So you’ve just booked your ticket and your destination says: Manila. If you’re like me and you had no idea where it was, the first thing you’ll do is hit google up for some information. Where is it? What is it like? Is it safe? Where will I stay? Will I have fun, or be terrified? Well, it’s an extremely fun and safe city and i’ll give you all the tips to surviving your first trip here.
What are Filipinos like?
Although the Philippines can often get some bad rep in the news, I’m happy to say that it’s a huge misrepresentation of what the country is like as a whole. When I first arrived in Manila I will admit that I felt a bit nervous, but instantly that changed when I was constantly greeted with smiling faces from the employees at shops, security guards, cleaning crew, even random people on the streets.
Filipinos are incredibly friendly and fun to be around. One thing you can always expect from Filipinos is their ability to constantly tell jokes and laugh. Once you know someone well, they will not hesitate to toss personal jokes your way.
The Filipino jokers…
One key bit of advice is to leave some of your more conservative expectations at home. Although some jokes may seem mean to you, Filipinos don’t typically take jokes to heart. I remember when I first arrived some friends made a fat joke about a friend and I was shocked, but everyone laughed and without missing a beat the girl tossed a joke right back his way.
What is the language like?
The language of the Philippines is different depending on which region/area you are in. In Manila the native language is Tagalog which has a very heavy Spanish base with some English mixed in. While the local language to Manila is Tagalog, the official country language is just called Filipino locally and internationally.
If you have ever taken any Spanish classes, when you arrive in the Philippines you will instantly recognize many words. As an example, the word “mesa” stands for “table” in both Spanish and Filipino.
Why does it sound like everyone is arguing?
If it will be your first time hearing people talk in Tagalog, you might thing that people are arguing or fighting when talking but dont be alarmed. Filipinos are very passionate when they talk in Tagalog and they always add extra emotions to everything. It’s what makes every conversation like watching a comedy or a soap opera (aka Tela Novela).
Learning Tagalog is quite easy in terms of the basic words, but learning the usage of those words and the different grammar rules can become extremely confusing (for me). It is important for you to know a few basic words before arriving in Manila. Here are the top words I feel you should know:
English — Tagalog Must Know Words
- How are you? — Kumusta? (Ku-mu-stah)
- Thank you — Salamat (Suh-lah-mat)
- Yes – Oo (sounds like Oh-oh)
- No – Hindi (sounds like Hind-eh)
- Left(turn) — Kaliwa (Kah-lewa)
- Right(turn) — Kanan (just like Canon)
- Stop(car) — Para (Par-ah)
- Here (pointing to a place) – Dito (Dee-toh)
- How much? (to pay) — Magkano (Mag-ka-no)
Additionally, you will hear the term “po” quite often even at the end of words spoken to you in English. In the Filipino language, “po” is added at the end of most words as a sign of respect. As examples, you will often hear “Hello po” or “Thank you po”. Dont be surprised when you hear this as it’s meant to show respect. You can add it after all of the terms I gave above if you feel confident enough. 🙂
Google has Filipino in their translation app. You can download on both Android and Apple platforms if you need some quick translations.
What you can expect at the airport
There are a few different terminals that you can fly into when coming to Manila, but the airport is called Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL). Most international flights will typically go through Terminal 1 and Terminal 3, although that is not always 100%.
Must have a flight out of the country
No matter which terminal you come through, the process and airport is standard to other international airports. You will queue up and go through your interview to get your stamp. Typically there are very few questions asked and you will get stamped quickly and passed through. Foreigners get a 30 days tourist visa and you will need to have a flight booked leaving the Philippines or you may get denied. Make sure you book your flight out of the Philippines prior to arriving.
Now once you get your luggage and step out of the airport, get ready for the HEAT WAVE to hit you!
Don’t take airport transportation offered… Big scam
The first thing that will happen upon stepping out into the street is you will get flooded with people asking you if you need transportation. I highly suggest for you NOT to take any of the airport transportation that these people ask you to as you’ll likely pay 5-10x the amount as you normally should. Additionally, unless your company is paying for it, I dont suggest to have your hotel send you a car for transportation as it is ungodly overpriced.
As an example, the typical rate to go from the airport to the Central Business district of Makati, you would typically pay about P150($3 USD). A Hotel car would cost you between P1200-1500 ($30USD).
Transportation in Manila
There are many types of transportation in Manila, but as a foreigner to the country I would suggest taking Uber or Grab as they are both very safe, reliable, and affordable. In Manila, Uber/Grab are able to pickup at the airport terminal itself so it’s easy to request a ride from there. If you need internet to request, there is free WiFi in the airport and SIM cards available before you exit the terminal for data plans.
You can also take a Taxi from the Airport. Just look for the line on the right side that says “Taxi waiting area”. There line can often be long but you’ll get a normal cab at regular rates.
Caution: Foreigner Price Hike!
If you are a Foreigner, regular taxi drivers will often ask you for additional money or will tell you to pay a certain amount. Don’t accept these and tell the driver to use the meter as it is required by Philippine law. While I typically say we should always everyone, in this case a bit of aggression in your response helps so they do not take advantage of you.
If you are searching for the most affordable transportation, Manila does have many other types of services including the following: Buses, Jeepney, Trains, and Tricycles (Photos below in order).
3rd worst traffic in the world…
I couldn’t very well talk about transportation without mentioning the terrible traffic. When you typically think about bad traffic in a western country, this is normally caused by accidents. Well, in the Philippines, it’s just a natural everyday issue. During the morning rush hour from 7am-10am and evenings from 5pm-8pm if you want to get anywhere, expect that it will take 3-4x as long as normal. 1km of travel can often take up to an hour.
Note: Although those are the worst rush hour times, the rest of the day is typically just as bad…
Walking will get you there faster
I typically try to walk as much as I can during heavy traffic and I guarantee you that walking is faster than taking any vehicle. I would highly suggest to always leave much earlier than you should to get places if you need to be there on time.
On the bright side, they are working on a project for a subway system which should eliminate some of the commuters from coming into the city. Lets pray! 🙂
The Philippines does get quite a bit of bad press in the news, however, i’m happy to assure you that it is quite safe in the Philippines to travel and enjoy your time. As always there are a few rules to consider when heading out:
- Always watch your things. Do not leave your belongings unattended ever.
- Phones are small and easy for someone to take. As you’re sitting at a table laughing about a funny joke with your friends, the person walking by may pick it up from the edge of a table.
- Do not use your phones when walking down the street unless you’re 100% sure it’s a safe area.
- Unless you’re with locals or you’re confident about public transportation, I do not suggest for you to take Jeepney or Buses at night time as it typically is not as safe as during the day.
- Do not fall asleep in any form of transportation (Bus, car, jeep, tricycle, etc). This is the most common time that you could get things taken from you.
- Do not go to the following areas unless you are with a local. These are “old manila” and although they have alot of historic buildings, there are some safety concerns you would face:
- I do not suggest that you give to any of the homeless as you will then be tagged as a target for others to get money from. As in every country, try your best to keep walking and just say “no”.
Don’t worry, it’s actually really safe
Now, after reading the above you may be re-thinking coming to Manila but I can assure you that it is a very safe and an extremely fun place to hangout! Every city around the world has areas which are unsafe, cities like San Francisco even can be safe on one city block and un-safe on the next. Knowing where to go and not to go is key.
The easiest thing to remember is – Don’t go in dark areas. Don’t accept anything from strangers. Don’t give anything to anyone. And if it feels unsafe, likely it is. Trust your instincts.
Things to do in Manila
Now that the survival tips are done, lets get on to the fun stuff! Over the next few weeks I will add overviews on accommodation, night life, attractions, and dont forget the out of town trips too! You can filter my blog by country at the top to see all of the Philippines destinations and travel guides.
Have a great time exploring Manila and if you get stuck or have questions, send me a message on Facebook and i’ll be happy to give you any advice.