Manila: My First Impression Of The Philippines And How It Was Wrong

So I finally made it to the Philippines which is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve been to. The beautiful beaches, the crystal blue water, the culture, and the amazingly friendly people drew me in. There are 3 main languages, but most Filipinos speak English fluently. In my almost 5 months spent in this country, I’ve seen a lot of amazing things. Manila, however, was a different story altogether.

First Impression

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When I first arrived in Manila, it was dark, dingy, and even a little gloomy. As I walked through the streets, it was a little hard to get my bearings. There weren’t many establishments located in the surrounding area and I was kind of at a loss for what to do. When I asked the girl at the desk of the hotel where I was staying, the most exciting thing she told me Manila had to offer was a Mall called Greenbelt. I thought she was joking. She wasn’t

Where I stayed

I’ve made several trips to Manila on and off, but there are really only 2 main places I stayed: Makati and BGC.

  1. Makati

In Makati, I stayed at two different locations:

Red Planet Amorsolo

This is the first place I stayed in Manila and in the Philippines. I chose to stay here for a few reasons. First, I didn’t know much about the Philippines at this point and a few friends I’d met in Thailand had told me to stay in Makati. Also, I chose Red Planet because the one I stayed at in the Silom area of Bangkok was really nice, had quality internet and there was plenty to do in the area. This branch, however, was not the same.

Makati is considered the business district of Manila and is supposed to be quite nice. Don’t get me wrong, it is one of the nicer areas and is more modern than most of the other cities within Metro Manila, but at the time, it just felt like a dark place, especially since my hotel room had no windows or internet signal. I felt a bit closed off so I decided to move where I was staying.

Z Hostel

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In an effort to get away from the dark cloud I felt was closing in on me, I decided to move venues. I don’t mean to sound so dramatic, but this is just how I felt being isolated at the time. To be fair, I hadn’t really done any exploring and was just working all day. The only time I left was to go to the gym or grab some food. I needed to find a more social area to avoid feeling disconnected from the world. Hostels are always very social and it’s one of the 7 types of accommodation I’ve stayed in during my travels. I found a popular hostel with good reviews online and decided to stay for a few days to see how it was. The people seemed nice enough, and it was pretty modern with a decent rooftop bar and a 24-hour cafe in the lobby.

Even though the hostel was a decent place to stay, the surrounding area was terrible. There were sketchy bars, homeless beggars, and prostitutes on every corner. I was seriously thinking “this can’t be real life” “What’s happening right now?” Come to find out I somehow managed to be staying near P. Burgos Street which happened to be the red light district of Manila. Lucky me! I had already booked for a few days so I decided to make the most of it anyway. I worked in the cafe downstairs during the day and went out with my roommates at night. Most places we went to were overpriced tourist traps. Especially for the Philippines. It was at this point I decided I needed a change of scenery and headed over to Cebu before discovering the real Manila.

BGC

When I returned I decided I would venture out and discover other areas of Manila to give it another chance. One place that I kept hearing about over and over again was Bonifacio Global City or BGC. It’s also known as The Fort due to the fact that part of it used to be a Military compound. Oddly enough, upon my return here, the weather did a complete turnaround and was actually quite beautiful. This really felt like home and there is a lot of commercialization with plenty of upscale bars, restaurants, malls, and shops. There are a few places here that I was able to see in the time I spent here.

Bonifacio High Street

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Bonifacio high street is a huge outdoor shopping area comprised of residential buildings, high-tech offices, retail outlets, and restaurants with a variety of different cuisine being offered. It’s a great place to get out, walk around and even get some exercise. It’s not uncommon to see runners, joggers, and people strolling around walking their dog.

The Fort Strip

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The Fort Strip is a small arts & entertainment district with even more options for local bars, restaurants, a few nightclubs, and karaoke if you’re into it.

Forbestown Center

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This is a small community comprised of residential buildings such as Eight Forbestown Road, Forbestown Parklane, and Forbestown heights. It’s located just off of Burgos Circle. It also has lots of dining, shopping, and bar options attached to it. This is in the heart of BGC and is where I spent most of my time staying in the Manila area.

Market Market Mall

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The Philippines has lots of malls in pretty much any city. BGC is no different. Market Market is a big indoor mall that also has an outdoor food market with plenty of food options. It’s really just an average mall that has a lot of stores if you feel like shopping.

Makati vs. BGC

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When I first arrived in the Philippines, I really didn’t like Makati. Maybe I had a bad first impression and didn’t know what to expect. However, it really isn’t that bad if you know where to go and what to do. When I returned and was staying in BGC, my impression of this city and Manila completely changed. There are so many great places to hang out and experience on the entire island of Luzon.

BGC is a definitely a great place to stay and have a great quality of life. It’s really more of a fantasyland and doesn’t feel like the real Philippines. As someone that doesn’t like to Travel in the popular places or go with the crowd, this was definitely a change of pace. Even though it’s more commercialized, I will definitely be back to stay here.

Makati does have some nice areas, and I found myself getting accustomed to the culture. It’s a different feel than BGC. I really learned to embrace it and found that some of my favorite places to work and hang out were in Makati. I was also able to meet lots of other Expats and Digital Nomads living in this area. This includes a few friends I met in Thailand.

Coworking spaces

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Even though I spend 90 percent of my time working at home, I do like to get out and work in a coworking space every now and then for a change of scenery. There are two coworking spaces I recommend in the Manila area.

  1. Aspace Greenbelt

Aspace is probably the biggest chain of coworking spaces I’ve seen here. They have several locations throughout the Philippines and mostly in the major cities. It’s a very comfortable place to work and there is usually some good options for lunch nearby. The staff is super friendly and I was able to get quite a bit of work done here. Being productive certainly isn’t an issue.

  1. Square One BGC

Square One is located on the bottom floor of the Bonifacio Technology Center in BGC. The price is reasonable and it was just a short walk from where I was l staying. The downside is that they are only open from Monday to Friday from 8 AM to 7 PM. Most of the coworking spaces I’ve been to are 24 hours. Although I did like it because it locked me into a schedule and allowed me some balance. As someone that has a tendency to work long hours, I liked the fact I needed to get my work done by a certain time and can have the rest of the day to myself.

Restaurants

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Beef Kare Kare from the Bayleaf Rooftop

I’ve dined at tons of restaurants in the Manila area. There are so many good ones that it’s really hard to make a short list. Here are a couple that I recommend:

Nightlife

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With Manila being more of an area for city life, there are tons of nightlife spots to go to when considering where to go for the weekend. Here are a few of my favorite places when it comes to nightlife:

Social Life

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I find the Philippines to be one of the easiest places to have a social life. This is for several reasons. The overall spirit of the Philippines is one of friendliness. Generally speaking, the locals that live here are always happy and eager to make a new friend. They speak fluent English and in a city like Manila where there are lots of foreigners and expats living here, it makes it a great place to build a diverse social circle. It’s also not like Chiang Mai where you have to be a digital nomad or expat to feel like you belong.

Making friends with locals and having different activities to do is common in the Philippines. It’s a place where diversity is embraced and your cultural significance is welcomed. I love the fact that I can take a trip for a long weekend and enjoy one of the hotspots in the Philippines with a mix of locals, expats, digital nomads and close friends.

Discovering Intramuros

In my opinion, there isn’t so much to do in Manila short of working, nightlife and shopping. Intramuros is a really interesting historical site that was originally built during the time of the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. It’s also known as the walled city and there are lots of historical sites to visit within Intramuros.

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San Agustin Church

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The San Agustin church was constructed in 1993 but its history dates all the way back to when the first one was built in 1571. It’s one of the many historical landmarks within the walled city.

Graffiti (street art)

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One of the things I really liked about Intramuros is that there are a lot of different buildings that have modern street art that some local artists did. It reminded me a little bit of Wynwood back in Miami.

Memorare Monument

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The Memorare Monument is a shrine of freedom dedicated to the over 100,000 people who were killed during the Battle of Manila in 1945. The inscription reads as follows:

“THIS MEMORIAL IS DEDICATED TO ALL THOSE INNOCENT VICTIMS OF WAR, MANY OF WHOM WENT NAMELESS AND UNKNOWN TO A COMMON GRAVE, OR EVEN NEVER KNEW A GRAVE AT ALL, THEIR BODIES HAVING BEEN CONSUMED BY FIRE OR CRUSHED TO DUST BENEATH THE RUBBLE OF RUINS.”

LET THIS MONUMENT BE THE GRAVESTONE FOR EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THE OVER 100,000 MEN, WOMEN, CHILDREN AND INFANTS KILLED IN MANILA DURING ITS BATTLE OF LIBERATION, FEBRUARY 3 – MARCH 3, 1945. WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN THEM, NOR SHALL WE EVER FORGET.

MAY THEY REST IN PEACE AS PART NOW OF THE SACRED GROUND OF THIS CITY: THE MANILA OF OUR AFFECTIONS.

FEBRUARY 18, 1995″

I actually think it’s a nice sentiment.

Manila Cathedral

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The Manila Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Basilica also dating back to the 1500’s located in Intramuros. The cathedral was rebuilt 8 times and the current structure was completed in 1958.

Fort Santiago

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Fort Santiago is one of the most historical sites in Manila and really has quite a history behind it. This was the defense fortress used during the Spanish Colonial Period as well as World War II. Jose Rizal, a Philippine national hero, was locked away in its prison prior to his execution in 1896.

Rizal Shrine

 

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Located on the grounds of Fort Santiago, the building houses Jose Rizal’s life work as well as various memorabilia that belonged to him. This is also where he spent his last night before his execution. His last footsteps are bronzed and on display there.

Final Thoughts

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There has been a lot of controversy about the Philippines in the news.  When I first came here, I was told by so many people on social media that I was crazy for going there.  In reality, I’ve always said that anything that isn’t first-hand experience is just hearsay.  It’s really just noise.  Want to know what it’s like to drive a Ferrari?  You can always ask someone who has already accomplished this, but their experience isn’t going to be the same as yours.  I also would certainly NOT take advice on how to drive it from someone who only saw one on television or once heard what the engine sounds like. You can’t expect someone else to tell you how you’re supposed to feel about something, someone, or somewhere regardless of the source.

That being said, this is the longest country I’ve stayed in since becoming a full-time digital nomad almost a year ago. I really had the wrong impression of it in the beginning which goes back to the old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover!” The people here are truly kind, friendly, and they inspire me to become a better person. It’s one of the few places you can see them smiling right after a tragic event.  It really is a remarkable country that I feel everyone must experience.  I’ll be writing many more articles on The Philippines.

On that note, I must say that’s it was hard to leave this country because it’s bittersweet.  It’s hard to say goodbye to a place that has had such an impact on me, but I’m excited to see what’s next for me.  

Next Stop: Taiwan!

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