On our trip to the Philippines, we had great hopes for Manila. I was excited to explore the many exciting tourist attractions overlooked by the passing backpackers and beach bums. As I assumed Manila’s bad rep was from its reputation as a quick stopover en route to the more exotic islands of the Philippines. I was wrong. Manila has a bad rep because it is a terrible place to be. With 10 plus years of travel experience in Southeast Asia, I was about to experience a new low. And while I have a knack for finding good things in lesser places. In Manila, I wasn’t even given the chance.
Manila City Tour
After a not-so-great Halloween night, we were ready to start the morning on a fresh slate. We would begin with Intramuros (central to Manila Tourism) and wing it from there. Not a great start. The taxi driver speeds off, refuses to start the meter, and tries to overcharge us (double). We jump out at red lights. The second taxi gets us there successfully with no added charges or scrounging (deserves a medal). Excited for new experiences Fanfan was visiting her first Christian country. Churches, cathedrals, heritage. The Spanish colonial city of Intramuros should be the perfect introduction. Far from it.
Stepping out at the Manila Cathedral (Intramuros) we were immediately harassed by local tour touts. When I say harassed I mean harassed. Not hard sell – closer to abuse. Horse and carts, tricycles, green and yellow checked shirts. One stuck to us like a bad smell. Standing in front of info posts and getting in the way of photos. To read information I photographed signs and crossed the road to safety.
Fuck Off Pedro!
At the main road, I stand reading from my camera screen. Clippity Clop. The same guy arrives with a horse. “I take you for tour?” – “Go away!” – “I take photo of two of you” – “Go away” – “Hi my name is Pedro” – “Would you F*** Off Pedro”. Even Fanfan was shocked. Pedro barely flinched. I’m guessing it wasn’t the first he’d heard it.
Pedro Deserved It
Of course, Pedro deserved it. Not only was he being a dick but in doing so he was damaging Manila Tourism. By damaging Manila Tourism he was scaring off potential tourists and ultimately biting the hand that feeds him. If he (or anyone in Manila) offered an honest tourist service then Manila may one day be a city worth visiting.
They’re all at it…
Pedro wasn’t the only culprit. They were all preying on arriving taxis. To get away we make for the back streets hoping to find signposts to nearby attractions. No luck. If a tourism authority did make the effort to erect signs Pedro would be quick to tear them down. It wasn’t long till touts spotted us and we were again surrounded by horses and tricycles. The tout’s mentality tells them “the closest to the tourist wins”. A tricycle weasels into the back of my legs. We were now forced to our last resort.
Escaping the Tour Touts
The touts win. The only way to rid the tour touts was to join them. We ventured back to the front square in search of an honest peddler. “How much for horse and cart tour?” – “350 Pesos” – “How many attractions?” – “10”. Simple. We jump on board for safe passage to the first attraction – San Augustin Church.
San Augustin Church
Nice church. Things were getting better. The guide shows us other random junk in the area, a themed hotel, we humour him then back on the horse to continue the tour. “5 minutes left” – “what” – “350 Pesos for 30 minutes” – “Your a dick!” Obvious now why he wasted our time at the hotel. We now wanted out.
From One Cheat to the Next
We give up, skipped the tour, skipped Intramuros and forced the tout to drop us at the last attraction – Fort Santiago. “Sorry no change”. Expecting the full 400 Peso’s I happily disappoint him by buying water for coin change. The most expensive water I’ve bought in Asia. Cheated again. Touts surround us “Buy a hat?” – “No. I hate hats. I would never wear a hat… ever.” They chuckle and leave. Two minutes later. “Buy a hat?” At this stage we were too pissed to continue. We didn’t pass the ticket booth of Fort Santiago.
Escape to Ocean Park
After the worst possible introduction to Manila, a taxi brings us to Ocean Park Aquarium (Manila Bay). “No change.” The job of a taxi driver is to drive from A to B and handle money. In Manila, they fail at both. I get change at Ocean Park’s H2O Hotel reception taking plenty of time in doing so. Paid him to the cent. He laughs. I laugh back. If I were to hand out money to people it would be the honest, hard-working Manila folk, not cheats and scammers.
Not my first choice of attraction but the high entrance fee gave us a necessary respite from touts. The perfect sanctuary and a great place to check out. We ate our first relaxed meal. Saw near baby sharks bouncing about in eggs. Snapped photos of us pointing at fish. Had a drink at White Moon Bar (great place for sunsets as above). Fun.
A New Low
For an hour or 2, we almost forgot we were in Manila. We were quickly reminded when leaving. At the front steps we go to flag down a taxi. When called over by a semi-official-looking taxi rank we thought no harm in checking it out. 600 Pesos to our hotel? The meter price is less than 150 Pesos. A nice lady attempts to force us in. We walk away and flag down a taxi from the roadside. The woman runs ahead of us, opens the door for us and asks for a tip. I laugh. She slams the door behind us. Asshole. The entire trip would continue along these lines. Even at the airport leaving Manila the Air Phil Express staff tried to scam us. Incredible. It seems to be a culture bred into locals to rob tourists. The most tourist unfriendly city I have been to. Puerto Princesa to come.