Even without a plan, you can see some interesting things in Manila.

I visited the Philippines for the first time at the end of 2013 with my husband. We arrived in Manila before heading north to Banaua to see the rice terraces. Then back to Manila and on a flight to Palawan to go beach hopping. We didn’t spend a lot of time in Manila, but we did manage to see a few sights.

In an effort to cut costs, we booked a flight that arrived at 4:00 in the morning. I don’t know what I was expecting because I know I don’t do well with sleep deprivation. So we arrived, I was exhausted, and we had to figure out how to get to our hostel. I wanted to be cheap and take a regular taxi off the street, but my husband wanted to be safe and take the airport taxi. In the end, we took the airport taxi.

After getting a bit lost finding our hostel, the driver dropped us off and took our money. We checked in and crashed immediately.

A few hours later, we groggily woke up and started thinking about things to do.

I remember our hostel being dark and somewhat gloomy inside. It was putting us both in a bad mood. But as soon as we stepped outside into the warmth and the sun, we both cheered up right away and started having fun.

We were staying outside the city centre, so after stopping at 7-Eleven for a morning slushie, we fumbled our way to the subway station. The hostel worker had given us some information on how to get to Baclaran Station, but it was still confusing.

A common mode of transportation in the Philippines is jeepneys. They are old military vehicles that have been repainted and refurnished to serve as little buses. The back is open, and you climb in through the door before plopping yourself down on one of the two rows of benches on the outer walls. Passengers pass their fare forward, and it goes through everyone’s hand before getting passed to the driver.

I couldn’t figure out how the driver can tell who gets on where and whether they pay the correct face for their destination. Also, I have to wonder whether we paid the same fares as everyone else.

So we bumped along in our hot jeepney, wind blowing through the open windows, mosquitos buzzing around our ankles. Despite the colourful paint job, it’s clear that the vehicles are old, as the dash is very simple and un-modern (classic?). The engines are also very loud, and the exhaust is black.

We drove through the city, passed shops, crossed rivers with slums built on them, and arrived at a busy market street.

We hopped out the back of the jeepney into a new environment. Colourful umbrellas and tarps line the sidewalks, attempting to shade fruits and vegetables. Hoping to keep them from wilting and rotting. I bought a green mango from a vendor. He cut it into pieces I can pull off and put it in a bag with some salt. I dipped the mango into the salt and bit in.

My whole face puckered in surprise. How is it possible to eat such an unripe mango? Disappointed, I couldn’t finish it.

Making our way toward the train station and platform took a long time. After getting off the main market street, we walked down a narrow market alley under the shade of the above train line.

Crammed along either side of the street are small shops selling clothes and accessories. It was so crowded though, I had to hold tightly onto my husband’s shoulders from behind so we wouldn’t get separated.

baclaran stationbaclaran station

Finally, we made it to the platform. We passed more food stalls and children begging then bough tickets to the city centre. Our plan was to visit Intramuros.

While the streets below and the area where we bought tickets the train were jam-packed with people, somehow, after we bought tickets and got onto the platform, the train was not busy at all.

The train took us to Central Terminal Station in Manila.

This area is not as intense as it is in Baclaran. We passed some quiet food stalls and crossed a highway and through a park (?) before making our way to Intramuros.

Intramuros is the old walled section of Manila. It is left over from the Spanish conquest and still has a lot of Spanish architecture, forts, and lookouts. It’s very interesting because the district is still surrounded by a wall separating it from the rest of the city.

There are canons, old buildings, churches, horse and carriages, and a place where you can look over the river. It wasn’t too busy either. We just wandered around on our own, but it’s also possible to do tours or hire a tricycle to take you around.

intramuros manilaintramuros manilaintramuros manilaintramuros manilaintramuros manila

intramuros manila

I found these kids playing pogs, and it took me right back to elementary school

After leaving Intramuros, we wandered around the city a bit. We walked through some more street markets and saw many more jeepneys. We did have one goal of buying bus tickets to Banaue the next day. So we found the bus station and got that out of the way. Then continued wandering.

Since it was very close to Christmas at this time, as it got darker there were people having Christmas parties on the streets.

Many children came up to us, wishing us “Merry Christmas po, Merry Christmas po.”

We bought some street food for dinner and wandered aimlessly before going back to our hostel. Once again, we braved the crowds still outside Baclaran station and somehow found the right jeepney that would take us back home.

It is good to have some idea of things that you want to do when you visit a new place. But sometimes it is also nice to just explore and see where the wind takes you.



manila street food

How do you prefer to travel? Let me know in the comment section below!

Have you been to Intramuros?

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Intramuros Manila

Read: Iwahig Firefly Watching in the Philippine mangroves

Read: Palawan Cathedral: blue and white architecture


  1. I felt happy to see this post! My family is going back to the Philippines next week for a holiday and we plan to bring the kids back to Intramurus as well.

    It was very brave of you to take the train though. 🙂

  2. Intramuros looks beautiful. It’s interesting to see how calm and quiet it looks there compared to your pictures from the Barclay area right before…

  3. Give me sweet every time. Those green mangoes sound awful! I think it’s good to have a plan when I travel, but I also think it’s good to be able to ditch it when I feel like it.

  4. Hello Jen, I have to update myself with your posts. I have a sneaky suspicion I have missed a few. Btw green mangoes are eaten in India too with salt. I cannot bring myself to because it makes me go ooh and my teeth go all sensitive! I would rather opt for pickled mangoes 🙂 I go with the wind when I travel too. Sometimes you need to just go with the flow! x

    • You haven’t missed anything too exciting. I didn’t post as many times last week. I had been on a schedule for myself of Monday, Wednesday, Friday, but I think I will only do two posts a week from now on because I need to spend more time on my research. The green mango was so sour. I don’t mind a bit of sourness now and then, but it was just too much. You’re right, it hurts to eat it.

      • Your eyes shrivel up and the teeth hurts. Beyond a bite cannot do 😉 But well green mangoes and sensitive teeth apart, I am glad I have not missed much! I hope you get some time to focus on the research xx

  5. Have never been to the Philippines, would love to though. I keep suggesting it to my husband as future work post… who knows one day. I liked the old part of the city – but that’s what I always like to look at in cities.. the history of the place

    • I’ve been to the Philippines twice now, and I like it a lot. I hope you can convince your husband to go with you some day. I like looking at old architecture too, even if I may not know much about the history.

  6. Interesting read on having such heritage architecture in Manila. I’ve been to Manila only around 3x and always on business. I only get a glimpse of the city as I always stay at Alabang which is a city south of Manila along the shores of Laguna Bay. Always wondered what there was to see in Manila besides the perpetual traffic jams.

    • It would have been nice to maybe explore a bit more while I was there, too. But we had other things taking priority. I don’t know if I could handle the crowds at that train station again… The walled city was interesting though. I hope you get a chance to check it out the next you go to the Philippines.

      • Will be going to Philippines next month but only going to Boracay.

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