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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrMetro Manila, a huge urbanized area with an official population of over 12 million inhabitants in the Philippines, not to be confused with Manila City which is part of Metro Manila, is comprised of sixteen cities and one municipality, with multiple high-rise concentrations, which are Makati CBD, Taguig, and Ortigas Center, and to a lesser extent, the city of Manila itself, and some other small concentrations.
Metro Manila as a whole has some unofficial population estimates going up to 20 million inhabitants, making it 6 to 10 times larger than the next largest metropolitan area in the Philippines, which is Cebu.
As a developing country, the Philippines is suffering from widespread poverty; which is more pronounced in Metro Manila where the contrast between the poor and affluent areas can be seen, for example, begging children outside of upscale shopping malls or alongside SUV and taxi-congested thoroughfares. First-time visitors to a third world country may be culturally shocked to see such provoking displays of inequality.
Manila is built alongside the Pasig River which empties into Manila Bay. Since all of its tributaries' shorelines have long since been occupied by residents flooding to Manila and building makeshift shanties with no collection of waste, the Pasig River has been declared biologically dead. Concerted efforts by the government, non-government agencies and private foundations such as the ABS-CBN Foundation have raised funds and implemented programs for the relocation of illegal settlers and clean-up of the Pasig River to undo some of the damage.
Pasig River is not the only area where overcrowding is a problem, the whole of Metro Manila is suffering from a lack of space, resulting in residents turning to flyovers, graveyards, and garbage disposal terrains to build their houses on. This phenomenon is a popular subject for television documentaries.
Manila is the main entry-point in the Philippines for most foreigners. While there are other international airports, NAIA is, though crumbling under its inadequate terminals, still by far the busiest airport in the Philippines. Metro Manila is notorious for its congested and inadequate road network. The lack of grade-separated highways, low-capacity roads, general lack of urban planning and development, coupled with an overabundance of taxis and buses result in an arduous travelling experience within the limits of Metro Manila. The major circumferential, EDSA, plagued by constant road repairs and inadequate ramps, is an often photographed artery displaying this urban problem.
Manila City, the capital city of the Philippines, has many of the landmarks that are significant in the history of the Philippines including Intramuros (Spanish Walled City) and Luneta or Rizal Park. Malacanang Palace, the official residence of the President of the Philippines and an attraction on its own, is located in Manila. So are many projects of the past Marcos administration including the Cultural Center of the Philippines that it shares with Pasay. Not only is Manila port the entry point for shipments coming from all areas of the country and the world but Quiapo and Divisoria, two major shopping districts where you can find the best bargains are located in this city. This area has the worst congestion of people and vehicles besides being flood-prone when it rains.
Makati is the Central Business District of Metro Manila and the financial capital of the Philippines. It is centrally located, one of the dense high-rise concentrations, and one of the safer cities of Metro Manila. Its roads are amongst the most congested. Housing many corporate headquarters and banking institutions of the Philippines, it also sports many shopping centers and is a city with a developed nightlife.
Taguig, including Bonifacio Global City/The Fort is another modernized city, southeast of Makati. It is home to many business headquarters, hotels, and shopping venues such as SM Aura Premier and Market!Market!, two of the many large shopping malls in Metro Manila. High-class bars and hot new restaurants have sprung up in this area, making it the nightlife center of the metropolis.
Pasig City is home to Ortigas Center which is the second most important business and industry district after Makati. Ortigas Center, shared between Pasig and Mandaluyong, is home to high-rises that host prominent corporate headquarters like San Miguel Coporation and Jollibee. St. Francis Square is a popular shopping and dining destination and so is Tiendesitas, a collection of stores selling Philippine-made products, pets, plants, clothes and furniture. Robinson's Metro East and Sta. Lucia East Grand Mall are smaller malls located in Pasig. Metrowalk is the primary nightspot with a myriad of restaurants and bars.
Other Cities of Metro ManilaThe following cities are not particularly developed for or aimed at tourists.
Quezon CityQuezon City is the city with the highest population in Metro Manila. It is home to several government agencies and 2 prestigious universities, University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University. The Quezon Memorial Circle is a 27-hectare park with a 217-foot shrine and mausoleum of President Manuel Quezon and his wife. Araneta Coliseum hosts events like concerts and basketball games. La Mesa Ecopark is perfect for hiking and family picnics. Quezon City is home to nine television networks including the two of the biggest networks in the Philippines so it is perfectly normal to meet local TV and movie stars at the hottest night spots located in Tomas Morato, Timog Avenue, Eastwood Libis, or Katipunan. Shopping centers include SM City North Edsa, Gateway Mall, and the bustling Cubao area.
Quezon City Hotels
Caloocan CityThe story of the Philippine Revolution can never be retold without the mention of Caloocan . This part of history is immortalized in the Andres Bonifacion Monument, the city's most popular landmark. Caloocan has the third-highest population in the Philippines but even if most areas are highly urbanized, there are parts of Caloocan towards the north that have remained untouched by modernity and now hosts leisure resorts including Gubat sa Ciudad Resort (Forest in the City Resort), Dreamland Hotel & Resort Zabarte, and Luzviminda Resort which allow visitors to enjoy some time off from city life.
Las Pinas CityLas Pinas City is synonymous with the famous Las Pinas Bamboo Pipe Organ, the only one of its kind in the world. Built in 1816, it is housed in St. Joseph Church and all of its 1,031 pipes continue to make beautiful music in 7 masses during Sunday and 2 during weekends. This city is a bustling metropolis with close to 400 residential subdivisions and villages including BF Resort Village and Philamlife Village. Most subdivisions opened up their roads to decongest the Alabang-Zapote Road, easing the traffic gridlock in this part of Metro Manila. SM Southmall is the biggest shopping and entertainment center in the city.
Malabon CityMalabon, one of the highly populous cities in Metro Manila, is popular for its fishing industry. Most of the fish sold and served in the metropolis come from Navotas and Bulacan through the Malabong Tanong Market. A unique 'whisper' bidding system in which the highest bid of each interested buyer is whispered to the seller has been used in this market since way back to the Spanish times. Malabon is also popular for its fish sauce (patis) industry and for the popular noodle dish called Pancit Malabon. There are only 3 small malls in the city, Star J Plaza, Malabon Citysquare, and Araneta Square Mall as Malabon is just a ride away from the big malls of nearby cities. This city is also known as Little Venice, not much for the similarity of its attractions, but because some areas are flooded all year long and are slowly sinking.
Mandaluyong CityThe 1986 EDSA Revolution against President Marcos was the jump start for the progress that Mandaluyong is experiencing today. EDSA Shrine Church in Ortigas Center stands as a tribute to this momentous historical event. Mandaluyong, located in the heart of Metro Manila and literally shaped like a heart, is a another high-rise concentration that still continues to develop, housing many industrial establishments and prominent corporate headquarters.
Marikina CityAt the mention of Marikina, only one thing comes to mind: finely crafted, durable shoes. Marikina, once the capital of Manila province, is the shoe capital of the Philippines and has been so since the 1800s. But cheap shoes coming from China have severely affected the shoe industry in this city but with the city government's support, it is back on its feet. Marikina started the revamp in 1992 and has become a multi-awarded city, being the first and now hall of famer for the title of ‘Cleanest and Greenest City in the Philippines’. International organizations have named Marikina as one of ‘Asia Pacific's most healthiest and livable cities’. SM City Marikina, Blue Wave Mall, and Riverbank Malls are three of the popular shopping centers in the city. The Markina Shoe Museum displays an interesting collection of shoes worn by prominent personalities with former First Lady Imelda Marcos heading the list.
Muntinlupa CityMuntinlupa is synonymous with prison, being the location of the high security New Bilibid Prison that houses the most dangerous criminals in the Philippines. But times have changed and what was once pasture land in the 80s is now the ‘Emerald City of the Philippines’. Its economic boom is mainly because of easier accessibility via the SLEX (South Luzon Expressway) which decongested the sole access Alabang-Zapote Road and because of the Filinvest Corporate City and Ayala Land's Madrigal Business Park, which brought in prestigious residential, commercial, and industrial establishments. Ayala Alabang Village is the address of the elite while its adjoining Ayala Alabang Town Centre offers posh shopping. Ayala Alabang Country Club, with one of the best greens in the country, is exclusively for members and their guests. Festival Supermall is the biggest mall in the city.
Navotas CityNavotas, a long and narrow coastal city, is dubbed as the ‘Fishing Capital of the Philippines’. The city is virtually almost an island, surrounded on most sides by water. Most of the area is below sea level so high tide and a little rain will immediately cause flooding. About three quarters of its population earns a living from the fishing industry. Fish sauce (patis) and shrimp paste (bagoong) are two other popular products. There aren't too many attractions in Navotas. The Navotas fish port, one of the biggest in Asia with an area of 47.5 hectares, receives about 850 tons of fish from various fishing vessels that dock in the city, and overland trucks coming from other provinces. There are no major malls in the city but the popular food chains like McDonalds and Jollibee have set up shop in Navotas.
Paranaque CityParanaque City is the home of the well-attended Baclaran Church of our Lady of Perpetual Help. Baclaran is also famous for bargain hunters with dry goods stores located very near the church. Wednesday is the day of devotion so expect the heaviest traffic congestion in the Roxas Boulevard area. Another popular place is Dampa, a seaside market selling fresh seafood. There are restaurants with seafood specialties and small fishing villages called ‘fishermen's wharves’ near Dampa. Paranaque's entertainment scene is scheduled to change in December 2014 with the soft opening of the casino and resort complex, City of Dreams. Another good news in Paranaque is that a better flood control program is in place so flooding is not an issue in most parts of the city.
Pasay CityBecause of its close proximity to Manila, Pasay rapidly grew to the large city that it is today. The domestic and international airports are located in the borders of Paranaque and Pasay, thus making these two cities the gateway for local and foreign visitors. There are many attractions in the city including the Coconut Palace, the Vice President of the Philippines' official residence. Cultural and event venues are located in Pasay along Roxas Boulevard and the Manila Bay reclamation area, including the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex (shared with Manila), Tanghalang Francisco Balagtas (Folk Arts Theater), World Trade Center Metro Manila, and the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC). The 3rd-largest mall in the Philippines and 10th in the world, the SM Mall of Asia (MOA) is located in Pasay. For entertainment and leisure, Pasay is hard to beat with the Star City amusement park and the Las Vegas-style casino and lifestyle complex, Resorts World Manila, as well as hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars.
Pasay City/Airport Hotels
San Juan CitySan Juan City, the second-smallest city with just 1% of Metro Manila's total area, is right in the center of the metropolis. Historically, San Juan was the site of the Philippine Revolution's first real battle as memorialized by the Pinaglabanan Shrine. Major thoroughfares pass through San Juan, making it one of the most congested areas in Metro Manila. Its most prominent resident is the Greenhills Shopping Center (GSC), a shopping mecca for bargain hunters that is best known for its replica designer goods, jewelry, antiques, mobile phones, and more. Always haggle to get the best price. Popular restaurants and bars are located in and near GSC. Virra Mall is the bargain center for computers while Shopesville Arcade has fashion shops.
Valenzuela CityValenzuela, the northern gateway to Metro Manila, is a bustling industrial city that has retained historical attractions dating back to the colonial times. Worth visiting would be the 4-centuries old Bell Tower of San Diego de Alcala Church and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. The city's shopping centers include SM Supercenter Valenzuela, Pure Gold Paso de Blas, and South Supermarket.
Municipility of PaterosPateros is the only municipality that is included in Metro Manila but it is the second most densely populated area in the metropolis, after Manila City. This municipality is the biggest producer of alfombra (slipper with carpet-like surface) but it is most popular for its duck-raising industry. Pateros is the main source of red, salted eggs and the exotic balut (boiled fertilized egg). The tradition of making balut has been passed on through several generations. Balot sa Puti is a well-attended food festival celebrated on January 31.
PeopleThe population of Metro Manila is an amalgam not only of native Manilenos but also of Filipinos from different regions of the Philippines and foreign nationals. Because Metro Manila is the center for government, finance, business, industry, and commerce, people from different Philippine provinces go to Metro Manila to seek greener pastures.
Professionals work in multinationals and conglomerates in Makati, Ortigas, Taguig and other business districts of the metropolis. Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies in these areas operate on a 24-hour basis and hire thousands of call center agents and technical staff. Many of their consultants come from other countries like the United States, India, Australia, or Singapore who stay in Metro Manila to operate or oversee the BPOs' operations.
Other migrants work in Metro Manila's malls and markets as sales while others end up in the factories of Malabon, Pateros, Pasig, and even in the economic zones of the nearby provinces of Laguna and Cavite. Syndicates bring in the young from the provinces and lure them with the promise of high-paying jobs and end up working in seedy bars or in the illegal trade. Others, however, do not find legitimate work or are too lazy to do so and end up doing sleazy jobs that promise instant big money, contributing to the crime rate in the metropolis.
While Metro Manila may be the most progressive area in the Philippines, it also has the highest concentration of people, almost half of which live below the poverty line. It is not surprising that slum areas continue to grow as more people migrate to Metro Manila with only the hope of finding a job in tow.
ShoppingMany popular international designer brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and more can be found in Metro Manila together with local brands that have penetrated the international market like Bench.
Out of the ten largest shopping malls in the world, three are in Metro Manila, truly qualifying Manila as a shopping capital of the world (though many of cities compete for this title). These are:
- SM Mall of Asia (MOA) - located in Pasay, ranking 10th on the world largest shopping mall list.
- SM City North EDSA - located in Quezon City, ranking 4th in the world.
- SM Megamall - located in Mandaluyong, currently the largest shopping mall in Philippines, Southeast Asia, and the third-largest shopping mall in the world.
Besides these three, there are many other smaller shopping malls, such as:
- Greenbelt and Glorietta - both located at Ayala Center, Makati .
- Power Plant Mall - located at Rockwell Center, Makati.
- SM Aura Premier - located in Taguig.
- Robinsons Galleria - located near SM Megamall in Ortigas, Pasig.
- Shangri-La Plaza - located near SM Megamall in Ortigas.
- The Podium - new upscale mall in Mandaluyong.
- Festival Supermall - located in Muntinlupa.
- Alabang Town Center - located near Ayala Alabang Village in Muntinlupa.
- Market!Market! - located in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.
- Robinson's Place Manila - located in Ermita, Manila.
- SM Southmall - located in Las Pinas.
- Trinoma - located in EDSA, Quezon City
DiningFilipinos love to celebrate just about anything; birthdays, anniversaries, and even pay days. It is not surprising that restaurants and cafés have flourished in Metro Manila. These come highly recommended:
- Cafe Ilang Ilang - located at legendary Manila Hotel; grilled lobster, oyster Rockefeller and more.
- My Kitchen by Chef Chris Locher - located at Paco Park Hotel in Paco; specializes in European cuisine.
- Illustrado Restaurant - located in historic Intramuros; specializes in seafood and steak.
- Stockton Place - cozy restaurant located on Salcedo Street; continental specialties like rib-eye.
- Grace Park by Margarita Fores - located in Rockwell Center; specializes in organic food like Muscovado Beef Belly.
- El Chupacabra - located on Polaris Street; specializes in Mexican food.
- Chef Jessie's 100 Revolving Restaurant - located in Eastwood Drive; French cuisine specialties.
- Victorino's - homey resto located in Scout Rallos; specializes in Filipino Ilocano food.
- Romulo Café - located in Scout Tuason; specializes in Filipino haute cuisine.
- Mesclun Bistro - located in Serendra Place; specializes in international mix.
- Abe - located in Serendra Place, specializes in Filipino Pampanga cuisine.
- Aracama of Chef Fernando Aracama - located at The Fort; specializes in Filipino Negrense food.
- Sarsa Kitchen and Bar of Jef Jayps Anglo - located at South Forum, Bonifacio Global City; specializes in modern Filipino Bacolod food.
- Green Pastures - located in Shangrila Plaza; specializes in farm to table organic food.
- Madeca - located in The Podium; specializes in Filipino and Mexican fusion cuisine.
- Chef Arch's Lime Restaurant and Bar - located in San Rafael Street; specializes in haute streetfood.
- Calderon Spanish Kitchen and Tapas Bar - located in Calderon Street; specializes in Spanish cuisine.
- Chef Laudico's Guevarra - located in Addition Hills; Filipino buffet lunch & dinner.
- Torch Restaurant - located in Connecticut Street; specializes in pizza, sushi and steak.
- Buffets 101 - located at Seaside Boulevard; buffet with 300 dishes at half hotel price.
- Spiral - located at Sofitel Philippine Plaza; best buffet in the city.
- My Mother's Garden - national artist's house located at Zamora Street; home-cooked continental food.
- Seven Corners - located at Crowne Plaza Hotel; specializes in steak.
- Red Panda - located in East Capitol Drive, Kapitolyo; specializes in Chinese French fusion cuisine.
- Café 1771 - beautiful resto located in Ortigas Center; continental cuisine specialties.
Great Filipino food is available at the following restaurant chains:
- Via Mare - 12 locations in Metro Manila; modern Filipino food specialties.
- Barrio Fiesta - 14 locations in Metro Manila; classic Filipino food specialties.
- The Aristocraft - legendary restaurant; 4 locations in Metro Manila; specializes in chicken barbecue and Filipino classic favorites.
- Max's Restaurant - legendary restaurant; 84 locations in Metro Manila; specializes in fried chicken and Filipino classics.
AccommodationsMetro Manila plays host to a wide variety of visitors, ranging from those with hefty purses to those on a budget. Here is a list of places to stay in:
Hotels in Makati are more expensive because of its location. If you are not a Filipino, be careful when chosing a hotel outside of the tourist areas (Makati, Ortigas, Taguig, Airport), because of your safety.
TransportationNinoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) is the only airport of Metro Manila. While its conditions have improved somewhat in 2014, mainly because of the increased capacity of terminal 3, the airport as a whole still has various problems. If you have an outbound flight out of NAIA, allow plenty of time to compensate for traffic, which is very heavy near the airport, and the very long queues for checking in. NAIA imposes a 'terminal fee', often not incorporated in the ticket price to any passenger ( ₱200 ($4.40) domestic, ₱550 ($12) intl), so bring cash. Getting out of NAIA by car or taxi can also be bothersome. First-timers to Manila are advice to use the yellow, 'Airport Authority Accredited' taxis for their first trip out of NAIA. When you are a bit familiar with Manila, you will want to switch to the regular white taxis, which are cheaper.
TaxisTaxis are fairly safe and can take you to any destination within Metro Manila but during rush hour when traffic is at its worst, it will be difficult to get one. It is mandatory that the driver should use the taxi meters and not go for fixed rate except when the traffic situation is extremely bad. This will be the mode of transportation of choice for most foreigners. Fares start at ₱40 ($0.88) and generally stay under ₱150 ($3.30). Taxi drivers in Metro Manila are notorious for overcharging, making various excuses why you should pay more than the meter or why they can't use the meter at all. While all of this is illegal and only the metered fare should be charged, sometimes it will be impossible to get a taxi if the proposed inflated fare of the driver is not accepted.
CarsCars are available for hire with or without driver. But driving in Metro Manila, with its aggressive drivers and horrendous traffic jams requires nerves of steel. For a comfortable and convenient, although more expensive way to travel in Metro Manila, getting a vehicle with driver is the best option.
Buses and JeepneysBuses and jeepneys ply different routes and connect different cities throughout Metro Manila. They are a cheap way to travel but are prone to traffic stuck-ups. Since the whole jeepney system is at first only understandable to Filipinos, it is advisable to only try riding these solo after you have been introduced to it by a (Filipino) friend. Also see the safety concerns below.
LightrailThe fastest way to travel within Metro Manila is by the railway transport. There are merely 3 lines: LRT 1 (Light Rail Transit System Line 1) or Green Line goes from Baclaran in Pasay to Monumento in Caloocan then to North Avenue corner EDSA, Quezon City. LRT 2 (Manila Light Rail Transit System Line 2) or Blue Line runs from Recto, Manila to Santolan, Quezon City. MRT 3 (Manila Metro Rail Transit System 3) or Yellow Line runs from EDSA corner North Avenue, Quezon City to EDSA corner Taft Avenue, Pasay.
Buses, jeepneys and the lightrail are all very prone to pickpocketing, sometimes at knifepoint. Do not wear or bring any valuables such as jewelry, watches, cellphones, tablets or mp3-players. All of these make you an easy target. Do not put anything of value in your back pockets. Do not wear a backpack in the usual way but on your chest (Filipinos do this as well for safety).
Slums to AvoidIn Old Manila, there was already class segregation. The Chinese lived in the parian which eventually became Binondo while the Filipinos lived in Tondo, Quiapo, Sampaloc, and Sta. Cruz. Today, wealth still lives in close proximity to poverty in many places in the Philippines especially in Metro Manila. There are more than 500 recognized slums in Metro Manila with more than 3 million inhabitants. It is not surprising to see people living in government land, private land, along railroad tracks, under the bridges, along the rivers and even beside the garbage dumps, wherever there is a space and an opportunity to set up a home. You will see many of these areas from the airport going to any city in Metro Manila.
Tondo and the Notorious Smokey MountainsMany of the slum areas are found in Tondo, the poorest and most underdeveloped part of the City of Manila. Smokey Mountain in Tondo is the most well-known slum because of its location, right on the central garbage dump. Although it is no longer used as a dump, the 50-meter high mountain of garbage with about 2 million tons of waste remains. Families live there because that is where they (including little kids) make a living by picking garbage that can be recycled and sold, getting an income of about ₱100 ($2.20) to ₱200 ($4.40) a day.
Smoke comes from the burning of methane gas generated by this garbage. The air is heavily polluted and possibly toxic. There is a coal-producing area where wood is recycled into charcoal and the air there is filled with thick black smoke. Garbage leaching flow freely on the ground and most residents have no toilets, just a hole in the ground. Yet people walk outside on barefooted.
Other SlumsPayatas in Quezon City is another known slum area that is still being used as an open garbage dump site by the city. San Roque, also in Quezon City, has been scheduled for demolition but still remain in place after the violent protests of its residents. Pasay has its share of slum areas in Maricaban, Tripa de Galina, Gotamco St., and in the Sgt. Mariano Cemetery. Cemeteries are popular addresses for these illegal settlers.
Visiting the SlumsWhile there are tours that take visitors to see the poorer side of Metro Manila, it is ill-advised to go there, especially on your own. Slums are overcrowded, squalid, and unsanitary which might be detrimental to the health of those who are not used to such conditions. Several hardcore criminals live in the slum areas of Metro Manila to take advantage of the free or cheap rent. Rival gangs beat up or shoot each other on the street. Most of them are high on drugs which make it very dangerous for tourists who may be caught in the crossfire.
Although there are slum residents who are professionals and legitimate workers, the majority of the population are barely making a living or worse, are unemployed and live below the poverty line. Tourists provide an opportunity to make big money: by pick-pocketing, hold-up, swindling, kidnapping or at worse, killing. Even the cheapest mobile phone will become easy target as it can be easily sold or pawned to buy prohibited drugs.
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Author: Convergence. Last updated: Dec 07, 2014