Should you visit Kuala Lumpur or Manila

One day in Manila

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The Philippine capital Manila does not necessarily have the best reputation among travelers to Southeast Asia. Many advise against a visit, since the city hardly anything interesting, let alone many beautiful Tourist Attractions has to offer. In addition there is the apparently relatively high Crime rate.

Manila's sights and Intramuros

But why this bad image? Before our 1 month trip to the Philippines to Palawan and Boracay, we decided to give the city a chance and spent a 1 day stopover there. So here is our experience report.

Arrival to Manila

Direct flights to Manila are unfortunately not offered from Germany, so you have to plan with a stopover. Good hubs here are Dubai, Istanbul or Hong Kong. From there you can then fly directly to the Philippines. You can also easily reach Manila from many of the surrounding countries in Southeast Asia, e.g. from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City etc. A good overview of airlines, prices and times is available from Skyscanner and Momondo.

If you want to travel to Manila from another location in the Philippines, stick with you Domestic flights There are still bus and boat connections, although the ferries only run at irregular intervals, e.g. from Caticlan (Boracay) to Manila in 17 hours.

buses are particularly suitable from the north, e.g. from Sagada, Baguio City and a few more. A popular company here is Victory Liner. However, it is a little inconvenient for newcomers because many bus companies have their own bus terminal. Your hotel will be happy to help you. Otherwise you can find many connections as well as private taxis at

Overnight in Manila - our hotel tip

The Red Planet Manila Bay is, as the name suggests, on the Bay of Manila. The location is fantastic for walking around some sights such as Rizal Park or Intramuros. The friendly staff and the clean rooms speak for the Red Planet. Furthermore, the rooms are equipped with air conditioning, television, free Wi-Fi, a safe and a refrigerator.

You can find more hotels in other parts of Manila, such as Makati or Quezon City, here.

Manila: Tours and Tickets

1. Malates

The first impression of the city is certainly a little different than you imagine a Southeast Asian metropolis if you know and above all love Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur etc. Almost everyone - from taxi drivers to police officers to older fruit sellers - speak reasonably good to even very good English and you can communicate wonderfully. We cannot say anything like that about Bangkok, for example.

But when we compare, I immediately noticed another thing: there are hardly any Food stalls and street foodas we were used to. As a fan of delicious and spicy street food, you will be mercilessly disappointed in Manila.

Nonetheless, we started our - let's call it - sightseeing tour in the relatively southern district of Malate, where our hotel was located.

Past the Rajah Sulayman Park with the Malate Church we went towards Manila Bay, where the waterfront Manila Baywalk lies. In good weather you can definitely take a nice and relaxed walk on the shore here. But nothing more. I wouldn't call it a must see.

2. Rizal Park

Continue the promenade on Roxas Boulevard along north it goes to the Rizal Park - also called “Luneta” among locals - which you reach after about 15 minutes on foot.

The largest and most famous park in Manila has some highlights to offer, such as this Rizal Monument, the Zero kilometer obelisk or the huge one Relief of the Philippines. But these haven't knocked me off my stool either. Maybe it was due to the thick clouds over the city and on a sunny day with blue skies you can surely spend some nice and relaxing hours here. Lots of Filipinos come here and there is almost always something going on or to see.

When we were here in the run-up to Christmas, there was a nice Christmas atmosphere with decorations and people singing.

More things and sights to see in Rizal Park

  • Chinese and Japanese gardens
  • Lapu Lapu statue
  • Diorama of Rizal’s Martyrdom
  • Early morning tai chi classes
  • National Museum of the Filipino People
  • Live music and concerts in the evenings
  • The Orchidarium and the Butterfly Pavilion
  • Manila Planetarium
  • Manila Ocean Park near Rizal Park

Conclusion: In my opinion, worth seeing if you want to escape the big city and relax a little.

3. Intramuros - Manila with a difference

The most famous and interesting sight of Manila is the old colonial district Intramuros north of Rizal Park. From there it can be reached on foot in just a few minutes.

The district of Intramuros is completely surrounded by walls (Intramuros = “inside the walls”) and is the oldest district of Manila, which was used by the Spaniards as an administrative center - in the past, Manila was simply Intramuros. The Spanish colonial era is reflected accordingly in the architecture of many buildings.

Of course you can also do Intramuros on foot explore - if you have a lot of time to spare, feel free to do that. But since the area is quite large, it is a bit more convenient to take a guide who will show you with his “Padyak” or “Potpot” (Cycle rickshaw) drives through the area and shows you the most important sights and explains them.

We decided on this option and paid 100 pesos per hour per person (always negotiate hard!). If you can get a good and personable guide, as was the case with us, I would absolutely recommend this option! The ride with the cycle rickshaw is a little adventure and we got a lot of insider knowledge from our guide.

Alternatively, you can take horse-drawn carriages, but these are comparatively damn expensive. If you feel like it, you can also take a tour through the old and new towns - that is certainly exciting.

You should plan for the most important sights 1-2 hours. One hour is generally enough, but if you want to take it a little more relaxed, you should plan 2. We did it that way and were able to linger a little comfortably everywhere and take photos without rushing. Of course you have no time limit on foot.

Attention: some sights, museums etc. still have one Entrance feethat you have to pay extra. We skipped these and still didn't feel like we had missed anything.

Highlights in Intramuros

  • Fort Santiago
  • Manila Cathedral
  • San Agustín Church
  • Plaza San Luis Complex & Casa Manila
  • Baluarte de San Francisco de Dilao
  • Baluarte de San Diego
  • Revellín de la Puerta Real de Bagumbayan and Japanese prison

Conclusion: I think you can do a stopover in Manila from time to time. You won't go wrong with this, but you won't miss anything if you don't either. I cannot share the opinion of many other travelers that Manila is an absolute shit and should definitely be avoided. At least not everywhere, because there are a few nice places like Rizal Park, partly Malate or Intramuros, which is a must for history fanatics anyway. You can discover both the new and old part of Manila on one of the popular tours if you have less time.

It is certainly not my favorite city in Southeast Asia, but I have not regretted our stay there. But I think the Filipinos are much better than the city itself, almost all of whom are very nice and personable and thanks to their good knowledge of English you can certainly meet a lot of cool people here in the right environment and have a lot of fun!

Have you been to Manila before and how did you find it? If so, what were your highlights? Have we missed something really good? Now leave us a comment here!

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Moin, I am Marcel! Blogger, author, web & graphic designer and digital nomad. I prefer to travel through Southeast Asia and discover beautiful beaches and delicious food there. My home base is Koh Phangan, Thailand. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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