We arrived in the Philippines on board another Jetstar flight at around 8pm on a Saturday. Having left Bali we had a brief layover in Singapore before our arrival in Manila. The immigration, customs and baggage pick up went like a dream and we were out of the airport within half an hour of touching down. This was a surprise as we had read that it could be a bit of a nightmare at Manila airport, not so in our case. This was great as neither of us had visited the Philippines before and we were excited to start our adventure.
There is a taxi counter at the airport which operates specially licenced airport taxis. You pay a little over the odds from normal metered taxis, but our trip into Ermita cost just 260 pesos on the meter (just over £4) so you can’t complain really. We were also treated to a free fireworks display on the way to our hotel, as there is an international fireworks competition on every weekend in March. We thought they had heard we had arrived and put it on specially to welcome us, sadly not.
We dropped our bags and wandered into a bar next to the hotel (Bar 28) for a few welcome beers (San Miguel is the local brew and comes in a variety of flavours – pilsner, light and a very strong brew called Red Horse at nearly 7% proof!!). We also had our first taste of the charming Manila hospitality from the staff and locals in the bar who were very charming to us as we enjoyed some live music and karaoke, some of them were pretty impressive especially with the Beatles songs.
Our first full day in Manila led us to the famous Robinsons Mall to sort out sim cards and mobile wireless for the Mifi. We now have two Sim cards, one for calls and one for the MiFi internet. Internet here is charged by time not by data volume downloads. The best provider is Smart ; coverage so far is brilliant and fast even in the remote parts in Ilocos North in Pagudpud and it costs just 20 peso’s per hour to connect (about 35p). We also purchased some new day packs as our recent purchases in Bali didn’t make it to the airport intact.
We then had a wander round the bay area, admiring the prime real estate known as the American Embassy and Consulate on the sea front and then past the Ocean Park and into Rizal Park.
The park was great, it was Sunday so was filled with families enjoying the day of rest, picnicking, kite flying and generally having a good time. The atmosphere was incredibly friendly and you see groups of people acting out dance routines, kung fu and karate lessons taking place and many ask you to take pictures of them, so are more than happy to pose for photographs to add to your album. It was a very warm day both in terms of the weather and the human warmth from the local people.
We also noticed that there was to be a free concert later in the day celebrating the links between the Philippines and China. China is a very important trading and tourist partner for the Fillipino’s so these cultural events are given high priority. We thought we would have a little bit of free entertainment and decided on a visit to the nearby National Museum of the Fillipine people to fill some time before the event started.
We weren’t expecting much but got a real surprise as we wandered around the exhibits which range from a complete history of the Philipine birth, its culture and its population right up to exhibits by modern Fillipino artists depicting life now. Some of these were particularly impressive and it is all set in a wonderful colonial style building. Entrance is free, and well worth the visit for those passing through the capital.
It was then back to the park for the concert, snappily named “Years of Friendly Exchanges Between China and the Philippines 2012/2013” . It all began with much pomp and speech giving by the delegations and dignitaries from Chinese Embassy and the Phillipine Deputy Foreign minister which were a bit too long but finally the concert got underway.
We enjoyed the Chinese dancing, not so much the singing from the Chinese equivalent of Renee and Renato, but the highlight for us were the Chinese puppeteers, absolutely amazing what they can do with a bit of string and a piece of wood, quite masterful. The show ended with a celebration of Philippine traditional dances from the different regions and even included a bit of Spanish style dancing from the north Luzon region.
Just as the show ended we were treated to more fireworks in the park and then a terrific light and sound show from the fountains in the centre of Rizal Park. This was really impressive mostly because we weren’t expecting it. We then headed back towards the hotel and to find something to eat, this is where things got a little interesting.
We decided to walk home from the park as it was only about 10 minutes away. After our many warnings from Filippino’s and friends who had visited Manila we thought we were following all the rules.
We kept to the big streets with plenty of lights, it was reasonably busy with lots of people milling about after the show in the park. We turned down the main road to our hotel, but as we turned a corner out of nowhere came one child begging, before we knew it there were about twelve surrounding us, hands going everywhere. We managed to get away without anything being taken although they’d tried unzipping bags and putting hands in pockets in a matter seconds. Having spoken with others, they haven’t been so lucky. It was really upsetting to see these poor kids, with the blackest of eyes, high on glue trying to obtain their next fix.
I recount the story here not to put people off visiting Manila, but just to say that it does happen and you need to be careful. Child poverty is a huge problem in Manila and often these desperate children are used by gangs who entice them into glue sniffing and other unsavoury habits and then force them to pickpocket and steal, very very sad. So take a taxis when out after dark and as the locals will tell you don’t get your mobile phone out when on the streets or travelling by jeepney.
Rain stopped play
Our next day in Manila should have had us exploring the Old City of Intramuros, but it rained torrentially virtually the whole day so the rest of our Manila sightseeing will have to wait till our return later on our tour of the Philippines. So we spent the day eating and drinking. I now know why there are quite a few tubby Filipinos, the food here is excellent but more of that in a later travel blog post. Also we popped into the Cebu Pacific ticket office in the mall to book our flights to Laoag, the nearest airport to Pagudpud.
Our first impressions of Manila are good, and as we expected it is extremely chaotic, the transport and bustle of the place is non stop and most people speak American, so communicating is relatively easy. Some people didn’t always understand so we learnt some basic phrases in Tagalog (you have to love a country where the language is called Tagalog right?) and this brought lots of smiles and giggles when we didn’t quite get it right. An old friend who has worked in Manila said that they all speak American, but don’t necessarily understand English, I think he got it about right with that wonderful quote.
We had had our sights set on Pagudpud since happening across it in some posts during our internet research. It is one of the lesser known locations in the Philippines but the pictures we saw enticed us to find out more.
You can get a 10 hour air conditioned bus there, but most don’t leave till the early evening for an overnight drive so we opted for the midday flight with Cebu-Pacific. It is only a short 50 minute flight and you touch down in Laoag almost as soon as the plane has reached cruising altitude. Not before the Cebu-Pacific crew play their in flight games where you compete to be the first to hold up your identity card, stand up and smile or hold up your ten fingers. Bizarre, but if you played and were first you got some flight discount vouchers so we are ready and primed to play for the flight back.
The very kind Governer of Ilocos Norte Imee Marcos (yes she is the daughter of the shoe loving former presidents wife) has laid on a free shuttle bus from the airport to the town centre where they will drop you at your hotel, or in our case, the bus station. Its a small bus so get your luggae quick, register with the information point in the airport and grab a seat as the bus fills up quick and they pack you in like sardines. Failing this you can get a trike or one of the Jeepneys that ply the route into town.
Laoag is the main town in Ilocos Norte and from here we took the local bus to Pagudpud, it is about an hour and half away, but the journey is pleasant as you pass through the local villages and rice fields along the way. Towards the end of the journey you get some beautiful views of the Ilocos Norte coastline too. The journey is based on the kilometres travelled and for us that mean a wallet bursting £1.20 each for the trip.
The bus driver and his assistant will look after you, tell them where you are headed and they will come and tell you where to get off for the final part of the journey. This is done by tricycle. Now I never thought you could get two grown men, two backpacks and two daypacks inside one of these things for the 15minute journey to Saud beach, but we proved you can. We would have taken a picture, but there was no way either of us could reach anything we were sandwiched in so tightly. It was only after we peeled ourselves out of the thing we realised that one of us should have rode pillion behind the driver – idiots.
We made it via some very interesting transport experiences to Saud Beach in Pagudpud and it is so worth the trip, this place is stunningly beautiful. We will tell you more in our next post.