islands on high-speed air-conditioned hydrofoil crafts. Not only do they provide a faster option than ordinary ferries, they are also much better maintained and have a remarkable safety record. Among the major routes serviced by fastcrafts in and around Manila are: Manila-Bataan, Manila-Cavite and Batangas-Puerto Galera.
The Strong Republic Nautical Highway has made inter-island travel by bus possible. Major islands are connected by Roll On - Roll Off ferries which can carry cars, buses and cargo trucks. An example is the Manila to Boracay route which goes via Batangas, Calapan and Roxas in Mindoro then Caticlan. Philtranco 1 (http://www.philtranco.com.ph/d4/index.html) serves various inter-island routes and has a terminal in Cubao, Quezon City. Needless to say however that these trips can take quite a bit of time and may not be worth the savings if you have only a few days to spend in the Philippines.
Normal provincial buses serving other parts of Luzon also have terminals in various portions of Metro Manila. The Cubao area in Quezon City and the Bonifacio Monument area in Kalookan City is where buses serving the northern portions of Luzon (e.g. Baguio, Zambales) have their terminals.
The Buendia Ave. cor Taft Ave. intersection in Makati and the area near the Taft Ave. and EDSA intersection in Pasay is where buses to the south (e.g. Batangas, Laguna) have their terminals.
Driving in a private car is not recommended for people who are unfamiliar with Manila because many drivers there ignore such things as stoplights and lane markings and most also have no idea what right of way means. Public transport is very cheap however but may get very crowded during the rush hours in the morning and early evening (7 AM to 10 AM and 4 PM to 7 PM). Traffic also tends to crawl during these times so best avoid being on the move in these occassions.
There are generally two kinds of shopping destinations in Manila: the mall and the tiangge ("chang-ghe"). The Manila mall is more than just a shopping experience but a cultural destination as well. The largest malls in Metro Manila are practically their own cities within the city: complete with boutiques, supermarkets, department stores, restaurants, cinemas, medical facilities, hotels, schools, offices, gyms, serviced apartments, spas, convention centers, art galleries, bowling alleys, museums, ice skating rinks, and even a chapel for Sunday masses.
There are numerous malls around Manila. In Makati, there is the sprawling Ayala Center: an interconnect shopping complex comprised of Glorietta Shopping Mall, LandMark, Shoemart and Greenbelt. Ayala Center is accessible via the MRT Ayala Station. Several major hotels such as the Makati Shangrila, Hotel Intercontinental, Mandarin and Manila Peninsula are either within or a short distance away from the Ayala Center.
In Mandaluyong City, there is the Shangri-La Mall and the extremely vast SM Megamall. These malls are a short walk away from the MRT Shaw Boulevard Station. A block away at Ortigas Avenue is another mall, Robinson's Galleria which is also nearby to the MRT Ortigas Station. A short jeepney or cab ride from Robinson's Galleria is the Greenhills Shopping Center which has both a mall and tiangge within its shopping complex. At the northern end of the MRT in Quezon City is the historic Araneta Center (MRT Cubao - Araneta Center Station) and SM City (MRT North Avenue Terminal).
In February 2006, Manila is upping the ante on shopping malling with the opening of the gargantuan SM Mall of Asia exactly adjacent to Manila Bay, said to become the largest mall in the region. Simply put, shopping malls abound in Metro Manila and the shopping experience is second to none, even by western standards.
However, if you wish to experience the "ultimate Manila shopping experience", one has to shop at a tiangge. Tiangges are small makeshift stalls clustered together that sell anything and everything you can imagine but at bargain basement prices. In these places, one has to haggle, particularly if you are buying wholesale (defined as at least six pieces of the same item). The best tiangge complexes are in the Greenhills Shopping Center, Tiendesitas, Market! Market!, St. Francis Square, Tutuban Center Mall, Divisoria Mall, and 168 Mall. Go crazy buying quality clothes and shoes, pretty jewelry and things for the house at very reasonable prices!
The main tourist sites of Manila are located along Manila Bay. At the northern end of the Bay lies the remnants of the old walled Spanish settlement of Manila called Intramuros (Spanish for 'within the walls'). Intramuros contains museums, churches, ruins, schools, parks, cafes and restaurants. It's worth a stop if you are in the vicinity. All travellers are welcome to play on the city's most picturesque golf course which was built over the moat that used to surround Intramuros' walls.
Within Intramuros is the Manila Cathedral4 (http://www.manilacathedral.org/index.htm). Destroyed and rebuilt several times over, it is the seat of the Catholic Archdiocese of Manila and is one of the most important churches in the Philippines.
Just outside this "walled city" 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.
Right outside the walled city is Rizal Park more widely known as the Luneta. The Luneta is the venue for the best museums of the city, bayside restaurants, an open-air theater featuring free classical music concerts, a planetarium, early morning jogging and tai chi enthusiasts, and the Manila Hotel. It is a popular meeting spot for family picnics and was the site of the execution of Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines.
South of the Luneta is the renovated Baywalk a linear park adjacent to Manila Bay. This promenade is home to numerous open air restaurants and bars lying between coconut trees and futuristic lamp posts. Nightly entertainment is provided by live acoustic bands, street performers and the kaleidoscopic parade of Manila's inhabitants.
Manila also has one of the largest Chinatowns in the world, where one can find exotic Chinese goods and delicious cuisine.
There are also various impressive Spanish-era Cathedrals that are more impressive than old Spanish Missions in California. Among the best churches of Manila are San Agustin Church, the oldest stone church in the country and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the all-steel San Sebastian Cathedral; and Las Pinas and its bamboo organ.
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. Other must-see museums in the Metro are the Bahay Chinoy, Casa Manila, San Agustin Museum and the Museum of Filipino Political History.
Manila is home to the most vibrant theater scene in Southeast Asia. Manila's premiere English speaking theater group, Repertory Philippines performs plays and musicals throughout most of the year. Numerous actors from Rep have appeared in London's West End and Broadway. The company is based in the William J. Shaw Theater, which is at the 5th level of the Shangrila Plaza Mall on Shaw Blvd. For information on what's showing call +63 2 633 4821.
Other English speaking theater troupes based in Manila are Trumpets, Atlantis Productions, New Voice Company and Actor's Actors. Government funded Tanghalang Pilipino and the Philippine Experimental Theater Association performs classics and original Filipino works in the Filipino language.
For those looking for a more classical performance, the Cultural Center of the Philippines hosts folk dance, ballet, concerts, and classical music performances. For a unique Manila experience, there are free weekly concerts, plays and ballet performances at the open air theaters in Rizal Park and in Paco Park.
Manila is home to numerous spas offering traditional Filipino massage techniques such as the hilot. Most hotels and shopping malls have in-house spas that provide massage services at reasonable prices. By far, the best spas in the Metro are the Oriental Spa at the Mandarin Hotel and the Discovery Spa at the Discovery Suites Hotel.
Manila has most of the usual American fastfood chains such as McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Pizza Hut, Subway, Dairy Queen, Shakey's Pizza, and KFC. Coffeeshops such as Starbucks and Seattle's Best have also recently become quite common in malls and commercial centers. Meals could be had for as low as 2 to 3 US$ in most fast food joints. A typical burger meal with fries and a drink would fall under this range.
Street food peddled by ambulant vendors is quite common and can usually be found in places with high amount of pedestrian traffic. Note however that street food in Manila and elsewhere in the Philippines may not be as clean as what you would find in Bangkok or hawker centers in Singapore and Malaysia. There is very little (if any) regulation and hygienic practices of these establishments vary from place to place. The variety of street food available is tremendous however and may reward the truly adventurous traveller. Some notable examples are the following:
For a taste of street food without the accompanying risk, try out the following establishments:
Most sit down and casual dining restaurants in Manila would fall under this category. You could generally eat well for under 10 US$ per person. At some establishments, this price will even allow you to partake of a buffet and eat to your heart's content.
Being the only former Spanish colony in Asia, Manila has the best Spanish food in the Far East. To sample the best Hispano-Filipino dishes, grab a bite in the following restaurants:
Manila's nightlife is second to none in the region. The epicenter of Manila's famous nightlife is Greenbelt where some of the city's best restaurants, cafes, bars and karaoke joints cluster around a park in the middle of the main business district. Bohemian Malate and the adjoining Baywalk contain a variety of venues serving a combination of food, comedy, alcohol and live music. Other nightlife clusters in the Metro are Eastwood, Araneta Center, Marikina and Timog.
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.
Internet Cafes have become a common sight in Metro Manila. Most malls would have at least one internet cafe. Netopia and Pacific Internet are common chains. Netopia also has a branch at the MRT Ayala Station. Rates usually run at less than 1 US$ per hour. 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.
Manila has a serious problem with guns and crime, and unless you are a Filipino you will stand out. Use common sense. Don't wear valuable jewelry or anything else to broadcast your wealth. Be especially careful around downtown Manila (Recto, Quiapo, Avenida, Tondo District, Divisoria, and Ermita).
Around the capital are numerous attractions for people desiring a quick daytrip away from the hustle and bustle of this mega-metropolis.
A little more than an hour south of Manila is Tagaytay, 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.
Near Tagaytay is the heritage town of Taal. The town contains many Spanish period homes that were built from the spoils of coffee, sugar and other 19th century export crops. A number of these homes have been turned into heritage museums that allow one to imagine what life was like during those times.
About 30 km east of Metro Manila is Antipolo City. Manilans 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.
Two and a half hours north of the metropolis lies the 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 whitesand beaches, bayside 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.
Further north and up in the mountains of the Cordilleras lies the city of Baguio. With its cool climate and pine trees, Baguio is said to be the summer capital of the Philippines. Several provincial buses ply the 5-hour route to Baguio from Metro Manila. Alternatively, Asian Spirit flies to and from Baguio from Manila on a daily basis. The flight takes only 50 minutes.
There are a number of beach resorts within a couple of hours drive from Manila for those in search of the sand and sea. The closest among the top resorts is Caylabne in Cavite, a little more than an hour away from the metropolis. The towns of Nasugbu, Tali, San Juan and Calatagan in Batangas are lined with beach resorts for people of different budgets. North of Manila are the beaches of Bataan and Zambales. Montemar Resort in Bataan is accessible by fastcraft and van from Manila Bay in one and a half hours. The beaches of Zambales cluster in and around the Subic Bay freeport.
For those wanting to experience spectacular dive, the seaside resorts near Anilao in Batangas offer breathtaking dive spots. Anilao is where most Manila residents get their diver's license.
A must-see for any history buff is Corregidor Island. Corregidor is one of the last Philippine strongholds the Americans ceded to the Japanese in World War II. The various facilities and barracks used are still there for all to see. The gun emplacements are still there, as are the skeletons of several of the buildings, all with evidence of battle damage. Tours are run from the docks in Manila (near the Philippine Cultural Center), and are approximately $40. The fee includes the boat out and back, the guided tour, and a lunch.
World War II Manila American Cemetery and Memorial11 (http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries/ml.php): Six miles southeast of Manila within the limits of Fort Bonifacio. Open daily except for December 25 and January 1; 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The cemetery is the final resting place for 17,206 American military dead lost during the War in the Pacific for New Guinea and the Philippines. A monument is inscribed with the names of 36,285 Americans whose remains were never found or identified. Twenty-five large mosaic maps around the chapel depict the Pacific campaigns. Free.
Wow Philippines 12 (http://www.wowphilippines.com.ph/index.asp) - Official Tourist Information Website of the Philippines
City of Manila Website 13 (http://www.cityofmanila.com.ph/) - Official Website of the Manila City Government