Can Anything Good Come Out of Manila?

This is my first post from a series on the Philippines. There is just too much to write about, so I'll start with my first destination in this amazing country, which only lasted about 2 days: Manila.

Can anything good come from Manila? Ask anyone from Panglao island and they would either say no or "how the hell should I know I can't afford to fly there."

I think Manila is worth visiting, but only for a day or two. Believe me, it does have its own beauty, but there are thousands of islands to visit, so it doesn't make sense to stay unless you have a ton of time, are enamored with the place, or decide that your true calling in life is to be a Manilian (I have no idea if they call themselves Manilians, but it sounds cool as hell).

Initial Inpressions

It reminds me of Juarez, Mexico mainly because of the traffic, but also because of the smells and abundance of people. It does not have a kind smell generally speaking, at least where I stayed and ventured to, and  the air was warm with smog. *Note to my Filipino Manila friends: I don't mean to offend, I'm offering my honest impression of the city. I spoke with a very kind, intelligent, and gorgeous Cebuana (a Cebuana is a girl from Cebu) recently who informed me these things can be taken the wrong way. Much love to you and your country.

The place where I stayed is called La Verti residences, and it was pretty decent, especially at around $30 a night. It's an upper middle class (I think) high rise smack dab in the middle of craziness. Walking around that area could be somewhat of a nightmare with so many buses. I think there are just as many buses in Manila as there are dogs in Costa Rica, which may as well be called infinite. I had a pretty great view of the skyline. The ocean was usually obscured, though you could make out the outlines of boats in the distance through the oft orange-ish haze. Once I walked outside of the high-rise, reality and the way of life for many living in the city always struck me. There is strife and 7-11's. Yes, 7-11's are abundant in this city, for better or worse. American commerce knows no bounds, and neither does strife. Hi America! I love ya but damn you're everywhere son. 

The view from my Airbnb balcony

The view from my Airbnb balcony

I was surprised to find that the time change is not completely unpleasant, though for a couple of days it seemed as though I kept falling sideways to the left. Maybe my body was confused about being on the other side of the planet. The change in time induces a sort of haze, and taking a nap at any given time becomes the norm for a few days.

My other view, facing the sea

My other view, facing the sea

Shotgun Arm

What the hell does this mean? This is a note that I made while in Manila, and I have no idea what it means. You would the phrase "shotgun arm" would be a powerful enough mnemonic device.  

The Streets

There is a lot of poverty in Manila. Infants can be seen sleeping on cardboard a meter away from a sleeping homeless dog. There are quite a few homeless individuals and families scattered throughout the city. It's not the same type of homelessness that we often see in major cities in the states, if I may be so bold as to classify homelessness. In U.S. cities we get used to seeing many homeless persons in rags emanating a sewer-like smell and talking to no one in particular (yes there are exceptions and I'm generalizing/stereotyping here). In Manila, like other cities in developing nations there are many people of all ages lying around inert, sitting quietly as a family, or begging. This is not to say that every square inch of the city looks like this. Quite the contrary, however, it is substantial enough that it's worth noting.  

I won't sugarcoat it; much of the city is dirty, and no, children should not be sleeping on the sidewalk.

There are some things that I feel a city just shouldn't ever do without. One of these things is having trash cans made available to the public, trash service, and no infants sleeping on cardboard in the middle of a hot day. 

I spoke with a few native Filipinos later and found that, surprise surprise, many of the problems in the Philippines are a direct result of action or inaction by greedy corrupt politicians. I'm merely an outsider looking through an admittedly distorted lens. I would love to do a deep dive akin to what Tim Urban does in his ridiculously awesome site, but I know I won't anytime soon. I have a very limited knowledge about all of this, including the social-economic state of things, as well as political. So take my initial impressions for what they are: fragmented, real, narrow, honest, and likely out of context.

Some things aren't easy to see while you travel. Questions enter your mind like: "should I stop everything that I'm doing in life and try to do something about this crazy shit?" In the end you become an Observer Of Society, an OOS if you will. One of the great things about travel is that it can open your eyes to things, and can act as a catalyst to get you involved in positive social change.

Okay, enough on that subject. I'm not ready to be a revolutionary just yet. Anyway if I did it would more closely resemble Don Quixote as opposed to a Che Guevara or [insert revolutionary of choice here]. 

Road Transportation

*I didn't try out the rail system, so maybe that's a better way to get around, I don't know.

In any case...

The buses are these little trucks called Jeepneys, which are very antiquated looking, but also cool in a cartoonish kind of way. They are ubiquitous in the Philippines, and especially so in Manila. There of course trikes and taxis, but be prepared to negotiate on the price. 

Uber is available in Manila, which is the way I recommend getting around the city. The ride rate is always going to be reasonable and you can trust the drivers (more than the taxi drivers anyway). Independent of the type of road transportation you use, know that it is going to take a while to get to your destination. The streets are just too congested AT ALL TIMES. This leads me to my next point, which is: fuck taxis in Manila. I just had one experience so it's purely anecdotal, but it certainly was asinine enough to stop me from ever taking one again the this city.

The Taxi Ride

I was trying to get to Paco Park. The driver that pulled up at the ATM kiosk I had just failed to use wanted to charge me 100 dollars to go a few kilometers (this was after I had already gotten in). I admit I made the mistake of asking him if he took U.S. currency. In response to his request for $100 I started laughing, thinking that he had to be joking. I told him fuck no, and he kept going down, all the way to 10 or 20 dollars. I wasn't even negotiating, I just kept saying everything. Believe me, that dude wanted to get the Benjamins that I didn't have real bad. All the while he was pulling away at his cigarette that dangled from yellowish brown lips in front of a few brown rusty looking teeth. He kept leaning in as if proximity was going to somehow sway me one way or the other. After about 1 minute I told him to stop and let me off.

He didn't stop.

Instead, he offered to bring me to a whore. I told him to stop again.

He still failed to stop the car.

He wanted to take me to some bars. I told him to stop and let me out.

He. Kept. Driving.

By that point I was pissed off and told him to stop the fucking car and let me out. I gave the guy a dollar. He was incredulous at getting only a dollar. Whatever.

Filipinos are awesome, don't get me wrong, but there are always a few questionable characters anywhere you go. Evidently the taxi drivers are somewhat notorious in Manila for being a tad batshit crazy. It worked out though, as I found a cool restaurant to chill at, after which I used Uber. Thanks old smelly crazy taxi guy!

The Sights

To be honest, I just picked a few of the top Tripadvisor attractions and went with that. This included Rizal Park, Paco Park, and Intramuros. It was definitely worth seeing these places and exploring them. You can read up on them, but I'll relate just a couple things from my time at these places.

Paco Park

Paco park is beautiful, though the experience is somewhat sullied by the loud music playing through PA speakers around the entire little place. There were a couple nooks in the back that I decided to explore. When I went into one there was a group of schoolchildren hanging about. They started chanting "selfie, selfie, selfie." So the first selfie shot in the Philippines turned out to be a group selfie.

Group selfie with the Paco Park Crew

Group selfie with the Paco Park Crew

Rizal Park

It's a big park with cool things, and tons of people go there to hang out. 

Rizal park at dusk

Rizal park at dusk


From Wikipedia: Intramuros (Spanish, "within the walls") is the oldest district and historic core of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Also called the Walled City, it was the original city of Manila and was the seat of government when the Philippines was a component realm of the Spanish Empire. Districts beyond the walls were referred as the extramuros of Manila, meaning "outside the walls".

This is a must see if you're going to be in Manila. It's fun to wander around there and just soak it in.

When I'm traveling I usually end up talking with a number of different fellow travelers at tourist destinations, but that day turned out to be a bit different.

As I was walking out of Intramuros yet another group of school kids appeared. Instead of chanting for a selfie they asked if they could interview me.

I told those kids to scram and get a job or something, and work on Christmas in a coal mine.

Not really...of course I said yes. 

When I said "sure" they were ecstatic. I could tell right away that this was for a school project, and was happy to provide my uneducated answers.

They asked me a number of different questions about social and cultural differences between my country and theirs, you know, the kind of questions you'd expect from a homework assignment. They recorded the whole thing from a tablet and took notes. They were very kind and respectful. It was really really cool.

At the end of the interview every single one of them shook my hand and thanked me. They told me that I was the only one who even acknowledged them.

This is sad and kind of messed up.

I get it, you can't really trust anyone, and a lot of times anyone of any age might be trying to sell or steal something (read about how I got robbed in Buenos Aires). But come on, you can use some discernment and common sense. If a group of schoolchildren in uniform ask to interview you, don't be a douchebag. 

Isn't that what the golden rule really is? Don't be a douchebag, that's it. World problems solved. Ha! 

I have so much more to write about, but for now I've got an island called Palawan to explore.

Oh, and in case you haven't guessed, many good things come from Manila. I'm looking forward to seeing how this scruffy giant of a city turns out in a couple years. 

The school kids who interviewed me

The school kids who interviewed me

Paco Park entrance

Paco Park entrance

Baluster de San Diego

Baluster de San Diego

St. Agustin church

St. Agustin church

Philippines flag in Rizal park

Philippines flag in Rizal park

How to Find Cheap Airbnb Rentals Anywhere in the World

Note: If you don’t feel like reading the full article, the quick answer is: stay for a while somewhere, or about a month to get the outstanding deals. Ok, totally read the article now because doing so will enhance your mental state in a way that will enable you to read minds on Thursdays. 

I’m not a backpacker. I don’t hop from hostel to hostel living life on the extraordinarily cheap. On the other hand, I don’t have vast amounts of cash to throw away to 5-star resorts, herds of yaks (just for the hell of it), or small islands where the sand is cocaine and everyone is named Wanda. I’m not sure I’d want that anyway, except for the herd of yaks. That would be pretty rad. 

The life of the wandering ascetic is just not for me, and being a yak herd buyer is out of reach. Neither is wrong, it's just not part of my game plan. Plus, I’m lugging around my guitar in addition to 2 pieces of luggage.

So what to do?

Why, become an Airballer, that’s what. I’m not talking about a person who constantly misses the rim playing basketball, I’m talking about using Airbnb on the cheap for baller places anywhere in the world. I hope we colonize Mars soon, because I’ll totally be using Airbnb there too (note to Airbnb, you should probably start looking into this). 

What is Airbnb?

Airbnb is still surprisingly unknown to many people around the world. I find that nearly everywhere I go there are at least a couple people that I have to explain it to (with perhaps the exception of places like New York or San Francisco). So let’s get this out of the way right now. 

Here’s a quick summary: people rent out their places to you, and it’s all managed through the website or app. Hosts and guests alike are vetted and most places already have reviews available. This takes the guesswork out of whether or not the place is a complete dump (I'll speak to this a bit more later in the post). In the past you may have had the following experience. 

Husband: “Wow, honey, check out these photographs of this Motel 6. It says here that their beds are made out of real cloud dust. That’s gotta be soft. Also, a whole wall is an 8k TV!"

Wife: “Wow, babe, let’s book it and be happy there snuggling on cloud dust after we first Netflix and chill."

Husband: "Ohhh la la honey, and it won't even be Thursday."

2 months, 1 day, and 3 hours later

Husband: “Wow, babe, that hotel was the shittiest thing that’s happened to us since…well, ever. That was the single worst experience we’ve ever had, and I’m taking into consideration what happened in Portugal."

Wife: “……"

Husband: “I feel empty and and my soul has a dark tint to it now. Even the cockroaches looked severely depressed there, and they’re survivors ya know."

Wife: “I can’t talk about this now…in fact, let’s never talk about this ever again, lest our mithril strong marriage be jeopardized."

Husband: “Good call honey buns. Good call. I wish you'd stop using Lord of the Rings references, but whatever. I'm with you like Samwise."

You can avoid having these types of experiences by booking through Airbnb. I realize that now many places have reviews in place, but it's simply not so for many places around the world, especially in developing nations. 

Finding the Great Deals

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how you can capitalize on finding the best deals out there on this pale blue dot.

The best way to get the best deal is to stay for at least a month somewhere.

I know that this is not feasible for many, but it’s awesome for a number of reasons:

  • You really have a chance to get to know an area and the culture. 
  • You have a home base while you travel to other parts of the area
  • The price is cut dramatically

When I was looking for a place in Costa Rica, I found a pretty nice apartment complex. The problem was that it was $50 per night, which was way outside of my budget. However, when I punched in dates to stay for a full month, the cost went down to $18 per night. Let’s put that into perspective. For around $550 I had an apartment a block from the beach to myself for a whole month. If I had chosen the shorter term stay route I would have paid the same amount for just 11 days. 

Was this an isolated incident? Nope, I did the same thing in Philippines. In fact, I’m writing this on a couch in a loft a couple blocks from Alona beach. I’m staying at Sanders Apartments, in the Loft. Initially I really wanted the Garden Home, which is the main level, incredibly spacious, blah blah, but it was already accounted for. The loft goes for $27 per night, with a 9 night minimum stay. Increase your time and suddenly the price per night is cut in half. 

Let's say I was staying for the required 9 days. This is what it looks like:

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 7.25.21 AM.png

If I extend it to a month, look how it magically goes down to about $14 a night. 

The reasons for this are pretty obvious. The host doesn't have to worry about bringing in people every few days, hiring a cleaner, a person to do the laundry, detectives to figure out why there's blood on the mirror spelling out "clean me rarrrrr."

I understand that a month in a foreign locale is a luxury not many can afford. I get it. I've spent my entire life believing that I could never do it, and there is no judgment coming from this guy. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to do this kind of thing. 

In the end, it's up to you regarding how you want things to pan out. I suppose I'm speaking mainly to a U.S. audience here, but consider a few things before you rule something like this completely out:

  • Is your job really that awesome? 
  • Can you work remotely?
  • Can you take a sabbatical?
  • How much do you pay in rent a month?
  • How much do you pay for gas or a car payment?
  • The stuff you do have, is it necessary or is it owned to meet some status quo expectation?
  • How long would it take to save up for something like this?
  • Would you like to do something like this but have fears that you're not acknowledging? i.e. what about health insurance and drug cartels and I saw that movie Hostel and that will happen to me!?!?! Ahhhhh!
  • What's the worst that could happen?

Anyway, if you really want to check out another country for a while, I believe it's doable, especially if you live and work in a developed nation. Of course, I don't know your particular situation, so it just may be a simple fact that right now there's no way this type of thing can happen. That's okay too. 

That's Great Jeremy, But I Just Want to Spend a Few Days in Portugal

No problem. You can still find effin’ great deals for just a few nights or whatever. It’s pretty intuitive on the site, but just slide that price scroller to the highest price point you want to pay and see what your options are. I like to use the map a lot too, but wish that I could make it bigger. 


Factors when determining where to stay

I’m a budget-minded solo traveler, so I can be pretty damn flexible when it comes to places to stay. That said, there are still some things I take into account before staying somewhere:

  1. Location: is the place located in the middle of a major drug cartel operation? Is it close to things I want to see, or close to transportation to see things I want to see? 
  2. Cost: does the cost of the place require that I go sell rockets for a year before I can afford it?
  3. What do previous Airballers have to say about the place? Do they love it? Maybe they loved it but offer some good tidbits in their review. For example, someone may leave a 5-star review for a place, but mention in the text that it actually takes 5 hours to get from the place to the beach, as opposed to 5 minutes as claimed by the host. Why would this happen? I dunno, maybe the host is in the middle of a drug cartel operation and is saying “write 5-star review like bear or I take shoes.” Or maybe the reviewer just absolutely loved the host, formed an eternal bond that can’t ever be broken, so wouldn’t dare think of leaving anything less than a 5-star review. It's definitely not perfect, and the following article explains the pitfalls of the current review experience: Why You Really Can’t Trust Airbnb Reviews At All
  4. What does my gut say? Sometimes my gut says “you ate the wrong thing son, now you gonna pay!” Other times it really helps my brain out. I’ll look at places and my brain will be like “Ah joie de vivre!, would you look at that, this is perfect in all ways. N'est-ce pas my friendly gut brain?" My gut will then quite blithely say “merde mother#cker, that place will end up breaking you in more ways than there are lawyers in America, and that figure is literally infinite.” Anyway, be careful because a small mammoth will sometimes come in disguised as your gut or your brain. He is the voice of fear and comfort mongering, and says things like “that looks dirty and people will try and sell you things and rip you off and get you to join their mafia cuz you’re white as plaster with a shiny bald head.” Don’t listen to that idiot. 

How the Hell do I Signup for this Magical Thing Called Airbnb. For I too would like to be an Airballer

Right here my friends, right here: I Want to Be an Airballer