So last week, I told you all about my FAM / Press Trip to the Philippines. And really, I had the most marvellous time but truth be told, the Philippines isn’t really on the agenda on most Europeans.
Thailand? Oh yes!
But the Philippines? Er what!
You know! The Phiiiilipppppines!
OK then. How about Manila?
‘So you’ve heard all about it then?
Yep! I heard it was full of crime, and you would be shot in the streets, mugged, kidnapped, or all the above!
I’m guessing it’s time that I write about my own impressions of Manila. After all, I was there.
And I lived to tell the tale!
But let’s be realistic, one of the reasons that the Philippines turned out to be such a roaring success was because we weren’t on our own, and had the loving protection of the Tourism Promotions Board Philippines, who did a fantastic job of providing transport, an information table at designated approved hotels, a welcome team at the airport, and a whole bevy of young Filippino students who helped us get from one place to the other, quickly and safely. In fact, at one point, one group even had a police escort as it was quite late in the day…!
THE DIPLOMATIC FACTS
According to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the embassy advice is NOT to travel to certain parts of the Philippines because of on-going terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups.
There is also the issue of typhoons. There may be flooding, landslides, storms, and even death and destruction which could result in local evacuation! Indeed, typhoons in the Philippines are no joke as just last year, the country had 27 tropical storms, 18 typhoons, and nine super typhoons, resulting into people being forced to flee their homes, torrential rains, submerged villages, devastating floods, and death.
In fact, we had a few typhoons while we were there.
However, since we were in Manila, we were not outrightly affected, but all the FAMtrips in the affected area, were cancelled.
The simple fact is that the Philippines does have a high incidence of street crime, scams, robbery, terrorism, and kidnapping. Including gun crime.
The bare reality is that Manila isn’t the safest of places, and foreign nationals are increasingly becoming targets. Most of these crimes are committed by local youths who are involved in incidents of violent robbery, gun crime, assaults, random acts of violence, kidnapping of foreigners, streets fights, looting and violent crimes triggered by excessive alcohol consumption.
Sadly, on November 3rd, the US Government had to issue a travel warning to alert U.S. citizens that terrorist groups are planning to conduct kidnappings, in areas frequented by foreigners on the southern portion of Cebu Island, specifically the areas around Dalaguete and Santander (to include Sumilon Island). As I write this, the warning is still valid!
Is it any wonder that my friends and family were nervous at the thought that I was travelling solo to the Philippines? Their only consolation being that I wouldn’t be totally alone, and that I’m a smart experienced traveller!
Having said that, most tourists and travellers will have a wonderful time, just as I did, but the warnings are not without merit, as the Philippines does have a reputation.
Manila, otherwise known as the City of Manila, is the capital and the second most populous city of the Philippines.
Founded in 1571, by a Spanish conquistador – Miguel López de Legazpi – Manila is one of the oldest cities in the Philippines and was the seat of power for most of the country’s colonial rulers. It is situated on the eastern shore of Manila Bay and is home to many landmarks, some of which date back to the 16th century!
With a population of 1.8 million in 2015, Manila is the second largest city in the Philippines, after Quezon City. It is also the most densely populated city in the world, with 41,515 people per square kilometer!
HOW TO BE SAFE IN MANILA
- Be vigilant
- Keep away from large crowds, protests and rallies
- Don’t wander too far “off the beaten path”
- Watch where you’re going at night, or stay sober
- Take licensed taxis such as Grab
- If you take public transport, make sure it’s not too crowded as traffic jams are common, and the heat can be stifling!
- Keep your valuables out of sight
- Be respectful and polite to the locals
- Try as much as possible not to take photographs without permission. The homes of local people isn’t a zoo!
- Go on a walking tour
Not only is it a way to get your bearing, it’s also a means to meet some of the locals, and find out local secrets.
As I told you last week, TBEX doesn’t only organise post-TBEX tours but pre-TBEX tours too! I knew that I would be on a very long flight, so opted for a morning tour that wouldn’t take more than four (4) hours or so!
A WALKING TOUR OF MANILA – INTRODUCING OLD MANILA WALKS
The company – Old Manila Walks – is a local organisation whose motto is “experience the best of historic Manila – one step at a time!”
They have five (5) tours that people can join:
- A Chinese Cemetry Walk
- The Big Binondo Food Wok Tour
- An Intamures Interactive Walk
- The Best of Manila Walks
- A Feel Good Art Walk
- A San Miguel – Malacanang Palace Walk
Honestly, I wish I could have taken all of them but I was only able to go on one. TBEX called it The Old China Food Tour but Old Manila Walks calls it The Big Binondo Food Wok nibbling our way through Chinatown tour!
I had arrived late the night before and was looking for a place to eat at my conference hotel – The Golden Phoenix. The hotel restaurant had closed and so the staff had directed me to a local haunt across the road.
I was extremely pleased as the restaurants was packed with local punters, with the only foreign faces being that of two random British guys and myself.
We soon got chatting!
Even though it was my first night, I felt perfectly safe ‘cos:
- The two British guys were quite beefy, and were more than able to hold their own
- My hotel – The Golden Phoenix – was right in front of the restaurant. As were the security guards
- We were in a classy area with 4 or 5 star hotels scattered all over the vicinity!
Anyhoo, our meeting point for the food tour the next morning was in the lobby of a hotel before we moved down to the Binndo Church!
If you’re a foodie, then the best place to go to in Chinatown is Binondo, and to munch your way through a wide selection of dining establishments, ranging from Cantonese themed restaurants to local regional fare!
Ivan Man Dy is the brains and owner of Old Manila Walks, and also the man who led our tour packed with journalists and foodie bloggers!
In 2005, he established Old Manila Walks and has since then literally walked a thousand miles! In between walks, he has found time to finish a master’s degree in Cultural Heritage Studies, do professional work in the field of heritage tourism, appear in countless local and international TV documentary shows, as well as local modelling!
Ivan wanted to show us the Chinese heritage of Manila, and so we started with a backyard sit-down stool place called New Po-Heng Lumpia House.
We had some lumpia.
Lumpiang Sariwa or Fresh Spring Roll is a type of spring roll of Chinese origin commonly found in the Philippines.
It is a savoury snack made of thin crepe pastry skin called “lumpia wrapper” enveloping a mixture of savoury fillings, consisting of chopped vegetables (carrots, cabbages, green beans, bamboo shoots and leeks) or sometimes minced meat (chicken, shrimp, pork or beef). It is often served as an appetizer or snack, and might be served deep-fried or fresh.
Lumpia is usually garnished with sweet sauce, coconut flakes and crushed peanuts. A nut-free roll was made specifically for me so don’t worry if you have allergies, they will cater for you if you let them know!
After this snack, we went through the market place to a historically famous Chinese restaurant called Quik Snack / Quick Snack, otherwise known as Amah’s kitchen! It was much nicer and larger, catering to friends and family.
At Amah’s Kitchen we had a pie called Empanada de kaliskis. It’s a traditional flaky, pastry filled chicken pie. It really was quite delicious as I like pastry pie that is sweet to taste, filled with tasty ingredients, and has a hefty crunch!
After that, we had a type of tofu dish with cheese, oyster sauce and sprinkly bits!
A staple in Chinese cuisine, tofu, or fermented soy bean curd, is rich in protein. In the Philippines, it is known as tokwa. Firm varieties are good for stir-fries, while the softer varieties like silken tofu is good for soups and puddings. By itself, tofu is almost tasteless. Its versatility lies in its capacity for absorbing the flavor of any ingredient mixed with it.
I’m not usually a fan of tofu, but this meal made everything better again!
After this, we ducked into a restaurant in which we had to go upstairs. The stairway was so low and narrow that even a petite girl like myself, also had to take care when going up or down the stairs!
As we entered, we saw some young girls kneading dough. I was excited.
It could only mean one thing.
Dumplings in Manila are usually eaten with a simple spiced vinegar dip that I didn’t find quite so simple, as the spiciness made me splutter! Nevertheless, I tried a little and covered the rest of the dumplings in soy sauce!
We were then served a thick layer of Filippino pork schnitzel!
The next dish we had was some sort of custard-like dessert made from condensed milk and duck egg yolk buried in the mud for one (1) month! This is a common Filipino dessert called Yema!
I didn’t personally like Yema as it was served cold, and felt like having an English school dinner dessert that had been left out too long! But if you’re not British, you’ll like it!
Not to worry though as it was soon time to sample some sort of street food once again.
Ivan took us to a herb and spice shop where we had to smell the ingredients and guess what they were. The highlight was when I tried something that looked like armchair stuffing, and tasted like hot chilli peppers!
Lastly, the group tried some purple yam balls!
Purple yam is used in a variety of desserts and is also known as ube. I wasn’t able to try it as it had killer stuff like pistachio, coconut and almonds!
Having said that, I do like the velveteen purple tones. Very avant-garde!
At the end of my stay in Asia, I flew back to Manila for 24 hours and this time, I chose the more humble 3-star Vieve Hotel rather than the nicer 5 star Belmont Hotel, which we all later moved to! I liked the Belmont so much that I paid to stay over the weekend. A good thing too, as I was really ill…!
The staff at the Vieve Hotel were nice enough, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you were travelling solo. I wanted to see the more “authentic” Manila, and I certainly did!
As my taxi drove me through the dark narrow streets of Ermita, I had to confess that I was a little anxious and was already getting my phone out to book another hotel! The area is dodgy and appalling. Shop after shop was either a massage parlour, a go-go bar or a karaoke “show,” with ladies of the night plying their trade, and homeless people lying on many a pavement.
As you know, I have no issue with legal prostitution, but I would never wander into the red-light area alone, and here I was right slap and centre, in the middle of it!
Suffice to say, I didn’t go out that night. I stayed in my room, double-locked the door, and put a chair behind it!
The next day was sunny so I plucked up the courage to walk around the area on my own.
It was fine.
The locals were friendly and allowed me to take photographs of their carts and vehicles. I even did my nails at a neighbourhood salon where staff were 50% transgender.
They were hilarious so I left them a hefty tip!
Well that’s it for now.
IS MANILA A CRIME-RIDDEN PLACE OR IS IT SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT?
I’ve started a new job!
November is going to be amazing!
Watch this space!
Please also note that there is now a Booking.com affiliate link (for the very first time) connected to my hotel. Every time some sort of accommodation is booked via my link I get a little percentage, but at no extra cost to yourself! A win-win for all!
D you think Manila is a crime-ridden place, or do you think it’s something completely different? Have your say!
See you in Berlin.