Shop ’til You Drop in the Philippines!

Even though this vacation was planned on a tight budget, one of the main things we wanted to do while in Manila was to take advantage of how much the dollar is worth! The exchange rate is great for the US Dollar, so we planned to do a bit of shopping and a lot of eating. We limited ourselves to a few shopping places: Greenhills, Tiendesitas and Greenbelt. Tiendesitas turned out to be a disappointment. It was filled with pet shops and furniture, both of which we didn’t want nor could we even bring back with us. I don’t plan on going back there. If you want to do authentic designer and name brand shopping, Greenbelt and the Glorietta malls are good for that. These shopping centers are massive and never ending. It was fun just to window shop. We shopped at Landmark, where we got good deals on shoes and clothes. Makati City shopping is very tourist friendly and VERY nice. Since our hotel was near the Greenbelt and Glorietta shopping centers, we spent most of our time in this area.  It’s also a very safe area to walk around in at night.

One evening we decided to take a taxi to Greenhills, which is a large shopping center. There’s a regular shopping mall and then there’s a market with rows and rows of individual vendors. Here you can find anything your heart desires. I would have liked to have spent more time at the Greenhills market, I’ve never been to anything like it. This is a cash only place and you have to be good at bargaining. Seller’s prices usually start really high and you have to bargain with them to lower the price. They can be very pushy and even grab your arm but just stick to what you want and don’t get overwhelmed. We went once at night and once early in the morning. I suggest early morning, less people and if you’re the first buyer of the day you might get an even better discount (so they say).

As you can see from the photo, the Philippines is VERY densely populated. Not an inch of space is wasted. In additions to living areas being packed with people, the roads are just as hectic. Philippine drivers are insane. I got carsick every time we drove anywhere. I’m not even sure how their traffic laws work or if they have any, but it was like riding in a roller coaster. Our average taxi ride cost about 270 pesos depending on traffic. Traffic is usually very bad and slow, but drivers find ways of getting around it. I don’t recommend renting a car in this city.

Jollibee is sort of the McDonald’s of the Philippines. We ordered two medium pizzas, a burger and fries for about $8.00!  Another day I decided to try a Philippine restaurant that served BBQ chicken and red rice. It was absolutely delicious! I suggest eating this if you can find it. We also bought a bag of sliced mangoes from a street vendor, another disappointment. The mango was not good at all. I guess it’s just a hit or miss thing with the food. I was worried about eating because I didn’t want to get sick. I suggest just sticking with restaurants and taking some Imodium before and during the trip.

At the end of my trip to Manila, I was ready for relaxation. I really enjoy my time there and learned a lot of useful things for my next visit. Next stop, the island of Boracay!

Philippines Vacation: Manila

As I stated in a previous blog post, I took a trip to the Philippines in February for a week. One of the great things about living way out here are all the amazing islands nearby that I can visit.

Day one of the trip seemed like a week long trip itself. I’d been a little weary of this vacation because of the negative things I’d heard about the Philippines. I was trying to be open minded about everything, but the first day seemed to agree with those negative comments. The airport was very nice and the airport workers were accommodating. One of the first mistakes we made was agreeing to any price for a taxi. We paid about 1125 Philippine Pesos, which is roughly $25, to take us from the airport to Mall of Asia. DO NOT pay THAT much. We’d made this poor decision in a rush, later we found out that 275 Pesos was a good deal.

We arrived, with our luggage, at the Mall of Asia before opening time. Luckily, the mall has areas where you can leave your luggage for free and pick them up before 10pm. Once the mall opened we ate, shopped a bit and headed out to our hotel. The shopping at the Mall of Asia is OKAY. There are lots of nice stores but the prices are relatively equivalent to those in the States. If you’re not really into shopping, I say skip this. We did however watch an IMAX movie for about $10 per person! Our lunch was also about $10. The only store we spent time in was the SM department store. If you enjoy salespeople bombarding you with service, then you will like this store. I on the other hand, nearly had a panic attack. The amount of salespeople vs. the amount of customers was about 10:2. They especially like to sell to anyone who looks American. Although the prices were very good in the SM store, I couldn’t wait to get out. One interesting thing about the Philippines is that there are MANY police and security officers everywhere. So, any store or shopping center you go into you have to go through security. There are two lines, one for women and one for men where they check all bags for weapons.

After that disaster, I felt overwhelmed and had a headache. We decided to take something called a Jeepney to catch the LRT (public transportation train).  Jeepney’s are old, abandoned US Military Jeeps from WWII turned into taxi-like vehicles. The Jeepney was about 7 Pesos and was jammed packed with people. We were left near the LRT station, which we took to downtown Manila. Once you leave the nice area of the mall, everything turns out to be just as you had seen on TV. A lot of poverty, small streets, thick city life.  The LRT was also split into two sections. One for women only and one for men and women. Philippine driving is ridiculous! I don’t know how to explain it…it seemed like they had no driving rules.

We had printed a map of downtown Manila and thought we could walk to our hotel. We ended up walking through some really bad parts of the city (luggage in hand) where people were sleeping in the middle of the sidewalk, some were urinating in the open, kids asking for money, people trying to sell us mystery meat and others who looked like they were on some serious drugs. Finally, a guy driving a horse-drawn carriage came by and said it would cost 50 Pesos and he’d take us to our hotel. So we got in. He ended up taking us on an unneeded tour of downtown Manila, going through red lights and oncoming traffic with his poor, broken-looking horse. When we finally arrived at our hotel he decided to charge us 250 Pesos. At this point were were tired, grumpy and hungry and we paid it. BEWARE of that…it happened to us more than once. It was also nearly dark and our driver had advised us not to leave our hotel after dark.

We stayed in Hotel H2O merely for the in-room aquarium. The hotel’s public aquariums are a big attraction among school children and we arrived when a few schools were holding field trips. Overall, I enjoyed the hotel but it was not in a very nice part of the city and I will skip it during my next trip (yes I plan on going back!). We paid a little extra to have breakfast included in our hotel price. The breakfast was very interesting…it included normal breakfast food plus potato wedges, pasta, french fries and other random stuff. All very delicious! Our dinner there wasn’t so good though 😦 There is also a very small shopping area where you can barter with the salespeople.

We had a good laugh at the Do Not Disturb sign which read, “Disturb me not, please.” 😀

End of Day One!

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