Welcome to TBEX Asia 2016 in Manila, Philippines! The Philippines are a great country to visit in South East Asia – and one of the most underrated. Here you won’t have to wonder, wether you should have come years ago – the best time to visit is now! I have lived in Manila for three years and travelled to more than 60 countries – yet there is always something new and surprising in each place I visit. To make sure you have a great time in Manila – and avoid unpleasant surprises, here are Top 10 Tips from a local:
- Book accommodations near Manila Bay
Manila is a bustling, fast growing city of 12 million people and that brings a lot of traffic with it, so I recommend to stay near the places where you want to be. TBEX is held at the PI Convention Center and many of the historic sights are nearby, so you have the least traffic when staying near the Manila Bay. If you are planning to stay longer and want to see life in modern Manila, Makati, the financial center, and Bonifacio Global City, the new business center, are great places to be! Find more tips and details at Where to Stay in Manila!
- Budget hotels or airbnb?
TBEX has negotiated good deals with hotels near the convention center. If you find the prices surprisingly high, know that Manila hotels are expensive when compared to other Asian capitals like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. Be careful when considering budget hotels – many of the chain hotels on booking sites (like Victoria Court or Sogo) under $30 are love hotels – so you might be the only one staying for more than a few hours!
Fortunately, with the arrival of airbnb and the boom of residential construction, there are lots of brand new condos available for short-term rent for under $50 in the Manila Bay Area! You can sign-up and book here!
- Do you need to pack an electric adaptor?
Manila uses 220V power outlets, which historically utilize standard US two-prong plugs. Fortunately, most hotels and modern apartments utilize universal plugs that fit EU and US plugs, often also UK plugs, so you won’t need an adaptor in most cases. If you don’t bring one, you can easily get one in Manila for less than what you’d pay in the US or Europe!
- Get a local SIM card at the airport
Unless you have a phone plan with free or cheap global roaming, buying a local SIM card for your (unlocked) phone is your best bet. You can buy local, prepaid SIM cards from the two biggest mobile telecom providers, Globe or Smart, at the airport, as well as loads. Data packages are cheap with more than 1GB for 30 days for under $10 and cheaper daily/weekly options available. Manuals, menus and messages are all in English, so it’s easy to do yourself – or you can have the friendly staff help you.
- Take uber from the airport to your hotel
The taxi touts at the airport can be overwhelming – and end you costing you up to 10 times the regular fare to the hotel. So, ignore the touts and call your uber. It’s safe, reliable, legal as well as more comfortable and cheaper than other options. Read my tips How to use uber at Manila’s airport. If you don’t like uber, there are different taxis depending on your budget, comfort and available time. Find out more info How to get around Manila!
- Travel light, buy toiletries in Manila!
If you want to travel light and avoid checking luggage (read my Top 10 Tips to Travel light how to save on luggage fees), leave your toiletries at home. You can buy many global brands easily in Manila – and any of the local or global brands made in the region are much cheaper here to boot. While the drug stores (Mercury, Watson) and grocery stores (SM, Rustan’s, Robinson) have a great selection of brands, your best bet for travel sizes is 7/11! They have small portions of shampoo, soap, lotion, shaving cream, etc etc, instead of the family size bottles at the other stores!
- Get some Pesos, it’s a cash society!
Manila is still very much a cash society. Many budget places and markets won’t take credit cards at all and even upscale restaurants, shops or movie theaters that recently opened might not be ready to process card payments. If you are planning to shop, you often will get better prices in cash as well!
There are ATMs all over the city, so you’ll never be far from one. Most malls or the ubiquitous convenience stores will have one. Most ATMs have a steep fee ($3-5) for foreign cards, so it saves on fees to withdraw one larger amount. The exchange rate is $1-PHP48, so make sure you get the number of zeros right!
When receiving bills as change, make sure it’s only the ones below. Old bills are still in circulation, but no longer accepted outside banks!
- To tip or not to tip
Despite many US influences, the Philippines don’t share the US tipping culture. Most restaurants include a service charge of 10% and most locals will not add any tip. If you enjoyed the service, you can round up, leave some coins or a P50/P100 bill to recognize the staff. If you add the tip to the credit card, the staff will never see it, so I don’t recommend doing that!
If the restaurant doesn’t include a service charge, a small tip like above is a nice touch, but it doesn’t have to be a percentage of the bill.
If you are taking a taxi, rounding up the amount by a few pesos is customary – a tip of P50 ($1) will make most drivers day!
Tips for bell boys or other hotel staff are not expected, but appreciated and P50 will suffice in most cases.
Tips are always a hotly debated topic. Keep in mind that 27% of Filipinos live on a $1/day or less and even the service staff assisting you is often making less than $250/month, so $1 in recognition of friendly service will make a big difference to them!
- Smile & ask for help!
Filipinos are one of the most friendly people on the planet. In my completely unscientific smile-study, I smile at random people on the street for no specific reason – and 90% of Filipinos will return that smile! Most are genuinely helpful and will go out of their way to help visitor to make sure they have a good time in their country. Many are fluent in English and the majority understands English well enough (even if they are too shy to speak it) and will be able to help you. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way, start with a smile and most likely you’ll get the help you need!
- Watch out for traffic!
That legendary Filipino friendliness goes out the (car) window as soon as you enter traffic! Many Manila drivers don’t know the traffic rules (which are very similar to US laws) or don’t care and the police enforces the rules very selectively, leaving you to face the laws of the traffic jungle on your own. The biggest, baddest has the right of way and that leaves pedestrians at the bottom of the pyramid. Be careful when walking on Manila streets and DO NOT assume that cars will stop for you in a crosswalk or at a traffic light. Always look both ways before crossing, even on oneway streets. It’s best to cross the street in a group of people. If a car is rolling towards you in a crosswalk, stick out your hand towards the car to indicate you are planning to cross – or the driver will assume that you’ll stop for them (like many locals do)! Never, ever cross in front of Jeepneys – the chance that they will stop for you, even in a crosswalk or at a green stop light, is close to zero! The same is true for armored cars and most delivery vans, buses and taxis. Most private cars have blacked out windows, so you won’t be able to make eye contact – if in doubt whether they saw you, just let them pass!
I hope those tips will contribute to having a great time in Manila. If you have time outside the TBEX Convention, check out my Mini-Guide Manila for more tips or search on the blog for Manila posts on restaurants, bars and things to see and do!
If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments below and I’ll answer them as quickly as I can.
If you need some more inspiration, check out the official video – It’s more fun in the Philippines!