Despite how it looks most of the time, Manila's a pretty interesting place. Whether you like towering skyscrapers, sprawling parks or the smell of street food wafting through your nose, Manila is sure to have something that'll surprise even the most experienced backpackers.
Then again, the sheer size and population of the Philippines' capital can be intimidating to first-time visitors. For those who don't know where (or how) to start exploring Manila, start with the pointers below.
Familiarize yourself with public transportation.
When getting around Manila, you can use either public or private transportation. If money isn't an issue, use the latter; otherwise, we strongly recommend the former.
The fastest mode of public transport is the LRT and MRT. Since these two stop only at designated stations, you don't have to worry about drivers picking up passengers from random places on the road. Since they're also fast and convenient, however, the LRT and MRT can get extremely crowded during peak hours.
If you don't like the idea of jostling for space with other passengers, stay away from the LRT/MRT. But if you foresee that you'll be using trains on a daily basis, buy a prepaid ticket that allows for multiple rides. You can get these tickets at any LRT/MRT station, and use them to get onboard the trains until the prepaid balance runs out.
Familiarize yourself with walkways, underpasses, etc.
Crossing Manila's roads can be a scary experience, to say the least. Even if you're on a pedestrian lane, you still have to look out for speeding cars as soon as the light turns green.
Luckily, most major roads in Manila are equipped with walkways to help pedestrians cross safely. In Ayala Avenue, for example, you can find underpasses situated near intersections like Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenue. Likewise, LRT/MRT stations provide overhead passageways so you can cross highways like EDSA and Taft without much trouble.
Invest in a bike.
If you don't want to use public transportation, but you don't want to walk either, consider buying a bike to get around Manila. Aside from being a faster mode of transport than your feet, a bike can also help you get some much-needed exercise. For more information on where to buy bikes in Manila, click here.
Go street (food).
You don't have to blow cash on fancy restaurants to satisfy your hunger. Vendors who sell delicious (and affordable!) street food are a dime a dozen in Manila.
In Makati's Central Business District (CBD), for instance, young professionals flock to nearby "jolly-jeeps" where they can have a complete meal for under Php100. Likewise, similar stalls are clustered outside colleges and universities, so students can grab a quick bite without busting their allowance. If you're concerned about potential sanitary hazards, ask around for recommended vendors.
Keep your valuables safe.
As interesting as Manila is, it does have people who'll take advantage of the unsuspecting and naïve. If you want to avoid any untoward incidents, here's a condensed version of our safety tips to remember in Metro Manila.
- Wear your backpack in front of you, instead of on your back. This way, you won't have too much trouble keeping an eye on your stuff.
- Wear simple, comfortable clothes. When you look like you have a million dollars, thieves will naturally assume that's the case. Keep your brand-name jewelry out of sight, wear non-designer clothes, and dress such that it'll be easier to run when you need to. If you're going to a place or event that requires you to wear classy attire, keep your outfit inside your bag until you reach a safe place to change.
- Show that you're alert and wary. Hold your bag close to you. Give your surroundings a 360-degree inspection. Stay close to people who look like they can alert security if something happens. Don't give strangers the impression that they can easily pull one over you.
- Have emergency stores of cash. Don't keep all your money in your wallet or purse. Put a few peso bills in your pocket, inside your shoes and other safe places on your person. By doing this, you'll have cash to spare in case of emergencies.
Use a vacation rental.
If you're looking for accommodations that are comfortable yet budget-friendly, look no further than vacation rentals.
With a vacation rental, you can enjoy all the facilities of a hotel — Wi-Fi, cable TV, housekeeping — minus the exorbitant expenses. Also, if you choose your rental carefully, you'll only be a stone's throw away from restaurants, shopping malls and other tourist spots. To give you a better idea of what a vacation rental looks like, check out this vacation rental in Makati City.
With these tips, you're sure to have a hassle-free backpacking trip in Metro Manila. If you have any questions and/or thoughts about this post, feel free to sound them off in the comments section below!