Visiting Manila can be intimidating for first-timers as tales about nightmarish traffic, planting bullet scheme or organized gangs deploying pickpockets and wallet snatchers at public transport hubs. Yes, there are occasions when tourists got duped by taxi drivers, got drunk and woke up losing their wallets, but as long as you’re equipped with common sense, you’ll do fine navigating through the city’s rough edges.
But more than just surviving Manila’s chaos, we’ll aim at enjoying what it has to offer.
Plan your travel
This sounds cliche but regardless of your destination, planning your travel is supposed to be the first thing to accomplish. For a city like Manila, lack of preparation could mean less meaningful journey or worse become more at risk to scammers and other distractions that spoil a once promising first visit.
To put it in a concrete way, having a little idea what to expect should help you prepare the way. For example, getting your way around a city without wifi or mobile data, organizing your trip in advance using apps such as Google Trips or Trip It which allow you to plan your itinerary, plot points of interest such as transport options, tourist attractions and your hotel address. Such digital applications also help you manage time getting from point A to point B, even without the need for wifi or data connectivity — just download the apps and save your itinerary beforehand.
The problem with Manila is commuting is not well documented online and you can’t help but ask someone nearby for directions. This someone might just be too kind to give you ideas but point you to wrong direction (believe us, we’ve been there before). Usually security guards (folks who wear white and blue uniforms with cap), police officers and some sidewalk vendors provide you more accurate directions.
If you have limited amount of time in Manila, losing time in traffic is enough; don’t add up getting lost as reason for missing out on your tours in Intramuros, National Museum or Rizal Park.
Another tool you can use is Manila Map and Walks which helps layout a specific walking tour depending on your attraction of interest: museums, architectural, local markets or places of worship.
Also be prepared on what to bring for anticipated weather conditions. Sites such as www.typhoon2000.ph to monitor any tropical storm, depression or typhoon and help you prepare to bring (umbrella) or do (cancel or postpone flights if possible).
Rent a pocket wifi
Internet connection in the Philippines can be spotty but Manila has better coverage and with better speeds. To supplement information stored on your app-powered travel itinerary, connecting to wifi is aided mainly by searching the web for incidental queries such as reliable money exchange company, popular Filipino restaurants nearby or where to buy which souvenir items.
There are a few of such pocket wifi rental providers such as konbinirentals.com at P450 per day and can be ordered online and have them delivered to your hotel before you arrive. Such devices allow up to 10 devices to connect with speeds of up to 42 Mbps. Another pocket wifi rental provider is GoLocal whose rates are cheaper though less flexible — only available for 1 day, 7 days and 15 days packages.
Buy travel insurance
As with many other places to visit, certain things can go out of hand — lost or stolen luggage, missing flight, caught diarrhea or figured in a car accident. The Philippines is no exception, including Manila.
We don’t have any insurance company to recommend, but ensure that when you get one, it covers those things mentioned above, and more.
Connect with the locals
Filipinos are among the most friendly people in the world. You don’t have to do them a favor to get help but tips are certainly welcome (for restaurant waiters, parking attendants or bellhops) if you are happy with the service/food. Whether that’s P20 or P100 they’ll be happy and chasing for extra tips; notorious taxi drivers are a different story.
They’ll try to help as much as they can with directions, insider info on better walking routes, more delicious or cheaper meals that don’t get featured in guide books.
Even without tips, Filipinos will help. In general, a sincere thanks in return is more than enough to make one smile.
Have common sense on security
Not much special instructions here but just be aware of common security concerns. For example, stay away from dark alleys or walk on sparsely populated areas. You may ignore beggars or strangers who suddenly become too friendly and offer unsolicited advice. If you are using backpack, placing them in your front at crowded places might discourage pickpockets.
Since Grab is available in Manila, you may want to use them instead of regular taxi cabs, some drivers of whom charge excessively. When unsure of who to ask local information, the ubiquitous security guards (in white and blue uniforms) are generally reliable folks to approach. For health’s sake, drinking bottled water instead of from tap is recommended.
Manila is a colorful city with full of personality. As much as you’d like to enjoy and immerse yourself — sing its videoke joints or ride their jeepneys — also be wary of safety and security issues. Having them both is the perfect key to enjoying your trip to Manila.