Sometimes when you travel, things don’t work out as planned…
This was certainly the case on our recent trip, which was suppose to be one week in Australia. I had time off from work for Chinese New Year (read about it Year of the Fire Rooster) so Sean and I packed out bags and left for the airport after I got out of work on Wednesday. We were flying Cebu Pacific, a budget airline from the Philippines so we had one stop over in Manila. The incoming plane was delayed, causing our plane to be delayed, and ultimately we missed our connecting flight by 30 minutes. Normally not a big deal, it happens….
I will skip all of the ridiculous details of how I now whole-heartedly despise Cebu Pacific & their customer service, however for those of you considering traveling on that airline… be warned. Long story short, there were about 25 of us that were in the same situation and the end result, we couldn’t be rebooked until Saturday… Hello 48 hour layover..
Welcome to the Philippines!
Being American passport holders, we were very lucky that we could enter the Philippines without a visa. Those that had Chinese passports were not allowed to enter, so had to stay inside the airport for 2 days. I don’t know what ended up happening to them, but I do hope they were able to make better arrangements or take a return flight sooner. We headed off to a hotel close to the Manila airport and arrived around 4 AM. We were exhausted, so checked into our room and went right to sleep. We had a small room with two twin size beds and no window. We were a bit suspicious if the hotel was actually a hotel. It didn’t really look like a hotel and the walls seemed temporary , but we had a private room and bed (…well beds..) and at 4am that’s what mattered.
I’ve never been to the Philippines before so if we were to be in Manila for a few days, I definitely wanted to take advantage and explore. Manila is the capital of the Philippines, and was colonized by the Spanish which is very evident from the architecture, churches and forts towards the city center. We got a group of our fellow Cebu stranded passengers and went off to explore the city.
Our first experience with Manila… hello traffic! It’s ranked as one of the top 10 cities with the worst traffic in the world. It took us about an hour to go 6 miles in an uber on a week day not during rush hour. Anyway, so traffic.. no bueno. Even with the horrible traffic situation, many people in Manila seem to use cars as their primary mode of transportation instead of bikes. I don’t think there are many sidewalks for people to bike on and in the streets it’s a bit dangerous (as per our Uber driver). The most popular public transportation were called “Jeepney’s”, which are large jeeps converted to buses with benches in the back. People pile in, or hang off the sides, to hitch a cheap ride through the city. I didn’t get a great picture of a Jeepney (you can kind of see one in one of the pictures below) so I linked to google if you click on the word. Here are a few pictures from our drive in the first day. I’m not an electrician, but I would beg to say that this is against some sort of code…
Our first stop in central Manila was an area called Intramuros (Spanish for “within the walls”), which is the oldest & historic center of Manila. Within the Intramuros district you can find many Spanish colonial era influences.
Manila Cathedral has been built 8 times. It was first built by bamboo in 1571, but burned down in 1583. Since then, they have rebuilt it in stone but it collapsed in 1599, 1621, 1751, 1852, 1863, 1880 all due to earthquakes. The seventh cathedral was destroyed during WWII and the current one is still standing.
At the farthest end of the Intramuros was Fort Santiago, which has quite a history. It was originally built in 1571 and repaired and renovated a few times due to earthquakes. It was HQ for British occupation army from 1762 to 1764, then HQ for Philippine division of U.S. military afterwards, then occupied by Japanese military in 1942 during the war, used as depot for U.S Transportation Corps before turnover back to Philippine government in 1946.
And of course, being in the Philippines we needed to enjoy the local drinks. We started off at Barbara’s, which was a cute little outdoor cafe/bar inside a boutique hotel in the Intramuros. After that we went to a rooftop bar to get great views of Manila at night.
Day 2: Treat Yo Self.
We had originally intended to hire a car to take us out to nearby Tagaytay, which has a beautiful view of Lake Taal with a volcano in the center. It looked very beautiful online, and we really were looking forward to seeing it. However, with the combination of lack of sleep and living in a cave hotel room, we overslept until 10:30 AM. Even though the drive was only supposed to be 1.5 hours, we heard it can take up to 4 hours depending on the traffic. We figured with our late start, and needing to be back to the hotel for our airport shuttle at 9 PM that evening, it would be a bit risky to try to travel there especially after our experiences with traffic the previous day. There was NO WAY we were missing our flight again.
We had breakfast at the hotel. They had an interesting mix of local Filipino / Western food, none of which seemed to resemble familiar breakfast to me. I am pretty open to all cuisines, but I can’t say I wake up craving a big bowl of garlic soup or a deep fried oreo for breakfast. 🙂 To each their own…
After breakfast, we decided to spend the day pampering ourselves. We headed towards Makati, which is a pretty Western/Expat area, in search of a top-rated salon & spa. I will be honest, I was a little nervous in the salon chair when they were bringing over 3 or 4 people to make a plan on how manage lighter-western hair. Yes, I was brave enough to get it colored. End result: success and saved major money over what I would have paid in Hong Kong. #winning
We made it to the airport at 9:30 PM for our 12:10 AM flight to Sydney. Besides a small hiccup during check in (they put our whole group on the standby list …. really?) we went to our gate. The plane ended up being delayed, past the point of when we missed it two days prior, which by that point was almost humorous. But we made it, and we were off!
All in all, travel is unpredictable. You may see my travels through beautiful pictures, but rest assured it’s not all glamorous and there are plenty of stories that at the time I was so over. But at the same time, travel is amazing. We met great people, we got to see a new city in a new country… and I got an interesting new blog post.