End of August was a stressing week for me – cleaning the house for the coming Eid-ul Fitri celebration (muslim major celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, the holy fasting month), rushing to finish my work before the long holiday begin and preparing for my next trip to the Philippines. While everybody was on their Eid-frenzy shopping mode at Masjid India in KL, I on the other hand was busy scouting the money changers with Peso’s best selling rate. It has been over a month after my last trip to Saigon, but my daily routine had kept me occupied most of the time that I haven’t had much time to study about the country. Some info about Manila I managed to dig out last minute from the web - mostly travel cautions from the locals and fellow travellers didn’t help much either, and the news of the recent typhonic Kai-Tak engulfing central and northern Luzon had made it worst. A Pinay I met in Masjid India told me that situation in Manila was not as bad as portrayed, but her words alone couldn’t convince me. Fear that I’d to drop the trip altogether, I rang the embassy for reconfirmation. The lady who picked up the call was kind enough to redirect me to their National Disaster & Risk Reduction Management Council’s website. It is informative and the stats had me rest assured.
We finally arrived to a beautiful morning at Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Pampanga, Clark while everyone back in Malaysia was still celebrating Raya. Surprisingly (and to our relief), there was no sign of typhoon anywhere, not even a single drop of rain. The sky was bright, and we could see the Pinatubo clearly from afar. Immigration went on smoothly, and for a certain reason the local custom restrict the non-declared cash to Php10,000 per passenger only. I accidentally read about it while searching for info, and made sure we comply to the bit. Philippines is not the country I would like to mess with.
From the airport we took a bus to Pasay City in Metro Manila. The fare is Php450, which is equivalent to RM35 per person. If the budget allows, it is advisable to land in NAIA. It will save you the 2 hours travelling time.
Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, shortname DMIA, an ex-US military air base abandoned in 1991 following the eruption of Pinatubo. It is now a second international airport in Manila serving local routes and budget airlines.
Vast land of greens with the cloud-capped Pinatubo standing guard, accompanying our journey to Metro Manila. Except the look of the people and a hint of similarity in the language, Philippines doesn’t feel so much Asian to us. I had a difficult time digesting the Spanish name of the towns and the streets on our way to the town center and a constant bump into every Juan, Miguel and Alejandro had me forget that I was actually a distance away from Sabah.
Malate area in Metro Manila.
Arriving at Pasay Bus Terminal we take a cab to Adriatico street in Malate (pronounced “Melati”) and it was super-expensive. We were asked Php250 for such short ride, but after the strenous four hours in the plane plus another two hours by bus, we were too tired to argue. We did checked with a few others, all of them flagging the same fare. Nobody wants to use the meter anyway.
“Cannot madam, it’s too far” was their common feedbacks.
So I guessed that price might be the standard here, and hesitantly jumped into the back seat. As the cab droved past the busy streets of Manila, my eyes caught sight of the nearby gas station. A signage that reads ‘Unleaded : Php60 per litre’ staring back at me. I rest my case.
Our room at Adriatico Pensionne Inn. This photo was taken at the door (the only possible angle), so you could imagine how tiny it was.
Twenty minutes later the cab pulled in by the roadside of Adriatico street. I was undecided to where we should spend the night actually, but my instinct was telling me to look around Malate. Mentioned in LP and Wiki as one of the recommended budget hostel in the area, we decided to check out the Malate Pensionne. The entrance was hidden behind the big green Starbuck signage, with a few gypsum boards, plasters and construction materials obstructing the way – a sign that renovation was in progress. I wasn’t sure but the doorman has already open the door for us, and it was rude to turn back. The inside was much better and the ambience no doubt hispanic. A gigantic painting of a Filipino family clad in Maria Clara and Barong Tagalog - all prim and proper; hung at the wall next to the stair. From the receptionist lady we found out that all standard rooms have been taken, and the cheapest they have at the moment was a deluxe at Php1400. I must have been spoilt by all the pampering I got back in Saigon that my spirit crashed upon seeing the room. It was a small windowless room of about 10 square feet, with the super single bed fully occupied the space. The damp and musty, wood smell of old furniture hit my nose. The corridor was dimly lit, and the floor beneath us squeaks at our every steps.
“It must be pretty creepy at night”, I said to myself.
We returned to the lobby, thanked the lady and excused ourselves. Wandering aimlessly for the next 20 minutes we finally arrived at the Adriatico Pensionne Inn. My 50-litre rucksack was weighing me down and we had already missed lunch, so we decided to hit the place. The room was more or less in the same tacky condition, but at least it was cheaper – half the price offered by Malate Pensionne inclusive breakfast and free laundry. Robinson, LRT and halal joints are within radius thus made the location a bit strategic. I wouldn’t recommend it to the fussy though. Hostel 1632 next door is an option to consider if you are not travelling on a shoestring.
Briyani in Malate. After a short nap we looked for food and my readings of the map directed me to this halal joint not far from our lodging. The price was fair, and a plate of briyani was actually enough for two.
Considering that it was already ten past five, we find it was best to stick around Malate. A short walk from Ghazal Restaurant we arrived at the polluted Manila Bay. Two ‘bronze’ men was enjoying the view at one of the bench there, and we joined them.
A bunch of kids frolicking in the polluted water of Manila Bay, while a man scraping the trash infested seaside looking for anything recycleable that’s worth selling.
A man with his day ‘catches’. I was hoping to see the sunset, but it was cloudy and the sea was rough, indicating of a coming storm. The non-stop pushing by the kalesa driver despite several polite refusals was bothering us too, made us left the place even sooner.
DH at Manila Bay, and the pushy kalesa driver doing his round.
Later that night we spent our time browsing retail outlets at the Robinson and checking out the bookstore for some postcards. Oh, did I mentioned that most of the shops here are well guarded with armed securities, which perform thorough body check at the entrance? Even their seven-eleven is not an exception. Manila crime index is quite high that I didn’t even bother bringing the DSLR. Walking after dark should be avoided especially in the red district area, and it is advisable not to trust anyone. A lady we met at the LRT station in Cubao even warned us about this when we asked for directions. Not that I say KL is all safe. Crime is a cancer that looms every city. I totally blamed poverty, and money after all is the root of all evil. Just don’t give crime a chance to harm you.
Apart from that I was grateful that we didn’t venture into any unfortunate event throughout our trip. With guards at every door who would say that I was sleepless in Manila?
That, except for the few tiny crawly bed bugs.