Manila, not a big thrilla'

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2007

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines

Flag of Philippines  ,
Friday, May 11, 2007

He Said:

Two flights with a long layover in Kuala Lumpur took us from Bali overnight to Manila. Like most nations in this part of the world, the Philippines have a colonial past. Beginning with the landing of the explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 the native population and its traditional culture became increasingly dominated and influenced by Spanish trade. This continued for the next 400 years when in the late 1800's when the dispute over Cuba prompted Spain to declared war on the US. The conflict of Spanish-American War spread to the Philippines where the US fleet commanded by Admiral George Dewey (whom I've been told I am related to!) sailed the US fleet into Manila Bay and routed the Spanish ships. The US supported a native revolt against the Spanish, which eventually led to "independence" in 1898.

In reality, all that had changed with the defeat of the Spanish was in who was doing the economic exploitation. For all intents and purposes, the Philippines became a de facto American colony and supported a number of US military bases. In 1941 when the Japanese declared war on the US by bombing Pearl Harbor, the Philippines became their next major target. On the Bataan Peninsula, local and US forces were defeated by invading Japanese troops and the entire nation fell under Japanese control, prompting the retreating American General Douglas MacArthur to make his famous, "I will return" promise. When MacArthur did come back to fight the Japanese in the month-long Battle of Manila, over 150,000 civilians were killed and the city was pretty much flattened. In total, over one million Filipino soldiers and civilians died in the war.

The defeat of Japan in 1945 led to far greater Philippine independence from US control, although they continued to maintain military bases here until 1991. Between 1965 and 1986 President Ferdinand Marcos dominated the nation. Heavy handed policies, periodically instituting martial law, rampant corruption, severe restrictions on political opponents eventually prompted the "People Power" movement leading to his exile. One of the legendary examples of the Marcos' excesses was the 15,000+ pairs of shoes abandoned in the Presidential palace by his wife Imelda. The ouster of both the American influence and the dictatorship of Marcos did not issue in an era of political stability, but hey democracy can be a messy process!

Because so many Filipinos have specialized skills, are well educated, and speak excellent English they are in high demand abroad (especially in the Arab Gulf region) as guest workers to do jobs in construction, medicine, entertainment and a variety of other trades. If you have taken a cruise lately, chances are that a sizeable portion of the crew were Filipino. It is estimated that at any given time, over 10% of all Philippine citizens are working abroad. These workers send much of the paychecks home and make up a very important part of the Philippine economy.

So we've spent the last two days in Manila. It is not the prettiest place we've been. The traffic choked streets, characterless concrete buildings in varied states of decay, and muggy climate might at first glance make one wonder why anyone they came here. Actually, I enjoyed our time in Manila and feel quite comfortable here. There is more to it than the fact that the city is filled with stores I recognize, most signage is in English, we were able to watch Spiderman 3 in a theater (two thumbs down!) and that we are finally back in a place where cars drive on the right-hand side of the road. The Filipino people are unbelievably gracious and friendly. Culturally, Manila is far more similar to our home in the US than any other place we've been on this journey. Still though, Manila it has a flavor all its own. A few things that caught my attention were the English that people speak at times sounds Spanish accented, the food is a very tasty and unusual hybrid of Spanish and Asian flavors, and that most public transport consists of rides in a "jeepney" (imagine a rickety, fully chromed-out, US Army-style Jeep that has been modified into an open-air stretch limo with bench seating). All in all, I like it!

She Said:

Well, I we just completed our last "messy" travel connection of this trip...2 flights with 10 hours waiting at the airport between them, with the 2nd flight being overnight. Yuck! But it is over now, and I won't miss that at all!

Manila is quite the city of contrasts... one minute you can be in a giant air-conditioned shopping mall walking by high-end stores like Gucci and Prada, and the next minute out on the street a homeless child is tugging on your legs begging for money. Which makes sites like the "Coconut Palace" all the more ridiculous. Imelda Marcos spent more than $30 million having the Coconut Palace built to impress the Pope on his visit to Manila, who incidentally upon hearing about the excesses and extreme waste, canceled his trip. Do you think the Pope might have been more impressed if the $30 million was spent on helping the homeless?

There are a few historic buildings and churches still standing after all the WWII bombing in an area of town called Intramurous, which is a walled city area left over from Spanish Colonial times. The old city wall is still standing, and the moat area has been turned into an 18 hole golf course...hopefully they got all the crocodiles out of the moat or there will be some surprised putters!

We have been noticing how similar the cultural interaction style is here to what we are used to in the US. It seems we share a similar concept of what politeness is, as well as several social norms such as standing in line, saying excuse me when you bump into someone, saying thank you, and other subtle things that are hard to pinpoint. Additionally, since about 20% of the Filipino/Tagalog language has been adapted from English and most people speak some English, we are finally able to have real conversations with people! And humor is part of the conversation, which is something that has been severely lacking from the last several months of our trip. All of these things have helped to make us feel very comfortable here.

All in all, I would say that Manila isn't exactly a major tourist destination, and is really more useful as a connection hub to explore the other Philippine islands. There are hundreds of budget flights each day to these island destinations, and we are looking forward to exploring the white sand beaches of Boracay for the next week or so.
Slideshow Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • Please enter a comment.
  • Please provide your name.
  • Please avoid using symbols in your name.
  • This name is a bit long. Please shorten it, or avoid special characters.
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address


gringograss on


You got that right! Manila is something else. Unlike any other. Definitely NOT for the light hearted. It's good that you guys appreciate the uniqueness of Manila and the Philippines in general. Most Filipinos still do not realize what they have.

You guys write well. I'm gonna want to be reading all your journals here. Good luck on your travels! I'll catch up on the world, soon!

p.s. when you come back in the Phils, visit Coron. It's in the Palawan Islands. Google it. =)

aike75 on

Cebu, Philippines Resorts
Do you know that 70% of tourists who come to the Philippines pass by Cebu..... it's the queen city of the south.

We have some nice beaches, friendly people, historic sites to appreciate and seafoods --- a lot.

Come and experience Cebu !!

Cebu Resort/ Spa/ Hotel

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: