Manila Airport, Philippines Airline. Photo by Daisuke Fujii via Flickr, used under Creative Common License (By 2.0)

Manila, Philippines - What to prepare prior to flying

An archipelago within Asia that’s reared on 400+ years of Spanish-brought Catholicism and 50+ years of Hollywood Americana culture is what will greet you upon arriving in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Within its three major island groups of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, you will inevitably land on the main island of Luzon where the primary international airport is located. And soon after, you will be mingling with the locals who are part Chinese, part Malay, part indigenous in heritage but with a mixture of other races like Spanish, Arabic, American, among others, who could converse with you in broken or 80-90% straight American English.

With this kind of eclectic mix, what should a first-time traveler prepare for, do, and bring? Here are a few tips from a Manila-reared traveler.

Weather check

The Philippines only has two seasons: wet and dry. No matter which season you find yourself traveling, make sure you bring a reliable companion: a foldable umbrella. Because when it’s wet here, it gets soaked! And when it’s dry, it can get oven hot. And it’s the dry kind of hot, so best to bring moisturizers or basic lotion and lip balm to prevent your skin and lips from cracking. Sunscreen and mosquito repellants are also year-round lifesavers, so bring a bottle or two. Visors or hats/caps are also cool to bring.

 
June to September is the wet season, where monsoon rains fall and typhoons wreak havoc. There’s no telling in which of the island groups these bad boys will hit, so better check three-day weather forecasts to be sure.
 
October to March is the dry season, but lately, there have been times when minor typhoons bring in rains during these months. In general, though, the sun shines most times, and it could get scorching. Better bring sunglasses if you don’t want to hurt your eyes.
 
April and May is our summer season. Don’t forget to lug around a bottle of mineral water to rehydrate (if you’re sensitive, never drink tap water here). Believe me, you’ll need it, a lot. And if you’re the type who perspires a lot, Manila will challenge you in that department, so bring deodorants if you could.
 

Clothes check

The Philippines is generally a modern country, so the clothes we wear here are patterned after western styles. The usual T-shirt, slacks, jeans, shorts or tank tops are favorite get-ups, as we wear rugged or sporty outfits when doing chores or don smart casual clothes when we want to look more presentable at work or in going out. Decent sneakers, sandals and flip-flops are favorite footwear. If you plan to do a lot of walking around, these will do. If you plan to attend a more formal affair, better bring something appropriate for the event, like a good shirt and tie or dress.

Luggage security

As a rule of thumb, never let anyone at the airport take your bags. Sure, we Filipinos are known as nice folks, but there are unscrupulous people here, too. As much as possible, handle your own bags and never call the assistance of porters. And no matter what you do, never let your bags out of your sight, especially when it’s being handled by airport personnel or a good samaritan to go through x-rays and stuff like that. There have been incidents in the past where bags are being planted illegal stuff so people could extort money from tourists. So be careful.

Money

If you can find a trusted foreign exchange service in your country, I suggest you change some money to get Philippine pesos already, prior to flying here. The airport forex doesn’t have the most ideal rates but if you don’t have a choice, you can avail of it upon arrival. As of this time, the rates are USD1=PHP47. So changing around 100 dollars is enough to get you started upon arrival. You can look for the better forex services later when you have settled in.

And with that current rate, you’re sure to get your money’s worth here, so your dollar or euro will go a long way. Depending on your itinerary, one person will get around a lot with about 10 or 20 thousand pesos. Food here is cheap, and so is lodging. Of course there are mid-range priced ones and the fancier expensive choices. You’ll find yourself shelling more to go around, though, if you want to go sightseeing around Manila or in the areas outside of the city, such as beaches or mountain provinces.
 
There are many ATM kiosks or stalls around the country, especially in metropolitan areas. Check to make sure your ATM card could withdraw money when abroad, for some banks don’t offer this automatic service. Most of the ATMs here accept foreign cards with the appropriate networks. Credit cards work the same way, as many formal establishments already accept cards for payment.

International airport

I’m sad to note that the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminal 1 is where most international flights land, but it’s touted as one of the worst airports in the world. Well, it’s not much, but it’s ours, so I ask for you to extend your patience as you pass by the place.
 
If you find yourself traveling to other parts of the country, the smaller provincial airports are also a bit backward when it comes to services and facilities. Again, your patience is highly appreciated.
 

Transportation

Upon arrival, there are yellow airport taxis lined up outside. There are also some car rental service or special taxi rental services there. Best to take one of these choices first to make your first taxi ride in Manila a good experience.
 

Within the metro, though, is a different story. Much like many major cities with taxis (or at least in Asia), cab drivers will try to negotiate a fixed rate that’s usually a jacked up price. If you flag down a random taxi on the streets, insist on using the meter, and maybe give a tip of 20-50 pesos if the dude is nice.

 

But take it from a Manila girl who's negotiated with taxi drivers all her life: you’re better off downloading taxi rental apps and availing of their services. If you're familiar with Uber, it's also here in Manila now. A cheaper and good alternative is Grab Taxi, where you could order a cab with a fixed destination and a monitored rate plus a standard booking fee. No more haggling with the driver, who usually asks for an extra tip because of whatever reason (usually "it's so traffic" or "destination too far" and stuff like that). They also have an alternative, the Grab Car, where private vehicles act like taxis as they get booked with a fixed price that depends on your location.

 

As for the other modes of transportation, better ask a local to assist you or come with you if they can. Public transportation here is an adventure all by itself, which deserves its own article.

 

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These tips are just for starters. So are you ready to experience Manila? Then get ready, and let's go! //
 
 


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11/21/2017    1    
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Oliva Cantor

Manila-based cultural journalisht (leaflens@gmail.com)

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