10 Tips for Traveling Around Metro Manila
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How to make the most of your time in the Philippines’s capital city

Know how much you have to pay for

One of the worst traits of Filipinos is automatically assuming that foreigners are moneyed, and have not been subtle in taking advantage of it. Refuse any propositions of cab drivers to go with a fixed rate instead of what’s on the meter—because it’s almost always overpriced—and do not tip more than 10 percent of the total fare. When negotiating for something, better to have a Filipino do it for you—don’t fret about walking away if they say so. Ride-sharing app GrabCar is a better alternative because you are told the fare even before you get inside a vehicle.

If you’re going out, tip your server generously at the start

Image by Jonathan Valencia from Pixabay

Workers in the service industry are paid fair wages, but you’ll make their day if you give them their day salary’s worth. Say you’re heading to a bar and staying there for several hours, give P500 – P1000 ($10 – $20) to your server at the onset, and ask them to take care of your party. Trust, they will go the extra mile to make sure you have a great time.

Be wary of overly friendly Filipinas

Chances are, these are women of the night.

Bring a change of clothes

Photo by Alvin Decena from Pexels

The country is hot and humid all days of the year—including the monsoon seasons. Unless you’ll be in a climate-controlled environment, be prepared to sweat like you’ve never sweat before. Actor Luke Evans once made the mistake of showing up at a red-carpet screening of a movie he’s promoting in the Philippines wearing a suit. Poor dude was drenched.

Pay attention to your valuables

Petty crime abound Metro Manila, even in the more upscale malls and neighborhoods. Smartphones, bags, and wallets are easy targets for a would-be pickpocket. Secure your valuables at all times, and be aware of people making a scene seemingly to distract you.

Water from the tap may not be drinkable

Photo by i love simple beyond from Pexels

Play it safe and bring a bottle with a built-in filter to clean any water you’re going to drink. Water from restaurants should be fine, as do the bottled ones you can get at groceries and at convenience stores.

Make full use of all public transportation options

Photo by Good Free Photo

The abundance of public utility vehicles—buses, jeepneys (repurposed pre-World War II buggies), tricycles, FXs (ten-passenger SUVs), and taxis—is one of the reasons why traffic is such a big problem in Metro Manila. However, this can also be an advantage to a traveler—you do not need to rent a car during your stay. (Actually, it’s probably a good idea not to have a car, as parking, fuel, and how Filipino drivers are in a league all their own, can really add up in terms of cost and your blood pressure.) The above-ground rapid transit trains are also cheap and a quick way to get around, provided you even get in.

It’s only 50 percent cashless

Your plastic is great at hotels, sit-down restaurants, major retail stores, services like massages and haircuts, and when using the ride-sharing app Grab. For everything else, you need paper bills (PHP or ₱). As with most countries, you get the most value for your dollars by withdrawing from a local bank ATM and letting your bank back home do the conversion. As of writing (May 2019), the exchange rate is at ₱51.73 = $1. Aim to get your money close to that amount.

Visit the (free) National Museum

Photo from the National Museum of the Philippines Facebook page

No visit to any new country is complete without indulging in a little art history, and the National Museum Complex (Padre Burgos Ave, Ermita, Manila, 1000) is well worth an entire day. Housing four museums, the National Museum of Fine Arts, National Museum of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, and the National Museum of the Philippines, this center is an extensive look at the Philippines’s multi-cultural past. Here you can see European-style portraiture sharing space with indigenous and pre-colonial carvings. The jewel of the museum, Juan Luna’s Spoliarium, is testament to the Filipino people’s immense talent.

Explore day trips out of the capital

Although the Philippines’s world-renowned beaches are nowhere near Metro Manila, several spots well-known in the international travel scene are only at most a three-hour drive away. The Villa Escudero plantation (Villa Escudero, Km 91, Tiaong, Quezon; +63 (02) 523-0392) is a working coconut plantation whose claim to fame is its waterfall-side restaurant. Enchanted Kingdom (San Lorenzo Rd, Laguna, Santa Rosa, 4026 Laguna) is a theme park that boasts of roller coasters and more kid-friendly thrills.

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