Fun in the Philippines Part I: Manila

Coming down from a vacation high is a hard thing to do. I wanted to get this post up since last week. But you’ll have to excuse me – I’m still on island time! Where did Expat and the City jet off to for her winter vacation? THE PHILIPPINES!

And I’m here to tell you all about it!

Make it happen. Make it Makati!

The Philippines is such an amazing country with a lot of history, culture, and great food. Did you know the Philippines has over 7,000 islands!? We clearly couldn’t tackle all of it (heck, I don’t think you could tackle all of Philippines in a year!). So Emily and I picked two popular destinations for our much needed vaycay: Manila (the capital city) and Boracay Island. I’m going to break this post down into two parts. First stop: Manila


Manila is comprised of smaller cities which make up this large metropolis. I guess technically we weren’t in Manila per se, but rather in the Bel-Air village – an upcoming area in Makati (a pocket of Metro Manila) close to the business district of the city. We found a sweet condo on Air BnB for a very reasonable price – almost too good to be true. We lived like the Fresh Princesses we are, taking advantage of all the amenities in the condo. Being on the 32nd floor, we had a pretty neat view of the city skyline from the hallway. Unfortunately our balcony view was disrupted by tower B (the condo comprises of four towers) however, we did get the poolside view when we looked over the balcony! The condo is attached to the Jazz Mall with some pretty good restaurants. They also had a Filipino version of Walmart so it was convenient when we wanted to pick up some snacks and bevies and chill on our balcony.

There are other hostels and hotels you can check out in Manila. Z Hostel is a good spot if you want to meet other travelers and live the hostel life. We headed there for a rooftop party our first night in the city. But I still recommend Air BnB – especially for the price we paid ($150 USD total for 3 nights!!).


Of course, one of the greatest things about traveling is EATING ALL THE FOOD! Emily and I indulged in a variety of tasty foods from an awesome brunch place (where you can make your own pancakes), to a vegetarian eatery down the street, to a divine Italian spot where we ate a huge pizza big enough to feed the family from 19 Kids and Counting!

The highlight of our food extravaganza was our cooking experience courtesy of Traveling Spoon. I had never heard of Traveling Spoon and to be honest I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this little gem. But basically, it’s a website that offers in-home meals and an amazing cultural experience with hosts all over the world. The hosts are mainly from Asian countries but I have a feeling this site – created by two young travelistas – will eventually go worldwide! You can pay a little extra to prepare and cook the meal with the host – which is what we did.

Fresh veggies!

Our meet-up with our host, Greg, was an amazing time and we cooked a seafood dish with rice, mixed veg and a salad. I absolutely adored his home – a traditional American colonial home decorated with old Filipino hardwood furniture and located in the old downtown of Manila. Greg also hosts a B&B and after our meal, we had a few drinks and conversation with a couple that was staying at his place, too. All in all, it was a great night and I hope we made Greg’s Traveling Spoon experience a memorable one (we were his first-ever guests!).

Dinner’s ready!


We mostly took taxis or Uber to get around the city (thanks Em for having an account!) or we walked. One time we took the train to get to a further part of Manila and that was quite the experience. The subways are above ground, which makes for a much better view! The trains are quite old and ratty but hey, I think it adds character. We had to wait in a long line just to get into the area where you buy tickets – only because we must go through a metal detector first. But I’m not complaining about that! Safety first! The one thing I liked about the trains is that there is a female-only car. It was less crowded and it made me feel safer.

Jeepnee – another popular way people get around the city

Things To Do

I will be honest with you – I felt quite underwhelmed with Manila. The first day we explored around the Bel-Air area and lounged by the pool. At night, which happened to be a Sunday, we decided to go to a place called Buddha Bar. I LOVED this place – and it was one of the few spots opened on a Sunday (they party all week, they deserve at least one day off!). However, they closed at midnight.

Streets of Makati

We made it in time to get a cocktail and enjoy the exotic ambiance of the bar. After that, we made our way to Z Hostel, where they were hosting a rooftop party. We had to purchase an electronic bracelet, where you can add money onto it. This is how you pay for your drinks. So high tech and pretty neat! We made some friends, drank a few brews, and listened to acoustic versions of some of my fave hip hop songs.

I should also add we walked from Buddha Bar to Z Hostel – which was about a 20 minute trek. It was quite the experience as we walked through the ‘red light district’ of the city.

Midget or Lady Boxing, anyone?
Walking the ‘red light district’

On day two, we walked around the business district of Manila (close to where our condo was), explored Ayala Triangle Park, and got ready for our Traveling Spoon experience at night.

Thanks to Greg’s expertise, he told us some great spots to check out for our last day of sightseeing. First we headed to Ayala Museum in Makati and then took the train to Intramuros – the oldest district in Manila. Intramuros, which is Spanish for ‘within the walls’, has so much culture and history. You can walk around that place for hours. We were there all afternoon, checking out San Agustin Church, Manila Cathedral, Casa Manila, and Fort Santiago.


Fort Santiago
Lots of roosters roaming the street


Exploring Intramuros
Inside San Agustin Church
San Agustin Church

Travel Tips

  • Make sure you leave yourself A LOT of time to get from point A to point B because traffic is everywhere. And I thought the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto was bad…
  • Looking at prices in a foreign currency can be confusing. Download an exchange rate app, such as XE, to get a quick comparison of prices on your trip.
  • Speaking of money, exchange your cash at the airport once you arrive to your destination. You’ll get a much better rate. Also, ask for smaller denominations of bills. Sometimes it was hard for small shops to break 1,000 pesos (which is about $20).

You really only need 2-3 days to explore the city. To be honest, there wasn’t THAT much sightseeing to do, so when Day 3 hit, we were ready get to the islands!

Super excited to get to Boracay!


Have you ever been to Manila? How was your experience? Leave a comment below and tell me about it!

Stay tuned for Part Two of my Philippines vacation!


19 thoughts on “Fun in the Philippines Part I: Manila

  1. Manila is big so there’s more to it but you need to ask around. There is Ocean Park, Luneta Grand Stand, Binondo (Chinese Village), Lunch or Dinner Cruise along Manila Bay, MOA (one of the biggest mall in the World) shop till you drop! etc. Next time go to Southern parts of Manila 🙂
    Please check my blog when you have time. I have a post about PH. Thanks!


  2. I was in Manila last year and STILL haven’t jotted it down on my blog – so when you say your trip hangover is still not over… zzzz.. hahaha. Damn, wish I had read this post earlier – I soo want to check out rooftop parties at Z hostel now. I was mostly in Makati.


  3. I’m surprised by your recommendation to convert currency at the airport, since they usually rip you off there. That’s good advice then since travels will usually avoid that, if PH has better rates at their airports.


    1. Well, when I tried to exchange it in Korea (from Korean won to Philippine pesos), she told me to wait until I got there. I also exchanged it on the island too. So I should have changed that tip to say: exchange your cash once you arrive at the destination, whether it’s at the airport or an exchange hut.


  4. It was interesting to read about your impressions, cause my experience with Manila was so much worse 🙂 But, to be fair, I only had one night and a couple of hours to explore. Not much, especially with no knowledge about the city. So we just went to Intramuros and walked from there. At some point we were in a flood of people and traffic that didn’t move. We barely made it back to the hostel and to the airport to catch our flight back to HK. Every 5th person on the street was telling me to hide my camera, cause it’s not safe. It was super stressful. But I had a feeling there’s more to Manila. Maybe I’ll give it another chance next time. Looking forward to the Boracay part, never been there 🙂


    1. OH my goodness, the traffic is crazy! My friend told me that apparently there are two sets of license plates and each plate can only drive on certain days of the week…because there’s just TOO MANY PEOPLE. I didn’t have any issues with friend had her camera out in Intramuros and it was fine. We did keep our backpacks on our front and I made sure I hid money in different parts of my bag (and even in my bra hehe).


  5. Totally know how you feel about having holiday blues! I was also in the Philippines for winter vacation and was on such a downer coming back to cold, cold Korea! Anyway, nevermind, there is always Summer vacay to visit again! I never stayed in Manila, just in and out for my flights but I do feel like I missed out not seeing it, I always loving seeing capital cities. Even if they are a bit dirty! Traveling Spoon looks amazing too.. definitely something to try in the future 🙂


    1. Counting down the days until our next long-ish vaycay…. which will be in May (Children’s Day!) I always love seeing capital cities too. I am sure there is more to see of Manila (and the surrounding area) so I will certainly give it another chance! Try Traveling Spoon for sure!! It’s a great way to embrace the culture! And you will make & eat yummy food dishes, too!


  6. I never would have thought of travelling to the Phillipines, but it’s definitely on my List now! Tank you 🙂


  7. I am currently in Manila and wish I had read about traveling spoon earlier. Intramuros was nice but other than that I am not tooo fond of Manila. Being on the road we don’t shop (even though the malls are big, yes).
    The rate at the airport (Clark) indeed is better than in the city – I was surprised as well. We will take the ferry to Cebu tomorrow, guess that will be an adventure, 23 hours and the cabins were sold out. So my tip: plan a little ahead foot your transportation, 2 days weren’t enough 😉


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