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July 7, 2012


This blog post is fail. Know this going in.

I wanted to visit the Chinese Cemetery and Quiapo in Manila, and maybe make a return to Rizal Park and to the art museum. I’d never seen the former two, and I enjoyed my time at the latter two in 2007. However, after the gauntlet that I’d been through and still was going through, Manila was pretty much a wash.

To start with, after I took the train in from Taco Bell Land, it took forever to find a hotel. Every joint that was remotely okay was expensive, and every place that was remotely cheap was awful. I finally settled on a standard room at the Adriatico, which was minimally terrible for only a modest ripoff. It had good wifi and a nice courtyard and a central location, so whatever if the grimy bathroom was downstairs.

Manila is a crazy place, and it wasn’t hard to remember why I didn’t like it. There are touts everywhere. While walking around Malate, I was offered Viagra, a horse carriage ride, real estate investment opportunities, drugs, guns, a massage from a ladyboy, girls (lots of girls,) transportation, and most hilariously, shoes. Some guy on the street was walking around with one pair of shoes and he offered to sell them to me. What are the odds they would have been the right size? Keep in mind, I ran into all of these people within half an hour, and it was at two in the afternoon.

Rather than continuing my walk or heading north to a tourist sight, I ducked into the infamous Manila Bay (formerly LA) Cafe, the only sensible place for a drunkard to go on a Sunday afternoon. The LA (sorry, I’m old school) is open 24 hours every day, and it was already packed at 2:30 p.m. A lot of dives get compared to the Cantina at Mos Eisley, but nothing touches this place. The LA makes Polly’s Kettle House or The Replay Lounge look like High Tea at the Ritz. It’s always busy, and it’s filled with low lives and scumbags of every stripe. Lose your focus for a second, and you’re likely to be scammed or robbed. Without question, it’s my favorite place in Manila.

After a couple beers, I headed to the mall. I’d already been to another mall earlier today for Taco Bell purposes, but Manila is the epicenter of malldom. Plus, I needed a T-shirt, some greasy food, and to activate my phone. In Bangkok, I’d go to Khao San or MBK. In Seoul, I’d go to Itaewon or Dongdaemun. In Manila, the mall is the center of the commercial universe. Plus, it was hot, and like the LA Cafe, malls are air conditioned.

After going back to the hotel to write and nap for a few hours, I went out. This is where Manila shines. Sure, there are plenty of annoying touts around still, but they seem to make more sense in their existence at 11 p.m. than 2 p.m. I found a bar that sold San Miguel bottles for 75 cents, so I camped out there a bit. At a 7-11, I was excited to find Coors Lite, which I probably haven’t had in years. It was as delightfully horrible as I remembered. As it got later, I went back to the LA, of course.

At night, the old dive was even busier. The LA is constantly working in new and innovative ways to separate punters from their money. A tequila girl befriended me. I told her I didn’t want a shot since I was already kinda drunk, but she hung out and talked for a bit, then came back to the topic of her tequila bottle. I said I still didn’t want a shot. She said she wasn’t selling shots to people, she was having people buy them for her. She seemed nice enough so I asked her how much a shot was, she said 350 pesos. 350 pesos! In a town where a pint of rum costs 200, this was clearly nuts. Interesting idea though – charge dudes 350 pesos to buy a shot of her own tequila for her to drink.

After losing to a freelancer at pool on a questionable call (I was actually surprisingly good) I decided I’d had enough of the LA. I walked to the nearby Hyatt Casino, but the blackjack table was full and my only other choices were these weird Chinese games that I didn’t know how to play, so I called it a night.

The next day, I had still considered heading north to serve you, the reader, with pictures of Quiapo and other cool places, but instead I woke up at noon and had to get ready to catch my flight out of town. A thousand apologies.

I’ll say this for Manila – though its a hellhole, at least its an interesting hellhole.

Manila Bay

Close up of Manila Bay and it’s ever-present sludge. Strangely, this makes it one of the cleaner places in town.


The horse cart driver who talked to me. I like that the horse is named “Mr. Suave.”

Rosas Boulevard, which was designed by Daniel Burnham, the same guy who designed Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. You can see the similarities.

Here it is looking south from the same point as the last picture, which looked north.

There’s always something going on at the mall.


From → Philippines

  1. Biff Stephens permalink

    I checked, lowlives may be correct, but I like lowlifes better. Yes, I prefer lowlifes.

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