We weren't planning on stopping in Manila, largely because of the notoriously bad reputation. But Moon and Sujin (Korean couple from our Mt Pinatubo trip) offered some insight and some floor space for a night or two, in the nicer part of Manila, Makati. So we decided to give Manila the benefit of the doubt.
We arrived in Manila at 5am, after taking a freezing cold, seated night bus, from Banaue. It wasn't a nice start to the day. I'd contracted deadly man flu, and had a sore throat from the air-conditioning. Luckily we were able to go straight to Moon and Sujin's condo, as they were up very early to play golf.
We'd been informed by the guesthouse owner in San Juan, that a couple of his guests had been mugged by a taxi driver in Manila! Apparently the taxi driver had held a shotgun at them, and demanded they hand over all their belongings! Using a couple of tips from the guesthouse owner and Lonely Planet, we carefully selected a taxi and got to their condo safely.
After a very brief reacquaintance, Moon and Sujin left to go off and play in a golf tournament. It was an odd feeling, briefly meeting them again after just a day together in Mt Pinatubo, then the next minute being left in their apartment with their keys, and in charge of their cat. A good sign I suppose, we must look like trustworthy people!
Their office was where we'd be staying - they'd kindly laid out a thin, but surprisingly comfortable mattress on the floor for us to sleep on. The apartment was very spacious, and the office we were staying in used to be a bedroom, so had its own ensuite. They also had a huge open plan living and dining room area (where their cat would play), a kitchen, a balcony with some nice views, and of course their master bedroom with ensuite.
After a few hours sleep, we awoke to get on with the day. Putting some washing on whilst getting ready - Sujin had left us a few notes, including letting us know where the washing machine was - I don't think we smelt that bad!
Just as we were about to leave, we saw a huge pool of water coming out from under the kitchen door! The washing machine had drained all of its contents on to the floor. It took us over an hour to soak up all the water, by which time we were starving.
Sujin told us later that day that she meant to use the one that was tucked away in the utility room - a washing machine with only Korean language printed on it, not the one on display (in English) in the kitchen.
We went to a shopping mall across the road to buy some breakfast. Having access to bowls and utensils in their kitchen, we fancied a western style breakfast. Amelia found some porridge, and I found some cornflakes, which with fresh milk was too expensive, so I 'settled' with a very nice pan au chocolat! It went down very nicely along with some buko juice and fresh fruit.
The condo featured a swimming pool on the seventh floor. It would've been a shame not to take advantage, and it was the perfect way to get rid of that groggy feeling!
Our next plan was hunting down a sports bar with wifi, so I could watch the Chinese F1 GP, and Amelia could do some catching up on the Internet.
After a great race (Lewis won) we went back to the apartment to see Moon and Sujin. It was great to see them again, as none of us were quite 'with it' at just gone five in the morning. We spent an hour or so catching up, before deciding to venture out in Moon's family wagon.
I'd read in my guide book that 'Manila Bay' was a nice place to go for sunset. Apparently the sunset is so colourful due to the overwhelming smog around Manila - one upside to pollution! The sunset really was spectacular, but the atmosphere let it down. It was extremely crowded, and noisy with screams coming from the permanent fairground rides littered along the front.
We ate dinner together at Moon and Sujin's favourite restaurant... a Korean restaurant. The place seemed very basic, almost cafeteria like, but as we know well by now, this isn't necessarily a bad sign. These places can often serve the best food, and it was proved... their food was delicious, and by the looks of some of the newspaper cuttings dotted around, it had received a lot of great press. We ate a lot that evening, including some delectable 'Dak Kalbi' - spicy chicken and veg stir fry with rice dumplings, served with a dozen or so small side dishes - Amelia's favourite were the peanuts in sweet sticky soy sauce and mine was the spinach in sesame oil, topped with sesame seeds. We also took pleasure in trying some Korean beer. I liked it, but as Amelia pointed out, it tasted a little yeasty. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening, but all feeling completely shattered we went to bed fairly early.
Sujin had very kindly prepared us a very hearty breakfast of corn on the cob, served with rice (cooked with soya beans), egg and a mango salad, washed down with a yoghurt and fruit smoothie.
Unfortunately Moon and Sujin wouldn't be around today as they had to go and do something called 'work'? Not too sure what it is, but he does this work thing for a power company, as a project manager. Sujin is a part time Korean teacher, which she can do from home using Skype.
As with a lot of major cities, there can be areas with high crime rates. Sometimes it's just knowing where to avoid, being 'street smart' and being armed with.... instructions from Sujin. We decided to go and explore the manic metropolis that is Manila. Manila is actually made up of eight districts. We headed to the oldest district. On one of the various jeepneys, we met an old man on his way to work. He was more than happy to help us with our next 'transfer' but warned us of the potential hazards travelling around Manila. Sometimes it's easy to forget these dangers, but someone mentioning it definitely re-alerts your awareness.
'Intramuros' also known as the 'Walled City' because of the nearly three mile long circuit of huge stonewalls and fortifications. Within this old district there are churches, convents, schools, and fine courtyard houses. It reminded us of Vigan, just not as alluring. Intramuros was almost completely destroyed in 1945 during a brutal battle between American, Filipino and Japanese forces. Many of the buildings, especially around 'Fort Santiago' still bear the battle scars.
'Binondo' district was just over a river from Intramuros, we went here to have lunch in the oldest Chinatown in the world. After a delicious lunch in a Chinese style cafe, we went in search of a Chinese cemetery - recommended in the Lonely Planet for some odd reason.
We got dropped off, by tricycle, just outside the cemetery. The cemetery was surrounded by a ten ft concrete wall, probably for good reason - to try and keep the poverty stricken neighbourhood from ransacking the place! It took us almost an hour to actually find the secured entrance, Amelia wasn't best pleased. And I can't say I blame her, it was a very very rough area, not somewhere we wanted to end up in. But Lonely Planet neglected to give any sort of warning. To be honest we weren't impressed, it wasn't worth the risk. The cemetery was am supposed to be full of very colourful mausoleums, one apparently had its own swimming pool! All we saw though was very rundown structures and a lot of stray dogs roaming around. Some of the small mausoleums looked they had been broken into. Not wanting to brave anymore walking around the local neighbourhood, we took a tricycle and then the monorail outta there!
We got back to find Sujin had very kindly cooked us dinner. Later on, we all went for a few beers down the road to a Mexican bar/restaurant. Apparently it's customary to have 'finger food' whilst drinking in Korea, so Sujin and Moon ordered some quesadillas and a burrito to 'pick' at - it's nice to have something other than rice once in a while.
In the morning, we booked the sleeper bus to 'Naga'. Naga being near our next destination, 'Legaspi'. After booking the bus to leave later that day, we (to Amelia's delight) went to the biggest shopping mall in Asia - 'Mall of Asia' using the jam packed MRT and jeepneys. During which we experienced our first jeepney breakdown! Luckily, we didn't have to wait long for 'roadside assistance', which came in the form of another jeepney literally giving us a 'bump' start! Don't worry we didn't suffer too badly with whiplash.
We were meant to just have a quick browse around the mall, but Amelia doesn't know the meaning of window shopping - something I'm sure she gets from her mum! She did manage to limit herself to just a pair of shorts and a top though.
We caught the monorail and interlinking jeepneys back to a supermarket near Moon and Sujin's place. We wanted to get them a little something, as a token of our appreciation. They both love chocolate, but neither had even heard of Cadbury's Dairy Milk! So we got them some, along with English tea and shortbread.
Before packing up and leaving, Sujin, the very kind and generous person she is, made us a small dinner, which included tuna wrapped in rice - moulded into a balls and covered in flaked seaweed. They tasted a bit like sushi. She also boiled some corn on the cob for us to take on our journey.
Later that evening, during rush hour(s), we caught an unbelievably busy monorail to the bus terminal and boarded a sleeper bus to Naga...