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BillT Mar 15th, 2005 06:06 AM

Trip Report - Manila, Phillipines
Returned from 10 days in Manila and surrounding areas. Just getting over the jet lag and catching up so I hope to submit a full trip report soon. Suffice to say that those who have not given the Phillipines a visit are missing a lot!!!!!

rhkkmk Mar 15th, 2005 06:34 AM

we missed you bill...glad you are back


make sure you tell us everything about eva....there have been lots of questions recently about it

BillT Mar 15th, 2005 10:38 AM


Departed on 2/27. Houston to LAX (on Continental). LAX to Taipei (EVA Evergreen Deluxe Class). Taipei to Manila (EVA).

Airfare - $1025. Continental miles accrued for the entire trip. Evergreen Deluxe Class- this is a class between true Business and coach. The seats are wider and there is enough legroom for me (6’2”) to cross my legs. At the front of the plane the seating is 2 by 2, a little further back it is 2 by 4 by 2. We always had the two seats together. Meals- a cut above coach meal service, hot towels, amenity kit, wine and beer free, individual entertainment system in the seat backs, etc. There is not separate boarding for Evergreen Deluxe class unless you have their premium elite card- you board with the coach class. EVA boarding procedures need a little help- sometimes it works fine and other times they foul it up.

Day 1- March 1st.

We arrived at Manila airport at about 11:30 am – right on schedule. The airport is old and is probably one of the few in the world that has not been renovated or is not under expansion/construction. As we left the gate area and approached the immigration point- there was an immigration officer holding a sign with our name on it. Our relatives had arranged for us to by pass the line at immigration. The officer took our papers and whisked us around the lines to the baggage area- he even got a luggage cart for us and wished us well on our vacation. We were then met by my wife’s aunt and her husband (a CEO of a local bank). They loaded our luggage and drove us to our hotel. They also exchanged our US$ for Pesos. The exchange rate is 54.6 Pesos to the US$.
Upon arrival at the New World Renaissance Hotel we were met in the lobby by a cousin of my wife. She had already checked us in and presented us with our keys.
Our room rate was $50/day, which included buffet breakfast for two each day. (This is the rate for locals) Actually what we had was 825 Pesos per day each of food credits to use. Breakfast for two amounted to 1625 Pesos. (Inclusive of tax and service charge) This is a four star hotel in my opinion. The room size was fine- a bit smaller than what we had in Bangkok at the Peninsula. Décor was modern; bathroom had the separate shower and bath but only one sink. It was showing a little age. Working desk and sofa and chair with a view of the city. Safe for valuables with a mini bar, etc.

The hotel is located in Makati- the central business district of Manila. It is by far the best-located hotel as there are a number of shopping malls across the street as well as a super market and lots of restaurants. We had considered the Peninsula, Mandarin, Shangri La- but these were not located well in relation to the shops and restaurants. (The famous Manila hotel was too far away to consider)

Manila is a city where you are either with a tour group, or you have access to a full time driver. Traffic is as bad or even worse than that of Bangkok. There are really no transit options except for taxis. The locals use what are called Jeepneys- not recommended for tourists- these are not air conditioned for the most part and are jammed with locals- as many as ten per Jeepney. Cost to ride the Jeepney is 5 pesos.
The taxis are metered- we did not take them so I cannot relate costs here. English is spoken everywhere by everyone so language is not a problem in the Philippines.

You will also see the Philippine equivalent of the Bangkok Tuk Tuk. These are motorcycles with a sidecar attachment. Some are bikes with sidecar attachments.
I have seen as many as 8 people riding in these things- you have to see it to believe it!

Security- the hotels, malls – all have very tight security arrangements. They check the cars as they approach the hotels and you pass thru metal detectors and all packages are searched as you enter malls and hotels. We felt very safe in our stay there.

After we dropped our luggage in our room we were treated to lunch by the relatives at a local restaurant in the mall (Greenbelt Mall) across the street from the hotel. We had local Philippine cuisine. Weather seemed to be the mid 80’s with little humidity. Although the water is safe, we were advised to dink only bottled water.

After lunch we were taken to our relative’s seamstress across town. My wife had brought her own material. She had 5 pairs of pants, 1 blouse, 1 shirt, and 1 blazer ( a Cheong-sam) made. The pants and blazer were lined. She also had her trench coat sleeves shortened and the waist taken in a bit. For all of that we paid $110. One fitting was all that was needed. We would pick up the clothes in about 1 week.

Dinner consisted of my getting some fast food at a food court/supermarket close to the hotel. The wife had had a big lunch and was not hungry for dinner.

Jet lag was setting in and we slept at 8pm.

BillT Mar 15th, 2005 10:41 AM


Kathie Mar 15th, 2005 04:08 PM

Interesting - I'm looking forward to more.

Martinan Mar 16th, 2005 06:26 AM

Hi BillT! DId you get a chance to visit Tagaytay while you were there? We ate at a wonderful place called Antonio's. There are 2 of these restaurants. We had a lovely dinner at the original one. The ambience was wonderful, reminded us of Thailand. The food was excellent and so was the service. The chef/owner comes out and greets the guests when he gets a break from the kitchen.The dinner was inexpensive at $20-25 per head. Glad you enjoyed your trip.

BillT Mar 16th, 2005 07:23 AM

We did go there- we visited a private resort that my wife's uncle is a member.
We had lunch at the resort- it was high up (Highlands). I'll get the name and will refer to it in my trip report to come. Day 2 trip report will be posted today. I'm doing it day by day.

BillT Mar 16th, 2005 08:06 AM

Day 2 March 2nd

Breakfast at the hotel. This was a breakfast buffet. Aside from the usual eggs, omelets, pancakes, bacon, sausage, they had a variety of Philippino dishes such as Adobo, Menuedo, Pancit (noodles) also Shomai (steamed dumplings), chesses and fruits. Not quite the top of the line buffets offered by 5 star properties but very good. This turned out to be the only time that my wife and I had time to ourselves!

After breakfast it was off to Quiapo. An area Northwest of Makati. As usual we had a group of Aunts/cousins taking us there. Picture Hong Kong’s street markets with food stalls, souvenier shops, crafts etc and you get the picture. This is the nitty gritty world of Manila. If you like visiting such markets- then you want top pay a visit here. There is a place there called Balakayan Handicrafts (sort of like Nara Phand store in Bangkok) where in air conditioned comfort you can shop for all sorts of interesting handicrafts from the Philippines. In this shop (they also have other branches around the city but we suspect one would get the best prices here because of its location) you will find items made out of batik, shells, and a lot of embroidery work. That day they were giving us a 36% discount on items purchased.
Everything in this store is quality and the prices were very reasonable. We also walked the market and did some shopping from the stalls there.

After Quiapo we headed back to Manila. We had lunch at the Aristocrat- a restaurant chain famous for its barbeque. The location for this was Rojas Boulevard which is the main drag that fronts Manila bay. At night the sunsets here are magical.

After lunch we went back to the hotel to rest. The a bit later we were picked up for a dinner at the home of one of the relatives in Pasay – another part of Manila. This was the first of several family reunions.

After a long evening we were taken back to the hotel.

rhkkmk Mar 16th, 2005 08:35 AM

nice report...looking forward to more..


BillT Mar 17th, 2005 05:01 AM

Day 3 – March 3rd.
Breakfast at the hotel. Then we were picked up by my wife’s uncles (his driver and them) and we headed over to the waterfront (Manila bay) to board the boat for Corregidor- the island fortress of World War II. I believe the cost for this excursion was 1,350 Pesos ($24). The wife's cousin who is a travel agent arranged for our tickets ahead of time. This included an hour-long boat ride over to the island and back, a fully escorted tour of the island and a buffet lunch. You should buy your ticket ahead of time as reservations are suggested. The boat leaves as I recall about 7:30 am. The boat has several decks and you are assigned your seats. I think the boat can hold about 100 people. For history buffs this is a must do.
The island played a key role in the battle for the Philippines during World War II.
It was here that General MacArthur and the US and Philippino troops battled the Japanese during the invasion of the Philippines.

After the boat ride over you are met by a guide and ride in an open-air trolley with a group of about 12. You tour all of the facilities of the island. The guide is an expert on the island’s history. I learned a great deal about the island and its role during WWII. The island housed some 20,000 US and Philippino troops. You tour the ruins of the barracks and other buildings as you traverse the island. Numerous gun emplacements and war memorials are visited. The highlight of the tour is a tour of the Malanta Tunnel. This is a huge tunnel in which MacArthur and the troops operated out of during the bombing of the island. The tunnel has a vast array of laterals off the mail tunnel, which is built into the hills of the island. As you walk down the main tunnel at each lateral entrance there is a display and story being told about the battle for the island. This part of the tour ends at the far end of the tunnel. Back on the trolley you also visit the point on the island where MacArthur left the island via a PT boat before the island surrendered to the Japanese.
We then proceeded to have a buffet lunch at a restaurant there. There was a three-piece band that played while we dined on local specialties and fried chicken.

After lunch the tour resumed finishing up with a visit to a museum where there were a number of exhibits of war items, pictures, etc.

We were back on the boat at 2:30 for the ride back to Manila. This was the first time the 2 uncles of my wife have been to Corregidor and they were born in the Philippines and are in their 70’s- they enjoyed the tour.

The driver picked us up and we were back at the hotel by 4. Dinner that evening was with my wife’s best friend – who lives in Manila. We had Chinese at a restaurant in the Greenbelt 1 mall across the street from the hotel.

rhkkmk Mar 17th, 2005 08:11 AM

great addition to report

BillT Mar 17th, 2005 08:16 AM

Thanks Bob- I really believe the well traveled Fodorites need to go to the Philippines instead of their nth trip to BKK. BKK is great but for something different the Philippines will surprise them!

rhkkmk Mar 17th, 2005 07:51 PM

i have put it on my list but it is below places like india, costa rica, st petersburg, laos, south africa, kenya and others...

BillT Mar 18th, 2005 04:58 AM

On second thought maybe its better that people don't discover the Philippines, that way the low prices on everything will stay low!

BillT Mar 18th, 2005 05:41 AM

Day 4- March 4th
Breakfast at the hotel. Picked up by our relatives for some shopping at Greenhills Shopping Mall. This is about a 20-minute drive from the hotel. Greenhills is sort of like MBK in Bangkok only on a smaller scale- 2 floors. On this day they had a lot of vendors selling designer knockoff bags and other leather products. In addition to these vendors which apparently stay for a period of time and then move on to another venue, there are about 75 permanent stalls selling all manner of pearls- fresh water, south sea baby, Mikkimodo, you name it they sell it in pearls.

The wife likes to buy the knockoff bags for fun and gifts. We have come to understand over time that when women observe other women carrying designer bags more often than not the first thought that comes to mind is…Oh that’s a knockoff… so why buy the originals, pay hundreds of dollars, when people will just assume you have a knockoff anyway (yes its illegal but the practice is widespread and I don’t think we will see any designers on the breadlines any time soon)… ok I’ll get off the soap box and back to the trip report. The wife was looking for particular designer bags- in certain designs/colors. There were dozens of vendors selling these bags of all types and designers. We have come to learn that the best quality knockoffs come from South Korea and the knockoffs are actually rated as 1st class to 3rd class- pertaining to the quality/workmanship. The vendors would identify their bags as 1st, 2nd or 3rd class.
You can tell the differences if you have been shopping these products over time. You look closely at the stitching, the lining, labels, fittings etc. The wife was able to get 4 bags- Prada and Ferrgamo and was able to negotiate these for about 450 Pesos each. Not bad based on our experience in BKK, Hong Kong, and KL.

Lunch was at a Korean restaurant across the street from Greenhills. We had Korean BBQ dishes- very good! After lunch it was back to shopping at Greenhills. The focus now was on pearls. Folks trust me when I tell you that if its pearls you want this is the place and the prices are nothing short of amazing. First of all most of the customers shopping here are locals- hardly a white face in sight- so you know that it is no tourist trap. The vendors are all Philippino Muslims. Most of the pearls come from the southern islands of the Philippines. These are all real pearls with either gold (10k) or silver fittings. They also sell turquoise and coral jewelry.

The approach used here was that my wife and her relatives would circulate about and negotiate with the vendors on what they wanted. I stayed away from them – the reason being that if these vendors see me the price goes north. (Read – rich American). The wife was able to buy some fresh water and south sea baby pearls as well as some coral and turquoise items. Now the pearls- she was able to buy a set of earrings, matching necklace, ring and bracelet for about $18. Not only that but the bracelet and necklace were fitted for her-they adjusted the bracelet so that it falls properly on the wrist, the necklace so that it lays perfectly around the neck. They were also able to size the ring as well right there on the spot. Folks we have shopped many places in the US and in Asia- I have not found deals like this anywhere!!!!
She also purchased a turquoise piece, which has an interesting feature to it. It’s a long necklace made of many turquoise pieces with small magnetic beads of some sort every so often. The magnetic beads allow the necklace to be worn long, or double wrapped (sort of as a choker), or can be worn as a bracelet (wrapped 4 times)- all made possible by the magnetic beads. They also have this type of item set in pearls. For this I believe we paid around $4. Other items purchased were a set of 4 single pearl bangle bracelets set in silver- we paid $1.90 for this set. Folks I’m not making this up- it’s the real deal. The competition in this place is so stiff (remember 75 vendors) that prices are low to begin with and some bargaining takes it even lower.
South Sea Baby pearl earrings set in silver went for $2, coral set- set in either 10k gold or silver- earrings, bracelet and necklace went for $5. You can go to BKK a dozen times and not find these deals!!!!!!!!!!!

After shopping was concluded we went back to the hotel. Dinner that evening was at the Banana Leaf- across from the hotel in the mall- it features Singaporean and Malaysian cuisine. We had Nasi Goreng (an Indonesian rice dish) with Beef Curry and Satay- pork and chicken with some Malaysian bread- it was fabulous.

rhkkmk Mar 18th, 2005 07:25 AM

bill we will nick name you the pearl farang king

BillT Mar 18th, 2005 09:41 AM

Day 5- March 5th

Breakfast at the hotel as usual
Then we were picked up by the wife’s aunt- a Neurologist who is in her 70’s and other cousins. Today we were going to visit Villa Escadero- about a two-hour ride south of Manila. You travel on some highway but after a short time you are in the country and meandering thru coconut and pineapple plantations. You get a very good picture of life in the province outside of hectic Manila. This is a privately owned coconut plantation/destination. At Villa Escadero there are a number of activities. You buy your tickets when you get there- I don’t believe you need any reservations. As we were guests of our Aunt I cannot tell you the price of admission.

The estate/plantation is very lush with coconut tress and other exotic plants. From the main pavilion you ride in an open-air trolley pulled by a caribou (water buffalo). About 10 people to a trolley. The trolley takes you to the museum, which is an old church, which houses the vast collection of artifacts collected over generations of the Escadero family. There are ornate religious floats that are used in a number of festivals/parades during the year. There are two floors of exhibits- many items from around the world too numerous to cite here. A guide escorts you thru the museum and adds commentary on each area/item. It takes about 30-45 minutes to tour the museum.

After touring the museum it is lunchtime. At this location there is a lake and a waterfall. You go down some stairs to get to the picnic/lunch area. It’s an outdoor buffet. The unique thing about this venue is that it’s located at the base of the falls.
Before entering this area you take off your shoes and socks and store them. You then walk out in the picnic area where the water from the falls is flowing. Its about 6 inches deep. There are picnic tables set up in this water as well as the buffet line.
You eat lunch with your feet in the water flowing from the falls. Your food is served on a banana leaf (that’s your plate). It’s very refreshing- and different to say the least! The food consisted of local Philippino specialties as well as BBQ chicken and fresh pineapple (and since this is a coconut plantation right in the middle of pineapple plantations- its as fresh as fresh can be!). Also there is fresh coconut juice served in coconuts (cut out the top and insert a straw!).

There are maybe 100 people or so picnicking in this fashion. Our table was right next to the falls.

After lunch we proceeded to the main building for a cultural show. This show consisted of a number of dancers and singers performing native songs and dances in native costumes. This went on for about an hour with many different arrangements including the stick dance. (Picture two people one on either end with two long bamboo poles on the ground held about 12 inches apart. Dancers step in and out of these poles to the beat of the music. As the tempo increases the poles are tapped together and apart to the beat. The dancers then must step in and out quickly so as not to get caught when the poles are tapped tgether. There are several sets of these poles- its quite a feat.)

After the show the group can wander the grounds for picture taking. This concluded the activities and we headed back to Manila.

Dinner was with the wife’s aunt and best friend at a place called Singing Cooks and Waiters located on Rojas Boulevard near the waterfront on Manila Bay. This turned out to be one of the most entertaining events of the trip! Its not a big place and has two floors- we ate on the first floor. They serve Philippino cuisine. There is a three-piece band there. We sat near the front where the band is located. All of the cooks and waiters in this place sing- and I mean they banged out those tunes for our entire time there. I was the only “American” in the place and so needless to say we attracted a lot of attention from all of the staff. These guys/gals were highly animated and very very good singers- they got us into the action at times, put funny hats on us and generally entertained us for a full 2 hours. The headwaiter seemed to have a crush on the wife- good-natured fun. They said they were dedicating the “show” for her and that they usually don’t put on a show on the first floor but they made an exception for us! The wife was up dancing Cha Cha with him and I was singing tunes as well with the staff. It was a great evening that I will long remember.
And oh yes the food…. Not bad either I had BBQ and rice.

Back to hotel to sleep by 9:30.

BillT Mar 18th, 2005 11:31 AM


hiraya Mar 18th, 2005 06:26 PM

Hey Bill you seem to be enjoying your
Manila trip. That's nice to hear that you find this place great. I am a local here and I personally like Greenhills when it comes yo shopping although if you want a relaxing mall experience you should go to Greenbel 3 and don't forget to check that new Market!Market!. This place is full of malls you wouldn't even believe you're stepping on a third world country. Btw Bill, have you already set yourself to the videoke? Hahaha.

As fore everyone feel free to ask me any questions about Metro Manila.

rhkkmk Mar 18th, 2005 06:36 PM

now you are a dancing pearl laden farang

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