Everyone I had met proclaimed Manila to be unworthy of even one-night stay. They would say, the most exciting and important thing do upon arriving in Manila is to get straight out of Manila as fast as you possibly can. I arrived into Manila with low expectations and wasn’t disappointed. I shall repeat the words that many have uttered before, “the first thing you want to do when you arrive in Manila is get the hell out of Manila”. It’s a really important point which is why it precedes everything else in the post.
After walking out of the airport I had two options. Jump in a taxi and start the journey with a frustrating negotiation over the price of a taxi. Or, to use the public transport in Manila to get to my hostel, Pink Manila Hostel. I couldn’t be bothered dealing with a taxi driver. Equipped with only the directions in the confirmation email I started asking around for my transfer to the train station. I quickly found my bus and was delighted to find out the bus ticket was only 20 pesos (30-40p). The bus dropped me off at the train station where I would pay 45 pesos to get the train about 4 stops to Vito Cruz. From there I could walk to my hostel. It took about an hour, but for one pound sterling, I got from the airport to the hostel. It is quite possibly the cheapest journey from the airport to a hostel that I’ve ever had.
I quickly realised the level of English (American) across the Philippines is extraordinary. Everyone speaks English to a really high quality. Asking for directions was a cinch owing to America’s former affiliation with the Philippines.
The hostel was had a gorgeous view looking out from all directions.
Those of you following the blog from the outset will know I have certain idiosyncrasies whilst travelling. When I arrive in a new city, I have a habit of walking around for about 3-4 hours, sometimes just getting lost, other times walking in a general direction that i’ve picked. Seriously, I didn’t write about it but I’ve done it in all major cities I’ve visited so far…Yangon, Bangkok, Chang Mai, Pai, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and more. It’s a great way to experience the city, particularly the local perspective.
After I drank my body weight in water at the Pink Manila hostel, I went out for a wander and to find food. I had identified a few restaurants that looked promising so had a general direction to walk in.
My hour and a half walk left a poor impression of Manilla. It had zero charm. I didn’t feel particularly safe (that was just my perception, I’m unaware of the actual crime rate). The area I walked through had dire poverty right next to touristic glamour – of course this is not unique to Manila, most South East Asian cities and those in the Indian subcontinent have the same.
The meal I ended up eating was bang average.
The next day a couple of new friends and I went for a wonder around the old town of Manila.
Well maintained and clean it felt far removed from the Manila I had experienced the night before. The feeling was compounded by the visibly distinct architecture in the old town. With the style of the buildings, the roads and even the colour scheme, you could easily confuse the old town for a Spanish or Latin American town.
The only problem…it was tiny. We walked around it within 20 minutes.
A church that’s been rebuilt 7 times because eqarthquakes fires and other natural disasters kept knocking it down.
After a little mosey around we headed to Chinatown for some lunch. The chinatown was fairly average as well with no real distinguishing features.
Is it a lake? Is it a volcano? Seriously, is it a lake? Or is that an island?
The next day those of us still around took a day trip out to Mt Taal.
This was the first of many volcanoes I will visit over the coming weeks.
It’s a few hours outside of Manila by minivan, then a short boat journey (which we took on a particularly choppy day leaving us soaked). From there it was a 30-40 minute easy hike up to the lip of the volcano. Before you arrive, buy water as they’ll charge you 50 peso for 0.5L of water (should cost 10 peso). They’ll also try and convince you that you need a face mask because it’s soo dusty. It’s not. And if you’re sensitive to dust, take a spare t-shirt or scarf with you.
Mt Taal attracts load of visitors. It’s distinguishing feature is that it’s a small rock, in a lake, in a volcano, in a lake, on an island.
Getting out of Manila
After I got back from the volcano I went straight to the bus terminal to find a night bus to Legaspi.
Manila is curious regarding national buses. There is no single bus company, terminal, or website for domestic routes. There are a number of bus operators, each with different schedules, similarish prices and leaving from different bus stations.
It turns out in the few bus stations nearby the hostel all of the air-con buses were fully booked. So I bought a cheap ticket on a normal bus.
The bus was absolutely packed. There were enough seats for three on the left of the bus, and enough for 1.5 on the right. So naturally they packed the bus full with 4 on the left and 2 on the right. The person next to me and I sat with our bags on our laps for the entire journey (8pm – 6am). It was seriously cramped.
I managed to reserve the window seat. With no air-conditioning the windows were able open and close. The temperature was actually a lot more comfortable than the very cold air-con buses. I had a nice cool (sometimes cold) breeze all the way through the night. The breeze helped me to sleep through most of it.
The guy next to me said he was a seaman. He worked on cargo ships and had been to most places in the world. He had come to Manila to sort out some admin with his company and did the trip regularly. He was also transporting his chickens from Manila to Legaspi where he lives. At first I didn’t think that much of it. But the thought festered. I enquired whether he was also a farmer. He said “No, I just really like chickens”. I didn’t ask any more questions. But something didn’t make sense.
The whole thing soon unravelled when at 4am in the morning I discovered that my neighbours English wasn’t quite up to par. At 4am the whole bus rose to a typical Philippine alarm, the insufferable cock-a-doodle-dooing of a rooster. It was then I realised that my neighbour didn’t like chickens. He liked roosters. People don’t just like roosters. My neighbour didn’t ‘like roosters’. My neighbour loved sport and money. He had bought these two fellers to train up. There’s nothing magical about this, these roosters were going to be trained up for a cock fight. I believe after Basketball – which is as holy to Philippinos as IPS cricket is to Indians and football is to Brazilians – cock fighting is the second most popular national sport (there is no researched factual basis for this comment).
I arrived in Legaspi ready for some hiking.