On our trip to the Philippines, we had great hopes for Manila. I was excited to explore the many exciting tourist attractions overlooked by the passing backpackers and beach bums. As I assumed Manila’s bad rep was from its reputation as a quick stopover en route to the more exotic islands of the Philippines. I was wrong. Manila has a bad rep because it is a terrible place to be. With 10 plus years of travel experience in Southeast Asia, I was about to experience a new low. And while I have a knack for finding good things in lesser places. In Manila, I wasn’t even given the chance.
Manila City Tour
After a not-so-great Halloween night, we were ready to start the morning on a fresh slate. We would begin with Intramuros (central to Manila Tourism) and wing it from there. Not a great start. The taxi driver speeds off, refuses to start the meter, and tries to overcharge us (double). We jump out at red lights. The second taxi gets us there successfully with no added charges or scrounging (deserves a medal). Excited for new experiences Fanfan was visiting her first Christian country. Churches, cathedrals, heritage. The Spanish colonial city of Intramuros should be the perfect introduction. Far from it.
Stepping out at the Manila Cathedral (Intramuros) we were immediately harassed by local tour touts. When I say harassed I mean harassed. Not hard sell – closer to abuse. Horse and carts, tricycles, green and yellow checked shirts. One stuck to us like a bad smell. Standing in front of info posts and getting in the way of photos. To read information I photographed signs and crossed the road to safety.
Fuck Off Pedro!
At the main road, I stand reading from my camera screen. Clippity Clop. The same guy arrives with a horse. “I take you for tour?” – “Go away!” – “I take photo of two of you” – “Go away” – “Hi my name is Pedro” – “Would you F*** Off Pedro”. Even Fanfan was shocked. Pedro barely flinched. I’m guessing it wasn’t the first he’d heard it.
Pedro Deserved It
Of course, Pedro deserved it. Not only was he being a dick but in doing so he was damaging Manila Tourism. By damaging Manila Tourism he was scaring off potential tourists and ultimately biting the hand that feeds him. If he (or anyone in Manila) offered an honest tourist service then Manila may one day be a city worth visiting.
They’re all at it…
Pedro wasn’t the only culprit. They were all preying on arriving taxis. To get away we make for the back streets hoping to find signposts to nearby attractions. No luck. If a tourism authority did make the effort to erect signs Pedro would be quick to tear them down. It wasn’t long till touts spotted us and we were again surrounded by horses and tricycles. The tout’s mentality tells them “the closest to the tourist wins”. A tricycle weasels into the back of my legs. We were now forced to our last resort.
Escaping the Tour Touts
The touts win. The only way to rid the tour touts was to join them. We ventured back to the front square in search of an honest peddler. “How much for horse and cart tour?” – “350 Pesos” – “How many attractions?” – “10”. Simple. We jump on board for safe passage to the first attraction – San Augustin Church.
San Augustin Church
Nice church. Things were getting better. The guide shows us other random junk in the area, a themed hotel, we humour him then back on the horse to continue the tour. “5 minutes left” – “what” – “350 Pesos for 30 minutes” – “Your a dick!” Obvious now why he wasted our time at the hotel. We now wanted out.
From One Cheat to the Next
We give up, skipped the tour, skipped Intramuros and forced the tout to drop us at the last attraction – Fort Santiago. “Sorry no change”. Expecting the full 400 Peso’s I happily disappoint him by buying water for coin change. The most expensive water I’ve bought in Asia. Cheated again. Touts surround us “Buy a hat?” – “No. I hate hats. I would never wear a hat… ever.” They chuckle and leave. Two minutes later. “Buy a hat?” At this stage we were too pissed to continue. We didn’t pass the ticket booth of Fort Santiago.
Escape to Ocean Park
After the worst possible introduction to Manila, a taxi brings us to Ocean Park Aquarium (Manila Bay). “No change.” The job of a taxi driver is to drive from A to B and handle money. In Manila, they fail at both. I get change at Ocean Park’s H2O Hotel reception taking plenty of time in doing so. Paid him to the cent. He laughs. I laugh back. If I were to hand out money to people it would be the honest, hard-working Manila folk, not cheats and scammers.
Not my first choice of attraction but the high entrance fee gave us a necessary respite from touts. The perfect sanctuary and a great place to check out. We ate our first relaxed meal. Saw near baby sharks bouncing about in eggs. Snapped photos of us pointing at fish. Had a drink at White Moon Bar (great place for sunsets as above). Fun.
A New Low
For an hour or 2, we almost forgot we were in Manila. We were quickly reminded when leaving. At the front steps we go to flag down a taxi. When called over by a semi-official-looking taxi rank we thought no harm in checking it out. 600 Pesos to our hotel? The meter price is less than 150 Pesos. A nice lady attempts to force us in. We walk away and flag down a taxi from the roadside. The woman runs ahead of us, opens the door for us and asks for a tip. I laugh. She slams the door behind us. Asshole. The entire trip would continue along these lines. Even at the airport leaving Manila the Air Phil Express staff tried to scam us. Incredible. It seems to be a culture bred into locals to rob tourists. The most tourist unfriendly city I have been to. Puerto Princesa to come.
9 thoughts on “F*** Off Pedro… Manila”
No real efforts from government to solve tourists’ issues in the city of Manila.
Tourism in Manila is not priority because of land use alternatives
(Tycoons buy and demolish heritage buildings to build malls, condos and supermarkets)
Thanks for the insight… seems like transpo problems go beyond the airport.
TIP: Pretend like a local businessman… they won’t cheat, but still ask for tips
Though I’m from another province, I still think Manila is the most beautiful city in the Philippines 🙂
Thanks mnm 🙂 I remember while Malaysia and the rest of Southeast Asia wow the world with Truly Asia videos… the Philippines created animated promotional videos. Strange way to showcase the beauty of a beautiful country. Appeared to me the interest was for domestic tourism before international tourism. Trying to keep people in before attracting others. The airport taxes certainly support this. Shame to see such potential squandered for Manila and without preservation of heritage buildings this potential will be lost completely.
I was just browsing some pics about Philippine Transportation and came across your pic (Its beautiful, by the way ^_^), and I ended up reading your page since the Title is pretty interesting. Though I’m a Filipino, I hate how the government do their “work”. I’m really not a fan of Manila. I’ve been to Manila once and as I grow up, I learned a lot of bad things in Manila. I just don’t know how bad. I also experienced the “snob” attitudes of Filipino stewardess before I left Philippines. Its saddening to read your experience in Manila. I just hope you enjoyed more in other tourist spots.
My only recommendation, bring a filipino friend/s ^_^ Who’s a streetwise and know how to deal with guys like those you’ve encountered.
my conclusion to my own country; rich with resources and a beautiful country with rich culture and tourist spots but the down frame, corrupt from top to bottom. ^_^
Thanks so much for the insight Genzia ^_^ We went on to Puerto Princesa and loved it. Unfortunately we hadn’t much time there but plan to get back. I have a lot of friends in Cebu and I have only heard good about it. There is still so much for me to see (and eat) in the Philippines so I will be back 🙂
Hi Allan, only just came across this post but thought I’d comment as I myself live in Cebu and so know all too well the issues that you’ve had. I’ve been to Manila but in all honesty it’s not a great tourist destination (and they will rip you off if you’re not with a local, although it’s a bit like that everywhere). They have huge problems with traffic and not much there apart from shopping malls and overpriced restaurants/bars. Cebu is worth a visit, although top recommendations would be Bohol, Boracay and El Nido, Palawan – if you’re interested I have a blog at http://thephilippinesexpat.com
Cheers Jonny. Being from Bangkok I love big city life so Manila disappointed in a big way. I do admit Palawan (Puerto Princesa) was a whole lot better but persuading the other half to set foot in the Philippines again is very unlikely. I know we’re missing out on a lot. I have a few friends in Cebu who always tell me to just skip straight past Manila.
It is sad to see about negative experiences here in the country if you find yourself having a layover in Manila, do not hesitate to contact me. Would like to show you the good side! Anyway, just ignore the “pedros” and all the people asking for tip. Worst comes to worst, ask directions from people who looks like working in offices or security guards in buildings. Most likely public transportation drivers will rip you off. They do this even with local people. You can try booking a private car via UBER (a mobile app). It is incredible safe, no tips needed, no need to worry for change, you can pay until the last cent since it charges via your credit card. Tried it a couple of times when I don’t have a car going to work and I did not encounter any problems. http://mynameisjillyace.blogspot.com/
We are on the way to Philippines and having lived in SE Asia for a while, yours seems like the worst experience so far being scammed left right and centre!
Although it’ll be our first time to this country, the planning and lack of communication from these people are driving us insane. There is no common courtesy and it seems even BEFORE having to visit the country/islands, we are being constantly asked to pay more and more. One particular private island we are staying at is not only charging 16000php/night with NO breakfast, but are also tacking on another 1000php/day for WiFi. And not forgetting their “private plane” which is another 8000php as it’s the “only way” to the island, plus an extra 1000php for every 1kg of extra baggage weight if exceeding their maximum allowance of a grand 10kgs! All these details are only informed at the last minute.
Other resorts don’t even bother responding to their emails or messages including no response from their national and local Tourism Boards. We planned to do a media coverage on the country and its islands but now will not even be bothered. Thailand and Indonesia are so much better for tourism.
Honestly the worst experience of my life was the stay in Manila on the way into the Philippines, where we waited for 40 minutes in a queue for a cab only to be ripped off and pay 14x times the price. The hotel was lovely but then didn’t reply to us when we forgot something there… ever. On our way out we booked a ‘hotel’ close to the airport which was completely deceiving us about location. Never coming back again, will take a layover in Syria to fly to Cebu to avoid Manila. Government really need to step up their game, it’s a shambles and putting people off visiting here.