3 November 2012

Journey to The Philippines: Part 1 in Manila

Around this time every year all of the Native Teachers (NTs) get some time off. The reason for this is that the Japanese Teachers (JTs) are the only ones who teach Halloween themed lessons during Halloween Week.

Last year I was fortunate enough to have my Mum come and visit me here in Kumamoto for a week. But this year I decided to go to Manila in The Philippines. The reason I chose Manila was mainly due to it being cheaper than going anywhere else.

Like with my other trips abroad (not including South Korea) I booked my flight on ebookers.com because its quick and easy. The flight worked out to be £422 (¥53,067) which I thought was pretty good. Unlike Hong Kong I was able to find a hotel for 6 nights in a decent enough area for only Php 11,820 (¥22,389)!!

My flight was at 10:50 so I needed to leave Kumamoto quite early. However the journey went pretty quickly. When I went to the Travelex booth at Fukuoka Airport to exchange my Yen in Pesos I was informed that the maximum amount of money you can bring in to The Philippines was 10,000 pesos. If you brought anything over that amount you had to declare it to customs. After thinking about it for a moment I decided to exchange all of my Yen.

This trip to Manila was an indirect flight like my previous flights out if the country. I first flew to Taipei, then to Hong Kong and finally to Manila. The journey in all took about 8hrs. When I got to Manila I wasn't sure if I should declare on the customs form whether or not I had more than 10,000 pesos but in the end I decided to be honest. Luckily for me the customs agent didn't seem bothered what I had marked on the form and just let me through.

As I left the airport I needed to find a taxi. But I had read only that they like to rip people off and to be careful. I then approached the taxi stand and got in the next available taxi. I made sure to check that the meter was on. When we got to my hotel the cost of taxi was more than the 200 pesos people had quoted only. My trip cost around 360 pesos! There were also times when it seemed like the driver was taking the piss and took the long route to the hotel. Once I finished arguing with the man for a little bit I ended up just paying as I had no way to prove he had hustled me.

As I walked in to the hotel I was greeted by the front of house hotel staff who opened the door for me. Everything went smoothly at the front desk until I noticed that the bill was 3,000 pesos more than what had been quoted on Booking.com! The woman at the front desk told me that the price quoted didn't include VAT or Service Charge. I then checked the print out of my reservation and it stated that at the bottom so this time it was my fault and so just paid all of what was owed.

That evening I thought I should just rest but decided I was feeling a little hungry and so ventured out of the hotel in search of food. I asked the door man and he told me that there a few places to eat around the corner such as KFC and Mc Donald's. However I thought to myself I didn't come all the way to Manila to eat KFC or Mc Donald's! Although in the end I decide to eat at restaurant called Shakey's because I wanted some pizza haha! It seemed like the only time I eat pizza was when I left Japan. My whole meal worked out to be around 730 pesos (¥1,405/£11) which I thought wasn't too bad for what I ordered.

On my way back to the hotel I noticed that the area around the hotel was not the most appealing with many children begging and one crazy man dancing around with half his trousers off! But to be honest it reminded me a lot of Bangkok and so it wasn't as surprising or shocking. When I got back to the hotel I asked the man at the front desk what time breakfast was and he said between 7am and 10am! But to be honest I knew I would not be up at that time.

My hotel room was very spacious with a lot of space in the wardrobe. I had free access to WiFi, an electronic safe and a decent size TV. The bed also appeared to be Queen sized. The time difference between The Philippines and Japan was only 1hr but due to the travelling I felt a little tired and so went to sleep quite early.

Fortunately for me I had planned what I wanted to do before I came to Manila. I did find it a little difficult at first as there wasn't that much tourist type things to do in the city. On my list for my first day was visiting Intramuros aka Ciudad Murada (Walled City). To get to Intramuros from my hotel I decided to take the LRT. Unfortunately for me the nearest LRT station was Gil Puyat which was about 1.2 miles away. When I got to the station it was very busy with people queuing to buy a ticket.

I took the train all the way to Central Terminal which took about 10-15 minutes. Once I left Central Terminal I was lucky enough to be able to use my map application on my iPhone even though I was in airplane mode. I used my phone to navigate to one of the main entrances of Intramuros. I walked around the area taking photos and admiring the European feel to the area. However because I didn't have a map of the area I wasn't sure where all the good sightseeing locations were.

Whilst I was walking I stumbled upon Bahay Tsinoy: a Museum of the Chinese in Phiippine Life which was dedicated to the history of the Chinese people in The Philippines. The museum housed a lot of historical information about the Chinese and the many of contributions they have made to Filipino society. I was quite surprised at how much the Chinese had contributed over the years and also how many of modern day Filipinos have Chinese ancestry.

Later that afternoon I made my way to Manila Ocean Park. Again I was lucky to be able to use my map app otherwise I may have ended up a little lost. Since I had already visited Ocean Park in Hong I was curious to see how this one compared. But unlike its Hong Kong counterpart it was not a theme park and strictly an Aquarium with a few other animal exhibits. Like the Hong Kong Ocean Park there was a light show in the evening which had a mixture of water, lights and actors. Once the show was done I decided to walk back to the nearest station which at the time was United Nation Avenue. Also instead of taking the LRT back to Gil Puyat I decided to get off at Vito Cruz and walk back to the hotel from there. The distance was about the same but for some reason felt quicker as I walked. Once I got back to the hotel I was very tired mainly due to all the walking I had done.

The next day I had planned to visit the Quiapo Church aka Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. I was interested in visiting this church because it was home to the black Jesus. I had read that originally the wooden carving of Jesus was not black but on its voyage over to The Philippines some how became black. This day I decided to walk back to Vito Cruz station instead of Gil Puyat. Once I got off the LRT at Carriedo Station I could see that directly underneath the station was a very busy market! I then made my way towards the church. Once I got inside I could see so many people, if I were to guess I would've said there were about 300 people inside. From where I was standing it was difficult to see the black Jesus as he was at the back of the church.

After about 40 minutes or so I left the church and continued to walk around the market area. I was feeling hungry and saw a restaurant named Mang Inasal which served chicken and rice meals for around 99 pesos (190/£1.50). I must say that I enjoyed the chicken very much and it reminded me of Nandos. Depending on which meal you buy you can also receive free refills on rice which was quite a nice touch. Once I had finished eating I made my way back through the market and picked up a couple fake Ray Ban glasses as well as a few fake snapback caps. The caps cost 150 pesos each (288/£2.30) and the sunglasses only cost 50 pesos each (95/£0.70) which was really good since in Thailand they cost 200 baht each (519/£4.10)!!

The next thing I had to do on my itinerary was to visit Binodo which was home to the oldest Chinatown in the world. I was lucky that Bindo was fairly close to Quiapo and so could walk straight there. The closer I got to the area the more I started to see the Chinese influence. I also started to see more Chinese run business and more Chinese people walking around. I walked the area briefly checking out what their market had to offer as well as one of the churches and then made my way back to the station.

The next day I decided to check out the National Museum of The Philippines near the United Nations Avenue station. During the month of October some renovations were going on and so the Museum and the Art Gallery were free of charge. There were some interesting pieces in the Art Gallery and there were some informative exhibits in the Museum about the traditions and culture of the Filipino people.

For lunch I wasn't sure where to go and so decided to go to Jollibe since it was as popular in The Philippines as Mc Donald's was in America. I ordered the spaghetti meal with fries, a hamburger and a drink. The whole meal plus the extra sides was 118 pesos (227/£1.80) which was pretty good I thought. After I had finished my meal I was unsure what to do next. I then thought maybe I could check out the Quiapo Market again to see what other hats and sunglasses they had. I ended up buying another 5 hats and 3 more sunglasses, I also picked up a couple hats and a pair of sunglasses for my friend.

The next day was Sunday and I had planned to visit Manila Zoological & Botanical Garden and then check out an event called Irie Sunday at a place called B-Side. Since it was a Sunday I thought I would do something fairly relaxing hence my idea of going to the Zoo. I walked my usual way from my hotel to to Vito Cruz station. I checked my phone to see how far away Quirino Staion was from Vito Cruz and it was practically the next stop. So I decided to keep on walking since there wasn't much point wasting money since it was only one stop.

I thought the Zoo was really cheap at only 40 pesos (77/£0.60) compared to London where the Zoo could cost anything between £15 and £20! As I walked in to the Zoo I was impressed at how natural it looked. It made me think of a rainforest or something similar. There were many families at the Zoo that day and many vendors were trying to sell all their ice cream. From what I could see the animals seemed to be treated fairly well apart from Ostrich which was practically going bald! A lot of hits feathers had fallen off and it looked like a Turkey you would buy from the supermarket after it had been de-feathered.

I didn't spend too long at the Zoo and then made my way back to Quiapo Market for one final time in search of some more caps and/or sunglasses. Whilst I was in the market I checked out one of the shopping malls but unfortunately I didn't see much in their worth buying although they did have a few name brand items. In the end I just picked up a couple more caps for my friend and a pair of sunglasses for myself.

That evening I decided to check out a Reggae event called Irie Sunday but I had been told beforehand not to expect too much since it won't be like Japan. I had one of the door men hail a taxi for me to take me to B-Side since I wasn't too confident walking around by myself at night even though it was quite close to the hotel. The event was in a kind of open warehouse with an open roof. Inside this warehouse were smaller shops but at night they were closed. There was a live band playing and everyone was having a good time relaxing to the music. Unfortunately for me the whole night was Reggae and hardly any Dancehall music was played so I got real boring real quick for me so at about 03:30 I decided to leave. As I was leaving two of the security guards asked me if I had a good time they then asked me for a tip which surprised me since they did nothing to warrant one. I simply told them I had no money and walked out!

Later that day I had planned to visit all of the main shopping malls such as Greenbelt, Glorietta and SM Mall of Asia since it was my last full day in Manila. After making a brief stop at Mang Inasal for lunch I went to Makati Cinema Square but this mall was pretty grim and didn't have much on offer at all. There was more choice and variety at the Quiapo Market although I couldn't find any souvenirs there. I then continued to walk to Greenbelt which was a bit more up market. The area in which Greenbelt was situated was also very nice it made me think of somewhere like Beverly Hills.

As I walked around the multiple Greenbelt locations I saw that at Greenbelt 3 there was a cinema. I wasn't sure if I had time to go to the cinema and go to SM Mall of Asia but I thought I might as well. I ended up seeing Looper and it only cost 200 pesos (385/£3)! I can honestly say that I enjoyed the movie and also liked the cinema since it was premium yet only had to pay 200 pesos! Once the movie had finished I walked around the mall a bit and ended up buying another snapback cap however this one was a bit more expensive at 1100 pesos (2117/£16.60) but it matched my yellow Osaka 6 T-Shirt better.

I quickly made my way to SM Mall of Asia via the MRT Taft Avenue station. The info I had on my phone said that I should either take a bus or a jeepney to the mall from the station but cheap ol' me decided to walk. Half way through walking there I kinda wished I had just got in the bus. Eventually I got to the mall and it was quite large and kind of reminded me of Westfield but not as nice. I was lucky enough to find a shop there named Kultura which sold many souvenirs. I was able to pick up something for practically every one of my family members. Once I had finished at Kultura I made my way back home and packed since my flight was at 11am.

The next morning I caught a taxi from outside the hotel and was taken to the Airport. Unlike the first time I had a better idea of the route and the fare only cost around 200 pesos (385/£3) like what was quoted online. For those of you who don't know when you leave The Philippines you need to pay a tax of 550 pesos (1058/£8.30) before you even go through immigration. My flight back to Japan was pretty smooth although a bit tiring with all the changes but not too bad.

I can really say that I did enjoy my time in Manila but hope that if/when I go to The Philippines again I will be able to explore more of the country.