So there I was ─ first time ever to the Philippines! Exact destination? Makati City, Manila. I was to be there for four days of discovery.
Makati City, they say, is like the Manhattan of the Philippines ─ bustling and busy round-the-clock, choc-bloc full of skyscrapers, shopping malls, banks, restaurants, cars and of course…people.
Speaking of people, Makati’s population is 582,602 in 2016, making it the 17th-largest city in the country and ranked the 41st most densely populated city in the world with 19,336 inhabitants per sq km! Although it seems that there are only half a million people living within the 27.36 sq km perimeter of the city, the population doubles on workdays to more than a million as people go into the city from the outskirts to work, do business and shop.
Most of the tallest skyscrapers in Metro Manila and the Philippines are located in Makati such as the PBCom Tower, Gramercy Residences in Century City and GT International Tower. PBCom Tower along Ayala Avenue is the country’s tallest building, reaching up 259m. It is the headquarters of the Philippine Bank of Communications, or PBCom: wikipedia
Makati is just one of the 16 heavily-populated cities of the Philippines that make up Metro Manila ─ the urban area surrounding capital city Manila (a bit like Greater Kuala Lumpur, you could say, only bigger and a lot more crowded).
And of all the 16 cities, Makati is the one that holds the purse strings of the nation because it is the financial centre of the Philippines with the highest concentration of multinational and local corporations within its borders including all the major banks, foreign embassies and of course, the Philippine Stock Exchange, situated along Ayala Avenue.
But, it’s never all work and no play in Makati. Actually, the city is always alive with music, good food, cathedrals, lots of museums and fine arts centres which is why it is also known as Philippines’ entertainment and cultural hub.
1 First Stop: Ninoy Aquino AirportSo, suitably excited, I landed in Ninoy Aquino Airport on a lightly windy, and quite balmy mid-afternoon of 3.30pm on 31st July 2017. The temperature was 31°C but I wasn’t uncomfortably hot. The wind helped. The first thing I noticed was that it was a busy airport and the second thing I noticed was that there were armed security guards and offices stationed at all entrances and exits. Hmmm.
The Ninoy Aquino Airport in Andrews Ave, Pasay, (also known as the Manila International Airport) is about 6km from Makati, and the drive to the hotel, took us about 45 minutes.
However, if your visit is not for business but pleasure and you’d like to get started on serious fun right where you land, pop into Resorts World Manila located in Pasay right opposite the airport. It is Philippines’ answer to a one-stop, nonstop integrated tourist destination that includes a Casino (for serious gaming), Hotels (4 including Maxims, Marriot, Remington, and Belmont), Bars (3 watering holes if not more) Shopping Mall (which includes dining, health and wellness outlets), Cinema (4 cinemas and one with butler service), and Theater (for the entire range of performing arts).
On the downside though, you did hear the news right? In case you missed it, here is the CNN report, complete with dramatic video of the shooting, looting and burning ─ Resorts World Manila attack: How tax man turned into casino murderer.
Resorts World Manila has since reopened.
2 Room With A View: Berjaya Makati Hotel
Straight from the airport, I made a beeline for my hotel ─ the Berjaya Makati, a three-star establishment with a gym and pool, and WiFi of course. Hospitality was great. Actually, hospitality is great everywhere in the Philippines. Everybody speaks in English. People greet you with warm smiles everywhere, from saying “good morning” to opening doors for you. Very friendly nation! It’s part of the reason I enjoyed my visit so thoroughly.
The Berjaya Makati is a very centrally-placed hotel. I was within two-minute walking distance to Century City Mall and 30 minutes to Glorietta Mall. There are also taxis galore that will take you anywhere. It was very convenient.
Oh, and just an interesting observation ─ plug points and socket types are similar to the USA. They use two-pin plugs.
3 Hail Mother of God!
Speaking of taxis, there are a lot of taxis in the Philippines. They are neat and white and some of them emblazon their company sign “Madre de Dios” which means “Mother of God” in Spanish. Of course, you do know the country’s leanings of Catholicism and historical ties with Spain, right? From 1521 to 1898 ─ that’s almost 400 years ─ the Philippines was a colony of the Spanish Empire.
Famous explorer Ferdinand Magellan discovered the islands while on an expedition to map out the spice route in 1521. He died there too, in battle. Yeah, he was killed in the Philippines when he underestimated the ferociousness of the native people while fighting it out in the Kingdom of Mactan, now Lapu-Lapu City in the Philippines.
In fact, the Philippines was named Philippines in honour of King Philip II of Spain. The original name was Las Islas Filipinas which means Philippine Islands or Islands belonging to Philip.
More on the taxis or cars in general. Everybody drives on the left, like in America. Maybe it’s because America colonised the Philippines from 1898? Anyway, apart from taxis for public transport, Grab and Uber are common too ─ those being an obvious sign of the times.
But if you prefer travelling with the wind in your hair mixed with a whiff of exhaust fumes from the open road, try the Jeepney. These are heavily-decorated recon jeeps made out of surplus US military jeeps left over from World War II. Much like the Tut-Tut of Thailand, the Jeepney is the country’s commonest and cheapest mode of transport and in fact, is the proud symbol of Philippine culture and art.
4 On The Road In MakatiHere’s where it gets interesting. Some cars don’t have number plates. It’s OK to drive around without one. Where tinting is concerned, 90% of all cars including MPVs are fully tinted opaque black so the windscreen and windows are like a black wall. Manual driving is more common than auto, maybe because petrol is not cheap and Petron is more common than Shell, five to one.
Traffic jams are common and horrendous. I was stuck for an hour going from Legaspi Village to Makati and the two points are just 2.5km apart. Drivers honk a lot as a matter of course but they do give way for people to cross… when they see you, that is. I had a close call with a harried driver and I was walking on the zebra crossing. Pedestrians ─ a word of warning: Please be careful! There are blindspots in the streets.
5 Commuting and Communicating
In the Philippines, they don’t use WhatsApp. Instead, Viber is king next to text messaging.
And they have MRT too. It’s called the Manila Metro Rail Transit System and it serves the commuting population of Metro Manila.
6 Shopping, Dining and Drinking
F&B are where things get even more interesting. There are plenty of shopping malls in Makati and plenty of watering holes to match. Happy Hour starts as early as 3pm for drinkers with beer going cheaper than water. For a mix of shopping therapy and all night drinking, go to Greenbelt ─ a premier fashion and lifestyle centre with a stretch of choice restaurants, bars and luxury fashion brands for all round fun. It’s at the Ayala Cente, Makati and it’s a popular spot for spirited socialising (pun intended). Bars close as late as 3am.
While drinking and partying go on till the wee hours of the morning, shopping malls, paradoxically, open as late as 11am but close as early as 9pm.
Here are a few observations about shopping malls: Their escalators go down on the right.
If you want to use the public toilet, it’s not called a toilet but a “Comfort Room” or CR. So there’s Male Comfort Room or Female Comfort Room.
When eating, always remember, it’s napkins not tissue.
For some reason, no straws are given with your drink. And if you do ask for one, the straws are made out of hard paper.
Do not ask for Chilli Sauce or Chilli Padi with Kicap or Belacan anywhere you eat. They will not know what you are talking about. Only gravy is served and perhaps mayonnaise. However, if you must have something to dip with, vinegar is the Top 10 condiment in the Philippines. And not just any vinegar but Datu Puti brand for superior tartness to contrast well with whatever you eat. The Philippine palate is not skewed to fiery chilli-hotness like Malaysians.
Pork is the staple meat. It is ubiquitous. Ham and Bacon are on most menus and available in most fast food restaurants.
The No:1# fast food restaurant in the Philippines is Jollibee. But of course! Jollibee is the trueblue, home-bred Filipino multinational fast food chain that has been dubbed as Asia’s answer to McDonald’s in the fast food business. So naturally, there is a Jollibee outlet for every square mile in Makati, and three 7-elevens for every Jollibee you see in between. 7-eleven is big in the Philippines.
Most people eat out after work as there is no time to go home and cook.
The Philippines is a strongly Christian nation. In fact, according to Asia Society.org, the country proudly boasts to be the only Christian nation in Asia. Around 94% of the population is Christian with more than 86% being Roman Catholic, 6% belonging to various nationalised Christian denominations, and another 2% belonging to well over 100 Protestant denominations.
7 Everyday Smells and Street Life
Because pork is a staple in the Philippines and is widely used in all manner of cooking styles in most Filipino cuisine, the smell of pork lingers heavy in the air. It is suffused in the atmosphere in the streets, and in every supermarket and family mart. It even gets into offices as soon as a door is opened.
However there is no smell of foul drains or rubbish anywhere, even in the streets or in the slums. I visited the Makati Slums just to have a look-see. Here is a good article titled Makati’s Contradictions from inquirer.net. Click on to read.
As for animal welfare, I did not see any stray dogs in the streets at all. I did see cats though. They were all in good condition.
8 Wind and Weather
The wind is pretty gusty in the Philippines. I brought my own hair gel from Malaysia but it was useless against the strong land winds in the city. Blew my hair off as soon as I stepped out, so I had to buy local Filipino-manufactured water based gel. Worked perfectly.
And there ends my tale on Makati City, Philippines. I did get to enjoy one last taste of this country before arriving home. I flew back on the Cebu Pacific, a Filipino budget airline, on 3rd August 2017. Service was fine and I keep with me treasured memories of what I can safely count as one of my most memorable and enjoyable travels to date.
Ang makikita mo mamaya! (See you later!)