I’ve been to Manila 3 times for a total of 10 days spent in the city. In this blog post, I’m going to give you an overview of the city, and provide travel tips and recommendations for things like culture, attractions, food, nightlife and more. Everything you read is based off my own experiences.
Also, please see my other posts about The Philippines:
– 50 Reasons Why Life is Better in the Philippines
– Complete Guide to Coron, Palawan
– Here’s Why Boracay is Underrated
– All About Siquijor Island
– Travel Guide to Cebu
– Malcapuya Island is the Most Beautiful Island on Earth
The Philippines, as a whole, is my absolute favorite country on earth. However, the bustling capital of Manila might be a little different than your expecting.
Manila doesn’t have natural beauty like the other 7,106 islands in the country. So, if you’re looking to visit the Philippines for its beautiful beaches, then you might want to skip Manila. However, what this mega-city does have is lots of character and a special charm that keeps me coming back.
Manila is very affordable, which makes it an attractive place for budget travelers. Along with Vietnam, I find the Philippines to be the cheapest country in Southeast Asia.
For a brief history lesson, the entire city of Manila nearly destroyed during WWII, and has since been rebuilt to a bigger metropolis that is the heart and sole of Filipino culture. In fact, Manila is still being rebuilt today, as you’ll see dozens of new skyscrapers, malls, and attractions being built.
Another thing to note about Manila is the giant gap between rich and poor. As many upscale areas you’ll find around town (Makati and The Fort are amazing), you’ll uncover just as many slums and poor neighborhoods. Essentially, there’s a lot happening at the same time, and it’s all visible right in front of your face — rich vs poor, new vs old, clean vs dirty.
Here’s an example of what I mean: On one hot afternoon, I witnessed a poor women breast feeding her son on the side of the road, begging my leg for money. In that same day, about one block away, I went to one of the most luxurious bars in the world on the 71st floor of a luxury condo complex overlooking the city.
A note about Public Transportation:
Getting around in Manila is kind of a nightmare. There is HORRIBLE traffic 24/7. Prepare to spend a lot of time getting from point A to B in a taxi. There’s just no way around it.
There really isn’t any efficient public transportation. There is a ‘sky train,’ but it’s dirty and not a place that you will probably want to be.
Most people get around by these things called Jeepneys – or shared taxi buses that each carry their own distinct character. Jeepneys are customized with colors, photos, graffiti and accessories (some even blast music inside.)
I almost always get around by taxi or uber — which are both very cheap. You won’t pay more than $5USD to get across the city. Just try to avoid going anywhere during rush hour.
Alright, let’s dive into some quick facts:
– Population: 1.6 mil (city), 22 mil (urban)
– Language: Tagalog and English
– Currency: Philippines Peso (PHP)
– Manila is one of the 16 cities that makes up Metro Manila, the National Capital Region of the Philippines.
– Manila is the most densely populated city in the world with 42,857 people per square kilometer.
– In 1571, Spanish Conquistadors arrived from Mexico, across the Pacific and founded present-day Manila in what today is Intramuros.
– Manila became the center of Spanish activity in the Far East and one end of the Manila – Acapulco Galleon trade route which linked Spanish America with Asia.
– Towards the end of WWII, during the Battle of Manila, most of the city was flattened by intensive aerial bombardment by the US Air Force.
Culture & People
The people in the Philippines is one of the biggest reasons why this is my favorite country in the world.
Filipinos are some of the friendliest, heart-warming and down to earth people on this planet. The hospitality is impossible to beat — I’ve never felt more welcomed anywhere in my life! You will ALWAYS be greeted with a “hello sir” or “hello ma’am” with a giant smile. No other culture in the world calls me “Sir” like the Filipinos do, and I love the respect.
Another thing I love about Manila is that there is no language barrier. English is actually considered a national language in the Philippines. In fact, the Philippines is the 4th largest English speaking country in the world.
Everyone I came across was conversational at worst, and most people are fluent English speakers. This makes travel a so much easier!
WHAT TO DO?
There are certain (modern) areas which are worth checking out, and the other parts of the city don’t have much happening.
The two best areas to hang out are Makati and The Fort (Bonifacio).
Makati is the financial center of the Philippines, and it has the highest concentration of multinational and local corporations in the entire country. Here you will find major banks, deptartment stores and foreign embassies. Makati is also home to a vibrant nightlife scene and it’s a major cultural entertainment hub.
The Fort, also known as Bonifacio, is located 11 km south east of Manila’s city center. Over the last decade, the Fort area has experienced tremendous growth through the sale of military land. Here you will find modern buildings, night clubs, nice restaurants, shopping malls and more.
Other notable things to do around Manila are:
– Visit the Mall of Asia – the MOA is the 11th biggest mall in the world. It has every store you can think of, and it’ll leave you stunned.
– Go Shopping – Speaking of shopping, you can find anything under the sun in Manila for about half the price as anything in the states!
– Go to Binondo – This is the world’s first Chinatown, and it’s an awesome place to stimulate your senses. Walk down the busy streets and see thousands of people eating, shopping and going about their lives.
– Ride a Jeepney – These are those public transportation buses that are native to the Philippines. You have to experience it!
– Hike up Mt. Taal – Mt. Taal is located about 2-3 hours away from Manila close to a town called Tagaytay, and it’s the world’s smallest active volcano!
I hate to admit this, but Filipino food is my least favorite in Asia. Don’t get your hopes too high… Except for this roast pig called Lechon (seen below) — that is amazing!
Aside from lechon, there are a few other local dishes that i enjoyed, like sinigang (a sour and savory beef stew), and lumpia (fried egg rolls) — but these dishes don’t have anything on the tasty foods of Thailand, Vietnam, Japan or Korea.
So much of the local “Filipino foods” are plain rice and fish. It just gets old after a while.
Also, Manila has a lot of fast food all over the place — both American food chains and local joints. I tried Mcdonald’s and Wendy’s in Manila, and both were the lowest quality I’ve ever had.
Manila’s nightlife is CRAZY, and I’d put it in the Top 5 best party cities in Asia. It was honestly so unexpected, and I had an amazing time raging with some of my new Filipino friends.
The nightlife scene mostly consists of young, flashy and sexy partygoers who are looking for nothing more than to have a great time.
There’s something for everyone. All of the upscale bars and clubs around town are in either Makati or The Fort area.
And there is also a “red light district” in Makati (like the one in Bangkok) which has cheaper bars, but it’s dirty (and has hookers everywhere).
Manila has some world-class night clubs that were all recently opened over the last year. Some of my favorites were Club Valkyrie, Pool Club and Club Chaos and House Manila.
Lastly, The Philippines is home to one of my favorite beer in Asia called Red Horse. It is really cheap and strong (like 9%) and it’s sold all over town. If you don’t like beer this strong, then try some San Miguel — it’s also local.
Where to Stay?
From cheap hostels to luxury condos, Manila has a large variety of places to stay that will satisfy your budget needs. Below is a list of some of my favorites places around the city.
For a more comprehensive list of accommodations in Manila, check out this page on Agoda.com and book your stay today!
For Budget Travelers — Z Hostel (>Book online now)
*rates: $12/night for mixed bed dorm, and $25/night for private room.
Z Hostel> is only hostel I’ve stayed at in Manila, and I absolutely recommend it! It’s one of the most well-kept and friendly hostels that I’ve ever been to. It opened up just last year in the heart and center of the bustling Makati district.
Z hostel is 7 stories tall and offers affordable private rooms as well as dorm rooms. The building has a wonderful hostel vibe with friendly staff, a variety of backpackers from all over the world, a really delicious cafe, and my favorite rooftop bar in the city (you have to see the view). It’s always happening inside Z hostel, and you are guaranteed to have a good time!!
For Mid-Price — City Garden Hotel (>Book Online Now)
*rates: $77/night for Superior King Room
The City Garden Hotel is local right in the heart and center off Makati Ave. This hotel offers huge rooms with nice size king beds, fast wifi, and a spacious floor area.
There is a nice gym, pool area and a buffet with incredible local foods. The staff are very friendly and welcoming, and they’ll make you feel right at home!
For Luxury — Sofitel Plaza Manila Hotel (>Book Online Now)
*rates: $274/night for Luxury Club room w/ King Size Bed
Sofitel Manila is as good as it gets! I’ve eaten at the buffet inside this palace and it’s spectacular. The service is just as amazing as the cleanliness and comfortable rooms.
Head down to the relaxing pool to drink a martini while watching the golden set over the Bay. Highly recommended!
Thanks for reading! Have you ever been to Manila? Comment Below!