Manila Insider Travel Tips
Your stay in Manila can be a pleasantly memorable experience if you keep in mind that the cosmopolitan city is also the capital of a country with varied cultures. These tips can ensure that your trip is safe and well worth it, whether you’re a casual or hardnosed tourist.
#1‘Filipino time’ can imply tardiness to foreigners, and although the locals themselves are irked at this notion, it is true there is such a prevailing culture of waiting up for the last minute to get things done. If you’re attending a function and are used to punctuality, provide at least 15 minutes of leeway from your set schedule before you go out.
#2You’ll also be surprised to find out that holidays (except for the major ones like Christmas and the New Year) are moved from their original dates in order to accommodate for longer weekends, or for a more convenient work week. The government maintains that longer weekends contribute to local tourism – watch out for executive announcements before pushing through with your schedule.
#3Celebrations are prolonged and lingering; the Christmas season starts on September, the Holy Week is religiously observed, and if a holiday falls on a Sunday, sometimes the following day is considered as a special non-working holiday. Go figure.
#4The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country, and as such, fiestas and religious events are strictly observed; soak in on the local customs, but do remember to put your own safety first, especially with large crowds.
#5As an attempt at getting by with scant resources, Filipinos have come up with the tingi (piecemeal) culture; you can buy anything from a stick of cigarette to a pair of diapers – from small stall shops called sari-sari stores.
#6Expect to be frisked, and your belongings searched on any establishment you enter; this is the norm in the country even before the heightened security alert. Try and bear the inconvenience – you’ll get used to it.
#7If you’re tempted to try ‘exotic delicacies’ on the street, don’t; not only are street foods unsanitary with open-air exposure, the manner in which they are prepared are questionable, and you can easily contract a gastric disease if you don’t watch out.
#8Rallies and demonstrations usually coincide with a politically-relevant holiday like Labor Day (May 1) and the EDSA Revolution Day (February 26); be prepared for bumper-to-bumper traffic on red flag areas such as Ortigas, University Belt (in Recto), and Rotonda (in Quezon City).
#9A numeric coding scheme is implemented for all motorists on weekdays as part of a government effort to ease the road congestion. This is observed from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M., effective for vehicles with plate numbers ending in 1 and 2 on Mondays, 3 and 4 on Tuesdays, and so forth.
#10Drivers drive on the right-hand side of the road, but some can’t resist the urge to overtake or cut in even on the driver’s side and on the road shoulders, and counter-flows are common.
#11If you have to hail a taxi, make sure that you are in agreement with the driver on the destination before you get in, and that the meter is on before you go. If the driver insists that the meter is broken or suggests a contract price for the trip, get out and hail another cab.
#12The streets flood easily even with short downpours, especially during the typhoon seasons of June to October; the garbage problem is pressing, many roads are potholed, and there is no ample drainage system which flushes the water out.
#13Exchange currency only on accredited establishments (banks, hotels, or malls); don’t be tempted to deal with allegedly higher exchange rates on black-market money changers; these are usually situated in security-risk areas, and you can be shortchanged, swindled, or extorted.
#14While you shouldn’t be cynical about the motives of anyone who tries to offer or ask for a helping hand, you might want to keep a guarded stance and trust your instincts. Conmen and swindlers can be cunning, and anyone can be a potential perpetrator, from children to the elderly. If someone makes a dubious offer and tries to give you something for free, don’t take it even if the person persists – you are probably being set up for a con. Problem areas like Tondo, Quiapo, Divisoria, and Baclaran are notorious for a reason.
#15Pay close attention to your belongings on public areas and while commuting on public transport. Keep them on your lap or in front of you and not on your side, and maintain your personal space even on cramped spaces.
#16Avoid doing business with fixers, especially if it involves important businesses. Fixers charge exorbitant rates for something which usually costs for nothing or for far less. They are present everywhere wherein transactions are made, even on the embassies, wearing faux IDs and an attitude to match. Go straight to the bureau or office and do your business with authorized personnel.
#17Although those who come to the Philippines aren’t required to take vaccine shots prior to entry, it is highly advisable that you take immunization shots, particularly for cholera and hepatitis; take not that tropical diseases like Malaria and Dengue are also rampant with the city’s worsening garbage problem, and rabies shots are also a must.
#18As part of an increased security alert implemented on the major entry/exit points in the country, you may find the lines at the airport or seaports a drag. There are at least eight security checks which you have to go through at the airport, and since all kinds of packages go through the same checks at the pier, there is a good chance that you’ll miss your boarding schedule as well. Get there at least three hours early for good measure. Prohibitions on weapons and for exotic flora and fauna do apply on both counts.
Grace is loving every minute she spend traveling around Philippines, meeting people and making new friends. Her travel mantra - “Live, breathe. It is never too late to feel alive.”