Sunset seen from airplane aerial photograph Philippines

Philippines: Back to Manila, shopping, and my final thoughts about the country

Date: May 1st, 2011

Woke up at 6am, for the same reason I woke up yesterday at the same time — no electricity. Anyway, I had to get ready and reach the transport station in a few minutes.

Leaving El Nido dog on trike
That dog sat on this trike like that all the way to the station πŸ™‚

I boarded the van and was joined by the two Italian girls who were part of my tour group yesterday. The van left El Nido at 7am and the journey to Puerto Princesa would take around 5 hours (cost β‚±500/$11/€8). I chose to take a van taxi instead of the bus because I didn’t want to risk missing my 5:25pm flight back to Manila.

I didn’t bother taking any photos throughout the journey because I was behind tinted glass and also, I just didn’t feel like holding my camera. I have taken enough photos the past two weeks! πŸ™‚ The journey was smooth and we only stopped once for a snack break.

The van reached Puerto Princesa just before noon and dropped passengers off at different spots. Myself and the two Italian girls got down at the van company’s office, which was the last stop. Our flights were both around the same time, so we placed our bags at the van company’s office and decided to have lunch together.

We sat at a nice looking restaurant located along the road leading to the airport.

Chicken inasal Palawan restaurant Philippines
I ordered chicken inasal, which was really good here

Post-lunch, the three of us collected our bags and took a tricycle taxi to the airport. But because we were rather early for our evening flights, the airport security said they would only allow passengers in at 3pm.

Puerto Princesa Airport Palawan Philippines
I took this at 1:45pm, sitting outside the airport

Good thing I had the company of the two Italian girls (well, one of them anyway… the other girl dozed off). We chatted away until it was time for us to go in. Once inside, I checked in and got my window seat. The Italians were on a Cebu Pacific flight, which was delayed by a little, but my Zest Airways flight was on time, so I boarded first.

Cebu Pacific airline landed Palawan Philippines
The Cebu Pacific flight had only just landed
Zest Air Puerto Princesa to Manila evening flight
With Zest Air, I had now flown all three of the major budget airlines in Philippines

The following was why I insisted on getting a window seat:

Flying over Palawan shores from airplane PhilippinesAerial photograph Palawan flight evening sunsetPalawan island sea from sky PhilippinesPalawan snake island from airplane PhilippinesSunset clouds from airplane islands PhilippinesSunset clouds aerial photograph PhilippinesPalawan clouds evening sky from airplane

Sunset Palawan flight Philippines
I was hoping for exactly such a sight

Clouds from airplane evening sun PhilippinesSunset sky aerial photography Palawan Philippines

Sunset seen from airplane Philippines
It was time for sunset

Sunset seen from airplane aerial photograph PhilippinesAs I sat looking out the window, in some ways I felt a sense of relief heading back to Manila. No more waking up early! I had nothing really planned for my last few days in Manila besides shopping and meeting my friend Aimee.

Evening sunset sky Philippines aerial photography
It was 6:41pm when I took this

I landed in Manila as it got dark, just past 7pm.Β  Collected my bags and exited the airport. I approached a taxi, but the driver quoted a rate which was too high and he wouldn’t turn on the meter. I had to walk outside of the airport and hail a passing taxi from the main road.

The last two times I landed in Manila, I chose to stay at the Kabayan in Pasay, but this time I chose to be in a more touristy area. I had asked Aimee to book me a place in Malate, near Robinsons Place and out of the two shortlisted backpacker hostels – Malate Pensionne Inn and Friendly’s Guesthouse – she ended up reserving a bed for me at Friendly’s.

Once I got to Malate (the taxi fare came to β‚±110), the roads were busy as this area has a lot of clubs and restaurants. And when I mean clubs, I mean mostly KTV lounges catering to the Japanese and Koreans. Friendly’s Guesthouse and Malate Pensionne Inn are both located on Adriatico Street, and both are close to each other. It wasn’t easy to spot Friendly’s Guesthouse because they didn’t have a glowing sign outside, but after I did find the building, I got into the elevator and got off on the fourth floor.

The guy and girl manning the reception weren’t great, to be honest. But when they showed me to my dorm room, I would say I was a bit disappointed. There were a group of young Americans who were already talking loudly, high on booze, making plans to go out for some more drinking (they were English teachers in S. Korea apparently). The room was a bit messy too. The staff then pointed to my upper bed. Now, this peeved me off a bit, because I had specifically asked for a lower bed at the time of confirming my reservation via e-mail. I told the staff about it, but they said they couldn’t give me a lower bed because they were full.

Frustrated, I decided to just shower and then go out in search of another room. The bathroom wasn’t very clean either, but I was literally itching to take a proper shower. The luxury of a good hot shower eluded me while in El Nido and I needed to get all that coastal sweat off me. A lot of soap, shampoo and a clean shave later, I felt so much fresher.

I stepped out and went straight to Malate Pensionne Inn, but their dorms were full too. So I walked around and decided to check the other hotels in the area. A tout on the street then approached me, asking me if I wanted a girl. I said “no”. Then he asked me “guy?”. Definitely “no”. Then he asked me if I needed Viagra, Cialis or other drugs. I told him at my age, “no”. “Cigarettes?”. “No”. He finally gave up and asked me what I was looking for and when I told him I was in search of another room, he then went “Ah!” and told me he would show me around.

After visiting a few small hotels, nothing was as cheap as Malate Pensionne or Friendly’s. Just about every other ‘pension inn’ cost nearly a β‚±1000 and above, while the rest were all star hotels in the area. Eventually, I slowed my pace of walking and decided to just manage a night in Friendly’s and try again tomorrow. Now I know why these two hostels were very popular among backpackers — there is no other choice!

All this while the tout was still beside me. I used the opportunity to ask him about the clientele at most of the KTVs in this area. He told me it wasn’t uncommon for Japanese men to spend $300-$400 on average a night(!), and that’s just to sing karaoke and enjoy the company of the women sitting beside them. If they want to take the girls out, that will cost them extra. $300 was my weekly budget, so no way was I eligible to enter these nightclubs.

The tout eventually gave up and left me alone after realizing I wasn’t going to give him any business for any of his (many) services. The one good thing about being in a touristy and popular area was that there were a few restaurants available that didn’t only serve Japanese and Korean cuisines. I had my dinner at a Persian joint and went back to my room.

I had a lot of sleeping to do!

Date: May 2nd, 2011

Woke up around 9am I believe. Lazily got out of my bed and decided to go upstairs for coffee. Also thought you guys would want to know what Friendly’s Guesthouse looks like.

Friendly's Guesthouse reception hostel rules Malate Manila Philippines
This is the reception (Taken on my phone)
Friendly's Guesthouse stairs to rooftop Malate Manila
You go upstairs for the cafe
Friendly's guesthouse roof top cafe kitchen Manila
The kitchen is up here too. It's fairly big and you can cook your own food.

Friendly's Guesthouse rooftop backpackers Malate Manila

View from Friendly's Guesthouse cafe Malate Manila Philippines
The view of Malate from up here

When you consider the facilities, and the location, paying β‚±375 ($8/€6) a night for a bed in an air-conditioned dorm room is really good value. I went back to my room, where the staff were cleaning the toilets. I ultimately decided to just manage at Friendly’s for the next two nights.

Friendly's Guesthouse mixed dorm room hostel Malate Manila
I was given a bed in the mixed dorm; Friendly's has other dorms too

I spent some time online and basically took it easy. Spoke to Aimee before finally deciding to step out. Aimee had some work, so we decided to meet tomorrow. I told her I was going to check out Quezon City, which she told me was the former capital and currently the largest city in Manila province. I looked at my map and only noticed Quezon Memorial Circle as a notable attraction worth visiting. So off I went… without my DSLR. For once, I wanted to walk around without carrying my heavy camera bag. Only phone camera today. It felt so liberating!

Friendly's Guesthouse backpackers Malate Manila Philippines
This is the entrance to the building that houses Friendly's Guesthouse
Malate Starbucks building Manila morning
That yellow facade across the road is a Starbucks, which is also where Malate Pensionne Inn is located
Malate Korean stores Manila morning Philippines
The Koreans have quite literally taken over
Taft avenue Pedro Gil Malate Philippines
I walked to my nearest LRT/metro station

Pedro Gil station Metro Manila Philippines

Walkway Manila Philippines
I simply followed the map and pinpointed Cubao station, which meant I had to get to Doroteo Jose and then switch trains to get on the LRT 2 line (or purple line as they call it)
Metro line Manila Philippines
I don't remember if I got down at Cubao exactly but this was the station...
Gateway mall interiors panorama
... and I then walked straight into this mall

Comics Alley, a chain selling mostly Japanese ‘otaku’ merchandise and anime toys, were having a sale at their branch at this mall and I picked up Domo-kun plush toy for β‚±250. I soaked up some more air-conditioning before going up to the food court for lunch.

Wendys prawn burger Manila Philippines
Ended up eating a Wendy's shrimp burger, which I thoroughly liked

Lazily, I got up and left the mall. I did walk around a bit, then looked at the map and decided I needed to go up Quezon Avenue. I got into a jeepney and got down at the busy Quezon Avenue.

Quezon Avenue roads Manila Philippines
The Quezon Memorial Circle is straight up from here

It was really hot today, and even though I had sunglasses on, the heat was getting to me. I stopped to have some ice cream and bought some more water. As I walked up Quezon Avenue, I noticed a man helping people cross the busy Elliptical Road.

Masked hero Quezon Manila Philippines
This masked hero (seriously) was helping the elderly cross the road by stopping speeding vehicles. I don't think he liked being photographed though.
EDSA highway crossing Quezon City Philippines
'Cos when it came time for me to cross the road... he didn't help. Hmpf, superhero with a prejudice!
Quezon Memorial Circle shrine Quezon City Manila Philippines
Anyway, this is the Quezon Memorial Circle

The Quezon Memorial Circle is both a national park and a shrine, which features a mausoleum containing the remains of Manuel L. Quezon, the second President of the Philippines. But I somehow was not in the mood to go any further and check it out… don’t know why. Maybe it was the heat.

I crossed the busy road, which itself was quite a challenge as nobody slowed down even as pedestrians were on the zebra crossing.

Once across, I kept walking further down Quezon Avenue in the hopes of seeing what life is like in this part of Manila.

Philippines Japan Quezon City roads Manila

Quezon Avenue Manila Philippines
Eventually I got tired of walking in the heat and ended up taking a jeepney instead. Quezon Avenue is one big-ass road!
Metallica disco club ktv Quezon City Manila
If Lars saw this, he would sue

In fact there were many large clubs/KTV lounges all along Quezon Avenue, none of which were open at this time though. The poshest one I saw, judging by all the high end vehicles parked there, was the Pegasus Club, which Aimee later me told is where the rich and famous (men) hang out. Also where a few girls working as ‘guest relation officers’ ended up turning into future actresses and models.

After going down the road a bit, I took a left turn as I wasn’t seeing anything besides gentlemen’s clubs and fast moving vehicles.

The Ascension church building Manila Philippines
I don't know which road I was on but the only interesting thing I saw here was this building

Other than that, all I saw were businesses dealing in automotive parts, a few bakeries and other general stores.

Quezon City Manila Philippines
So basically, after two hours of walking, I didn't see anything worthwhile

I called Aimee and asked her if I was in the wrong part of town, but she was sleeping, so I didn’t want to disturb her and cut the call short. I kept walking until I reached a metro station.

Arnel Pineda endorsement ad LRT V. Mapa Manila
Yay, Arnel Pineda of Journey!

(Plug: Do check out Journey’s new album ‘Eclipse,’ it’s brilliant!)

Manila slum houses Philippines
I walked past these slums at Doroteo Jose
Manila city view from lrt platform
I was switching trains to get back on the yellow line

Back at Pedro Gil station, I walked to Robinsons Place mall.

Robinsons Place mall floors from up Manila
Even on a Monday evening, the mall was crowded
Team Pacquiao store Robinsons Place mall Manila Philippines
Manny Pacquiao fever
Robinsons Place mall floors night Manila Philippines
Robinsons Place is a pretty good mall

After hanging around the mall for a while, I decided to have an early dinner from here itself and then head back to the room.

Kido Manga Japanese burger Manila Philippines
I saw this burger outlet and I wondered if it was anything like Mosburger

Being the curious foodie I am, I decided to give it a try. I ordered their shrimp burger meal (which at β‚±150 cost the same as Wendy’s) and sat down, since the order was going to take 10 minutes (guess this restaurant isn’t what you would call ‘fast food’).

When the burger eventually came, you could say I was disappointed. I didn’t like the yellow sauce they put in the burger (don’t know if it was some sort of mayo, but it was a tad sweet). The burger patty was smaller than the one at Wendy’s and overall, it just wasn’t all that great. The fries were alright though.

Back in the room, I spent the remainder of the night talking to other backpackers who had just checked in to Friendly’s and later worked on some of my photographs.

Date: May 3rd, 2011

Today I was going to meet my friend Aimee. She was going to show me around Ortigas and then take me to Greenhills for some shopping.

SM Megacity Ortigas construction Manila Philippines
She asked me to meet her at SM Megamall in Ortigas
Ortigas business park overhead view buildings Manila
Ortigas is a major business hub

Ortigas overhead pedestrian bridge Manila Phillipines

Business park Ortigas office buildings Manila Philippines
A lot of these buildings house call centers
San Miguel corporation headquarters Manila Philippines
San Miguel Corporation's HQ - SMC is one of the largest companies in South East Asia
Manila business park buildings Philippines
Lots of glass... so your typical business park then
Ortigas business park Manila Philippines
A lot of pricey condos available here too
Ortigas square business park Manila Philippines
Ortigas is the name of a wealthy family whose land this is
Robinsons Ortigas mall Manila Philippines
Walked through Robinsons Mall just to soak up some A/C
Pedestrian walkway Ortigas Manila Philippines
Got out again
Virgin Mary EDSA shrine monument Manila Philippines
Aimee told me this statue is the Our Lady of EDSA, built to commemorate the People Power Revolution, which saw the departure of Pres. Marcos from power
Philippine Overseas Employment Administration office Manila
The ever busy Philippine Overseas Employment Administration office. Every Filipino going abroad for work has to come here first.
Elevated highway near overseas office Manila Philippines
Aimee and I decided to take a jeepney to Greenhills
Greenhills shopping center Manila Philippines
It was only a short ride away
Greenhills shopping center lobby Manila Philippines
I wanted to check out Greenhills because the way people described it, I imagined it was Manila's equivalent to Bangkok's Chatuchak market
Greenhills shopping center map Manila Philippines
Seemed like a pretty big place
Greenhills bags shops Manila Philippines
Only, unlike Chatuchak, Greenhills is indoors and has air-conditioning!

Theatre Mall Greenhills Manila Philippines

Greenhills shopping center mobiles Quezon City Philippines
You have the usual grey market electronics and mobile stores...
Greenhills shopping center inside shops Manila Philippines
... and of course clothing

But after much walking around and checking out a few stores, none of the offerings were as good as the ones I saw in Bangkok. I guess Bangkok’s street shopping experience is still the best in South East Asia.

Toe finger shoes Greenhills shop Manila
These were the only things I considered buying

After an hour spent at Greenhills, and not finding anything worth buying at all, Aimee and I took a van taxi back to SM Megamall.

SM Mega Mall interiors Manila Philippines
Checked out SM's department store and ended up buying a few good t-shirts from there. SM had official merchandise clothing from The Simpsons, Marvel, Transformers, etc. and they were all quite cheap.
Greenwich pizza pasta meal offer SM Manila
We had lunch from the food court. I ate two-thirds of this... and Aimee ate one-third of what was left. (The girl doesn't eat much)
SM Megamall in Ortigas EDSA Manila
We left Ortigas around 2:30pm
EDSA Shangri-la hotel office towers Manila Philippines
I insisted on seeing Aimee off home, so we took a bus to head to her part of town
Aimee Marie sleeping bus Manila
Poor thing was really sleepy

Farmers market Manila Philippines

Manila through dirty glass Philippines
We were going to an area called Valenzuela
SM city North Edsa Manila Philippines
This is now the largest mall in the Philippines

I walked Aimee back home, and we said our goodbyes as this would be the last I’d be seeing her. I was leaving Philippines tomorrow. It started to drizzle very lightly, so I made my way back to the main road to catch a jeepney to Monumento.

Valenzuela area Manila Philippines
There's a popular nursing college nearby, so a lot of the students live around here

Unfortunately, what started out as a drizzle, eventually turned into rain.

Raining evening Manila Philippines
Two & half weeks in Philippines and I finally see rain... and I didn't have an umbrella with me!

I took shelter in front of a Max’s Restaurant, but then, the rain got really heavy a few minutes later!

Heavy rain Manila Philippines Petron
I had to keep my camera away as it was getting wet (This was taken on my phone)

I waited nearly 45 minutes for the rain to subside. I managed to cross the road and caught a bus going to Monumento.

Monumento flooded after rains Manila Philippines
The bus dropped me here. Quite literally. I just stood on the road after I got down wondering how to get to Monumento station. It was flooded and I was wearing slippers. I just didn't feel like dipping my bare foot in the dirty water.

There were cycle taxis offering locals a ride to Monumento LRT station, but when I asked them ‘how much,’ their rate for me, a non-local, were ludicrous. So I just took a deep breath, hopped across the road — and got wet in the process anyway.

It was past 5pm and I still had some shopping to do. I got the train from Monumento and went to Pasay.

Pasay interchange LRT station evening crowds Manila
This was the scene at Pasay interchange station at 6pm. Yikes.
Glorietta malls Ayala center Manila night Philippines
I went back to Ayala Center to check out one last mall
Pedestrian overbridge to Greenbelt mall Manila Philippines
I was going to Greenbelt, Manila's 'luxury' mall
Blue lights glowing building book store Ayala center
I forgot what store this was
Greenbelt complex at night Ayala Manila
I was woefully dressed for such a place - soggy socks, shorts, moist t-shirt - but what the hell, last day!
Inside Greenbelt mall Ayala center Manila Philippines
I couldn't take many photographs inside. Security came by and said it's not allowed. (Ayala has seen bombings in the past, so security is beefed up here)

After window shopping in Greenbelt, I walked back to Landmark department store and ended up buying two K-pop CDs before walking all the way back to Ayala LRT station.

Once back at Pedro Gil, I wondered where to have my final meal in Manila. For kicks, Jollibee one last time was a consideration, but instead, I chose another chain owned by them which I had yet to try.

Mang Inasal chicken bbq Philippines
So Mang Inasal it was πŸ™‚ (Cost β‚±120/$2.7/€2)

Date: May 4th, 2011Β  – Last day, lasting memories

I packed my bags yesterday night itself, just so I knew just how much space I had left to fill up with some last minute shopping. I still had a few things to pick up and so once I was ready, I walked to Robinsons Place one last time. The mall only opens at 10am, and I had to wait outside until it did.

Once inside, I quickly went up to the department store to see if they had any good t-shirts like the ones I picked up from SM’s department store yesterday. They did, really good ones too – retro gaming themed Mega Man and Mario t-shirts – all for just β‚±200-β‚±250. I ended up buying five t-shirts for my brothers from Robinsons.

After that, I rushed downstairs to the supermarket, picked up some snacks and then stopped when I spotted a bottle of Absinth in the liquor store. Absinth is something I hardly find in most liquor stores, so I picked up a bottle for my friends back in Bangalore.

I rushed back to Friendly’s Guesthouse, adjusted my bags and checked out. I took a taxi to the airport – which stopped along the way to fill up fuel – leaving me cooking inside (no A/C in the car!). I still managed to reach NAIA Terminal 1 in time.

~~~~~~ What this Indian has to say about the Philippines πŸ™‚ ~~~~~~

Sigh. This was it. My epic two and half weeks across Philippines was finally coming to an end. In some ways, I was both happy and sad. Happy because this was such an amazing experience, and I saw pretty much every major attraction I planned to see. Hardly anything went wrong too.

Sad because, well, there’s still so much more I wanted to see! I still didn’t visit Davao – the second largest city after Manila, Boracay – the most popular island in Philippines, Mount Mayon – the most perfectly cone-shaped volcano, and of course the one place I really, really wanted to visit – the island of Batanes. I would love to return to El Nido, or even consider the islands of Coron even further north of Palawan, which people say are incredible.

I wish I could have stayed longer, but unfortunately, Indians are only given a 21 day tourist visa — that too, one that needs to be applied for in advance, something which cost me Rs. 3230 ($60) to get done. None the less, for a first visit to a country, I couldn’t be more proud of myself! Every Filipino who asked me where all I went had the same response: “Wow, even I have yet to go to all these places!”

In the end, it’s not just the natural beauty that appealed to me about the Philippines. As a Gulf-raised child from the state of Kerala in India, it was very easy for me to connect with many Filipinos I met. Especially when I stayed at Kabayan, where just about everybody was either coming from or going to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, etc. Bring up the Middle East, and it was a conversation ice breaker. I know what it’s like, and seeing Filipinos in the Middle East, I can now see how far they go just to make a living.

As a Keralite, I know my state’s greatest export isn’t coconuts — it’s people. Philippines isn’t any different. And that’s largely due to a culture (and religion) that encourages it’s people to be educated, but then, led by governments who wipe their hands clean when people were left with no choice but to leave the country in search of a better livelihood. It’s easy when all the government has to do is sit back and count the millionsbillions sent home by their own hard-working people abroad. The money from overseas workers is what fueled the local economy for decades. Some would argue it still does.

Things have started to change though. With a booming local economy, largely driven by the outsourcing movement, Filipinos now have an option. Work can be found in the country, it’s just that it may not pay as well as a job in the Middle East. The rising incomes of today’s Filipinos is what is fueling tourism within the country. I saw more Filipino tourists than foreign tourists at most places I visited. Which is not how it is in Thailand.

‘Brand Philippines’ isn’t well-marketed to the world either. Sure, San Miguel beer is now available in India, but I doubt the majority who drink it even know it’s Filipino. Yeah sure, there’s Charice and Arnel Pineda, but lets face it — only Filipinos make them appear ‘world famous’. What little most people know about Philippines is judged from its OFWs — Overseas Filipino Workers. Not exactly the best way to learn about the country and its people, especially if you go by the stereotype I hear from friends and family.

Fluency in English has given many Indians and Filipinos an edge over our Asian counterparts. There are over 10 million Filipinos working outside the Philippines, most of whom are in the Middle East. Many work as maids and sales people even in neighbouring Singapore and Hong Kong. But is it fair to draw a conclusion based on those Filipino workers? Not really. And just like millions of NRIs (Non-Resident Indians), especially those from Kerala, a large chunk of their income is sent back home to feed their families and hopefully one day, buy/build a home and retire.

Unless you have been on Philippine soil, your opinion about the Philippine people may remain skewed if you simply assumed every OFW is exactly the kind of people you will find back in Philippines. There are Filipino doctors too you know, they are just not as exported in the sheer numbers the nurses are. You have to come to Philippines to know what the modern day Filipino is like, not judge them based on the career choices they are forced to take up abroad.

All said and done, just like Kerala (and for that matter, all of India), Philippines suffers daily from its share of dirty politics. And what a history it has. Philippines was first colonized by the Spanish, turning just about everyone Catholic in the process. Then the Americans came, waged war with the Spaniards and took over the country. Philippine revolutionaries then fought the Americans. Then the Japanese invaded. Americans fought the Japanese (using many Filipino soldiers mind you) and the U.S. remained in control until Philippines finally gained independence in 1946. But like many countries post-independence, the nation’s headaches didn’t end there.

Post independence saw the struggle of Filipinos living under one corrupt government after another. The worst period being under GeneralPresident Ferdinand Marcos. Even as a kid growing up in the late 80’s, with little interest in world affairs, it wasn’t hard to not hear or come across the ‘Marcos’ name. Especially his infamous wife — just read her profile on Wikipedia and about Yamashita’s Gold — the wealth figures mentioned will leave you shell-shocked if you are non-Filipino who knew very little about Philippine politics.

Revolution after revolution, not much has changed in the political landscape. Or for that matter in society at large. The people may have progressed to a point where homosexuals are not victimized as badly as they are in other Asian countries, but stupid laws like the fact divorce is still illegal persist! Just like the majority of Indians, Filipinos hate their politicians with so much vitriol, reading any news article online about a high-ranking public official comes with its share of nasty comments.

Even the nation’s biggest celebrity, Manny Pacquiao, has joined political fray. How much of an impact will his political punches have? Who knows.

One thing I did find a bit annoying though were the many locals complaining about Manila. I still don’t think it’s as bad a city as they claim it to be. I’d like to see the very same people go to Mumbai – where real estate costs more than Manila – then come back and compare. Manila’s infrastructure still beats most Indian cities. Probably the very reason why Philippines has now overtaken India as the global call center hub.

Of course, not all infrastructure in Manila is worth bragging about. And there is no greater example of that than NAIA Terminal 1 — the terminal for most international flights. Also considered to be one of the worst airports in the world!

NAIA Terminal 1 International departures Manila Philippines
First there was a long line outside the terminal to get in, then the line to check-in was again equally long. It took nearly an hour and half after arriving at the airport to receive my boarding pass.

This terminal was built in 1981… and it still looks like that! I didn’t take any other photo besides the one above because it only goes downhill from there. Facilities are poor, and even though I didn’t face any issues, I have read about Filipinos who experienced corruption at their own airports.

Maybe it’s because I’m a tourist or a ‘foreigner,’ so the airport officials could be too ‘shy’ to try anything funny with us. But, there is one final slap-in-the-face/kick-in-the-groinΒ every passenger gets for using this outdated terminal upon departure. Every airport I used within Philippines had an airport usage fee: β‚±200 at Cebu and just β‚±40 at Puerto Princesa, since both were for domestic flights. For NAIA Terminal 1 international passengers? β‚±750 ($17/€12).

Now I know a lot of airports charge a user fee, and sometimes it’s even included in the ticket cost. Heck, even New Delhi International Airport has started charging passengers Rs. 1300 (β‚±1100) for international flights – which sucks. But, at least they began collecting this fee after they built, what is now, the 8th largest airport in the world.

Even as a non-Filipino, walking around this terminal after paying β‚±750 made me angry. All I kept thinking about after I paid this ‘airport development fee’ was “how many years have they been collecting this?!” and “what the hell are they doing with this money?!”. When I think about my money going to waste or going into a suited up thief’s pocket, it makes my blood boil, be it in India or abroad.

Malaysia Airlines at NAIA Manila Philippines
The Duty Free sucked, so I simply went to my gate and sat there. My flight was on time.

As I looked around, I didn’t notice many Indians besides myself. There was one Indian couple, who looked Punjabi, but they didn’t look like the Punjabis I was used to seeing. They looked more like the Indians who came to this part of the world decades ago and tried best to keep their heritage. The ‘lost Indians’ so to speak.

Oh, I need to bring this up. In Manila, occasionally a few jeepney drivers on the streets would shout “Bombay!” to me. I assumed it was because it’s the only famous Indian city everyone knows, so I used to just smile back. But when I told Aimee about this, she told me that’s not why. Get this, Indians don’t have a good reputation in the Philippines (among the masses) because of certain “Bombays” in the country. It’s the slang term used to refer to several (illegal) money lenders, most of whom are of Indian origin, and have been in the Philippines for decades. Most of their ‘customers’ are often poor street vendors and stall owners, people who wouldn’t get much help from big banks due to the lack any of valid documentation. The “Bombays” approach such people, lend them money, but at very high interest rates. Of course, when things get bad, these “Bombays” show their nefarious side. You could say: “Well, how come they are allowed to operate?”. In a country where the police can be paid off, a lot can be ‘allowed’. They are basically ‘loan sharks‘. For more details, read this excellent research paper I dug up when I was curious to find out more about these “Bombays”.

I still didn’t see many Indians in the two and half weeks I spent in the Philippines. The few I did see were only in Manila and looked like they were here because of the BPO majors in the city — or were visiting from Singapore.

That said, I don’t expect many Indians to fly all the way to Philippines for tourism — because it’s a hard sell. I can show my friends the beaches of Palawan and they’ll say: “Doesn’t Thailand have such beaches?”. And it’s true. When Thailand offers most of what the Philippines also offers (nightlife included), chances are they rather take a 3-4 hour flight to Thailand than the 7-8 hours it takes to reach the Philippines. I can argue about how beautiful the beaches, the stunning rice terrace farms, and how less crowded Philippines’ tourist spots are in comparison, but it wouldn’t matter to the majority.

[Fun trivia: Some similarities between India and Philippines I observed — the mobile numbers are 10 digits long and all begin with 9; the men use the term “boss” a lot :)]

Philippines island leaving for Malaysia aerial photo
Another reason why Philippines is a hard country to market is because of its geography

A lot of international travellers — families, the new markets, and in the case of most Indian tourists — travel on package tours, because it’s convenient (plus they’re too lazy to do all the research themselves — that’s my reasoning). Philippines is a tough country sell as a package tour, because you simply cannot do it in less than a week. Being a nation of over 7,000 islands, it’s not landlocked country like much of Thailand or Malaysia’s touristy half (KL, Penang and Langkawi). If you are in Manila and want to see the amazing Chocolate Hills, you have no choice but to fly. Palawan? Flight again. If not flights, then by ferry. In short, accessibility is an issue. Well, easy access that is. Package tourists prefer convenience, backpackers enjoy the challenge, tiring as it may be.

Malaysia Airlines Boeing airplane wing Philippines islands
Despite the lack of connectivity, I still say Philippines is one of the most amazing destinations in South East Asia. It beats other nations like Malaysia when you compare natural beauty.

Would I go back for a second visit? If I had the chance (and the money), I would go back in an instant! Would I work there? Hmm, only if the work itself was interesting and the pay package makes it worthwhile. Would I live in Philippines? That’s… a bit tough for me to answer. Cebu maybe a preferred city for many retirees, but the only city I would only consider living in is still Manila. It’s a huge city, yes, but it’s the only city that would keep me entertained. K-pop stars drop in often and it’s global enough in its options. I could easily afford to buy an apartment in Manila with my current savings, something I can’t even do back in Bangalore. But cost of living aside, typhoon season scares me a bit. Typhoons hammer much of Philippines every year, and Manila is always hit. Everytime I see the footage, I can’t fathom what the poor slum dwellers must go through… every year!

Flying over South China Sea to Malaysia
Are these islands also a part of Philippines?

Despite all the bad, one lasting impression I will always hold in positive view is the general attitude of the Filipino people. I really like them, they are very friendly and I love their mannerisms (the good ones). Everytime I was at store, the sales staff would approach me with a “β™« Hello sirrrrrrrrrrrΒ β™ͺ” — and it still resonates in my head πŸ™‚ Again, this is how I was generally treated. How Filipinos behave with each other, I’ll only know if I stay there much longer.

Malaysia Airlines seafood meal lunch
My lunch, a slightly sweet fish fillet and rice

The only notion about Philippines that remained unanswered for me was… I still don’t know what Philippine culture is! I didn’t see much that seemed ethnically Filipino, or a heritage that is native to this country. Maybe it’s because of the 300 years of Spanish rule, succeeded by the years of ‘Americana’ that followed. Philippines has, in some way, lost its native identity — probably the only South East Asian country to do so. The last few generations of Filipinos absorbed a culture and influence America left behind, and it’s now very much become their own — like their love for basketball, the preferred genres of music, fast food, and even the English they follow.

Malaysia Airlines plane wings Boeing plane clouds

Flying over Malaysia sunset ray through clouds
I was above Malaysia just before sunset
Kuala Lumpur airport departure Terminal Malaysia
Needless to say, KLIA is a much better airport
KLIA Malaysia airport interiors
I had 2 hours to kill before my connecting flight, so I walked around the terminal
Kuala Lumpur train service food court Malaysia
The trains that take passengers to the other terminals

KLIA terminal train service Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur airport international terminal pillars
This is where the gates are
Bangalore city at night lights from sky
3 1/2 hours later, I was in Bangalore

I began working on this Philippines series in June, after I got laid off from my company. Six months of sitting and writing 16 posts, nearly 2,068 photos used (out of over 5,000 clicked)… it was a lot of work, but it’s with immense satisfaction I conclude what has been the most satisfying international trip of my life so far! The response from my friends back in Bangalore when I showed them my photos of all the wonderful sights Philippines has to offer was nothing short of amazement. I guess I’ve played my small role in promoting the country.

What else can I say… hanggang sa muli Philippines! πŸ™‚

Previous posts in this series:

Philippines 2011: Day 14 – El Nido island hopping tour A and sunset at Las Cabanas beach, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 13 – Puerto Princesa to El Nido by bus

Philippines 2011: Day 12 – Puerto Princesa Underground River tour, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 11 – Arriving in Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 10 – Bohol tour: Chocolate Hills, Loboc river cruise, Tarsiers, churches

Philippines 2011: Day 9 – Cebu: Fort San Pedro, Basilica of Santo NiΓ±o, Taoist Temple

Philippines 2011: Day 8 – Manila tour: Rizal Park, Intramuros, Manila Cathedral, China Town

Philippines 2011: Day 7 – Leaving Angeles City for Manila, Mall of Asia

Philippines 2011: Day 6 – Good Friday in San Fernando, San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites

Philippines 2011: Leaving Sagada for Baguio, and arriving in Angeles cityΒ (Days 4 & 5)

Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Sagada’s Lumiang burial cave, Sumaguing cave, Hanging Coffins of Echo valley

Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Banaue town; heading to Sagada via Bontoc

Philippines 2011: Day 2 – Banaue rice terraces; trekking to Batad village

Philippines 2011: Day 1 β€” Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Fort Bonifacio

Philippines 2011: Flying over South China Sea for the first time

Related Posts with Thumbnails


  • Mithun Divakaran


    Thanks Abigail for posting the 50th comment for this post πŸ™‚

    Yes, I would like to visit the Coron island. It’s on my list of places to visit… that is if I have enough funds to come back to Philippines. Or manage to land a job in your country. Sigh, I’ll keep trying.

    Yes, a few readers told me Diliman. Poor guy, if he really is a bit off in the head.

    Checked out your site too πŸ™‚

  • Justin


    Yo, can you help me please. I really wanna buy some of those Mega man-themed shirts. Where exactly can I buy one? Please e-mail me asap. Thanks so much! πŸ™‚

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    As I wrote above, I bought them at the department store in Robinsons Place mall.

  • Y


    Awesome blog. I like how you chronicled your trip in my country. I was smiling reading it and pictured in my mind your experiences while here. I’m glad you enjoyed your stay.

    I like how you presented both the good and bad side of the country (including the airports, the cab driver trying to rip off, etc). A very honest post I have to say.

    Well hopefully someday I will get to visit your country. Hopefully too, I will get to enjoy like the same way you did in the Philippines. I don’t know but I have this fascination about India. It’s a dream destination for me. πŸ™‚

    Oh btw, I landed here on your blog because of your comment in on our current tourism slogan “It’s More Fun in the Philippines!” And I like your own creation. πŸ˜›

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Thanks for letting me know how you landed on my site. It really helps to know πŸ™‚ Checked out your website by the way.

  • Anne


    LOL that Dog on Trike owned by my Dad πŸ™‚

  • Cheers


    So sad that foreigners from one of the corrupt country concluded this way. I know many Indians- richest to nothing who are in the Philippines. Why they stay here and hated India. My sister in law was physically tortured and emotionally as well, due to india’s marriage system. Mafias and biggest squatter are in India too. The writer haven’t gone to isabela where most Indians with a Filipino wife here and Indian wife in India. There’s a lot more to say than to conclude. Bourne legacy should not have been shouted here.and many foreign singers are often here. Kai go was sung by a half – Filipino so not only charice or arnel are to include. Leah salonga, and Philippine beauties are often well applauded. Sooooo many Indians are illegally here. Most are seen at temples. One Indian couple used my marriage date which I found out when renewing passport at Indian embassy which we came to know they pay huge money to have legal documents here.

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    “Bourne legacy should not have been shouted here.and many foreign singers are often here”

    So? What are you saying? That film makers shouldn’t be allowed into Philippines? That foreign singers shouldn’t be allowed to hold concerts in Philippines? Why? ‘Cos you can’t afford to go those concerts?

    So India has its problems, so does the Philippines. From your poor English (and email id, which I can see), you sound like a “Bumbay” yourself. I know I have a lot more to learn about Philippines but what I wrote above is simply what I learnt so far. But instead of wasting time trying to debate with you, I’m just going to say this — your opinions are based on your experience with the kind of people you came across. Just like my opinion of Filipinos were based on the kind of Filipinos I came across. I’m not the kind of guy who judged an entire country based on just AC and OFWs, nor am I the kind of guy who judged my own country based on poor migrants who fled to indulge in illegitimate businesses across South East Asia.

    david b Reply:

    Nice answer … πŸ™‚

  • Cheers


    Oh, sorry but what I mean of mentioning bout Bourne legacy and foreign singers doing concerts here is that, they love it here … I recently watched mama mia and Avril concerts and best so far -locals. I’m not doing 5-6 but I love Indian culture as Ive been with different Indians here. Sindhi and punjabis are most likely easily to indulge with. I respect your religion- Hinduism although political problems often a problem in temples and maraj. Well, we have different point of views but hope well be friends still. Again, sorry . Jai si Krishna. Next time, stay in makati city and try explore ilocos, batanes, cagayan, tuguegarao, solano, Baguio, la union ( for surfing) dagupan ( where I go Indian temple), Davao, camsur or tagaytay, batangas, kalibo -Aklan. But better to have your own car as I do travel alone to explore. Next to go – Hawaii, USA. Go back home. Have fun. Salaam namaste.

  • Cheers


    With regards to my e-mail I.d., that’s for farmville game purposes ( by zynga ) of whom I often spent time when not doing anything and to avoid being hacked or rather my credits be stolen. As I have experienced too. Muchas gracias amigo.:)

  • Amabel


    Well said, Mithun, about my beloved country. Great travels you have and I love the documentation. I was searching for a photo and ended reading your blog. πŸ™‚

  • rayna larson


    I enjoyed your pictures and comments. When you wrote about the Filipinos and the Indians being able to speak English reminded me that my great, great grandfather went to India and taught English there in the mid 1800’s. I taught English in the Philippines more than 50 years ago in the Peace Corps. Thanks again for the great tour. It almost feels like I got to go back again and see some of the changes and some places that I didn’t get to visit when I was there.

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Thanks for your comment πŸ™‚

  • passerby


    I can’t believe that I read all your writing all the way through. I rarely post comments, and the reason I posted is just to say that you are very good in writing! Keep it up.

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Thank you, hope you clicked ‘Like’ on FB or Tweeted this πŸ™‚

  • Anna


    Hi Mithun,

    Thank you so much for spending the time and effort (and tons of wonderful photos!) in putting this blog together. It was a wonderful trip down memory lane (even though mine was from 35 years ago). I envy the fact that I never got the chance to explore my own country like you did. It’s experiences and people like you that gives me glimpses of places I probably would never know exited. My father was born in Sagada and I think I still have a few relatives still living there. My grand-aunt used to own the biggest grocery store at the main street.

    There is a legend in Sagada about an eel that lives/lived in one of the caves you visited. I wonder if anyone mentioned it to you? I’m surprised that you stopped in Sagada but never went further.There are a couple of other out of the way places, one of which is where my mother was born. Although I think you’re timeline may not have permitted the extra 4 hour travel time further into the mountains.

    I arrived at your site while looking for some carvings and I’m very happy I did. I read your entire blog this afternoon and shared it with my family.

    Much like you, my girlfriend was not too pleased in seeing the slums back home, marring the beautiful countryside, but I told her that it’s life back there. She argued that people don’t have to live like that, but I guess it’s hard for her to understand as well not having to be in that situation.

    In any case, I do plan on going home for a visit again someday. Again, thank you so much for putting the blog together. I plan on sharing it with my family.

    I hope you have a wonderful and prosperous (and adventuresome) 2013!

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Thanks Anna, I’m still desperate to get back to Philippines as I yearn to see pretty much everything the country offers. I couldn’t stay longer in Sagada because of the 21-day tourist visa.

    The poverty doesn’t affect me much either because, after all, I am from India. But I do know the people are lovely and it’s one of the reasons why I love Philippines. Filipinos are some of the friendliest people I have met and while they may not be perfect, I’ll take their attitude over the money-hungry Chinese. I keep getting more and more friend request on Facebook from Filipinos/Pinays I have never met and through them, I’m learning a lot more about the country.

  • Lloyd Tordecillas


    WoW!!! Thank you very much for a very interesting feedback for our country. I must say that your writing makes me feel proud as a Filipino, but not as a tax paying citizen of the country. The issues you’ve discussed are very real. You don’t have to worry about the lack of time you spent here, you have seen the real Philippines! And you are very lucky for a first time foreign tourist to have tasted all the flavors of our country, be it sweet or not. I wish you all the luck! And keep it up, sir! πŸ™‚

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Thanks Lloyd!

  • Ima


    Hi. I am a Filipina married to an Indian national and also living in Bangalore since 2007. I go home for vacation every year though. Reading your post, I think my husband would describe Manila/Philippines in the same way. It’s nice to know you had an amazing time.

  • david b



    I just finished reading your complete blog (after being enticed at first with your photo series today morning)

    And I must admit… I enjoyed every bit of it. hats off. Kudos to you for having written such a fine, truthful, entertaining, informative and candid account. 6 months of toil, time well spent.

    I guess you already must have realised this, you are probably one of the few Indians who has seen so much of this country, and written about it. As for accounts from other foreigners, their views often tend to be skewed in one of the two extreme opposite directions.

    Glad that you had such a good time. When you are here next time, do drop in a line and I will willingly be your guide for some more places in the Phils.

    Incidentally, about your question about Filipino culture, teh original Filipino natives are usually accepted as the “aetas” – you can still find them in places like Subic bay ( – while they are often seen as “uncivilised” by many, they are actually far more advanced than most cultures including western ones – and you will notice strong similarities between the “ayurveda” that you use in India to the herbal cures that the aetas use.

    During your next trip, do visit the Banaue rice terraces – it will give you an opportunity to interact with other indigenous tribes of the the Philippines – the Cordillerans, Ifugao and Igorot people – generally untouched by Spaniards and Americans.

    But then, as told to me by the famous guide, Carlos Celdran, perhaps that is what Filipino culture is – like a “halo halo” – a melting pot of different cultures, Spanish, Japanese, American, Korean….. which actually does not really make sense, but just like the halo halo, is amazingly tasty, and each ingredient / cultural influence brings that extra surprise and taste to the dish! yummy!

    By the way, my travel blog is not as interesting or funny as yours, but still, do have a look at it and let me know your thoughts -

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    I’m actually trying to visit Philippines in May πŸ™‚

    david b Reply:

    I just saw your reply (Yeah – I know, I am terrible at this!). Well – what do you know it is already May! Let me know if you are coming here and it will be fun to meet up.

  • ALEX


    i am not fond of reading blog. until i saw your site. and you make me fall in love with pictures and places you’ve been. Thank you for sharing your experience through out your journey. i am a fan…

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Thanks Alex πŸ™‚

  • maycmartinez


    Very insightful thoughts about the Philippines! Thank you for taking the time to post about your travel and your reflections. It allowed me to see my country through another lens!

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    You’re welcome May. And guess what, I’m back in Philippines! πŸ™‚ Just landed yesterday. I’ll be visiting Boracay, Coron, Legazpi, Tagaytay, And Donsol this time. Hope everything goes according to plan!

  • Mithun Divakaran


    Hey Doi, I’m back in Philippines! πŸ™‚ I don’t know if you will see this comment in time, but I’m in Boracay now. I’m leaving now and taking a flight to Clark.

  • hΓΌndΓΌn


    for all my research about Palawan, your posts were the most helpful and the pictures were ‘real’. i learned more from your posts than the local ones I’ve read. Thank You!

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Gosh… thanks! It means a lot to receive such compliments. Makes all the effort worthwhile πŸ™‚

    hΓΌndΓΌn Reply:

    I’ve actually been to Palawan but I was doing some research to learn other places that I might not have seen. The pics you took are so real. I liked it that I was able to know the real texture of the sand unlike other blogs.

    If ever you’re in Manila, let me know. Let me treat you for dinner πŸ™‚

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Wow, thanks for the offer ‘hΓΌndΓΌn’ ! Will surely take it up the next time I visit πŸ™‚

  • DM Genise Estremadura


    I spent the whole day reading about your trips, both in 2011 and 2013 in my country. I like the very detailed description of every event and your frankness about some of your not-so-good predicaments. Thank you so much for this. i hope next time you visit the Philippines, i can go with you. I’m from the island of Negros in central Philippines, but I’m currently workng here in Qatar.

  • Art



    I truly enjoyed reading your travel experiences around Asia – especially the piece on the Philippines, where I’m from. You seem to be a very intellectual and cultured person whose views were shaped by his travel experiences. I tend to differentiate travelers from tourists, with the former being more aware and open-minded and full of curiosity about the places that they visit. You, my friend, are a traveler. You are the epitome of the person with good critical-thinking skills and insight to the politics around the world and the history of its people. I admire you tremendously for showing a balanced approach to your writing and I hope that you never change in that regard. Again, thank you for writing about the experiences in my country and for showing how both of our countries’ peoples share similar struggles. Looking forward to more of your travel tales Mithun. [edit] NAIA is the bane of travelers in the Philippines. Ironic isn’t it that the provinces have airports that are more beautiful and in better conditon than the Capital’s?

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Thank you so much for your comment Art. It’s comments like this that make me want to come back to the Philippines πŸ™‚ Good thing I’m planning a third trip this May.

  • FIDO


    …good, very good

    I am a FILIPINO and admire what you wrote. Thanks… Maraming Salamat po

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Thanks Fido!

  • kai23


    i chanced upon your blog while searching for a good holy week destination, i must say i like your blog about my country. keep traveling and discovering. πŸ™‚

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Thanks Kai23, I’m in fact retuning to your country on April 24! πŸ™‚



    You are one awesome Indian dude! Been here in KSA for a while, met a few Indian blokes my age, yet I never meet someone as cool as you. You stay safe when you travel. Enjoy!

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Thanks dude/dudette! πŸ™‚

  • Abby Mohamed


    Like your writing, details, informative, with beautiful photos.

  • Justme


    It was great to know how enthusiast are you to discover Philippines. Come again and visit Intramuros which you can see an old-manila heritage way back spanish colonization around 400 years ago. There are restaurants serving good filipino cuisines, old churches and museums. And if you like a little fancy visit Mckinley Hill, Taguig not too far from manila. Have you tried the famous street food? Balot? xxenjoy.

  • Nate


    Thank you. I liked reading your blog. What you just said was mostly a reality of the Philippines. We Filipinos always became very proud when hearing a lot of good things about our country. I wish you could go back here and explore places like Davao and Dumaguete City.

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Hey Nate, I returned to Philippines in 2014 and did visit Davao πŸ™‚

    You can read those posts here:

  • Tan


    Namaste! Thanks for the nice article about our country and Filipinos in general. I am currently working in the Gulf and so many Keralites work here as well. I also have plans to visit your country India in a few months (North India specifically) πŸ™‚

  • jeb


    I was looking a blog about my country, the Philippines made by foreign blogger for quite sometime already and luckily a popular local blogsite appeared on my FB newsfeed citing foreign bloggers sharing their experiences traveling across the country and I got curious about your blog. First and foremost, all the bloggers mentioned were either American or European then I stumbled upon yours. Asian and from India! And you talk about Manila!
    Presently, I am working in Korea and every time I was having my vacation in my country, I would always compare Seoul to Manila. Manila really needs a lot of catching up in terms of infrastructure and everything to improve the quality of life there like transpo and the likes.
    But seeing you in your photos riding our metro train system (which pisses a lot of riders due to its poor quality service, mind you during rush hour and having too much politics behind), riding our buses, jeepneys, and even tricycles, going to Quiapo, Divisoria, etc,. made me proud of my country. I bet other backpackers would escape all those things and wouldn’t rise to the challenges of Manila.
    This was new and refreshing based from other blogs that I read (of course they came from 1st world/highly developed countries so perspective was quite different esp about Manila).
    However, through you fantastic shots esp in the countryside, it dawned on me that inspite of Manila’s shortcomings, our islands are something to boast about.
    Thank you for inspiring me ( I actually read all your articles/series about PH. Other Asian countries-on going). And praying one day, I too can visit those place you have been esp El Nido! Trully, It’s more fun in PH!

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Thank you for your lovely comment Jeb πŸ™‚

  • Manish Soni


    Nice Post dude.
    I’m planning for a PH trip next year. Can you help me with you entire expenditure during your trip of 2011?
    What was the total approx amount you spent?

Comments are closed.