Manila First Impressions

manila first impressions food served at a mechanic shop

A LOT of traffic.

Seedy AF.

Dirty and polluted.

Lots more people out and about for a 2 million populated city than expected.

Noisy, dirty, dimly-lit, old, it was like Yangon but in a more built-up way. There were so many vendors all along the streets, stray dogs and cats lazily sitting along the sidewalks, and chaos of sounds from all over.

Getting a Grab (Southeast Asian Uber) into the center of the city to where our 540 peso double room hostel was located was the best thing. We could’ve tried to use public transport, but having gotten on the roads and seen the kind of transportation there is available, we were really glad for the ease of transport (and it wasn’t much more than taking all the public transportation, either).

People are much more rough, bumping shoulders and raising their voices, than other South East Asian countries I’d been to so far (Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Singapore, Brunei) – though I’d say Yangon is the most similar (I’ve heard India is like this too). I was also under the impression that they’d all be able to speak English and were kind, but neither turned out to be true. Only some of the people I spoke to knew enough English for us to communicate and *most* people were friendly only if you were first. Otherwise, their smiles and hellos are full of hidden motivations.

The food is mainly chicken + rice, though there are definitely options if you’re looking for them. We had luwag(?) (congee) and siumai for our first dinner, my friend’s first time trying this kind of Chinese cuisine, though the congee was definitely changed to become Filipino-style. Food wasn’t as cheap as we’d hoped but it was cheap enough. He liked it!

There aren’t many things to do in Manila unless you like shopping for knockoffs and different versions of food you thought you knew (root beer ice cream, anyone?). You can walk around most of the “tourist spots” in a day, so if you’re here for a stopover, one day is all you really need.

Suggested items to carry around with you:

  • sunscreen
  • hat
  • sunglasses
  • close-toed shoes (the streets are super dirty)
  • water bottle
  • money belt to conceal your valuables (I learned that the poverty is at about 14%)
  • face mask – the kind you wear over your nose and mouth. Find this on every corner if you don’t already have one (I suggest the reusable ones for the environment’s sake). The pollution is atrocious in this city!

I’ll eventually update with my full thoughts on Manila as a tourist.

What did you think of Manila? If you haven’t been there, do you want to go?

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