I stayed in Manila as a staging post to other islands in the Philippines (and there are over 7,000 to choose from!)
Manila doesn't have much for visitors to see, and what there is, is lost in traffic jams and crowds. Devoid of its own culture, Manila seems hell bent on importing everybody else's in a fury of skyscrapers and shopping malls...all the european and american shops are there!
But you didn't leave home for western style shopping, did you?
Stay a day in Manila to provide the buffer the guide books recommend for flight connections. Or better still fly to more manageable regional airports, now that some low cost international carriers have started new routes.
But do get out into the rest of the Country, your effort will be well rewarded by mountains, warm seas, beaches to die for, friendly people and great value. There is plenty of low cost local style accommodation, much better value and more atmospheric than resorts (if indeed there are any resorts...) Once you are there you'll wish you had allowed more time for your visit.
I visited the Palawan Region, arriving by air in Coron and then I travelled south by boat, bus and jeepney to Puerto Princessa. Not an easy trip, more a great and memorable experience.
Anywhere in the Philippines...
The architecture of Manila is not as consistent as you would see in, say, California, where a general plan is in place, giving the state a distinct Mediterranean style. Manila is in its present inconsistent state due to corruption, political instability, economic mismanagement, dictatorship and the remnants of the former dictator still intact and as influential as ever.
During the liberation of Manila in the second world war, most of the city was carpet-bombed. The Pearl of the Orient, as Manila was known before the end of the second world war, had ancient medieval cathedrals, churches, Spanish and American government buildings, stately mansions, forts, classic bridges, old-style Filipino homes with capiz windows, train stations, the Metropolitan Theatre, the Skyroom Jai Alai Building, etc.
Unfortunately, the city was never rebuilt nor recovered after the second world war, due to neglect and, of course, corruption. Today, the Luneta Hotel is abandoned, the Escolta blighted, the Pasig River polluted, Intramuros remains in ruins, street names constantly change, and modern boxed buildings slowly obliterate the classic Manila. Burnham's City Beautiful Plan remains an elusive dream. The calesas (horse-drawn carriages) are all but gone.
Traffic in Manila is probably the worst in the world - it is hell. If anyone complains about traffic in New York, Los Angeles, Rome etc, he or she should visit Manila because nothing compares to Manila traffic.
The reason why is simply because of the population almost doubling in the past 20 years. As a result, there are more drivers and more vehicles fighting for space on mostly old-narrow roads and highways. The saying "if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere" applies if one were to drive in Manila.
Old and dilapidated vehicles such as jeeps, buses and tricycles add to the problems of congestion and pollution. Also, undisciplined drivers cause gridlock - U-turns on main thoroughfares make no sense. A modernization plan is needed where drivers can easily exit, cross a bridge over the freeway/highway and enter the other way. You'll know what I'm talking about once you're in Manila.
Pollution, such as smog, is a major issue in the city. Old vehicles belch fumes and smoke so avoid taking old public transport without air-conditioning and windows. Community efforts are gaining momentum to clean up so as to beautify the city. Streets are generally clean although certain sections in, around and outside Manila seem neglected, such as railroad tracks, rivers and, of course, the squatter areas in certain districts of Metro Manila.
Manila International Airport (MNL) has 3 terminals: Terminal 1 is the old MNL terminal where most airlines dock. A small domestic terminal exists for flights within the Philippines. Terminal 2 is a modern facility strictly for Philippine Airlines international flights. Terminal 3 is supposed to be world class but yet to open due to controversies and structural integrity, according to news reports.
The airport in general is clean with courteous employees who understand and speak English. If a tourist suspects dishonesty or rudeness, proceed and report him/her to airport authorities or supervisors.
Generally, Filipinos are very helpful and hospitable. However, like in any other country, one may encounter unscrupulous personnel so always be attentive and alert. Security is heavy yet expedient. I'd rather be checked a hundred times than be harmed by murderous fanatics...so good job Manila International Airport thus far.
The Luneta Hotel along Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard) faces Manila Bay. It is one of the few remaining classic architectures that stood the test of time. The once beautiful Pasig River is still being used to tranport people who choose to avoid traffic on land (water lilies still float in the polluted river).
Burnham's City Beautiful Plan for Manila was never realized. Instead, a congested and chaotic city emerged where the poor encroach on private lands, street names constantly change and blighted neighbourhoods such as the Escolta remain deteriorated as modern boxed buildings are erected - slowly obliterating Old Manila.
Makati is the Central Business District. The skyscrapers are hosts to international companies and visitors. But the buildings are getting old and most are dirty in need of maintenance. There is a new business district emerging just outside of Makati in Taguig called Fort Bonifacio Global City. This is a well master-planned community/business district that will rival advanced cities in rich countries. Don't be surprised to see The Fort featured on the Travel Channel in the future.
The Philippines today is how it was about 100 years ago. It is being rediscovered by tourists and business people from around the world who see the potential of a booming economy due to its strategic location and industrious population.
One must read the country's rich history before making a judgment based on the obvious visuals in and around the city/country. A new generation of enlightened Filipinos are reviving and restoring its glorious past hoping to regain the lost luster of the Pearl of the Orient - that is Manila.
Manila is a city of contrasts: a work-in-progress modern jungle stifled by corruption. From the descending plane, you will see squatters alongside the runway. There are 3 airport terminals. Terminal 1 is the old MNL terminal where most airlines dock. Terminal 2 is new and modern facility that only serves Philippine Airlines. Terminal 3 should be opening soon and it is supposed to be world class. Outside the airport, you can visit remnants of bombed World War II buildings such as the Ayuntamiento next to the Manila Cathedral. To this day, it stands unrestored.
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