I found these notes scribbled in my book when I reached my next destination. I present them here as pointers for anybody else visiting for the first time.
There is no real centre to the city, but just a host of different districts thrown together. Any hotel you look at will tell you that they are situated in the best area to stay. Truth: there is no ‘best area’; it all depends where you want to go.
Manila is dangerous. Everyone will tell you that from Filipinos themselves to other travellers. Hotels will advertise themselves as ‘in a safe area’. I refuse to believe it is any more dangerous than many other similar cities, for example Phnom Pehn (where there have been random brick attacks on foreigners and where women are advised to carry a decoy handbag to deter bag-snatchers) or Hanoi. However, constantly being told how dangerous the city is certainly changes your perception of potential danger.
There is a high police presence. Whether this is merely for reassurance I’m not sure. There’s a part of you that feels reassured when there are three armed guards next to the ATs, but another part of you wonders why they are necessary.
It is a similar thing with the woman only section on the light railway. You think ‘oh that makes it safe’ but you also can’t help wondering how many women got assaulted before they provided it.
You stand in line to get your bag checked before you go just about anywhere. Shopping malls, public transport and public buildings all have somebody checking. At shopping malls they have a separate line for men and women. As with toilets, guess which one has the longer line.
Unlike some of its Asiatic neighbours, where plastic bags are given out sparingly and usually charged for in order to discourage use, in the Philippines they give bags whether you need them or not. It doesn’t matter if you only buy one item or if you say ‘no plastic’ it will be wrapped in plastic for you anyway, sometimes twice.
Bus drivers drive like maniacs. The British Foreign office website (great site, a real worrywart’s bible. If you look up anywhere on this site you will soon feel that it is too dangerous to leave the UK. In fact it’s probably too risky to leave your bed) warns of the dangers of travelling by bus in the Philippines, and they do have a point. ‘God bless our trip’ the sign said on the bus I took from the port back into Manila. ‘Yes, or you could just stop overtaking on a blind bend’ I wanted to suggest.
There is very little signposting anywhere. You might think this doesn’t matter, because the locals mostly speak English so you can ask someone. However you can pretty much guarantee that whoever you ask will turn out to be a tour guide or have something to sell or want to take you for a ride in his car because ‘you so sexy’.
Nowhere is the lack of signposting more noticeable than on the Light Railway. First you have to guess which side of the road your journey will be going from. Then you have to climb the stairs and stand in line to get your bag searched. Then you get to stand in line again to get a ticket. Then you get told ‘no you need the other side of the road for that stop’ so you then have to go back downstairs, somehow get across the road, climb the stairs again, stand in line to get your bag searched again, stand in line for a ticket again before finally getting onto the platform to get to your destination. There are no maps on the platform and no indication which direction trains are going.