Christmas Break part 2: Manila!

Hi all!

Chinese New Year has come and gone. We returned from a wonderful (albeit rather cold) week in Japan that we’ll have a very hard time putting into words. Cameron will be responsible for updating you on that one. Too many cool things.

In the meantime, we wanted to continue sharing with you some of our memories from Christmas break. Time to move to the Philippines!

We went to the Philippines knowing we will be back and some point (points?). Why? Because it’s a 7000+ plus archipelago, that’s why. These islands are incredibly diverse, and of course, beautiful. We don’t particularly like to rush ourselves through a city we visit. We like to take our time and explore, and find things that tour guidebooks sometimes don’t tell you.

Manila might as well not be on anyone’s travel radar. It’s big, very densely populated, has lots of slums, traffic is congested, poverty is rampant and the vast majority of it was bombed to the ground during World War II.

Sounds a lot like Santo Domingo, if you ask me – except for the war part (although Santo Domingo was indeed destroyed by a hurricane in 1929).

Turns out, Manila is eerily similar to Santo Domingo.

Let me start from the beginning. We flew out of Shanghai on a Saturday afternoon. We had never flown Philippine airlines before. We arrived to the airport and – of course – a very long line awaited. We went over to an empty counter because we wanted to check if our bags would be OK under carry-on regulation. (They were). He then proceeded to check us in and hand us our boarding passes. Score! We skipped the line! (Okay fine, I’m sure the people actually on the line weren’t very happy.

Our flight was fairly smooth although there were some issues with the in-flight entertainment. The food, however, was quite good. Also, when was the last time you were in a 3.5 hour flight and got food for free? We got free food, free booze, and even an ice cream cone after dinner. That’s what stage 1 of culture shock looks like, my friends.

Since we were going to spend the night in Manila and fly to Guam the next day, we figured we would rent a room at a cheap place near the airport. Well, this time we might have gone too far on “cheap”. We definitely got what we paid for. It was hot, cramped, and well, the whole room was a fire hazard, really. We should probably take it up a notch from now on.

After our week in Guam, we returned to Manila for a week because a) I was somewhat curious and figured a city that had been occupied so many times (by the Spaniards, Japanese, and American, not to mention the large Chinese population) would have some interesting stuff to offer, and b) I kind of wanted to spend New Year’s in a big city. While we were in Guam, we received an email from the hostel we had booked saying they were cancelling everybody’s reservations due to maintenance/renovations in their facilities. Greeeeeat (groan); we needed to find a new place to stay.

In the end, we booked the Oasis Paco Park Hotel, with low expectations but also a low price. It worked out fine, and had a pool. It was quite warm in Manila.

We were staying right across the street from this park:

Cam and I spent one of our last mornings in Manila in this little park, just enjoying the little pocket of quiet it is. Paco Park is located in the vicinities of Malate and Ermita, two of the busiest districts in Manila.

Some more pictures of the park. And us. And a cat:

This park used to be a graveyard. Today, the chapel you see in the picture is used for religious services for the marrying and the dead. One more thing about this park: it might have the CLEANEST public bathrooms I had ever seen! (until then, of course, then I went to Japan with its wonderful temp-controlled toilet seats).

We also walked by the Manila Bay a couple of times. It’s…well, smelly. And dirty. Thank goodness you can’t see the cockroaches in these pictures.
There are always street vendors and people walking by. Reminded me of the Santo Domingo waterfront, but ours is cleaner. Believe it.

The great highlight of Manila is Intramuros. The city within walls. Intramuros was built during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines, and was essentially the city of Manila until the city started expanding out of it. It reminded me a lot of Santo Domingo’s Colonial Zone. A lot of what you see has been reconstructed after the severe damage Intramuros suffered during World War II.

The Manila Cathedral in Intramuros. And because that’s just our luck, it’s undergoing renovations and we couldn’t go inside. Second cathedral we can only check out from the outside. Boo.

This is Fort Santiago, the entrance to the city back in the day and the US Military HQ during their time in Manila:

Commemorative photo:

Ah, shorts in December! That’s life.           

More around Intramuros:

This is the church of St. Augustine. It might not look like much, but it was the only building in Intramuros that survived the WWII bombings.

There was a wedding. We kind of crashed the photo shoot:

Nice CAR!
The inside of the church is quite lovely.
Sadly, like in any developing country, there is also a lot of this in Manila: 
However, people, despite the poverty and all their troubles, always greet you THIS way: 
Okay fine, except for the taxi drivers. They are the worst. More on that later. 
We spent New Year’s Eve with Cameron’s colleagues, the Millers. They are the music teachers at the school. They were spending one night in Manila on their way to hiking some volcano so we figured we’d ring in 2014 with people we knew. We had dinner at California Pizza Kitchen (go figure) and waited for the massive fireworks show along with a gazillion Filipinos at Mall of Asia. You could barely walk, but hey, we got to see a really good fireworks show. For obvious reasons we didn’t take our camera. We have pictures on our phones (maybe). 
Overall, Manila was great but a week might be too much time to spend on it. On my next post, I’ll show you a little bit of our week in Boracay. Say what you may about it, but it was great! 
Until then,

Published by Team McGregor

Living and teaching in the Middle East - previously in China, South Korea, and Hawaii (US). This is our blog dedicated to our travels and life living well as some other fun stuff!

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