Up nice and early on New Year's Eve for our flight to Manila. We got a traditional Palawan tricycle (a bike with a side car but with a car look to them) to the airport and prepared ourselves for airport carnage and delays. But no, it was all a breeze and we even managed to depart early! Crazy.
So, Manila, well I had heard only bad things from travellers about Manila and how rough and dodgy it is, especially the taxi drivers. It seemed that arriving on NYE has it's advantages, as everyone had left the city. We even got around the dodgy taxi drivers from the airport but booking a taxi through the 'official' taxi counter for 440 pesos to our hotel. And after talking to Fran and Paul we got a deal as they had to pay 1,400 pesos to a random taxi they took. We arrived at Tune Hotel in the Makati area of Manila and told we couldn't check in until later so we decided to explore the area and grab some belated breakfast. The only road that had anyone on it was the red light district road near the hotel, the rest of Makati was dead except for the security guys sitting outside offices and banks with massive shotguns. With a lack of people and atmosphere it was and looked a pretty boring place. A long way from the craziness I had prepared to face. After exploring the Ayala Triangle Gardens and the Greenbelt shopping mall we headed back to the hotel and crashed and until Fran and Paul arrived. Realising it was NYE we tried desperately to book a bus to the north of the island to try and avoid spending another night in Manila but failed miserably.
Once Fran and Paul and arrived and sorted out we headed over for some pre-drinks at their swanky hotel. When we got to the hotel, we felt hugely underdressed as everyone going in was dressed to the nines and to get in we had to pass security and sniffer dogs, not intimidating at all! But wow it was impressive, in the lobby they had set up for an elaborate NYE ball and looked rather exclusive (I think it was about £75 / 5,000 pesos a head). Random it was in the lobby through with us and other shabby looking tourists / guests wandering through. We found Fran and Paul and headed theirs for a few bevvies and a catch up and to concoct a plan to bring in the new year as there seemed to be no real celebrations happening in Makati. Gutted that the previous year had a street party and a big countdown.
A few drinks inside us and needing food, we headed over to the Greenbelt shopping mall and tried to select the best and most upbeat on the restaurants to eat, drink and party in. We found a pretty decent tapas place which was packed and stuffed our faces with tapas and cocktails. The restaurant had no sense of bringing in the new year compared to the place next door which had an awesome drum band playing and a countdown to new year. We tried to pay the bill and escape our place to head to this one in time for the countdown, but in true Filipino style the guy brought the bill out bang on midnight! So we through some cash down and went and celebrated the new year.
We headed back to Fran and Paul's hotel and in the way the sky was full of fireworks and firecrackers going off. When we go to their hotel, the party was in full swing so we got involved and hit the dance floor. After a bit of dancing, we decided the four of us wanted to wander over to P. Burgos street, the red light district near out hotel to see what the vibe was like down there. We grabbed a beer and sat at the table on the pavement to watch the going on's. It was funny watching one old guy who thought he was taking home a young pretty Filipino girl, as they walked off we saw a different young pretty girl take him off down the street. But moments later he was coming back holding hands with a slightly crazy dishevelled old Filipino woman, I think he sobered up quickly at that point and realised he had been had and ran to the safety of the bar. The new year fully started we said our happy New Years again and goodbyes and called it a night.
The following morning we had to get up early to rush to the other side of the city to book our bus tickets to Banaue, in the north. Once we found a slightly more reasonable taxi we jumped in and headed over, driving across the city we saw how different and shabby the other provinces were and the more real side of Manila I had heard about. Luckily we managed to grab two tickets for the bus that evening from what looked like a shack but claimed to be the bus station.
Tickets sorted, we wanted to see more of Manila so got dropped off at Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz church near China Town and it was immediately a different vibe to Makati that made me feel uncomfortable. The street was lined with rough looking homeless people and the park across the road had a large group of children sat sniffing bags of glue. Definitely out of my comfort zone. So we dived for cover in the church to suss out a game plan. We headed in the opposite direction to see China Town and again because of the holidays it was all closed up and the streets predominately dead and it certainly wasn't appealing. Least we managed to find a cafe to kill a bit of time in. We carried on walking through China Town towards the Santa Cruz church (a nice large church) down the dodgy, dirty streets and were followed into a shop by a homeless girl sniffing glue and drug injection marks over her body demanding 5 pesos, not taking no for an answer and following us further into the shop, the shop woman throw her 5 pesos and laughed. Not feeling too comfortable we waited for her to get half way down the street before continuing our walk. The streets got dirtier and more sinister feeling so gripping me bag we aimed for the Quiapo church, which apparently is the most visited church in the Philippines. It was packed! The streets surrounding the church were also packed. Fighting the crowds to get through, we got to the main road and decided just to head back to Makati. Sounded easy, so standing at side of the road looking for a jeepney heading that way, we were approached by a young girl called Jessica offering to help us. I was a bit wary but man, so glad she came to our rescue as there were no direct jeepneys to Makati (thanks Rough Guide!) and resulted in us taking 4. Jessica, a nurse and devout Christian, escorted us on the first two and flagged down the third and asked the driver to advise where we needed to get off. Thank god for Jessica!! Eventually, back in the safety of Makati we were glad that we had seen more of the city and also that the city was so quiet as I'm not sure I'd like to be in those areas when it's in full swing.
Still we were back to having nothing to do and with it raining, we found ourselves heading to the cinema to watch Bonifacio. A film about how this guy helped lead the Philippines to break away from the Spanish control before being killed by one of his own, it was a good insight into Filipino history and a pretty good film. Afterwards we didn't have too much time left to kill before the bus to Banaue, so we grabbed a dirty McDonalds to tie us over to the morning and got ready to head to the bus station.