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Camiguin (Philippines), July 13th 2012 

Both Bangkok and Manila are capital cities in the south-eastern part of Asia, but the differences are significant. Thailand sells itself as the country of the eternal smile, but if you prefer a real smile above an artificial one, you definitely have to go to the Philippines. Filipino’s are in general more friendly and open in comparison to the Thai people; that’s our experience after several visits to both countries.

This experience was immediately confirmed during the first hour of our stay in the country. We took a taxi from the airport to downtown Manila and the taxi driver talked from the beginning to the end of the ride. The taxi driver, somewhere in his sixties, talked about his children. His oldest son is gay, his only daughter is a stewardess and lesbian, and his youngest son is the only ‘real boy’, as he put it so nicely into words. The street in central Manila where we wanted to go was unfamiliar to him, so we helped him a little bit by using our map. Without much delay we arrived at Pension Natividad, just before rush hour.

A street scene of central Manila

Manila is in many ways a very different city to Bangkok, the city we came from. Manila is much poorer and that is visible everywhere in the city. The buildings are bleak and grey, and in most streets you will find beggars who try to ‘earn’ the necessary Pesos to survive the day. Every restaurant, every hotel, every bank and every shop has an armed security man at the door, which gives the newly arrived visitor the impression that Manila is a dangerous place. If you want to enter a shopping mall, you have to walk through a metal detector after which you are searched by a security officer. A short talk with one of them taught us that he was especially looking for knives, guns and bombs. He took his job very seriously. Welcome in Manila!

We were for the fifth time in Manila and we still think that the city is a great introduction to the country. People are friendly, even in this huge metropolis, and several times a day locals shouted ‘welcome to the Philippines’ to us. Manila doesn’t have a lot of typical tourist sights, but it is still a great place to hang around for a couple of days. The first impression of the city might be grey, but under this bleak layer is a Manila that you are probably going to like if you spent some time here. You won’t see a lot of other foreigners. The ones you probably are going to meet are the more adventurous backpackers and some sex tourists who stroll from girlie bar to girlie bar in search of a nightly adventure, or even a young and pretty girl for the future.

We started our visit to Manila by visiting the two most typical tourist sites: Rizal Park, named after a local freedom fighter, and Intramuros, the walled old part of town. Before we reached the park, we walked through some streets where many employment agencies are located; all looking for Filipinos who are prepared to work abroad. Filipino workers are popular in many parts of the world because they work hard, speak good English, are cheap and because of the fact that they are prepared to leave home frequently and for a long time. Many women end up as household help in Hong Kong, Singapore or the Middle East, while the men often end up in the shipping business. For the Philippines as a country, the export of labour is one of their most important export products. A significant part of the Filipino GDP (country income) comes from Filipinos abroad who sent money back to their families in the Philippines. On the southern part of Rizal Park you will find a huge open air labour market where demand and supply meet.

Children are concerned about a drunken man
Rizal Park is a park of around 60 hectares in the centre of Manila. This is the place where many Manileans spent their free Sunday. Outside the weekend, the park is a great place to escape the chaos of the city. Rizal Park contains many statues of famous Philippine freedom fighters, but you will also find a lake in where a huge 3D presentation of the Philippines is made. This is a great place to plan your trip through this archipelago. Intramuros is the nearby located old part of town. Some buildings are interesting, like some churches and the Santiago Fortress. However, most buildings in this walled part of town didn’t survive the hectic history of the country. Personally, we like China Town and the area around Carriedo metro station (the area called Quaipo). This chaotic part of town has some interesting markets where you can buy all the things you can think of.

The “made in China” hype did also reach this part of the globe. Most shops and street stalls offer cheap inferior products that managed to cross the South Chinese Sea. However, there are also more interesting shops, like tailors where you can buy suits for security officers and where they immediately stitch your name on it. There are also several street stalls where you can get real looking revolver or automatic guns, or professional looking identification cards or university degrees.

Also the beer is cheap in the Philippines and that makes it even more interesting to spend some evenings in a local bar, to enjoy a cold San Miguel Pilsen or a Red Horse Beer. It is not difficult to find a bar in Manila where you can not only order a drink, but also the girl who serves it. Some of the girlie bars also have an area that is open to people who only come for a drink, and these places are great to see how things work. Cars with (often) Chinese men stop in front of the bar, negotiate, and when they can agree the price, their car is parked for them while they enter the ‘action area’ through a closed door. However, once in a while you can get a glimpse of what’s going on behind the doors; when somebody walks in or leaves. Sexy dressed girls, moving their hips, are lined up just behind the door, to welcome the new guests and to make a good first impression. Cheers! Our visit to the Philippines has started.

A 'try before you die' buffet
Planning of our Philippines trip in Rizal Park
Lunch in China Town (with chop sticks)
Our holy boys
Waiting for our flight to Cagayan de Oro (Mindanao)

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