Advice for Expats

Manila: Meaning, Hacks, Weather, Hotels and Night Life

I was thinking about all the random questions I had before I came to Manila and figured maybe there are other people who had those same questions so why not just put them all into one article.

Manila Meaning

Maynilà, the Filipino name for the city, comes from the phrase may-nilà, which translates to “where indigo is found.” Nilà is derived from the Sanskrit word nīla(नील) which refers to indigo, and, by extension, to various plants from which this natural dye is made from.
Maynilà was eventually adopted into Spanish as Manila. The Maynilà name is more likely in reference to the presence of indigo-yielding plants growing in the area surrounding the settlement, rather than Maynilà being known as a settlement that trades in indigo dye.

What You May Not Know…

Newbies often conflate the terms Manila and Metro Manila as if they are the same thing when reality they are not. Metro Manila is the term used to encompass 16 cities that make up the National Capital Reigion of The Philippines.

Those cities are:

Manila Population

Manila is the most densely populated city on Earth with 42,587 people per square kilometer or 111,002 people per square mile. It is also the most diverse city with Chinese, Africans, Indians, and of course, Filipinos calling the city home.

Note: Manila is the world’s densest city but it’s not the world’s most populous city (not even close) nor even The Philippines largest city. That honor goes to Quezon city as mentioned above

Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is a densely populated bayside city on the island of Luzon, which mixes Spanish colonial architecture with modern skyscrapers. Intramuros, a walled city in colonial times, is the heart of Old Manila. It’s home to the baroque 16th-century San Agustin Church as well as Fort Santiago, a storied citadel and former military prison.

Living in Manila Tips

Want to make your life easier living in Manila? Here are a few hacks for living in Manila

  • Don’t bother trying to drive in the city. The public transportation system along with the Grab App is all you need
  • Planning on staying here for longer than 6 months? You need a local bank account. More on that here.
  • Philippine bulding codes aren’t exactly stringent. Choosing to live in a condo that’s more than 15 years old is the same as living in a condo that’s 50 years old with no maintenance.
  • Locals can be your best friends or your biggest headache. Smiling faces mean nothing here.

Read more on how to save money in Manila: Hacks for Living in Manila

Manila Weather

In a rare event, due to heavy torrential rains caused by the southwest monsoon or habagat, waters from the Manila bay reached the stretch of Roxas blvd. in Manila causing heavy floods, scattered garbage and halting traffic yesterday. Tropical storm Karding and a tropical depression outside the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) heavily affected the habagat. (PHOTO/ ALVIN KASIBAN)

The city enjoys a relatively mild tropical climate with an average daily temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or 26 ° C. The coldest month is January and the warmest month is May. There are three seasons: tag-init or tag-araw, the hot dry season or summer from March to May; tag-ulan, the rainy season from June to November; and tag-lamig, the cool dry season from December to February. The southwest monsoon (from May to October) is known as the Habagat, and the dry winds of the northeast monsoon (from November to April), the Amihan. Temperatures usually range from 21 °C (70 °F) to 32 °C (90 °F) although it can get cooler or hotter depending on the season.

The major weather related issues the city faces are typhoons, flooding, earthquakes. The city hasn’t had a major earthquake since 1999 in which a total of 40 people in Manila, Zambales, and Pangasinan perished. The much bigger issue is with flooding. During the rainy reason many parts of the city flood killing much more people–mostly squatters with no home.

What to do in Manila

  • Intramuros Tour – visit the Walled City starting from Fort Santiago. Inside is the Rizal Shrine, honoring the country’s National Hero, Jose Rizal – polymath, doctor, engineer, scientist, artist, linguist, propagandist, and most of all, an avid traveler who was incarcerated in exactly that same cell before he was executed, now transformed into his shrine. His patriotism and nationalist advocacy preceded that of Mahatma Gandhi’s by about 20 years. His shrine houses his memorabilia. Other places to see are the Plaza Mayor, Plaza de Roma, Ayuntamiento, Palacio del Gobernador, and the Manila Cathedral. San Agustin Church needs more than a passing glance. The monastery-church complex houses priceless collection of religious art. Across is Plaza San Luis Complex comprising a group of houses replete with authentic furnishings of the colonial period. Trace the walls of the city and the interestingly unique gates of the walls, eight in all and stopping at Parian Gate, the gate leading to Bahay Tsinoy, meaning House of the Filipino-Chinese, Philippines’ version of the Peranakan House-Museums in Singapore and Malacca. The House-Museum extolls also the economic, political, and cultural, among other things, from the humble beginnings to, achievements and contributions of the Filipino-Chinese community.
  • Rizal Park Tour – Designed by Daniel Burnham, this park is the Philippines’ answer to Paris’ Jardin des Tuileries or Washington Mall. Gaze at Rizal Monument, a must stopping point for Heads of State visits, the Japanese & Chinese Gardens, the National Museum, the Planetarium, the Ocean Park, the Museo Pambata, as well as the Quirino Grandstand, the oath-taking stand for Presidential inaugurations.
  • Downtown Manila Tour – This self-guided tour starts at Bahay Nakpil on Bautista St. in Quiapo, on a turn-of-the-century house, then to Plaza Miranda, now teeming with vendors of religious, herbal merchandizes, as well as fortune tellers and prayer proxies as you make your way to the Quiapo Basilica housing the Black Nazarene. Stroll to Raon, Villalobos, and Palanca Sts. on your way to Quinta Market and the Ile de Toule (Ilalim ng Tulay) for handicrafts and souvenirs. Pass by Carriedo and Juan Luna Sts. another commercial strips towards Chinatown at Binondo where it ends in Binondo Church, the heart of town.
  • Malate & Ermita Tour – Cover this area starting from Plaza Rajah Sulayman and Malate Church, a quiant baroque church, then meander in any direction along Adriatico, Mabini, Del Pilar Sts., and Roxas Blvd. Make sure to stop at San Andres Market.
  • CCP Complex Tour – Probe into the mind of Imelda Marcos by strolling, jogging, or biking into the reclaimed CCP Complex where a menagerie of her showcase art-beauty-culture projects stands, albeit not in its spic-n’-span condition. See Districts/Malate’ and Understand sections. These public buildings except for the Cultural Center Building or Theater for the Performing Arts, used to be accesible but have now been reduced to being admired from the outside. The Coconut Palace, always unpredictably closed, is now open for viewing, albeit by appointment.
  • Skyscraper Gazing Tour – Outside of the City of Manila, get a hands-on experience of the modern city with four greatest and latest skyscraper showcases of the metropolis starting via LRT-1 to MRT-3 stopping at Ayala Center in Makati, the oldest at 50 plus years and kept on re-inventing itself. Step into Ayala Avenue, the new Fifth Avenue of the Philippines and walk breezily in its 5-meter wide, flat, and very feet-friendly sidewalks (a rarity in Manila) while gazing at the ever becoming higher and higher skyscrapers. The walking tour heads to
  • Ayala Triangle – a mini-park spotted with sprawling acacia trees and a green carpet of turf, home to the Makati and Philippine Stock Exchanges buildings. The vertices of the triangle-park are highlighted by significant Filipino heroes. On the South vertex and first approach is the image of the fiery and enraging female heroine-on-horseback of the Spanish Revolt – Gabriela Silang, on the North vertex, the hubris-full and regal posing Muslim Sultan Kudarat, and on the East vertex,
  • Electric Chariots Tour of Intramuros – tour in style, meaning in segway rented from White Knight Hotel, Intramuros.
  • City Tour of Metro Manila Via train – This do-it-yourself tour provides a panoramic view of the city from a different vantage point, exactly from a moving elevated train about 15 feet above street level. It comes in three lines – Line-1 (Yellow) for the North to South Route which is mostly within the City of Manila, Line-2 (Purple) for the East to West Route, a quarter of which is in the City of Manila, and Line-3 (Blue) for the circumferential route, totally out of the city. For an all female-tour, LRT-1 and MRT-3 have an exclusive all-female coach just for discerning takers.

Related: Manila Tours & Activities

Manila Hotels

The Peninsula Manila Hotel Lobby

The city hosts many different accommodation options from hostels to 4-star hotels. A hostel will cost on average $10 a night while the most expensive hotel rooms are about $570 a night at the Peninsula Manila Hotel. Any sort of hotel you want, Manila’s got it.

If you want to get a good deal on a hotel I always use Kayak.com and book in advance. There should never be a problem finding a decent hotel room in the city. Makati and BGC are going to be the priciest areas to get a room in the city.

Manila Nightlife

Manila has the Philippine’s largest nightlife scene. Whether it’s a show at a theater, to a 70’s disco, the Philippines largest hotel and casino, or a girly bar you can find it here.

My personal favorite thing to do at night is to go to The City of Dreams. It’s a large complex of three different hotels, the Hyatt Hotel, Nobu Hotel Manila, and Crown Towers Manila just at the southern edge of the city. It has a large assort of bars, lounges, and even family-friendly attractions. You can find almost anything without leaving this complex.

For establishments resembling the western version of a pub, these establishments are concentrated in Remedios Circle in Malate district a very important hub of nightlife, as well as in Bonifacio Global Village in Taguig CityTomas Morato in Kamuning District in Quezon City, and Eastwood in Libis District, Quezon City. Bohemian Malate, the older Ermita neighborhood and the Baywalk that stretches between them contains a variety of venues serving a combination of food, comedy, alcohol, and live music.

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