Manila is a S*ithole and Other Words of Wisdom


I just got a great email from a reader preparing for his first trip to the Philippines to meet his girlfriend, who he hopes to someday marry. I realized in answering his questions how much basic information people struggle with about visiting the Philippines (or any international travel for that matter) and marrying a Filipina.

At the same time, I am on a variety of Philippines-related forums and sometimes  roll my eyes at the debates and misinformation spewed out there. It suddenly occurred to me that visitors to these sites, seeking information are making a fundamental mistake in their approach – they aren’t simply skipping the middle man and contacting me first 🙂

Therefore I thought I would write the 1st in a potential series of what in my industry would be called “core dumps” about traveling to the Philippines, meeting your girl and her family, and surviving to tell the tale. I’ll end with a mini traveling tip.

1. Manila is a Shithole: Yes, you’ve heard it here first. Manila is all the stereotypes it is famous for. It’s dirty, polluted, the traffic is insane, it’s expensive by Philippines standards, taxis are nuts, beggars are everywhere, and the people are…well you get the idea; I don’t much care for the place. Now I know a few guys who like the city, and no doubt there are Filipina readers who were raised in Manila – and to those I apologize – but I won’t amend my statement.

Yes, Manila has an international airport (one of the worst rated in the world) and some high end malls, there are some neighborhoods that are better than others, and there are plenty of clubs for those of you into “clubbing” (wink-wink). Nonetheless, if you are a Westerner and visiting the Philippines for the 1st time (or the 10th time), unless your fiancé lives in Manila, avoid it like the plague. I see constant postings by guys who went to the Philippines, hung out in Manila and Angeles, hated the place, and complained at the fools who had advised them that the Philippines was a glorious, tropical country filled with wonderful Pinays. It is glorious – except for Manila – you have been warned.

2. You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto: Americans (and that’s what I am, so I’m gonna hit it from that POV) do very little International traveling (Canada and Mexico don’t count, so don’t make me come over there and smack you) and we know nothing (and care even less) about the differences in various cultures. Don’t let the Philippines fool you. Yes, most Filipinos speak some English, know something about and love American culture, and the women will claim they love you the first time they see your pasty white guapo visage. But the Philippines ain’t America. Nothing they do will be done in the way you do it or Americans do it. I mean nothing! BTW, in my opinion this is often a good thing. But most guys can’t handle it. Adapt or die, cause it starts the moment you get off the plane. Want to have a happy vacation or a successful start with your new love? Assume nothing will be as you know it. You have landed on Mars. If you can make this leap, you have a chance to be successful; and a chance to fall in love with the Philippines. If not, you’re toast.

3. Not every Filipino is out to take advantage of you: OK, let me amend this; some Filipinos are out to take advantage of you. By comparison to the average Filipino you are Donald Freaking Trump, a billionaire with unlimited amounts of money – money that they hope to get a tiny taste of. Is this really so unusual? I owned a service business for many years and when a guy walked into my office wearing a $1k suit I knew it was gonna be a good day. I quickly pulled out my top of the line stuff and added a few bucks to the standard price, just because…well just because he could pay it and I was a poor working stiff.

Last year Janet and I were in Dumaguete. We ended up in a terrible argument about an overpriced trike ride, each assigning blame to the other for the fact that we had obviously been overcharged. Finally I calmed down and said to her, “Do you realize we are arguing about a ride that cost us $6?”

We went downstairs and asked the front desk clerk how much trike rides cost in Duma and from then on only paid the standard rate. Knowledge is power and it’s your responsibility to know how things work. So don’t be a dumbass, and if you get beat out of a few pesos, grin and bare it – and learn.

But I guess the real take away should be that if you assume everyone exists in the Philippines to take advantage of you – you’re gonna have a lousy time. Enjoy yourself. Any way you look at it your vacation’s gonna be a lot cheaper than almost anywhere you could go in the 1st world; and the view (both tropical and female) is gonna be a hell of a lot better.

4. There’s No Political Correctness in the Philippines: It’s surprising, sometimes off putting and often refreshing, but expect Filipinos to tell you directly what they think when it comes to other people and cultures. Your gf/wife will tell you she loves white skin, doesn’t like people with darker skin (including her own). You will hear references to person X, followed by “he’s a gay.” It’s not meant as an insult; just a point of information.

If someone is a bit overweight, you won’t hear references to glandular or hormonal issues; they’ll be called fat. Last night, as Oscar winner, Patricia Arquette, made her impassioned speech, Janet said what millions of others thought but wouldn’t dare say – “she’s getting fat.”

Filipinas are unlikely to understand you when you refer to African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, etc. They will just say “he’s black.” Or more likely they will say, “I’m black,” or “I’m too black,” and look very sad in saying so. Respond by saying you like black – black is good, devils food cake tastes yummier than angel food cake, and you will have a very good time.

5. Family is everything: Now, many expats in the Philippines and men married to Filipinas say this in a negative way, but that’s not how I mean it. You probably wanted a woman with traditional values, didn’t you? That means family is central; they’re Leave it to Beaver with a Filipino accent, and Lumpy Rutherford is a little less well-nourished.

When you meet your gf/wife’s family you ought to check out how she treats her parents. That’s how she’s gonna treat you someday. Or, if you’re like me, and are older than her parents – that’s how she’s gonna treat you right away!

Now compare your relationship with your family at home – and enjoy the difference.

Remember, if you do the right thing, very soon you will be part of the family as well, and will be treated accordingly. And no, I am not just referring to being asked to kick in money, although that’s a sometime part of family life.

The first time I visited Janet’s family in Alcoy her younger brother attempted to take my bag and carry it for me. Since in the US we are independent and an older guy like me might consider it an insult, assuming I could not schlep my own bag – I politely refused, telling him that I was fine. He was confused, later asking Janet why I refused his help. I was looking at the whole thing though my American eyes; I sure as hell don’t expect my teens to help with a bag – and they don’t.

Janet waited a month or two before mentioning that her brother was surprised at my refusal. I realized it was a point of respect he was showing me, so from that point on I decided for subsequent trips to act feeble and let him help. Frankly, the whole family treats me wonderfully and it makes me wish for more of the same in my home country.

6. Today’s mini traveling tip: Carry lots of small bills or coins. I know, I know – you’re a rich kano who doesn’t want to be bothered carrying anything less than a 1000 peso note. Be bothered. The little store you want to buy a coke in, or the taxi driver you want to give a 20P tip to will not have change and then you will have to scurry around to find some change or get frustrated and overpay, thus being pissed off at getting cheated again. And if you are in Manila or Cebu and encounter a child looking for a coin – give one to him. It won’t kill you; you might even feel good about yourself. So carry lots of small stuff and leave most of the big bills at the hotel.

P.S. If you were offended by the title of this piece, I again apologize. You ought to realize by now that this is how I try to suck you in, right 🙂

An Update: It’s official! Manila is not a complete shithole. In-n-Out Burger comes to Manila.





13 thoughts on “Manila is a S*ithole and Other Words of Wisdom”

  1. Once again, good piece Dave. I too am onboard with the “mis-information” that gets bantered about in all the forums and fb. I just yesterday gave up on a conversation about the airport taxi services at NAIA. There was just too much confusion on one thread and I guess I got a little frustrated and in-politically correct and maybe INSULTED someone and probably hurt their feelings (when in Rome?). In the words of David Knox (famous motivator and speaker) – Some get it, Some don’t, Some will some won’t. Those that do, do…those that don’t, don’t. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks Randy. Of course there is misinformation, different experiences and just plain legitimate differences of opinion. But still we can try to share our opinions and hope folks will listen, or at least listen when we are making sense. I am sure there are many people who love Manila – but I am sincere in my desire to encourage people to steer clear of the place or at least understand that it’s not representative of the entire country.

      And then there is the fact that many tourists and expats are just plain dumb about going abroad and sometimes you can’t unteach dumb.

  2. Very nice piece of information. One comment I have to disagree with, however, is giving a child a coin. Yes, it breaks my kind and generous heart to see these little ones with their hands out. But here in Cebu City, if you are walking down a street and give one child a coin, expect to not make it another 100 feet (sorry, I am not yet into the metric system) without being inundated, now by both children and adults, hands out and following you so close you’d think their faces were glued to your ass.

    After my arrival here, my 2nd or 3rd night I made a very huge mistake. Huge may even be an understatement. A couple young teen men came to the apartment door holding a sheet of paper that had something written on it in Cebuano. At the bottom was some signatures and peso amounts next to them. One teen was holding a basketball. So this was obviously a solicitation for new team uniforms, right? Or something along those lines? Well, not yet having made a large currency exchange I had mostly all US currency. Without a second thought, and unfortunately without seeking advice from my fiancee, I pulled out a $20 bill and handed it over. So nice of me, si? Wrong! Ever since that time we have had a constant flow of “solicitors” and beggars coming to our apartment door. If I heard a guitar being strummed or maracas being shaken I would run to the bedroom and hide. These people come right up to the windows and will stand there looking in, banging on the door and windows until they get some sort of response. When my fiancee is not home to fend off these “attacks” I have all too often opened the door and yelled at these people and have once or twice threatened them. Probably not too smart on my part considering the shooting of 3 foreigners here in the city several days ago because one of them was arguing with a couple Filipinos.

    The nightly visits have waned significantly but pick up again around holidays or festivals, of which this country has way too many of in my opinion. But don’t get me wrong. I love this country and its people. I would prefer living in some more rural location, but my fiancee has her job here, one that she enjoys and pays well (relatively speaking). Cebu City has to be very close to Manila regarding traffic, pollution, dirty air, crime, etc. but it is my home now.

    1. I agree that if you are going to give to anyone you should be careful about it. I was perhaps a bit too cavalier in my encouraging this. But I think you should be prepared so that if an appropriate time presents itself, whether to give out a coin or a small amount of food, that you can do it. Janet and I have done so when it worked. OTOH, if you give out a $20…hell, I’d come up to you with my hand out 🙂

  3. Good info!

    I gotta admit, I thought my buddies and I, here in Cebu, were the only ones privy to keeping a lot of smaller bills and coins on hand due to the lack of change. That right there is worth price of admission, folks!

    And I always hand a street kid a five or ten peso coin out of the window in traffic. I always receive a gracious “salamat, po” or “thank you, sir”. Those kids didn’t ask to be born and they are in the worst way that people from 1st world countries can’t imagine.

    As for the other poster regarding begging children when out and about, I keep a pocket full of candies and the kids are just as grateful for those. Heck, like USD .50 for a bag of candies and the kids think you’re a rockstar. 🙂

    Nice to find your blog.

  4. I think you are right here Sir with your sentiments po about Manila except the title. May I ask what sit hole is?

    I am raised here in Manila and my father experienced parking on a main road because of traffic in Makati. I also smell heavy fumes when I am commuting from school. There are some people from provinces think that Manila is a rich city and living here will make their lives more improved but I think that is not always right. My classmates and I made a research study about beggars in Manila and approximately 70% of them came from far provinces. They say that at first they thought that once they are here in Manila their lives will be better but when the reality came they do not have the money anymore to go back in their provinces so they settle here as beggars- living on the streets, under the bridges and in squatter’s area. I understand that Manila is not a great place and that there are far better places here in the Philippines but I cannot say that living here is not great. It is just that how you handle the negative side of it and prioritize the positive ones. My family and some of my relatives also live here in Manila so I am contented already and started to love the imperfections of this home city. 😀

    There are also many thieves here: picking pockets, snatchers and alike but I think they are not all bad people. Sometimes they are forced to do that to buy foods to their families. Just my opinion.

    Enjoy your life here in the Philippines. God bless you and your wife. ^^

    1. Thanks for commenting and sharing your perspective. As I said in my piece I am sure there are many Filipinos and expats who like Manila or many people who must live in Manila for job purposes.

      But from the standpoint of the tourist or first time visitor to the Philippines, it’s not the best place to go in order to get a real idea of what the country is like.

  5. I agree with some of your points but the whole follow the crowd thing is bs. I tell my pinay if she wants to send money to the family then get a job.. not as a whore.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Not sure what you meant by follow the crowd thing. Nor was there any reference in this piece to money and the family. And I’m certainly glad your Pinay’s not a whore 🙂

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