Manila, Luzon, The Philippines

A frequent contender that drops on and off the world’s most dangerous cities list, and a sure fire resident of the most densely populated cities list, you get as far as the M.A.N.I.L …. in Google when it practically starts screaming auto predicted words like …  Prostitution/Red light district/shooting/child trafficking.

After the nice cosy mainstays of South East Asia, The Philippines is a bit of a tangent of mine. Especially as I arrived into Clark Airport at a pitch black 9pm. Clark is located, in a Ryanair stylee, two hours from actual Manila, but conveniently near to crime ridden Angeles. I know this is the same girl that winged it around Bogota/Rio/Lima etc, but I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t just a little bit scared!

Lucky then, that I resorted to my all time fave airport game; picking up new randoms to be my new best friends. Miro (named after Spanish artist) and Shelly are my saving grace, and I theirs, as we decided there is safety in our little team of three. We land into Clarke, where there may or may not be a Jeepney (a pimped up communal bus-like-pickup truck) to a check point, then to downtown Ermita Manila, where you can then get a taxi to Malate, which is where we want to be. Some Filipino mother-like figure offers to give us a lift before we even make it past baggage control, dispelling all our myths about Manila’s bad rep. It seems overt friendliness is a common theme here.

Three hours later and we make it intact to Friendly’s Guesthouse. This by the way, wins the much competitive award for ALL TIME MOST MINGING GUESTHOUSE 2011/12. Cockroaches galore, paper thin mattresses, nauseating smelly rooms, and £5 for the privilege. It’s late however so we bare it none the less. It truly is amazing what a roof terrace and free/speedy wifi can do to placate Gen Y. We prove the unarguable theory that no matter HOW bad a place, one you ‘just check in for one night and decide to swap in the morning…’ it NEVER happens.

As is serendipity, one of the first people Miro bumps into is James. They used to play 5-a-side football together in Bristol and haven’t seen each other in 10 years. Now interestingly James used to be a ‘live fast die young’ party type, who, having spent 6 months here for dental work, (the Philippines is famous for medical tourism) has converted to Islam. Read: lost his way a little. He does however turn out to be a decent tour guide and takes us to some local street food eatery at 2am. Here we are treated like local celebrities as a waitress called Sassy makes it her mission to memorize all of our names. It’s like being back in China again with the amount of attention & curious stares we get, except that rather politely we get the odd ‘hello/welcome/how are you?’ thrown in. We are still on guard though. The neighbourhood is rough. To quote Lonely P “Ermita has a nightlife that would make a Bangkok ping pong girl blush.’ There are security guards outside every 7Eleven & guesthouse which is never a good sign is it, and street kids stalking us by grabbing their hands into Miro’s pockets for Peso coins.

We are confused. Manila is on the one hand seems completely westernised. English is written everywhere and is almost a 2nd language. It has modern sprawling supermalls and western billboards, but at the same time has masses of back-alley poverty with that feeling of decaying South East Asia grit.

In the clear light of day, the four of us venture to Rizal Park. It has a good crack at trying to make you forget you are in one of the world’s grubbiest cities, but bless it, it’s kind of mission impossible. Whilst there, James wants to sit and read his Qur’an by a tree. I kid you not. So the three of us make like tourists and head to Intramuros; the Spanish quarter. Its odd seeing churches again after months of golden Buddha. Around 80-90% of the population are Christian or Roman Catholic. The buildings have all had rather a rough time of it, as one plaque on the main Cathedral reads; (I paraphrase) Built, destroyed, earthquake, bombing, fire, typhoon over the last couple of hundred years. The whole city in fact used to be up there as bit of a classic beauty, giving Paris, Venice & Rome a run for their money, but then lost her looks and was left devastated by Japanese bombings in WW2.

I gave this place the 24h grace you should any city, and suspect I’ll need to backtrack here again since my outbound flight is here. I guess having seen it for myself I can down grade my feelings towards it from ‘scares the hell out of me’ to ‘maybe just a little wary of it.’ It’s hard to say without having seen the rest of The PP, but I suspect it’s going to be an odd 3 weeks to come.

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An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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