A guided tour through Manila's past (Day 201 - 204 by Chris)

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Asia » Philippines » Manila
April 4th 2016
Published: April 14th 2016
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Monday 4th April 2016

When the taxi driver arrived at 4:30am it was still dark and we were both very tired. After a 20 minute drive though we arrived at the airport and were on the flight by 6am and had landed in Kota Kinabalu for just after 7:30am. We now had to wait until 11am for our next flight which would take us to Manila. We used the time chatting and trying to plan for the Philippines but this didn’t go very well.

The flight was 2 hours long and was smooth all the way until we came in to land. The plane was hitting some pretty bad turbulence and this is quite worrying when landing in Manila because the airport is weirdly in the centre of the city, so as you descend you feel like you are heading straight for buildings. Something I will now be prepared for when we next fly into Manila.

In the airport we had no trouble securing a visa stamp and we then decided to buy a sim card as we anticipate the Wi-Fi in some places to be pretty rubbish. Upon leaving the airport we joined the taxi queue and drove for 30 minutes to our hostel, ‘The good shepherd’ which is based in the Makati area of Manila. When we entered the hostel, which is above a massage parlour, and had a sign stating they only offered traditional massages and not any sort of dirty ones, we were welcomed by some very friendly staff. It was quite strange to talk to them as they all had impeccable English, but some very strange American accents. We were constantly referred to as Sir Chris and Maaam Gemma. We were shown to our 8 bed dorm and decided to settle in for the night.

At about 8pm we popped across the road to a bar that was selling food as well. We had a beer and some dinner before heading back to the dorm to sleep. The downside to staying in dorms is that you cannot choose your room mates and we had a guy who had horrendous body odour, something that you only really noticed when you reentered the room. Who said travelling was just good fun?

Tuesday 5th April 2016

As we only had today to see Manila we decided to take part in the free city tour that the hostel offered. There were only 5 of us in total made up of an Australian girl called Caroline, an American girl called Tracy, an Argentinian guy called Juan and me and Gemma. We were to meet at 1pm in the hostel reception and then head out until approx 6pm visiting China town and old Spanish quarter of Manila. We met our guide (don’t recall his name) who was local and again had a strong American accent. He explained the plan for the day and as a group we all headed off to explore.

The first thing we did was jump into a Jeepney, which is a mode of public transport that lots of locals use. Essentially it’s a jeep with an extended back, meaning that it was almost as long as a bus but looked like a jeep. These things are everywhere and are all painted in many different colours and styles making them very good to look at. To enter the Jeepney you simply jump into the back and take a seat on the bench, pass your 7 pesos (approx 15p) to the driver and wait until you arrive at your destination. The journey was fun for the first 5 minutes, but being stuck in the traffic in Manila on a day where the temperature reached 35 degrees, the fun element soon wore off.

When we arrived at the subway station (well the trains actually run above ground) we paid for a one-way ticket to China town we all squeezed onto the train. It was like being back on the London Underground, being all hot, sweaty and invading other passengers private space. Thankfully the journey was only 10 minutes and when we departed we headed straight into China town. Our guide showed us some street food stalls and even took us into a fish mongers, where they had the largest lobsters I have ever seen in glass tanks. Having being to countless number of China towns (and even China!) this didn’t hold much interest for Gemma and I, but we did see Tracy, who was here on a short holiday snapping away with her camera.

After we left china town, which incidentally is meant to be the largest China town outside of China, we crossed the bridge and into the Spanish quarter, Intramuros. Here we were given a very interesting history lesson of how the Philippines was controlled by the Spanish and the British in its past and how neither really benefited the Philippines. Our guide was very passionate about the history and clearly loved his country and really enjoyed giving us all historical facts. We walked through what looked and felt like Europe in the middle of Manila and visited the old city walls which were built on the river and provided protection to the Spanish invaders against any other foes. From here we headed to Fort Santiago, where our guide shared his indepth knowledge on some of the key historical figures in Philippine history.

After watching the sunset on the river from Fort Santiago, which also looked over the slums of Manila, we were taken to see the oldest church in the Philippines and then stopped for some food at 7pm. After eating we headed to Rizal Park which had a water fountain display and music and we were then given the longest summary to a tour I’ve ever had. Our guide was a lovely fella, but he didn’t know when to stop talking. Countless times in his summary speech he said ‘so, this brings the tour to an end….oh, one more thing’. This went on for almost 20 minutes and we were all very tired and ready to head back to the hostel. When we did make it back it was almost 9pm and it had been a very long and tiring day. It had also been very interesting and we learnt lots about the Philippines and also got to see some of Manila which we would’ve struggled to see ourselves. Over all it was a fun day and we spent it with a group of people that were very similar to us in terms of sense of humour, which made it all the better.

Wednesday 6th April 2016

As we were leaving Manila today, but not until the early afternoon, we had a few extra hours sleep. We got chatting to a German guy in our room and found out that he was heading to the same place as us and was booked into the same hostel. He was on holiday with his mum, or rather he was travelling and his mum met up with him for a short holiday. He was nice enough, but was quite immature (that coming from me!) and would walk around making strange noises with his mouth which became quite annoying (sounded like that guy from Police Acadamy who makes funny noises…). We were hoping that we would not be in the same room in the next dorm.

We said our goodbyes to the group we did the city tour with the previous day and took a taxi to the airport. The traffic in Manila is terrible and what only took 30 minutes when leaving the airport took almost 1.5 hours when driving to the airport. We arrived and made our way through to security and found our boarding gate. We were flying with Cebu Pacific, the Philippines second airline to Puerto Princessa, which is on the island of Palawan. There isn’t much to do in Puerto Princessa, but it’s the main airport everyone arrives in before driving north to the beach town of El Nido. Our flight was delayed, which is actually the first time on this trip having taken over 20 flights, so we couldn’t really complain. The flight was smooth and we saw an amazing sunset.

When we arrived at Puerto Princessa at almost 8pm, we jumped into a ‘tricycle’ which is a motor bike with a side car, think Wallace and Gromit. Our driver took us the short distance to our hotel ‘Colour Mansion’ which was down a dirt track side street. The hotel was the most basic we’ve had so far and the room itself looked pretty grim, however it was actually quite comfortable. The hotel had a pet shihtzu called Bruce who must have been quite old because he was blind in one eye and pretty much deaf. Gemma fell in love with him and kept saying how she wanted to give him a bath. He was absolutely filthy and smelly, but cute.

We were staying in Puerto Princessa for only 2 nights, the first night on account that we arrived so late and it was not possible to head to El Nido directly and the second night because the transfer company we wanted to use for the 8-hour bus journey didn’t have any spots for the following day. Having travelled on all sorts of good and bad buses, we decided we would wait for the best one we could find, and ‘Daytripper’ offered some brand new mini buses which had very good reviews. We had booked 2 seats and so had to wait an extra day in Puerto Princessa.

We spoke to the lady in reception and she suggested somewhere to have dinner. It seemed to be the busiest place in Puerto Princessa, which is a small, dusty town and reminded us of parts of Cambodia. All the locals and holiday makers were eating at this open air restaurant and we had some beautiful baby back ribs. After eating though we headed back to the hotel, Gemma played with Bruce for a bit and we then headed to bed.

Thursday 7th April 2016

We really didn’t do much today other than booking lots of flights and accommodation for the remainder of our time in the Philippines. We decided that because we had nothing worth doing today this was a good use of our time as it would allow us to relax knowing where we needed to be over the next couple of weeks. This is actually the most organised we’ve been and its strange that this has come at the end of the trip.

We also withdrew some cash to cover the next week as El Nido doesn’t have any ATMs and this was actually a challenge as we tried 5 different banks and luckily the final one we used recognised and accepted our card. Later that evening we ate at the same restaurant as the previous night and then just relaxed in the room before heading to bed as the following day would be an 8-hour bus journey to the beautiful El Nido.


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