My Travel Unraveled eat well, travel often, and always enjoy the journey

Manila Musings

I successfully made it through my stay in Manila without being robbed, an accomplishment I once would’ve thought to be damn near impossible given my previous misconceptions of the city.  But in between an endless stream of street food and mastering the the obscure jeepney system, I learned that there’s much more to the Philippines capital than meets the eye.  First and foremost:

It’s much safer than you think

Contrary to my expectations, Manila is NOT comprised of only tourists and petty thieves.  The locals were quite friendly and I found myself constantly greeted with smiles or a jaunty “hello sirrrr” wherever I went.  There are policemen and security guards everywhere and I never felt threatened, even in the older, more traditional parts of town.  Aside from a few children begging for money, I wasn’t really accosted by anyone either .  Of course, if you walk around with your Ray Bans and your Audemars while speaking loudly about how you can’t wait to try some authentic lumpia, you’re asking to get mugged.  But if you dress down, keep your belongings secure, and don’t attract attention to yourself, Manila really isn’t that dangerous of a city

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Manila has many faces

Depending on where you go, Manila can sport some starkly contrasting looks.  There are affluent business districts lined with high rise office buildings, luxury hotels, enormous shopping malls, and glamorous night clubs.  Western chains such as California Pizza Kitchen or IHOP are littered throughout these parts and the overall aesthetic isn’t unlike what you might find in other major metropolitan cities.  The older parts of town are steeped in history, accentuated by colonial architecture and easily mistaken for parts of Europe to the unsuspecting eye.  Locals buy their produce from open-air wet markets and bustling public squares are full of vendors telling fortunes or selling handmade trinkets.

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And then there is the more impoverished side of Manila – dilapidated buildings, garbage cluttering the streets, families cooking over open fires, their children running around without shoes or clean clothes.  It’s a moving scene but what’s astonishing is that the separation between these different parts of town can be as little as a few blocks at times.  Regardless of where you are though, you’re never too far from a Jollibee.

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Filipino people love basketball, food, and taking pictures

It’s an entire culture made up of three things that I love ever so dearly!

You can find a hoops around nearly every corner with many located in the most unorthodox of side alleys and back streets.  It’s not uncommon to see the local Philippine Basketball Association games being televised on screens in stores and restaurants and some of the nicer establishments will play NBA and even NCAA games for their customers.

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As for food, the Filipino people absolutely love to eat and they’re not shy about it.  Locals apparently eat four or more times a day thanks to merienda or a light meal taken during the unbearable, food-less hours between breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  One of the more amusing exchanges I witnessed in Manila was a couple of ladies at a wet market trying to one up each other by bragging about how many meals they had eaten that day.  The winner topped out at 6 times and it wasn’t even 4 PM.

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Lastly, Filipino people relish being in front of the camera.  The sheer volume of photographs taken on a night out is enough to fill a Facebook newsfeed for weeks.  The few times that I went out with locals, the night paused every ten minutes for the sake of taking pictures and being the camera-whore that I am, I was more than happy to oblige.

I found this all to be pretty amusing.  Filipino culture represented the intersection of all my favorite past times.  Seemingly, Manila was my Nirvana.  All it needed was consistent access to dim sum.  But wait….

Shu Mai is everywhere

You can buy it from street carts, fast food chains, convenience stores, mall food courts, supermarkets, cockfighting arenas, airports, theaters, schools, libraries, bars, night clubs, police stations, fire stations, factories, and the list goes on.  Alongside this crown jewel of dim sum, or sio mai, is a sizable Chinese population living in Manila as well.  Not only is the world’s oldest Chinatown located here but apparently the Chinese have heavily influenced Filipino culture over time as well.

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And lastly…

Manila does not get enough credit as a travel destination

Most people visit the Philippines for its beautiful scenery, endless white-sand coasts, and raging beachfront parties.  Of all the travelers I came across in Manila, most were only briefly stopping by on their way to or from the more picturesque locales in the country such as Boracay or Palawan.  Those who had already been couldn’t stop raving about how much fun was to be had at these islands especially in comparison to Manila.  But what the capital city lacks in scenery it makes up in culture and there’s more to do and see here than people realize.  And it’s certainly not lacking in nightlife either.  You may have to ditch the shorts and sandals but Manila has more than its fair share of bumpin’ night clubs.

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All in all, Manila is a good place to visit and the Filipino people are a quirky, interesting bunch.  If you find yourself planning a trip to the Philippines in the future, stop by for a few days.  It’s worth it.

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