My first visit to the Philippines was a 10-day vacation. It’s incredible how much history is in the Manila area alone. Museums, Jeeps, Tricycles, Kalesa’s (horse carriage), Mall’s, Spanish Forts, and cathedrals. Oh, and a volcano.
There were a few drawbacks, including the pollution, overcrowding, noise, and traffic, but I had a great time overall.
This article is full of pictures and videos so that you feel as if you’re with me on this journey.
My wife’s family greeted me at the airport, and we proceed to a restaurant where I bought them spaghetti and chicken. Then we looked for an affordable hotel where I could stay.
We found a hotel called Red Planet. It cost $350 for ten days and was clean with a king-size bed. There was a guard at the front, which later I found that all businesses have a guard to keep unwanted locals out and keep the establishment from being robbed.
I enjoyed my stay here. The desk is on level 2, and my room is on level 5. I took a shower to wash the pollution off and was fast asleep.
No Sleeping in
I was ready to sleep in till fully rested. Japan is so quiet that I can sleep all day without issue. In the Philippines, it gets noisy early, too early. The sound of morning traffic reaches my ear at 8:00 AM, and the plan to sleep in has evaporated into the heavy air.
I spent most of the day locating the nearest convent store. I felt unsafe as I walked along the sidewalk where homeless people had tents and wooden huts right next to the hotel. Later I found that this was common at every hotel.
Homeless people sleep everywhere in Manila, and the city was filthy on my first visit. It was difficult for me to believe that the Philippines capital city was a cesspool of trash, pollution, and human waste. Thankfully the next mayor would clean it up.
My sister-in-law arrived to take me around the city and to a money exchange. I rode my first Philippines Tricycle.
The open market is enormous and has everything a Filipino could need. Food, clothing, household items, and odds and ends of just about anything.
The money exchange under guard, and unlike other countries, you’ll need to fill out a lot of paperwork and show your passport to exchange money. They even wanted to know my home address back in the United States.
One of my ¥10,000 had a rip in it, and the agent wouldn’t take it. I had to take the bill to a bank to exchange it. Make sure you exchange your money before arrival in the Philippines. It’s too much trouble to do it inside the country.
I returned to the open shopping area, but this time I went looking for the famous cathedrals. There are several in Manila, so I visited a few of them. The first one was connected to the shopping area and was full of people when I arrived.
Each cathedral was full of people when I arrived at them. There are too many people in need, and the church helps as much as possible. I would open job centers if I were the church, but that’s just me.
The first time taking a train in the Philippines was a good experience. The train was packed just like in Japan, so typical for me. We visited a few more churches and had some lunch.
I rode in a Jeep for the first time to the Mall of Asia. It’s one of the biggest malls in the world and even has an apartment complex. The mall even has doctor and dentist offices. There’s even a hospital. The people living in the apartment complex don’t need to go outside for anything.
When we arrived, the Mall was holding a fire and earthquake drill. A lot was going on, and the customers were everywhere. Busses pulled up every few moments, and each one full of customers.
I was able to find a couple of shirts I liked and have lunch. The rest of the time, I was trying to look around, but the mall was packed.
Lunch at the mall was fantastic and tasted good. Nilagang Baka is the one with beef meat and cabbage. The other dish is Kare-Kara with peanut sauce and beef tripe. I passed on the tripe, but the rest was delicious. It was the best meal I had my whole vacation.
After lunch, I walked around looking at all the shops. I was looking for what I wanted to do in the future, like a massage and haircut.
As if the mall itself wasn’t impressive enough, an amusement park was on the waterfront next to the mall. You can take a zipline from the mall to the amusement park.
There’s also a giant Ferris wheel and several other rides. The wind is constantly blowing, which cuts down on the heat. It’s a great place to enjoy yourself.
A great day to visit the National Museum of the Philippines. You have to leave all your bags at the door when you enter. They give you a stub, so you collect your items when you leave. They also don’t allow video in the baggage area.
When you enter the main hall, huge paintings are depicting a story about the Philippines. Move into the museum, and you find several statues, illustrations, and, most important, the stories behind them.
The exhibits were endless, and before I knew it, the museum was closing. I lost track of time reading about Philippines history.
After the museum, I rented a horse cart tour to take us to different historical sites.
Warning: if you have breathing problems, this is not for you. Several times I was in traffic and could not breathe because the pollution was so thick.
The cart driver told us about the historical places as we drove by them. We did stop at a Spanish fort which was full of history and had a great view. The Philippines was under Spanish rule for 333 years. During this time, the Philippines lost its identity to a foreign power, and it changed the culture forever.
I tended to humor the driver when he said the Hotel of Manila was built in 1896 and is several stories high. It’s more like it’s been rebuilt over the years and is the oldest in name only.
Fort Santiago (1593), the citadel of a new city called Manila in the past, is incredible and a must-see when visiting the capital city.
The history is impressive, and it was exciting to visit even though the dungeon was off-limits. The view of Manila Bay from the fort was equally remarkable and showed how much planning went into the site.
Horse Cart Tour Continued
The horse Cart tour continued, and the driver was knowledgeable. The traffic started to pile up, and I needed to breathe through a hand towel because the pollution was so overwhelming. After 20 minutes the traffic started moving again.
I was happy with the time and paid the driver $40 for his service, which is a lot of money in the Philippines. I hope they buy their horse some extra oats because the horse was so skinny.
The Horse cart tour ended, and the driver dropped us off at Luneta Park, where we ate a dinner of hot squid balls and ice cream. We then waited for the sun to go down for the fountain light show to start.
Warning: there are all kinds of people at the park trying to sell you things and begging or sending their children to beg. Also, there is the possibility of child exploitation of different types at the park.
The long day was over, and I was ready for a shower and bed.
After sleeping in because of exhaustion, I was ready for another day. I returned to the Mall of Asia and bought a two-hour massage for $10 and a haircut for $5. The haircut came with a five-minute neck massage.
I felt like a new person after this and was ready to take on the following day, which would also be extended and physically active.
Taal Caldera Volcano
Warning: The Taal Caldera Volcano is very active and can erupt at any time.
Unlike Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, USA (my first Caldera visit), this caldera is full of water. The area is open and humongous. The last eruption was in 2020, and there has already been one evacuation this year in March.
The Taal volcano is 31 miles south of Manila, but it took us two hours to arrive at the volcano by car. Traffic is terrible on the two-lane roads after leaving the Skyway (Interstate).
One of the main attractions at the volcano is horseback riding. It’s an excellent way to start the day, and there’s plenty to do before you view the caldera in the open.
It’s easy to get onto the horse because you stand on a platform, and they bring the horse alongside, and you get in the saddle from above. There is no stepping into the stirrup and lifting yourself into the saddle. So even if you have never ridden a horse, this is an excellent time for your first ride.
The trail is short, with an incredible view of the caldera at the end. It must have rained the night before, so the dirt trail was mud, but the horses didn’t mind at all. Neither did the staff because they dived right in.
We climbed the stairs to a platform, and the caldera was before us.
There is also a platform path to follow so visitors can continue to view the area from different viewpoints. I was doing great until I wasn’t watching where I was going and took a spill.
Ziplines seem to be popular in the Philippines because I have seen several since my arrival and the caldera is no exception.
I received my first taste of Taho, which is a soybeans paste, and flavor treat. The strawberry is the best, in my opinion.
The end of the zipline was interesting. A large pumper is in the line as a stopper.
The day ended with a pork rine snack overlooking the caldera. The dip is a sugar and vinegar solution and tastes fantastic.
I spent the day visiting my wife’s family and getting to know them. When moving from home to home, I collected several Filipino children to escort me.
I was obligated to have a meal at each home, so I was full of homemade food from the Philippines. Each meal was primarily fruits and vegetables with pork or beef. Sopas, fruit salad, pork stew, adobo, sinigang, and others. What a treat.
I passed on the Balut, which is a duck egg with a duck baby inside. You crack it open and eat…yeah, no thanks.
My fun is over, and the airport awaits. My first visit to the Philippines was an exciting and busy time. It was a blast, and I enjoyed every second.
There was a long line at the airport for baggage checks before entering, but I quickly found out that a small bribe gets you to the head of the line. No waiting and no fuss, as my sister-in-law put it. Not my policy, but good to see it in action one time.
Grand Vacation Total
The whole 10-day vacation cost me about $2,500, with airfare included. This trip also had a personal driver hired by my in-laws and was included in my cost. I highly recommend a private driver, or you’re going to spend most of your time in traffic.
The massage and haircut were the most significant savings at $15. The highest cost was the private driver and gas at $120.
Read about getting a visa extension here.
Have you visited the Philippines on vacation? Leave your story in the comments below.
Do you have questions about anything in this article? Leave the questions below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.