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Published: April 27th 2015
AirAsia Flight assistant;
Hi Maam Hi Sir, Where are you flying? Chris&P
: Hi We're flying to Manila in the Philippines? AirAsia Flight assistant;
Okay can I see your booking? Chris&P:
Yeah sure? (as we pass over phone)
Pause AirAsia Flight assistant;
Maam Sir, this is a one way ticket. Do you have your return flight? Chris&P:
Yes AirAsia Flight assistant;
Can I see it? Chris&P:
It's uhh on our emails that we don't have access to but we leave in 20 days from Manila to Bangkok. AirAsia Flight assistant
; I'm sorry but I'm afraid I have to see the booking before I board you onto this flight
GREAT! What are we going to do?
We need WiFi and we need it quick. Then we can book our return flight out of the country. So far this is the first flight on the trip where they have actually asked to see proof of onward travel.
We found a corner, got out our laptop and to our surprise managed to link to the airport WiFi. Score. However this WiFi was impossibly slow to the point we could not load the page. We
needed something else and spotted a Starbucks. After purchasing 2 bagels to get the WiFi code and then searching endlessly for the cheapest ticket out of the country within the 4 week time frame, we found the perfect ticket. Cebu to kota Kinabalu in 3 weeks time costing £42 for us both. Knowing we were not going to use it as we wanted to extend our visas this was our best option for a nonrefundable ticket. Booked. Off we went back to the counter all smug with our achievement with only 20 minutes before the check-in closed.
The first thing you notice when entering Manila is the traffic. Oh the traffic, the fumes, the noise and the delays! Thailand and Kuala Lumpur have nothing on Manila traffic. Even our taxi driver (Carlos) grumbled at the fact we were making him drive through Friday evening rush hour to our hostel.
The next thing we noticed is that it is unlike any south east Asian country we have visited. The tin cladded Jeepneys all bright and colourful in designs, the names i.e. Carlos our taxi driver, even the fact they have pesos (similar to mexico) and the predominately Catholic country,
with us passing many beautiful churches. This was not south east Asia as we knew it.
Arriving at our hostel just after sunset in a shady looking part of town we arrived at our building and passed through a very basic gym on the ground floor, with the hostel located on the 5th and 6th floors. Walking up the stairs to the reception area we were greeted by a huge rat running out from behind a door into the shadows making us both jump. Thinking the coast was clear the rat then reemerged running right across the floor in front of us into another dark corner so we ran across to the to reception quickly and got a few funny stares (what?; We were trying to avoid the rat!!). During check-in we learnt that a deliberate fire was started a few days before we arrived so part of the hostel was actually closed off. Taking all of this into account our initial impressions of the place were not good to begin with.
Upon researching the Philippines, Manila was listed as a pit stop more than anything else as we focused more so upon the islands in the south.
So arriving at our hostel we had no preconceptions on how we intended on spending our time here; what there was to see/do, how easy it was to travel around here etc. We tried to ask a few people and awkwardly got no result. A girl in our dorm told us she'd been in Manila for 5 days and only left the hostel to go cinema as the area was dodgy and there were no food places around!!! What kind of area are we in? That night we both lay in bed questioning whether we should stay another night in Manila let alone this hostel.
Our dorm, despite having 2 fans was still uncomfortably warm. We woke up early and tried to plan our day (something we tried the previous night to no avail). Eventually we settled on a rough itinerary of walking to the old Hispanic fort 'Intramuros', China Town and a mall by the name of Divisoria.
On our way to the old walled town of Intramuros we stopped off at a delicious Jamaican pattie shop, with P going back for seconds since it was that nice. As we walked along the road close to the
river we were greeted by friendly street sellers and locals. A contrast to what some books/people had said about Manila, they were just as curious but friendly as the Burmese to us although many did however come with a warning to avoid other dangerous locals.
On the way to the fort we passed through Rizal park which was a lovely change from the littered built up areas, with many groups of families, children and teens relaxing within its confines.
Next stop; Intramuros - an old walled city containing the oldest Hispanic fort in the country. The old city contains many beautiful churches, and we visited namely the grand San Augustin Monastery and the Manila Cathedral. Unfortunately we weren't able to enter them and see the amazing art work on the ceilings as there were a number of weddings going on, however we did get some great snaps of the beautiful brides (cue tears from P). This old town also contains some spectacular brightly coloured colonial buildings restored to their former glory and even some of the original fort ruins (Fort Santiago) from the colonial period. As with most historic landmarks in SE Asia there always seems to be
a golf course right in the middle, Intramuros was no exception. It kind of takes away the preserved history and atmosphere of the site. Like why on earth would you build a golf course right next to some crumbling old ruins, that is just asking for a disaster with golf balls potentially chipping away at what is left of the ruins!!
In this walled area we weaved in and out of the many cobbled streets and parks almost forgetting we were in SE Asia due to it colonial feel. The only thing that spoilt it was the trishaw drivers constantly harassing you to take a tour on their bike, not taking "no" for an answer.
Our itinerary after Intramuros was to visit Chinatown and a big mall not too far from there. We opted to walk as our map indicated that we wasn't too far away, not telling us what area that would mean walking through.
As we walked further away from the tourist area of Intramuros one striking observation was the deterioration in living standards and in other words the poverty there. It was rife, the worst was seeing homeless "street kids" their skin was dirty
and the smells were bad as they played with mud like it was sand and begged for food and drinks. It was very upsetting to see.
Walking in the right direction to Chinatown (as per our maps) we were shocked to see what we can only describe as the "favella" part of Manila. Many questionable housing structures made out of corrugated iron often built on top of each other, rubbish on the streets, people dirty and disheveled in appearance wearing torn clothing.
Reluctantly we kept walking and passed children playing basketball in the street, locals just 'chilling' on park benches, street stalls lining the road with drivers sleeping in their trishaws. As we were walking, all eyes were on us and we stood out like a sore thumb, there was no tourist attractions here so you could see people asking themselves what were we doing there. People stopped what they were doing to walk over and beg. The deeper we got the more nervous it made us.
Where are those irritating trishaw drivers when you need them?.
Eventually we managed to find one and asked him to take us straight to the Divisiora mall (it was
mentioned on the hostel POI board). Our driver dropped us in a crowded street a 5min walk away from the mall saying he could not get any closer. We were right in the middle of a busy market place with locals looking at us with curiosity, even more so with our big bridge camera in hand that we could not discreetly hide. At one point a boy around 12 year old "street kid" came jumping up on us and we realised he was pantless which really shocked us as we had to hold out our arms to prevent him from doing so again. We HAD to find this mall. After asking a few locals it turned out the mall was not actually a mall but a bustling street market. Great.
Feeling slightly on edge with all the attention we decided we should find a way to head back. As we rounded a corner, over a rubbish and sewer infested river, we spotted a huge mall called "Lucky Chinatown Mall". This mall, complete with metal detectors had about 6 floors of high end name brand clothing and electronics. We could not believe our eyes, this mall was side by side
with a poverty stricken neighbourhood! With the other entrance on the opposite side appearing less poverty stricken. The major contrast left us both speechless, nevertheless as bad as it sounds we were relived to have found it as the sights we'd seen outside were slightly disturbing. The few following hours had us both stunned and shocked in silence as we did not expect to see what we saw today and have never seen anything like it before.
Back at the hostel, it was a member of staffs birthday so in true Filipino style they brought out the karaoke machine and cooked some delicious food on the house for guests. We even got up on the karaoke for a few numbers ourselves (when in Rome...) but then decided enough was enough after a song or two (ahem Chris).
The next day we took it easy, we relaxed by the pool. Chris visited the gym, P caught up with blogs, it was a nice relaxing day. Our impressions of the hostel (Pink Manila) had changed; we enjoyed the breakfast, it had a lovely social feel to it, didn't see any rats, we enjoyed the amazing rooftop views over the city
and even the pool. We thought it was a really nice place after all.
One thing about travelling and writing blogs as we go, is ensuring that we enjoy every minute of the trip whilst trying to record it and also trying to do research our next travel destination and the transport options (which can be a hard balance). At hostels it can be seen as antisocial if you whip out a laptop. But we would rather do it in spacious areas than the confines of our rooms. Plus we gained a lot from other blogs so we decided to do the same for future travellers. Was such a difficult balance here though.
On a whole, we enjoyed Manila and were glad that we spent a whole day exploring instead of staying within the confines of the hostel like many other people we met. Although the poverty stricken area is saddening it is an area less travelled to by tourists so if you consider travelling here do not let this put you off.
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