Manila, Philippines skyline
As we were driving to our hotel, we saw lots of shacks and people in the streets. At first, it reminded me of India, but without all of the free-roaming cows. Our hotel was in the financial district. When we walked in, I was greeted by name. We had juice served to us immediately. They didn't realize my friend and I were two women (not a couple), so they asked us to wait until they changed our room. They didn't have a room with two twins available, so we were given an upgrade to a suite with a huge king bed and a sitting room. We had no problem making due with that for the week. The staff was amazingly nice and the service was superb.
Our first day there, we walked around and just checked things out. We found a Sunday market where Kerry and I were both able to buy some souvenirs. For the rest of the week, be booked day tours to Hidden Valley (hot springs and a waterfall), Taal Volcano (last erupted in 1977), and Villa Escuadero (former coconut plantation and current resort). We also took a cooking class and learned how to make several local dishes - all simple enough for me to repeat without any problem!
Taal Volcano view from Volcano Island
The waterfall at Hidden Valley
The weather was great on our trip as well. And there were lots of blue skies - something we do not see a lot of in China due to pollution. I did not find Manila to be unsafe. Of course, there were lots of people to be aware of at all times, but that is like any big city where you are obviously a tourist. And a few times, young children would come up begging for money. You have to learn to look beyond the situation or be prepared to stop and give money. I am not about to stop and pull out my wallet in the streets, so I keep walking. The driving there is crazy, but in a calm way. There do not seem to be strict "rules" that you follow, as people are all over the place. And several intersections do not have lights, so traffic just does its own thing. However, people do take turns. They do not lay on the horns constantly. This was a big difference from here. It was nice to ride in a taxi and be able to carry on a conversation without having to shout over horns.
Jeepneys - the local transportation system
I kept hearing from locals how poor the country is and how many poor people there are and they rely on tips, etc. But then, you have ENORMOUS malls with lots and lots of shops - all high end - and they are busy. Supposedly, the locals just go in to get the a/c, but how do shops stay in business if nobody is buying? And how or why do they need that many malls if they are so poor? Things like this bother me. It's contradiction at its best. Tourism is down, so our day trips were just us, or at most, two others with us. It was awesome to have such personalized attention for things.
I prefer to shop at the local markets that are set up on the weekends. :)
The local food is not bad. The Filipinos have a sweet tooth, so there are lots of things there that have a more sweet flavor, such as their ketchup. It is banana ketchup. The local fast food chain, Jollibees, gives McDonald's a run for their money. We ate there to compare. I prefer McD's. But, I guess it really is what you know, taste wise. The local pizza place was ok, but not great. The fast food places were not impressive, except for Burger King. I love Burger King and it tasted just like home!! I haven't had it in so long and it was soooo good. I also got to have Dairy Queen on Valentine's Day. A blizzard was my treat to myself. :) It was just like home too. The only real ice cream we have here where I live is Hagendaas, and while it is good, it is expensive and still not "home" tasting.
Kerry and I making Lumpia (pork spring rolls)
The array of spices that Filipinos use to cook with. I will only use about 4 of them.
Would I go to Manila again? If the chance presented itself. There are so many places in the world I want to see, but this was not the worst trip by any means. I would suggest it to people. I would give ideas of things to do. I would also suggest staying where I stayed. It was all a good experience.
Enjoying a sunset cruise on Manila Bay on my last night.