Sunday, October 26, 2014

Trip to Philippines - Part 1

It was a sunny May afternoon where I got myself a few extra quids in my salary and that got me thinking what should I do about it, being a marwari the first thought was very simple INVEST!! and enjoy in the future then the traveler in me slapped the inner marwari and it was decided that I would be going on a trip a Solo trip to South East Asia. There were many options available Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Philippines. I was very fascinated by Laos and Cambodia and did a little bit of research and thought why not next year. Then googled up Philippines and I was blown away with the beauty of place and started going in deeper and deeper and with 1000 Filipino travel bloggers I had made my decision it was Philippines. I had to clear up a small hurdle first of getting a 15 days leave approval which is as we all know in India is very difficult but my bosses are awesome and they agreed the same though not in writing and I had that YAAY! moment.

One of the beautiful places
It was late evening of July the 3rd where I booked my flight tickets and before that searching for options on which flight to take etc etc ended up booking Cathay Pacific which has a 7 hour layover in Hongkong and then off to Manila.

Then started discussing the trip with friends and colleagues, first few questions are like this
1. Are you going with your family?
2. After hearing no, ohh with your friends then?
3. After hearing another no, so you have friends over in Philippines?
4. Another negative answer, why are you traveling alone?
5. Why did you choose Philippines, why not Thailand?
6. Ohh forgot this, which tour are you taking?
Well had to give a little bit of explanation of a solo traveler and how it is going to makes things easy for me.

Q: What is your schedule and where are you going to stay?
A:  First few days I have booked a hostel and then let see how things are will decide.

Come September 30th, after packing in food, lil bit of food, and lots of hope went on my way to the Mumbai International Airport and luckily that day it did not rain nor there was traffic reaching way before time which got me into an earlier Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong.

Few things you need to know
1. There are no direct flights from Mumbai to Manila, you will either have to stop at Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore and it will take you almost a day to enter Manila.
2. Currency is Pesos where 1 pesos = 1.33 INR, well we are behind in Philippines also in terms of valuation.
3. For vegetarians you can avoid this place or just eat fruits and few veggies like Corn and Coconut.
4. Time difference is 2.5 hours ahead of India
5. Yes, Filipinos speak English but it is also somewhat similar to what we have in India where most of them know it, most of them speak broken English and some do not speak at all.
6. Being a tourist country you may feel that you are being taken for a ride, get over it, it happens in all the countries.
7. Know how to swim, this can be helpful for you. No you will  not get drowned or something but the beauty lies inside the Turquoise water.

Let me start by my first few days of the trip. Well it was off season and things are cheap in terms of accommodation in Manila. So I booked myself a dorm room in MNL Boutique Hostel in Makati region which is around 12 Kms from the Airport. It was raining heavily when I landed in Ninoy Aquino International Airport passed the immigration without any fuss and collected my bags walks out and see a huge tout of people calling you over to get in their private taxi. There are 4 options to get out of the airport
1. Private car - they have fixed charge and are really really expensive.
2. Yellow Cabs/Taxi - They charge 70 pesos initial and 4 pesos for next 300 meters. Waiting is also 4 pesos for 4 minute
3. Airport Taxis - They are good, controlled by Airport, fixed charge but expensive than Yellow taxi
4. Buses - You need to know where you are going exactly, it is the cheapest option.

The start was really bad where I had to wait for a taxi for 4 hours because there was a huge traffic outside the airport and the traffic spilled on the airport also. So being frustrated and wanting to reach the hostel I asked for people waiting for the taxi if anyone is going near Makati area and found that 4 of them are. We had to haggle with the private car and it was finally 500 pesos for each and tips extra. After getting out on the main road I knew why there was dearth of cars in the airport the whole of Manila was stuck due to traffic, that should have being my first sign to get out of there fast. After driving for 2 hours for just 12Kms or so reached the hostel and was so happy to see the bed and shower.

MNL Hostel: This place is right behind Avenue Mall in Makati area and looks like a small colourful bunker from outside and inside it has 2 floors with mix of dorm and private rooms, depending on your budget. Walk out of your room and you see a common area and kitchen where they serve breakfast which is mostly eggs, breads, spreads, tea, coffee and milo.

Well Makati for me is like Bandra of Mumbai lots of places to eat and few other interesting "massage place" as well. But I kinda got kicked with option to eat at the street food place which is nice and cheap almost. Under one roof you will get fish, chicken, pork, beef mostly grilled.

Initial Food Thoughts: Well, saw mostly food being grilled and with gravy. Filipino love rice and they can have it with anything and whatever temperature it is in. Love pork, fish, beef, chicken, eggs and veggies in that order. Beer is just 40 pesos for a San Miguel Pale Pint which is super cheap and there is Tanduay Rum for 99 pesos for full bottle. The food stalls have lots of variety in terms of food and at times you would get confused on what to have and what not to. But that is a discussion for later.