Let's face it, most people that go to the Philippines do not want to spend too much time in Manila. Too much wilderness, beaches and paradisiacal landscapes further along for you to want to stay long.
Nevertheless, if it suits your travel plans, there is still some interesting sightseeing for you to get the feel of the city. So here's some practical tips on what to do with 1 day in Manila
We arrived in MANILA from Hong Kong and landed at Ninoy Aquino International Airport. It was already quite late so we just wanted to go to our hotel.
Transport and communication
My first recommendation is that you buy a SIM card straight away at the airport. There are multiple pop-up shops where they can easily give you a SIM card for your phone which will give you access to very good mobile data. You just need to top it up with some pesos and you'll be on your way. In late 2017 these were located on the ground floor of the airport, jut near the exit door to the taxi area. The most common networks are either SMART or GLOBE and they will both have quite good coverage. This will prove essential and you'll understand why along the post.
The first thing you will notice is a huge waiting line for taxis. To cut it short, just avoid the hassle and use your phone and your newly bought SIM card to use either UBER or GRAB apps. GRAB is as good as UBER but at occasions you can check both apps for availability. These are SOOO cheap for European and American standards, are very efficient and we found it very safe. I think we payed around 3 pounds from the airport to the hotel.
Checkout my instagram! @theexplorerdoc
As we were staying in Manila for just over 24 hours, taking a flight to from the same airport to our final destination, PALAWAN, we wanted to stay in a neighbourhood that wasn't too far from either the airport or some parts of central Manila. We decided to stay in the area of Aseana, near Barangay, in an area where there are very large hotels, casinos and shopping malls . This is relatively close to the Mall of Asia, one of the biggest malls you will ever see.
We stayed at the Red Planet Aseana, which was a fantastic hotel in terms of value for money. We paid 31 pounds per night but you can cheaper deals. It was clean, practical and very cheap for the quality. The sunset picture is a photo from our hotel room window. You can see the location here as well.
There isn't much to do immediately there but you are just a 5-10 minute drive to major malls for eating and mingle with People.
The Rizal Park, in the city centre, is just 20 minutes away by car and the access is in a good motorway, so If you're lucky you might just miss the crazy traffic that heads to the financial district.
Rizal Park (liwasang Rizal)
These 60 hectares of open lawns, lakes, fountains is where a lot of people meet very early in the morning to socialise, exercise or just enjoy the not so hot air of the morning.
We arrived to the park very early, around 7am and it was already full of early risers doing everything from Yoga, jogging, walking or relaxing. It is vibrant and full of interesting people.
The history of the Park started in 1820 when the previous marshland was transformed into a park. In 1896 the execution of a Phillipino hero, José Rizal, triggered a revolution against the Kingdom of Spain and he is the one the Park is named after. Today, there is a monument which surrounds his remains. We loved walking around watching life unfold, enjoying the beautiful morning sun and the change of colours as it happened.
We went during the Easter time so the city was full of purple symbols which is one of the main colours that symbolise Lent and Easter for catholics.
We spent good 2-3 hours exploring the park and the surroundings. You can visit the Japanese and Chinese gardens, the planetarium and the Museum of Anthropology, all within the park.
Our main destination for the day was to explore the area of Intramuros. Just 5-10 minutes walk from Rizal Park you can easily reach this fortified area of the city.
This walled neighbourhood was actually considered the City of Manilla during the colonial era and it's where the government and political powers were during that time.
Nowadays it is nothing more than a mirage of what once was. Since the first settlement of the Spanish on what was then the remnants of an islamic settlement, the area has been invaded or severely threatened by the Chinese, Dutch, British and Japanese. The entire walled city was then completely destroyed during the last days of the World War II. In fact Manila is one of the 5 world cities more significantly destroyed during this war and that came as a total surprise to me.
We love exploring cities just by walking endlessly through the streets and this was the perfect neighbourhood for that. Although the buildings are all relatively recent, there is still a colonial feel to it. The streets are also quiet and you can stroll around for hours. If you don't feel like walking much there are small electric tourist buses that transport you between the main attractions for a relatively cheap price. Nevertheless, walking is healthy! Make sure you take plenty of water with you as it can get REALLY hot.
There are a few sights not to miss:
1 - Relaxing and learning about the history of Fort Santiago (make sure you enjoy a cold drink at one of their typical cafes).
2 - San Agustin Church (the only building left intact after the destruction during World War II). It is the oldest church in the Philippines.
3 - Casa Manila - This is like a museum which is a reproduction of a Spanish colonial house. I am not a huge fan of reproductions so did not go in, but certainly looked beautiful from the outside.
4 - Manila Cathedral and adjacent plaza - again nice for people watching. There are also some convenient shop and restaurants
By the time you have roamed the entire neighbourhood you will probably feel knackered. We certainly were and the jet lag did not help much.
We still walked back to Rizal park and then took a GRAB car to the Mall of Asia. We wanted to see what it was all about and have some food before heading back to the hotel. Well, guess what... It is a Mall. A very big one. There is a very large array of fairly good places to eat and you can do some essential shopping if you have forgotten anything. There is even a large supermarket which sells products by Tesco and Marks and Spencer!
Overall this was a very nice day and just the perfect introduction to the Philippines! Much more adventures to come after this!