Saturday, June 23

The Philippines: Handle With Care

Disclaimer:
First of all, let me make it clear that I did not write this to hurt or make people look bad. I'm telling it the way I experienced it & it's the authentic feeling a visitor from Malaysia may experience in the Philippines.
I will highlight several serious issues that people have to consider before deciding to go to the Philippines.
~~~~~~~~~~~

Ah... I headed to the Philippines expecting a unique cultural experience like I've had in many of its South East Asian neighbours. What I got instead has scarred me for life. If I can help it, I'm never returning to the Philippines again. Yes, that was how, bluntly put, 'rotten' my experience was. I guess I came expecting too much. Everybody only shows the good sides of their country. Reality really bites HARD.

Clark International Airport, Angeles City

All smiles with great expectations!
My misfortunes began at the airport (where AirAsia lands). Not just 1 incident but 3. Here's the story.
My companions & I were too honest at customs & immigration. We declared bringing in more than P10,000 (RM750) into the country. We had P30,000 each. Ladies & gentlemen, it is illegal to bring more than P10,000 into the Philippines.
We had no idea! In almost every other country, it's US$10,000, not P10,000. P10,000 (US$250) is peanuts!
I bet every 8 out of 10 visitors would bring more than P10k but never declare it. What a dumb law to have but a great law for opportunist customs officers.

When we gave our declaration cards to a customs officer, he looked at us.
Thought about it. Asked us where we were from. Malaysia.
Asked if this was our first time in the Philippines. Yes.
Then, he said, "come to my office." Alarm bells were ringing. I knew what was coming.

"Take out your money & put it on the table. I want to see." I did not & told my companions not to, but they did. I didn't want him to see my money. His eyes widened at the sight of so much cash.
"Count it for me." I did not, but my friends did. His eyes were so bright with interest!
  
He did a bunch of bullsheet talk about the law & etc. Even showed us a brochure about it. Must be a very popular law to have a brochure for it.
He said that if we wanted to bring more than P10k, we needed permission from the Central Bank of the Philippines so I asked him how we could ask for permission. I thought that perhaps we needed to fill in some forms like visa on arrival & have our cash scanned for authenticity.
He looked at me with a dumb look on his face. I guess nobody had ever asked this question before. He wouldn't know the answer anyway. Or perhaps he did not understand English well.

"You don't believe me? You don't believe the law?" he challenged. "Yes, I believe you. I believe there is such a law."
"What is your name?" I challenged back. I cant remember his name but let's just say his name was Arse. "So Arse, is this the number I call to ask questions?" I pointed at the number of the customs HQ behind the brochure. He got annoyed. "You want to call? You have phone? You can call."
"Yes, I have a phone." I took out my phone & started to dial.
He backed down a bit. "You can call, but if you call, they will take all your money."

Then, a fellow customs officer opened the door. He was probably wondering why we took so long. They did a little bit of a drama show & discussed the problem in Tagalog earnestly. In the end, he asked his friend how to resolve this. The friend simply said: pay a penalty, 10%.

He started to write a letter on a plain piece of A4 paper.
When he finished, it was an apology letter from the 3 of us about how sorry we were about bringing in so much money & how we promise not to do it again. He told us to sign it.
In the end, he asked for a P1000 penalty each. We paid & he let us go. My companions even said thank you to him. I just walked off.
If this was an authentic penalty, we would have received a receipt. The letter was a piece of bullsheet to make us think that it was authentic.

On our way out, there was an old guard at the door. He was smiling & he asked us where we were from. I answered Malaysia & quickly walked past him. Then, he held out an open palm & started asking my companions for Malaysian money!
He started shouting when my friends walked away too!

When we got out of the terminal, I headed to what looked like a taxi coupon counter. Be wary of the leeches that hang around the taxi coupon counter. If possible, get your hotel to arrange transport for you or approach the taxis directly. At the exit, turn right & see the taxis in white. P200-500 depending on your destination & negotiation skills.

There was a young guy there who intercepted us before we reached the counter. He asked us if we were Filipino, I said no. Big mistake.
He asked where we were going. I said Angeles. He said P500. "No thanks." I didn't believe him & guessed that he was a leech.

I pushed past him & talked to the counter. Strange. The lady looked afraid. She held out a P500 ticket & handed it to me without demanding payment. I took the ticket & walked back to my companions. Confused.
The young man snatched the ticket from my hands, said that he worked for the airport & we would have to deal with him anyway. I noticed he had a tag on. Unfortunately, I did not read it to find out who he was. A simple complaint would have lost him his job at the airport.

He led us to a waiting taxi & helped us load our bags into the car. After we got into the taxi, he put his foot to the front passenger seat where I was, put an arm over the door, held out an open palm & said "Malaysia money. Ten. Ten. Ten." He kept waving an empty palm next to my face.
I expected something like this. I gave him 2 & told him nicely to leave. I wouldn't give him anymore so after a while he went to the back to harass my friends. One of them gave him some money & he left.
What a great first impression, Philippines! Loving the 'attention'!

Devera Hotel, Angeles City

We spent our first night in Angeles City. The Devera hotel was awesome. Very helpful staff.
Currently it is still under construction so it is very cheap at P1100/night! Brand new & clean! Get it now!

Al Bacio, Angeles City

We decided to have dinner at an Italian restaurant near the hotel.
The waiter here was top notch! The best service we have received in the Philippines! However, the food was too salty for me. Here's a review I wrote on Trip Advisor.
All in all, this place is worth a try.

Fields Avenue, Angeles City
That night, we explored the red-light district. Went into the Go Go Bars to have a few beers & to see what it was like. Lots of girls in all sorts of shades, shapes & sizes at very affordable prices. Lots.
Talked to a mamasan. Very interesting conversation.
I didn't take any girls home though. Honestly, I have never paid directly for sex. Come to think of it. It's been 5 years since I've been with a woman. This ridiculous taboo is starving me of attention I crave. Actually, I'll talk about this more in another blog post. I had a very interesting revelation recently.
No pics because DSLRs & alcohol don't mix well. Sorry!

Heading from Angeles City to Manila, Dau Terminal

We went to the Dau Terminal to see if we could catch a taxi to Manila. However, we was not able to find any taxis in the terminal. We did, however, discover something better: the buses.
It cost only P150 each & 2 hours to get to Ortigas, Manila. Just tell the conductor where you want to go & hop onto the clean air-con bus. He will call out your destination when you have arrived.
From the bus stop, we took a metered taxi to our hotel.

On our return trip, we hired a taxi driver in Manila we thought was good to send us directly from our Manila hotel to Clark Airport. We paid P4000 but later on found out the actual price was P2500.
You can try him. His name is Sam 0921 637 4709.

The Linden Suites, Ortigas, Manila

We booked a 3 room apartment for 3 nights. Since this was our first stop in Manila, we were very surprised by the amount of security employed at the hotel. Shotgun armed guards outside, airport metal detectors at the entrance & stern-looking concierges. Just makes you wonder what kind of dangers there are out there in the city.
The apartment was awesome. Spacious & clean. However, I felt that this was too much for us because we ate out (so not use for the kitchen), left early in the morning & only came back late at night (no need for the space). We paid around RM550 a night.
After exploring the city, I found that tight security is very common. Even 7-elevens have an armed security guard at the door! Mall security will blockade entrances & check bags. I guess it keeps the poor out.

Rizal Park (Luneta), Manila

This place has a heavy security presence as well. Uniformed guards constantly patrolling.
This was the site of the execution of their national hero, Dr Jose Rizal. His coffin is placed here under the large monument they built for him.
This place is worth a visit to wander around, see the execution spot, watch locals lounging in the park &, see the massive Department of Tourism building & Central Post Office. Lots of photo opportunities.

Intramuros, Manila

A visit to Manila would not be complete without exploring the historic city of Intramuros & joining the 'Walk This Way' Tour.

'Walk This Way' Tour
I recommend taking a carriage but they charge by hour & no two guides are equal. We paid P350/30min. Our tour took more than 1hr. Choose a driver who can speak English because not every Filipino can speak English. The older ones are better because they will be able to explain the historic locations better & speak better English.

Quiapo Church, Quiapo, Manila

Home of the Black Nazarene where many pilgrims in the country flock to for miracles. I am a Christian but I'm not into icons like these but as I watched person after person pray earnestly before the Black Nazarene, I felt compelled to do the same. I prayed & felt very blessed after that.

This is a Trike. Very cheap to ride!
Our main mode of transport in the poorer parts of town. Not all of them speak English!
Later on that day, I'd accidentally traverse into the inner bowels of Tondo where nobody spoke English! You'd think Filipinos spoke English but only the higher class or middle class do. That's 30-40% of the population. The lower 60% live in slums & they could not speak English!
At any time we could have been robbed or attacked by the rough looking people there. Thank God, we were able to get out untouched! I left that place scarred forever. The poverty in the Philippines was just unbelievable.

Divisoria Market, 999 Mall & 168 Mall, Tondo, Manila

After Quiapo Church, we wanted to do some shopping so we headed to Divisoria for bargains & got more than we bargained for. I was looking for Filipino goods but this place sold mostly China goods. You can see the China bosses sitting at the cashier while their Filipino employees manned the shops. Not a good place to get souvenirs.

After the 999 Mall, we exited at the other side of the mall. It was like we stepped into another world. The Binondo side was an old side of town which was run down but occupied. I stepped out on the Tondo side & saw plenty of large run down abandoned buildings, poor people without a place to stay just sitting on the side of the streets, naked children running around, dirty people who looked like they have not showered in a long time, people urinating/excreting at the side of the road like animals & so much more.

Binondo (Chinatown)
Watch your pockets. Seriously. I bent over to talk to a trike driver to get us out of that part of town & a dirty child appeared magically behind me. He was looking at my back-pockets. Fortunately, one was filled with useless paper & the other, a water bottle. He looked confused.

The trike took us deeper into the Tondo area & we saw even more poverty. People living in tight plywood makeshift capsules built adjacent to buildings at the side of the road, under bridges & some outright sleeping under the sky in open areas. Glad to get out safe.

Greenhills Mall & Tiendesitas, Quezon, Manila

This is THE place for souvenirs. Spend your money here. Go early so you can get first customer bargaining power & cut prices like a boss!
Then, watch as your money is used to 'bless' the rest of the merchandise in the store! hahaha~~~
If you've been to Greenhills Mall, you don't need to go to Tiendesitas. They've got the same stuff & the same owner. Just a different concept.

Corregidor Island Tour & Coconut Palace, Cultural Centre of the Philippines, Manila

During World War II, Corregidor was the site of several battles and its fall to the Japanese forces was instrumental in the subsequent capture of the Philippines and the retreat of the United States in the early stages of the war.
If you want to take the island tour, make sure you book online beforehand. We did not book & were too late to get the remaining tickets. We were too busy taking photos of the beautiful city scape along the water & examining the Coconut Palace.

Ayala Museum, Makati, Manila

You must visit this place for a quick dose of Filipino history. They've got a really impressive AV display on Filipino history. I learned so much about the Philippines after spending a few hours here! You'll learn much more here than anywhere else!

Cafe Adriatico, Malate, Manila

Now I'm going to talk about all the food places I've been to.
This restaurant has got good food but the worst service ever! Read my review on TA to understand why! Perhaps I looked like a common Filipino so they served us haughtily. A big difference from the awesome service we received in Angeles City! Perhaps white people get better treatment.

Chowking, Intramuros, Manila

The only good thing at Chowking: Halo-Halo!
A local franchise which is a favourite to many locals but one advice I have for you is AVOID LIKE A PLAGUE! The food there is Chinese-ish made into a fast food chain. Cheap, yes. Taste, bad. MSG heaven.
The halo-halo is good though: P50 only!

Wai Ying Restaurant, Binondo, Manila

There is a Chinatown almost everywhere in the world. I scourged the internet in search for a good Dimsum place in Manila & several recommended this place. However, upon tasting the dimsum, it's not the best. It was really cheap though. Good value. 

Congo Grille, Tomas Morato Ave, Quezon, Manila

Recommended by a Filipino friend for good Filipino cuisine.
I feel that Filipino cuisine has a long way to go to challenge the reign of Thai, Malay & Singaporean cuisine.

Icebergs, Quezon, Manila

Came here for awesome halo-halo.
Halo-halos are a surprise at every bite because you absolutely do not know what to expect next! Love it! Esp on a hot day!

Yellow Cab Pizza Co, Greenhills Mall, Quezon, Manila

Great pizza at great prices. American style pizzas. We bought a large one which we packed for breakfast the next day. haha~~

Rose, Fort Bonifacio, Manila

I am a fan of sushi so I wanted to taste the local sushi before I headed back, so on our last night, we splurged at Rose.
The sushi was okay. At those prices, I really expected a lot more. Edamane, Miso soup & homemade ice-creams were great. Awesome interior design with the floating sushi boats. Worth a try!

Exotic Food: Balut - Duck Embryo Egg

A visit to any country is never complete without trying its exotic food.
Here, they have the balut. It is a boiled duck egg with an embryo inside. During my trip, I had 2. It tasted exactly like a normal boiled egg so it's a war of will & disgust knowing that you're consuming a duck embryo.

Check out this video of my companion, Gomez, eating the embryo from a Balut.

Favourite Food: Sisig - Sizzling Diced Pork Parts

I have to say the best dish I had in the Philippines was the Sisig as a Pulutan (finger-food) together with San Miguel Lights beer.
Tell them to prepare it extra crispy. Yums! Good & cheap!

Conclusion
Wealthy Minority Of Manila
The Philippines is a very unique destination with an experience you will not find anywhere else in South East Asia. There is actually a lot of good in the Philippines sans the common people trying to take advantage of tourists. The government can do more to take care of the people. I do feel the desperation of their people. Many are without money or jobs to fend for themselves. So so many.
Poor Majority Of Manila
In Manila, you will see that 20% of the city is beautifully landscaped, squeaky clean, has wide roads, has many tall modern buildings with great architecture, beautiful people, luxury cars & luxury malls.
The other 80% is dirty, congested, has small poorly maintained roads, poverty, people sleeping in parks, slums, naked children, pickpockets, old & run down.
During my trip, 3 out of 5 taxi drivers took advantage of me & leeches were abound at tourist areas like airports & sights.

Security Guards were the only ones who do not run away when approached.
It is no surprise that Filipinos have a strong distrust for each other. I experienced this first hand. My companions & I look Filipino so whenever we approached people on the streets to ask for directions or to help us take pictures, people would ignore us, give us disgusting looks, hug their bags & speed up to get away from us. Even when I'm holding up a US$1500 DSLR!

As a society, there is a wide gap between the haves & the have-nots in the country that only looks to widen if their government continues to do what it is doing & disregard the welfare of the poor majority. Nothing good will come out of such manipulation. It sends a shiver down my spine to imagine the situation could get worse.

I wish the Philippines all the best but I will not be returning. Too many other countries I have yet to visit & too many that I have been to who have friendlier more content citizens.

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