5 Things You Need To Know Before Visiting Metro Manila
by Denise Del Rosario
Metro Manila has plenty of surprises up its sleeve and you’re going to want to be prepared for all of them if you’re planning to visit. Because if you’re not, frustration *will* get the best of you and you *will* end up wishing you never got on that plane in the first place. Which would be a shame because Metro Manila has so many amazing experiences to offer!
Metro Manila is made up of 16 cities, each one completely different from the other. One could be all about the grind and the hustle, while another could more chill and laid-back. And this diversity is exactly what makes Metro Manila so fun to explore! That said, you’re going to need all the help you can get to navigate this concrete jungle.
So whether you’re coming for business or pleasure, here are some things you first need to know about the life in Metro Manila. Your future self will thank you for reading up!
1. Communication isn’t a problem
If you don’t speak a word of Tagalog, I promise you that you’ll be fine in Metro Manila. The locals here are pretty well-versed in English and can carry full-on conversations with you. Even those who aren’t all that fluent can help you out with the little things like pointing you to the restroom or showing you where the nearest Jollibee branch is (very important!)
Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if you brushed up on some Tagalog words. Taglish (a combination of English and Tagalog) is an acceptable way of communicating here, so if you know a few Tagalog words here and there, just mix them in with your normal English phrases and you’re good to go.
The best thing you can do, especially if you’re talking to someone older than you, is to be courteous and use the word ‘po’. It has no equivalent in the English dictionary but it’s used to show respect to whoever you’re talking to. Even if you’re conversing in English, just throw ‘po’ in as much as you can and you’ll sound extra respectful. For example, you can say “How much is this, po?” Or “Where is the bathroom, po?” Or “Jollibee is delicious, po.”
2. The Internet is slow AF
Fast internet is something people from other countries take for granted. But over here in Metro Manila, you’re lucky if you can even connect to the internet at all. There are currently only two companies providing internet service for the entire Philippines so you can only imagine how congested the networks are.
Aside from being slow, the internet here is also not very dependable. One minute it’s there and then the next…Poof! It’s gone. So if you see a cafe, restaurant, or hotel advertising free WiFi, don’t expect your browsing/streaming experience to be all that smooth. On one hand, though, Metro Manila’s slow and dodgy internet might come as a good thing if you’ve been trying to stay away from social media!
The best thing you can do is to buy a sim card (they’re as cheap as candy over here) so you can connect to the internet whenever and wherever. Just turn on your data when you need to check your mail, get directions from Google Maps, or take a peek at your Instagram feed.
3. Haggling is acceptable
I’ve been to other countries in Asia where it’s pretty traumatizing to shop. Shop owners will pester you to take a look at their goods and then proceed to get mad at you if you don’t want to buy anything. Haggling also gets you in trouble because once you start asking for lower prices, you’re obliged to buy. If you don’t, they’ll run after you until you fork over money. This has literally happened to someone I know!
Fortunately, in Metro Manila, the shopping culture is generally friendly. Shop owners don’t mind when customers bargain and while they might turn you down, you won’t be met with rude remarks or angry stares. And you most certainly won’t get chased around the mall. Of course, don’t take this as a cue to lowball sellers. Haggle fairly and courteously and you’ll be just fine! A nice way to ask for a discount is to say “Wala na pong tawad?”
Metro Manila’s ‘tiangges’ or flea markets are the best places to practice your bargaining skills. You can score some of the best discounts on clothes, shoes, bags, food, and other goods over at Divisoria, Quiapo Market, Baclaran Market, Cartimar Market, Taytay Tiangge, Greenhills Shopping Center, and Dapitan Market.
4. You always need to take traffic into consideration
Because of the worsening traffic in Metro Manila, a simple 30-minute car ride can stretch up to three hours or even longer if it’s raining. Sometimes, roads start looking like car parks because none of the vehicles are moving at all! This has come to be the way of life Metro Manila and the locals have gotten used to it by now. But of course, it still comes as quite a shock to first-timers.
The best thing to do would be to always assume you’re going to run into traffic and adjust your schedule from there. So if you’re meeting a friend at 4 PM, you might want to hit the road at around 2 PM. If it’s a very important appointment you’re trying to catch, leave even earlier because it’s better to have to wait than to be helplessly stuck along EDSA, the most congested highway in Metro Manila.
Unfortunately, there’s this thing called “Filipino time” around here. So even if you manage to show up in time despite the traffic, other people might not give you the same kind of decency. It’s a bad habit that locals need to kick but the traffic jams aren’t making it any easier to be punctual.
5. Finding transportation can be challenging
Life was good back when Uber was still in Metro Manila but sadly, they pulled out of Asia and it’s been a struggle finding transportation since then. There’s Grab but fares are higher, drivers are fewer, and waiting time is longer. Though if you’re not in a hurry and don’t mind shelling out more, it’s the most convenient option.
A cheaper alternative is Wunder, a carpooling app that lets you book rides with other users. It’s a safe community and drivers generally set budget-friendly rates. The only hard part is finding someone who’s going the same route at the same time as you are. It’s best to look through the scheduled trips and book beforehand to make sure you get to your destination on time.
If those two apps don’t work out for you, P2P buses are your next best bet. These buses, each one assigned to go back and forth between two destinations, do not make any stops along the way. Aside from that convenience, the buses are the comfortable, spacious, air-conditioned kind that is far better than the normal ones commonly spotted along the road.
As for those of you who want to experience the most authentic (or rather the most challenging) way to get from one place to another in Metro Manila, you can try your luck with taxis, jeepneys, LRTs, and UV expresses.