Port of Call Manila

The Port of Manila Philippines

 

 

 

Manila is the capital of the Philippines, an island country in Southeast Asia and a major city with a population of 1.7 million. It has been the country’s largest city for about 400 years. It sits on Manila Bay, on the island of Luzon. The Pasig River runs through the middle of the city.

Where You Dock

Cruise ships usually dock at the industrial piers and this can be at a number of locations. Most of the docks are along a half-mile stretch of waterfront only four to eight blocks away from Rizal Park, which is in the center of old Manila. Usually you will be allowed to walk out but be sure and carry an official photo ID.

Transportation

Taxis are readily available and fares are reasonable but you need to be very clear about where you are going and that the driver knows where it is and negotiate a fare before starting out. We had a full address for a restaurant in Pasay, which was less than two miles from where we started and the driver could not locate it.

The Manila Metro Rail Transit System also known as the MRT is a rapid transit system of Metro Manila. Running on just 2 lines and serving 31 stations in total, the 33.4 km long network uses a single destination system (averaging 12 pesos per trip) or a loaded card. The main line runs in a circular north to south route following the alignment of the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA). During rush hours the system is usually very full.

Manila is also famous for there unique vehicles. Jeepneys, sometimes called simply jeeps are the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines. They vehicles were originally created from abandoned WW II Army Jeeps but are now manufactured in the Philipines. They are known for their crowded seating and fantastic decorations, which have become a symbol of Philippine culture and art. We have never figured out any route system regarding the Jeepneys however, so our recommendation is to use taxis.

Currency

The Philippine peso is the local money with ten pesos equal to about 1 US Dollar. Non-Philippine currency is not usually accepted. We would highly recommend carrying some pesos when you go ashore. There are a large number of exchange operations in Manila and the rate and fees vary widely. Most restaurants and stores will accept most major credit cards.

One time we were short on pesos and our taxi would not accept a credit card so he had to take us to an exchange to convert dollars for his fare.

A Cautionary Note

While we have no firsthand information about crime or how safe this city is, there were a number of indicators that made us question if we should have been walking were we did. A large number of security people with shotguns protecting businesses both large and small was one significant sign.

 

Attractions

Rizal Park (Filipino: Liwasang Rizal, Spanish: Parque Rizal), also known as Luneta Park or simply Luneta, is a historical urban park in the Philippines. Located along Roxas Boulevard, Manila, adjacent to the old walled city of Intramuros, it is one of the largest urban parks in Asia. It has been a favorite leisure spot, and a botanical garden and orchid garden.

Fort Santiago (Spanish: Fuerte de Santiago; Filipino: Moóg ng Santiago) is a citadel first built by Spanish conquistador, Miguel López de Legazpi for the new established city of Manila in the Philippines. The defense fortress is part of the structures of the walled city of Manila referred to as Intramuros. The fort is one of the most important historical sites in Manila.

Manila Ocean Park is the country’s first world-class marine theme park and a premiere educational facility. An integrated urban resort with marine life attractions and aqua-themed hotel, the park is geared towards an all-year, all-weather destination for locals and tourists.

SM Mall of Asia, also abbreviated as SM MoA or MoA, is a shopping mall in Bay City, Pasay, Philippines, near the SM Central Business Park, the Manila Bay, and the southern end of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue. The mall has a gross floor area of over 3.5 million square feet and if you are into shopping you need to allocate several hours here. A taxi ride back to the cruise pier will cost about twenty dollars but watch the time as Manila traffic can take almost forty five minutes at busy periods.

Finding food in Manila isn’t hard. There are a number of upscale hotels with good restaurants. McDonalds takes a back seat behind a Philippine fast food chain called Jollibee which features burgers, chicken, shakes and the usual fare and a good choice for a quick meal. Our favorite restaurant is Singing Cooks and Waiters with a review HERE.

Links to Additional Information

Things To Do

Mall of Asia

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Visiting Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City

Visiting Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City. About this time last year we were in Vietnam and spent a few days in and around Saigon. I know the map says Ho Chi Minh City but it seemed as if that name hasn’t really caught-on with the locals. Most people that we spoke with still call it Saigon.

The city is a study in contrasts but than so is Vietnam as a whole. Saigon still features mazes of streets thru neighborhoods packed with small merchants and thongs of people but there are also new upscale housing projects springing up everywhere. There is also a surprising number of new skyscrapers filling the skyline. A long time ago I remember a million bicycles filling this countries streets but they seem to have been replaced with mopeds and motorcycles.

Heavy moped traffic is everywhere and it wasn’t unusual to see two sometimes three people riding a moped carrying cartons stacked six feet high. On more than one occasion we say a mother, father and two or three children all on the same moped.

We were also puzzled to see a majority of the women riding mopeds wearing long sleeves, gloves and facemasks. Later we were told it is to protect them from the Sun. It seems that pale skin is important to women in Vietnam and they work at protecting themselves from the tanning rays.

In the city center near the Post Office and the Notre Dame Cathedral, you can hire a shinny new rickshaw that now peddles tourists around the central attractions.

Pedicabs on the streets of Saigon
Pedicabs on the streets of Saigon

The square next to the cathedral is dotted with American fast food outlets in case you need a fix of Dunkin Donuts or Carl’s. The old South Vietnamese Presidential Palace is now renamed the Reunification Palace and even with the numerous reminders of the war, most Vietnamese seem truly welcoming to visiting Americans (the official policy of the Vietnamese government is that America is now a valued ally and the people should welcome American visitors).

Ben Thanh Market.
Bargains at Ben Thanh Market.

Vietnam is a bargain-hunters paradise and, at times, it is difficult to walk away from the bargains. One item that caught our attention in a number of places was the pop-up, laser-cut greeting cards. Vendors were all along Dong Khoi Street and these beautiful cards were being sold for the equivalent of a dollar or two each and we now wish we had bought more. Also the US dollar is widely accepted in Vietnam with the current exchange rate being about 23,000 Dong to the US dollar.

The Saigon Opera House
The Saigon Opera House

Dong Khoi is one of Saigon’s main shopping streets with many fashion clothing shops, galleries and furniture stores along with good hotels (Sheraton @ $150 a night) and really ood restaurants. Also on Dong Khoi is the famous Opera House, which often offers free operas. A block over is the notorious Rex Hotel with its rooftop bar that was a favorite hangout for war correspondents and military brass back in the day. They still have a great happy hour.

Ben Thanh Market. The cities central market and a must-visit it is Vietnam’s largest and most diverse shopping experience. In the early mornings locals are shopping for fresh meats and produce. Later fashion stalls take over for the rest of the day. Everything is there from silk outfits to bargain T-shirts. You can get printed T’s four as little as US$3 but we would recommend buying two or three sizes too big. I bought some large shirts that won’t fit over my head. The market is also famous for rows of coffee traders, selling an amazing selection of beans. Vietnam has become a major coffee producer with it being one of their major cash crops. Come nighttime a night market opens up alongside the main building, selling everything from clothing, to souvenirs until almost midnight.

 Saigon is famous for Lacquer painting, known as sơn mài, made from the resin of the sơn tree. The art form was developed in Vietnam combining French styles with Oriental themes.

Boats tied up on the Mekong River
Boats tied up on the Mekong River

From Ho Chi Minh City you can also book a number of excursions and day tours. In the city is the Mariamman Hindu Temple, the Jade Emperor Pagoda and the War Remnants Museum. There are also a number of free guided walking tours sponsored by local schools to give students experience with English. Day tours include the technicoloured Cao Dai Temple, as well as trips to the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Mekong Delta.

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Planning a trip to Vietnam soon? We would recommend it but before you go you need a visa. While the government is friendly to Westerners that doesn’t mean they don’t need to know who you are and why you a visiting. Not too many years ago you needed an official guide to travel around the country but that has been mostly eliminated now. Getting a visa isn’t the easiest thing to do on your own we we would recommend a Visa Service to help . It might also be helpful to talk to a Tour Guide service to help you plan your visit.

Note To American Vietnam War Veterans: Before going back “in country” I had some real mixed emotions. I had experienced traveling in Europe in the early 60’s and witnessed some tense moments between Germans and people that had once been occupied. What would it be like in Vietnam? Don’t be concerned. I met more people that have bad feelings toward the current communist government than ex-American GI’s. We did run into one or two people that wanted to remind us of the war (mostly middle aged men with party affiliation) but usually we felt really welcome there.

Pictured is the Rex Hotel, a favorite hangout in Saigon for reporters, U.S. military and diplomats during the Vietnamese war. Still as popular as ever.