For better or worse, Metro Manila has transformed into a gateway city of the Philippines. Ask any traveler what his or her plans are during their stay, and they’ll most likely say that they’re just waiting for their connecting flight to a more exotic destination down south or up north.
There’s so much more to Manila, however, than its close proximity to an airport. With its mix of colonial history and rapid urban development, there’s always something interesting happening in the metro. Here are a few tips and recommendations for intrepid the backpacker or weekend warrior looking to satisfy his or her wanderlust in Manila.
TIP #1: STAY AT A HOSTEL
An essential element to backpacking is the connection you make with fellow travelers and as any backpacker will tell you, there’s no easier way to make said connections than by staying at a hostel.
If you’re the artsy type who’s looking for eclectic accommodations, there’s Lokal Hostel. Founded in 2009, Lokal Hostel is known for its striking murals, friendly service and closeness to quirky, hole in the wall restaurants. It’s also nearby one of the red light districts of the metro, making it the perfect spot for unconventional adventure.
For those seeking a more of a lively party-going atmosphere, there’s always Z Hostel. Famous for its gorgeous rooftop bar overlooking the cityscape, Z Hostel regularly hosts parties and events, attracting locals and foreigners alike looking for a fun night out.
On the other hand, travelers yearning to be closer to more historic parts of the city may opt to stay at Pink Manila Hostel. Located squarely in the old Malate district, Pink Manila Hostel is just a stone’s throw away from heritage sites such as Intramuros and The Philippine National Museum. If you came to Manila to explore it’s colonial roots, this is the place to be.
TIP #2: AVOID THE USUAL TOURS
There are a million and one tour companies in Manila. Some, however, offer more unique travel experiences than others.
Eco-tourism is a concept that’s gaining popularity in the country and one group in the forefront of this movement is Bambikes Eco Tours. Guests get to visit key spots riding eco-friendly bamboo bikes, ensuring that your sightseeing trip leaves as little pollution as possible.
In line with eco-tourism, more and more visitors are interested in seeing the less posh side of Manila and no other company offers more socially oriented sightseeing experiences than Smokey Tours. Smokey Tours offers several trips to underdeveloped areas revealing the parts of the city you’ll never see in guidebooks. Best of all, all proceeds from specific tours go directly to non-profit organizations aiding the urban poor.
If you’re the type who wants a more one-on-one experience, then booking your own tour guide may be the best option and Tralulu.com makes this process ten times easier. Tralulu.com is a database booking website that connects backpackers to local guides. These guides can retrofit their services to your specific tastes, helping you curate the tour of your dreams.
TIP# 3: EAT AND DRINK LIKE A LOCAL
No matter how long or short your trip may be, no visit to Manila is complete without trying the local cuisine. Here some of the best:
Tambai offers a uniquely Filipino alfresco experience. Located in the heart of the Central Business District, there are no fancy waiters or air-conditioned rooms at Tambai. You eat on the street! The menu is almost exclusively features Yakitori items or small bites on sticks paired with beers. It’s the hangout spot made for the unpretentious backpacker.
Every city has its own version of comfort food and no place serves Filipino comfort food better than Locavore. Dishes are heartily portioned and prepared with the best local produce and ingredients. Signature menu items include the sinful Sizzling Sinigang and hearty Boneless Pork Belly. Make sure you save room for some extra rice!
Filipino food is tricky to describe to a first-time visitor with its mix of western and Asian influences. There are certain restaurants, however, that are able to serve local food that is so well made, it becomes palatable for all. Toyo Eatery is such a place. Fusing gourmet techniques with local tastes, Toyo aims to give Filipino food a modern twist. Prices may be bit steep for the budget traveler but it’s worth the splurge.
Finally, no trip to Manila is complete without a night of drinking and if you’re short for time, then the Manila Pub Crawl may be a good idea. An offshoot of the Boracay Pub Crawl, the Manila Pub Crawl brings booze lovers to different bars and clubs. It’s the perfect opportunity to sample the city’s nightlife and make some fast friends. Just make sure you aren’t driving back to your hostel or hotel.
Hopefully, this short guide proves that Manila is more than just a jumping off point to other parts of the country. It’s city with own distinct character and flavor. Hidden underneath it’s endless highways, urban slums and grand malls are unique cultural experiences, travellers simply can’t find anywhere else. All you need to do is seek it out.