Most visitors will only spend a night or two in the capital, en route to the country’s lovely islands and highlands, which is a shame ใ… as the best plan is not to spend any time in Manila at all. Visitors are, if they must tarry here, advised to cocoon themselves in the capital’s fantastic hotels, restaurants and night-clubs, as they will not enjoy riding or walking the streets, due to the rude taxi drivers and to the extremely high concentration of hawkers, beggars and lowlifes.
The problem with Manila is not so much finding enough worthwhile places to check out (there aren’t many), it’s the process of moving between them. The taxi drivers are the rudest in SE Asia, by a mile: every ride is a battle. Surly and unsmiling thugs driving smelly ramshackle sweat-boxes try every trick in the book to rip you off. If one of them agrees to use the meter, become immediately suspicious, it probably means that he’s hidden it with his grubby handkerchief and hasn’t zeroed it since his last fare – he’s trying to charge you for the last person’s ride as well as you own.
On one occasion, after having been forced to get out four times as by different brutes refusing to use the meter and ordering me tersely out of their cabs, this editor’s patience finally snapped. I refused to get out and snarled right back that, unless the driver took me where I wanted to go, then I insisted we should talk the matter over with the nearest policeman. I got what I wanted, but be warned that this is a risky strategy, as Filipino drivers are usually armed (like most of the population) and generally possess bad tempers along with their BO. I saw this first-hand when a bus driver, after being cut up by another driver, grabbed a knife, got out of his seat and tried to leave the bus, presumably so he could go and stick the knife in the other guy. Thankfully he was restrained by the bus conductor. The amazing thing was that the whole display was watched by several policemen, who thought it was hilarious and made no attempt to intervene.
Be careful everywhere in Manila, don’t change money in small places and don’t smile at anybody outside a luxury establishment – the only thing anybody is interested in is your money.
As if the process of getting somewhere by road wasn’t bad enough, walking the streets is worse. If you take a trip from your hotel to a corner shop and back you will likely be hassled by about one person every fifth metre: it’s like running a gauntlet. It’s best to keep quiet, but the temptation to disabuse some particularly seedy specimen of the notion that he could ever be ‘my friend’, after offering you some revolting ‘service’, is sometimes overwhelming. Most Western men will be offended by being offered most of the depravities known to man, every time they walk the streets. Manila’s streets are truly a horrible experience. Most upsetting are the beggars: every few metres some unfortunate soul thrusts a terribly malnourished child into your face, whilst another child physically grabs your arm and refuses to let go.
Forget manners in Manila: outside the overclass’s establishments they hardly exist. Virtually nobody says ‘please’ or ‘thank you’. This author found this aspect of Manila street life particularly difficult to stomach, as is the assumption that, when you a pay a taxi fare, you are automatically giving the driver the right to keep all the change. Make sure that you have the right money on you when riding in taxis, and don’t bother to tip, as you won’t be thanked for it.
I can think of no good reason to tarry in this, easily SE Asia’s rudest and least charming capital. The only tourist attraction that this author found really worth-while was the Chinese cemetery, where the deceased are buried in chambers equipped with air-conditioners – most odd, maybe explained by the fact that the occupants, before death, feared that they would be going somewhere hot.
This amusingly macabre place aside, the only good things about Manila are the things that you can find in any large city in the world – fine hotels, shopping, restaurants and clubs. If your idea of a holiday is to practise your self-assertion skills, Manila’s the place for you, otherwise, try to get a domestic flight that connects with your international one.
Tip for male travellers of a certain age: don’t take it personally that so many street-hawkers offer you Viagara – it’s not because they think that you look like you need it, they offer it to all Western males, regardless of age.
Click here for vacation Thailand