Manila : First Impressions and Visiting Nayong Filipino, Rizal Park

I’m a city girl, but I was not prepared for Manila. It seemed like every square inch of the city was crowded with people. There were people in shopping malls, at street corners waiting for jeepneys, filling up the subway platforms… everywhere. With more than 42,000 ppl per sq km, it is truly the most densely populated city in the world. The city center, in particular, was chaos. Other than crowds of sweaty people, there were the jeepneys (which run on diesel) and motorbikes, spewing carbon monoxide into the air. It’s not uncommon to see passengers with hankies to their mouths – getting a fresh breath of air in Manila during commuting hours is impossible. Also, you might sniff random whiffs of piss, especially when walking through seedier areas.


Walking out from our hotel in Intramuros, we were greeted by rows of green pedicabs (sidecar attached to a bicycle), most decorated with a politician’s face. These were common around Manila, especially in tourist areas.


Also chickens. Many chickens. People keep them in small wire coops by the roadside. I heard chickens crowing every morning, which doesn’t happen in KL because people don’t keep chickens in the urban areas.


My first jeepney ride! Jeepneys are prevalent throughout the country, and are synonymous with Filipino culture (like the tuk tuk is to Thailand). When  American troops left the Philippines after the war, they also left behind hundreds of Jeeps. The illustrious Filipinos stripped them down, put metal roofs for shade, long parallel benches to accommodate more passengers, and then souped them up in vibrant colours. We saw loads of outlandish ones, that had Tom Cruise on it along with angels. They also have names or (religious) quotes emblazoned on the front, such as ‘Maria’, ‘Fatima Guadalupe’ and even ‘God Bless the Philippines’.

How to ride a Jeepney like a boss local 

  1. Look out for signs they have propped in front of the dashboard/painted onto the side of the jeep which indicate the destinations.
  2. Hop on/off anywhere. Usually the side of the road. There are no stops.
  3. Fares are posted on a chart behind the drivers seat. Prepare small change, fares are cheap – 7pesos (minimum fare) to 20+ pesos.
  4. Payment: Alert the driver or fellow passengers by saying ‘Bayad’ (pay).
  5. If you’re sitting at the end of the line, pass the fares to the front. If you’re passing fares for someone else, say ‘Bayad daw’.
  6. To get off, tap the Jeepney roof. Or say ‘Para’, which means ‘here!’
  7. When it gets busy during rush hour, be prepared to squeeze in tightly. E rode sabit (standing at the back) but it can be dangerous as there will be many sudden stops.



Our Jeepney dropped us off at Rizal Park, a historical park that has seen many changes and events since the 1820s. Hundreds of nationalists were executed here during Spanish rule, and it was named after one – Jose Rizal, one of the most famous Filipino freedom fighters of all time. The Philippine Declaration of Independence from America was also read in this spot.

Today, it counts itself among the largest urban parks in Asia, with smaller parks, monuments and water features. During Pope Francis’ concluding mass here, a whopping 6mil people turned up, filling up the park’s entire vicinity!


Thankfully, it was fairly quiet during our visit 😛

Upon entering, there was a boardwalk area with a pond and a replica of the Philippine islands (7000+). It wasn’t well kept as the water was a dirty, murky brown, as if they had been sitting there for ages. Some of the replica islands were broken, and irresponsible visitors had dumped their trash into the ‘craters’.

Speaking of trash, it was hard to find a proper garbage bin in Manila. I faced the same problem in London, because they removed all the bins (especially in the subway) after the London terror attacks. While most Londoners had the sense not to throw their litter until they got back home, in Manila, garbage is almost everywhere on the streets. Sorry guys.. I’m an honest traveler. :/


The park was cleaner. Since it was a weekday, it was mostly students doing dance practice and such on the lawn.


There was a 20m (?) statue of Lapu-Lapu sitting in the middle of the park. He was a ruler of Mactan in the Visayas region, and considered by Filipinos to be the first local hero to fight against the Spanish; killing Ferdinand Magellan in battle and delaying Spanish occupation of the islands by 40 years. His face appears on the seal of the Philippine National Police.


When we visited, there were a few naked children bathing in a pool of stagnant water at the base of the statue. The oldest was barely five and dressed in rags, and there were no adults in sight. I was to learn in the next couple of days how common this was in Manila.. which made me both sad and angry at the same time.


As we strolled through the place, I was attracted to a beautiful and detailed wooden bamboo arch – entrance to a garden called Nayong Filipino. Spanning across 1.5 hectares, it was once an environmental NGO site. Entrance fee was PHP50 for adults.


Correct me if my research is wrong, but I think these are called ‘Singkaban’. Originating from a region called Bulacan, the elaborate arches are intricately pieced together to form mesmerizing patterns. We walked through one and into a corridor of trellises with dangling white stars.


Not sure if Christmas deco

Surprisingly, weather in Manila was cooler than Malaysia. It was hot, but not too humid. I hate to be in KL in February, the humidity just melts your face off.


Decided to be a kid and jumped on a seesaw.


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A model Jeepney! This had murals of flying doves, Jose Rizal with a gun and some other freedom fighters.


Spot the frangipani


More bamboo frames


A traditional hut, raised high above the ground. We crawled up and it was spacious (but hot and full of mozzies) on the inside.


Kitties resting in the shade of a trishaw.

There were many stray cats all around Manila, but I rarely saw dogs.


A very old tree with hanging tendrils all over. There were also smaller bonsai trees.

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The garden is a nice place to chill and escape the heat, with lots of trees and shade – well worth the 50PHP entry ticket. Be prepared to feed some mozzies though .


Daily: 8am – 5pm

Roxas Blvd Ermita, Barangay 666 Zone 72, Manila, 1000 Metro Manila, Philippines


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