Manila city guide

Manila is hailed as the most dangerous city in the Philippines and even one of the most dangerous in Asia, if not the entire world. But usually you hear this from people who have never been there. Sure, there are areas where you can get mugged after dark, but that can be said about any other city. After all, you even could get beaten up in Vatican City if you tried hard enough. People cruise around ghettos after dark, looking for that perfect Instagram shot and then they wonder why they’re in trouble. The only things you really need to be mindful of are the pickpockets and minor scams. Oh, and earthquakes. And tsunamis. If you’re willing to move past the stereotypes you’ll discover a beautiful tropical city with a rich history. Let’s see if it’s true and if the capital is worth a visit despite the “risks”. Manila is awesome; it’s like a pocket South America, but in Asia. A bit of an acquired taste, some people hate it at first but fall in love with the city during a second visit.

Arch of the Centuries at the Plaza Intramuros of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila

The Arch of the Centuries is perhaps the most visited tourist attraction in Manila; the triumphal arch symbolizes of the acquisition of knowledge: a gate to greatness located on the territory of the University of Santa Thomas (UST)

The Spanish colonial crew established Manila in 1571. They built Fort Santiago because military fortifications were a popular thing to have. It survived the British invasion, American occupation and the infamous Manila Massacre caused by the Japanese. They made the Fort into a prison, hundreds of people suffocated and died cramped up in tiny cells. Hundreds more were executed because the Japanese were massive dicks back then. They even took the most beautiful and under aged women from the wealthiest districts and put them in “rape centres”. I won’t get into detail about what went on there but I imagine you get the idea. I mean, holy shit, this city went through a rough patch. And that’s not counting the natural disasters; earthquakes happen almost as often as in Tokyo.

If you’d like to check more of what remains of the Spanish colonial empire then you’re in luck. Intramuros is the oldest district in Manila with the most interesting buildings and churches. Casa Manila is a museum showcasing how people lived during that period. They even have an old-school wooden lavatory, like the one Tywin died on in Game of Thrones. Manila Metropolitan Theatre is haunting; it looks like something from the 4th season of American Horror Story. There are also a shocking number of churches, at least for an Asian country. Most of them are stunning. You need to see the Manila Cathedral, which has been rebuilt 8 times because of various disasters. San Agustin Church is the oldest in the Philippines; there is also a museum inside the monastery on church grounds. It’s an awesome place to learn about the history of Christianity in Manila. The Chinese have been a big part of the city’s population. Binondo, established in 1594, is actually the oldest Chinatown in the world. What’s the deal with Chinese people and forming these closed off communities? They also have their own graveyard because Filipinos refused to allow them burial on Christian grounds. It’s also where the Japanese executed their prisoners.

View of the Greenbelt Park against the backdrop of Manila's skyscrapers

The Greenbelt Park is an oasis amongst Manila's skyscrapers: a small but very green and cozy park surrounded by several shopping malls in the Makati district

Modern Manila is usually considered a stepping-stone on the journey to explore many tropical islands in the archipelago. But people keep coming back and in many cases they decide to stay for good. You can live like a king for $1500 a month. That includes an apartment with a gym and a pool, food, bills, everything. Also, everyone speaks English so there is no language barrier. Bonifacio Global City is the most modern and developed part of Manila; they even call it “the Filipino New York”. It’s packed with Starbucks, skyscrapers and some of the largest malls in the world. It’s home to the SM Mall of Asia, which was the largest in Asia when it was built. Shopping is a big thing among expats living in Manila, you can buy designer clothing and accessories for 1/3rd of its western price.

Philippine people and their warm hospitality are truly amazing. They’ll treat you like family; they will stuff you with delicious local food and invite you for drinks. It might not be a party central like Bangkok but Manila isn’t far behind. The same thing could be said about food. You can find anything out on the streets: burgers, takoyaki, sushi but the local tastes are something else. Prepare yourself for chicken feet, intestines, clotted blood and the last but not the least: the balut. Sucking a duck embryo with vinegar straight out of its shell is not my thing but some people seem to love it. Most people party around Poblacion where you’ll find the largest concentration of bars and pubs and which is located next to Manila’s red light district.

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