Manila 101 – Basics for first-timers

Manila, Philippines

Manila may not be the first choice of destination for many holiday planners nowadays, and that’s a shame because this bustling capital of the Republic of the Philippines has a plethora of experiences to bestow upon the avid urban adventurer. In Manila, one is bound to be mesmerized by the tastefully emulsified mixture or cultures, times, and class.


There are two airports in Manila: NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) and Clark International Airport. NAIA’s Terminal 1 is exclusive to international carriers, while its Terminals 2 to 3 take in both international and domestic flights.


There are two airports in Manila: NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) and Clark International Airport. NAIA’s Terminal 1 is exclusive to international carriers, while its Terminals 2 to 3 take in both international and domestic flights. Terminal 2, however, is only used by Philippine Airlines. Terminal 4 is reserved for domestic flights only. Located in Pampanga, which is way to the north of Manila, is Clark International Airport. It’s farther from Manila and tended to by only a small number of international and domestic flights.


Even if you spent a lifetime in Manila, you’d always be able to find new ways to get to your destination as there are a ton of transportation options in the city. Once you get used to the different sorts of transportation vehicles and their prices, commuting is going to be cheaper and faster than renting a car or lazily opting for a taxi. A great advantage to commuting is that you get a gritty but genuine taste of Manila. It’s not the experience for everyone and for every trip, but it’s something indeed.



The most used form of transportation in Manila is the train – specifically, the LRT (Light Rail Transit) and MRT (Metro Rail Transit). It’s cheap and fairly reliable and it’ll get you to the ends of Manila and back. LRT and MRT trips are the best way to avoid the chaotic rush hour traffic in the city. Only downside, and this can be a major one at times, is that during rush hour the trains can be unbearably packed. So much so that is may be impossible to get in unless you’ve mastered the artful techniques shoving and pushing, as you’ll observe the locals do. Getting out of the train could be even more frustrating. As a tourist, you wouldn’t have to subject yourself to rush hour LRT conundrums – just take your LRT trips during off-peak times. Anytime between mealtimes is off-peak time in the Philippines. So that’s about from 9 – 11:30 am (after breakfast, before lunch), 1:30 – 5 pm (after lunch, before dinner). You’ll find helpful guides inside the LRT cars which reveal which tourist hotspots are at which stations.

Once you get to your preferred station, it’s just a matter of asking and employing the services of local transport options. Local transport options are tricycles, pedicabs (pedaled tricycles), and even horse carriages. If you’re pretty sure that your destination is nearby (check maps, check station tour guide), make sure your local trike doesn’t overcharge you. A tricycle ride to a nearby location shouldn’t go past 150 PHP.

Busses aren’t a popular option anymore due to their controlled operation routes. However, it is still a viable option, especially for far off destinations.


A very unique commute experience would be to ride the all-Filipino Jeepney or Jeep. These bulking hunks of metal are found all over the place, sticking to their local routes; so going to farther destinations by Jeep would require more than a few switches. Jeep rides are the cheapest form of transportation in the Metro. The downside to jeeps is having to put up with the boiling heat and sticky city smog, which can take a toll on the unaccustomed, especially on long and traffic-induced rides. For short and/or no-traffic trips, however, Jeeps are an absolute pleasure to ride.

Once you get accustomed to the various modes of transportation that the metro has to offer, it’s just a matter of creatively mixing things up to get the best out of your trip, or to simply get there in a fast and convenient way. If all else fails, or if the heat and crowds are too much to bear, there’s always the taxi option. And to add to this, private transportation has expanded and improved its services with the new transportation apps like Grab and Uber.

If you’re worried about not being able to use these apps due to you not having access to the local mobile internet services…

Phone and Data

SIM cards are sold almost anywhere in Manila. Local providers also sometimes have booths setup at airports so that disembarking passengers can get a SIM right away. SIM cards cost just around 40 PHP and they come with a ton of bonus features like free data and phone services, in addition to it already being LTE ready. However, one must note that not all areas in Manila are LTE covered by the local service providers. The two biggest local service providers are Smart and Globe.


You don’t have to submit any personal details when buying a local SIM card, unlike most other foreign countries where they track and keep records of SIM card owners.

As Filipinos are crazy about data bundles and phone service packages, you’ll find that you can get the most out of your money when you subscribe to the your service provider’s popular data and phone packages. For example, for 99 PHP you can get a week’s work of unlimited texts to all networks, 30 mins of calls, and 1 GB of data with Smart. Globe has a similar offer as well. You’ll especially need to be familiar with data packages as data costs around 5 PHP/15 mins as an out-of-bundle rate.

Wi-Fi is advertised almost everywhere in Manila, from cafes to taxis and busses. However, only some places really speak the truth, or at least, have functional Wi-Fi. Your most reliable bet for Wi-Fi is at high-end cafes. On such café is Coreon Gate, which is located in Adriatico, Malate. It boasts 200 MBPS of speed and gives away free Wi-Fi stubs as long as you buy a drink.

Making the Most of Manila

Manila is a city. It’s got a lot of little unique places here and there which come together like a sophisticated jigsaw puzzle, which brings us back to it being a ‘tasteful emulsified mixture’. You’d have to say that its ‘emulsified’ because it can’t truly mix, but it works.


One of the popular pieces of this jigsaw puzzle is Binondo – Manila’s Chinatown. The proof of this place’s authenticity and longevity is in its food (if the appearance isn’t convincing enough). Nothing is forced to look overly Chinese in Binondo. The authenticity is just naturally exuded in the daily bustle. Food crawls are a popular activity among visitors as the restaurants here are fairly affordable. Since not all the restaurants are kept closely together, the crawling experience is more expansive and just as much an expedition of the location as it is of the cuisine.

Just like Binondo there are also other little communities who have made their own little cultural pockets around Manila. The Muslim community can be found around Ermita, and a few Indian communities are situated here as well.



A few kilometers away from Binondo is the heart of Manila – Intramuros. The walled city of Intramuros is a remnant from the Spanish Colonial Period. The city holds within it historical treasures to feast the eyes and the mind. You could walk along the walls of this city, where the old canons still watch out for intruders. You could live out the last days of Jose Rizal, Philippines National Hero, at Fort Santiago. And you can explore some of the old churches and their secret little museums.

If Intramuros’ history doesn’t quench your archaic soul, just our side the walled city is the National Museum of the Philippines. The National Museum has opened its doors to everyone free of charge.



After your stint in Filipino history, if you’re ever in the mood for a shopping spree, Divisoria is the place to go. It’s just past Binondo, and it’s similar in appearance but more crowded and chocked full of shops and vendors. The things for sale here range from everything to everything. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it here if you know where to look. Try being a couple of local friends along to help with bargaining. Going alone is not recommended as it’s easy to get lost in Divisoria, and it’s not a good place for a foreigner to get lost in.



Manila’s high-end jigsaw piece is Makati. Here you’ll find international restaurants, art shops, and a lively night scene. Mercato Centrale or Midnight Mercato would make an interesting visit as it’s a tented food market in Makati that serves international and local foods on Fridays and Saturdays from 6 pm – 3 am.



To make the most out of your food experience in Manila, mustn’t be afraid to try street side food stalls and eateries. Street side foods aren’t really filthy, though they appear to be positioned in unsanitary places. They’re almost always properly covered or cooked at high temperatures and handled with the appropriate utensils and not by hand. At all costs, just avoid drinking water that is not bottled. Most eateries offer tap water to its customers for free and though Manila’s tap water has been deemed safe to drink and most of the locals are immune to its effects (if there are any), it’s just safer to avoid it altogether. In addition to food being authentic in street side eateries or Carinderias, it’s also crazy cheap.

If you’re still unsure about street-side foods, many of the malls serve good Filipino food as well in the food court or in specialty restaurants. A uniquely Filipino meal to have is one that serves unlimited rice.

Hotels in Old Manila

Bayleaf  is a 3-star hotel located in Intramuros and is the most convenient hotel to stay in as Intramuros is in the middle of the city, so there’s everywhere to go from here. The hotel has a roof deck where you can get a fair view of Manila and the walls of Intramuros, as well as the golf course that surrounds the walled city.

Waterfront Manila Pavilion Hotel & Casino is a 4-star hotel located in Ermita, Manila. Ermita is another convenient location to be temporarily situated in as it’s near the center of the city.


The Manila Hotel is also called The Grand Dame.  She is the oldest premier hotel in the country.  Situated along the Manila Bay near the entrance to Intramuros.

Pan Pacific Manila is a 5-star restaurant in Malate, Manila. Many tourists choose to stay in hotels around Malate as it’s a pretty busy spot. There are taxis everywhere and even a few international restaurants. Coreon Gate is also situated here.


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