Manila is one of those cities that I love to hate. In truth, I had no idea what to expect going to Manila.
My first moments in Manila were spent absorbing the sights from a taxi window. Grown adults using the street as a bathroom. Garbage strewn about liberally as if a rubbish bin had never been invented. Staring in confusion at the bomb check on our taxi before it could pull up at our hotel and the metal detector I had to pass through before I could check in. And we were at a 4 star hotel in the nice part of town.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some cool things in this city and it is full of energy and life. But there were some things that really ground my gears.
Like the traffic for instance. The traffic here is so bad. Now before one of you says “but Jaime have you been to Vietnam?” let me tell you that yes, I have. When I was there I thought the traffic was insane… until I went to Manila. In Vietnam its mostly scooters. The traffic is busy but it kind of works. There is a method to the madness. In Manila it’s like they gave the whole country cars and then didn’t tell them how to drive them, what a lane was, how to use an indicator, red means stop. It is INSANE!
And surprisingly it is mostly cars, not scooters and motorbikes. And just in case you didn’t know, cars aren’t as mobile or quick to respond as a scooter. The roads just aren’t equipped to deal with the traffic and no one wants to follow the rules, leading to us being stuck in traffic for 55 minutes to travel 4kms down the road. Like that’s crazy.
Or should I say the lack of a CBD. After the war pretty much the whole of Manila was blown away. So the resilient people started to rebuild…. without any urban planning whatsoever. So instead of there being nice organised streets and a Central Business District (or a center of Manila) it is made up of lots of smaller cities. Which means everything you want to see or go too is spread out all over the place. When you pair this with the fact it takes 12 hours to travel what should be 5 minutes up the road, your spending more time in the dodgy taxi than exploring the city.
Right so I know there are dodgy taxi drivers everywhere but Manila would have to take the cake. Even though the fares can be considered cheap by western standards there is no shortage of tricks and scams to part you from your money. From advising the meter is broken, to changing the agreed price, to driving miles out of the way, the cab drivers in Manila are a ruthless bunch. Sure you find the odd one that is okay, but as a general rule they cannot be trusted. I always ask for the meter and will get out of a cab if they won’t use it. Also they aren’t a fan of giving you change. We found that Uber and Grab were the best way to get around. Your accommodation can usually organise you a Grab car when you are heading out to save you the drama.
Toilets in most of Asia are pretty bad and Manila is no exception. At least most places actually have a bowl rather than a squat hole, but rarely is there any toilet paper provided. I have become used to carrying my own around to be on the safe side. Most look like they haven’t been cleaned this millennium and if you are lucky there will be a water gun on a hose to ‘wash’ after. Men here don’t bother to lift the seat, so there is urine all over it, if you are lucky enough find one with a seat that is. Ladies, make sure you carry tissues with you at all times and some hand sanitiser. These ones are nasty.
It smells like pee….everywhere
Filipino men in the city have a habit of just relieving themselves anywhere and everywhere. So it smells like pee… nearly everywhere. I know the toilets are gross guys but better to do it there than along the sidewalk.
If you want to travel and eat delicious foods, go to Thailand or Vietnam. You don’t come to Manila for the food, or anywhere in the Philippines really. Veggies can be hard to find, I only got them up in the mountains and in really expensive restaurants. The food here is bland and boring. No flavour added to anything. and their ingredients are very minimal. And you eat pork for everything and all parts of the pig. Some of it questionable. Your only other option in Manila is fast food. The place is fast becoming a fast food nation. I don’t know about you but after a few days of eating purely fast foods I start feeling pretty sick.
There are no rubbish bins anywhere. You’re not allowed to throw your toilet paper in the toilet, but when there is no bin to put it in. Where else is it going to go? On the streets same problems. No bins. We carried our rubbish around with us all day until we got back to our hotel and left it there. Rubbish is left all over the streets and ends up in the rivers and gutters.
Sure the Rubbish Collectors come around every day. But because there are no bins people put their bags of rubbish on the side walks. One, there is now nowhere to walk. Two, the dogs and rats get into the bags and tear them apart leaving the rubbish all over the place. The rubbish collectors don’t pick it up if the bag is open so it just stays all over the ground. Also they have a bad habit of putting pole in the middle of the sidewalk so you can’t walk past. Whats up with that?
The air pollution is bad here. There doesn’t seem to be any regulations (or it’s not policed) about what you can or can’t spew into the air. Industries as well as many of the millions of cars shoot out thick black smoke into the air. Every few days a thick, black layer of dust settles on everything. It’s not just the outside either, if you leave a window open it will get inside and especially one the ceiling fans. God knows what is in it or what it is doing to my lungs.
Ok, ok, so I know this post is pretty negative. For every bad thing in this post there are a number of good things about this buzzing metropolis. Maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to visit this city. I’ve learnt that not every place we visit is always going to be incredible and my favourite. The Philippines as a whole is incredibly beautiful and definitely worth a spot on your bucket list, like the incredible Baciut Archipelago in EL Nido.