(Solo) Man (No) Van Visits the Philippines – Week 2

(Solo) Man (No) Van Visits the Philippines – Week 2
Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission from Amazon if you click through the link and finalise a purchase.

This is the second blog post detailing my ‘trip of a lifetime’ to the Philippines. The previous blog described my journey to the Philippines and my first few days in Manila before making my way down to the tourist resort of Tagaytay by bus.

Wednesday the 8th of February
The reason for being here in Tagaytay is to see Taal Lake and Volcano, so that’s was today’s plan. I’m staying in an AirB&B on the 20th floor of a tower block facing the lake so the view is incredible. Tagaytay is located on a ridge 2,250 feet above sea level and it offers a breath taking panoramic view of Taal Lake and Volcano, the “lake within a volcano within a lake within a volcano.” I’ll give you a minute to work that one out…

At 6am the sun began to rise and hopefully the time lapse video I took will work, (it didn’t), and anyway the window is in need of a good clean so it wouldn’t have been a clear shot anyway. What was fascinating to see was steam / smoke rising from the rim of the volcano, and I hoped it was not about to erupt before I’d had my breakfast!

Joking aside, this volcano is the second of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines, with 38 recorded historical eruptions, all of which were concentrated on Volcano Island, near the middle of Taal Lake. Taal Volcano has had several violent eruptions in the past, causing deaths on the island and the populated areas surrounding the lake, with an overall death toll of about 6,000. Because of its proximity to populated areas and its eruptive history, the volcano was designated a Decade Volcano, worthy of close study to prevent future natural disasters. All volcanoes in the Philippines are part of the Ring of Fire, made famous by Johnny Cash. I jest!


I was staying in the Wind Residences, which is a series of five tower blocks in a prime position overlooking the Lake and Volcano as well as a great view out to the rear to the pool and sports complex which could be used for a small extra fee.


It’s a pity the tower has not got a viewing area on the roof as the windows of the flat are not crystal clean so the pictures are not as sharp as they could be. All is not lost on the photographic front however, as I’m off to one of the best vantage points to see the vista, and to get there I flagged down a trike for my first experience of this form of transport. The aptly named Tagaytay Picnic Grove is a ‘must-visit’ destination in these parts so I stocked up on some picnic items from the next-door supermarket and set off on the twenty-minute trike ride, which thankfully passed without incident.


You can see in the following picture the tower blocks on the horizon where I was staying and the white zip line tower. You can hire picnic benches, and huts of various sizes depending on the number of your friends or family. There are many locations like this that have huts where families congregate and bring a picnic or barbecue as you will see in future pictures… 


It is just over £ 1 for a ‘senior’ to enter and after that you pay to use the cabins or other structures for your barbecue or picnic. The view is pretty spectacular but the heat of the day created a slight haze which was not ideal. For midday on a Wednesday in early February it was pretty busy but apparently it is packed out on weekends and the summer months.


A revolving ‘London Eye’ type wheel and a zip line are the big attractions along with a horse trekking opportunity through the wooded hillside. I passed on all three of these tourist activities, settling instead for my picnic, although I supplemented it with a fifty peso hot dog on a stick, which was remarkably tasty.

When it was time to head back for a much-needed siesta, I approached the first trike in line and he agreed to the one hundred peso offer, as I told him that was what I paid to get here. I had actually paid one hundred and fifty pesos but the fifty peso saving would buy me another hot dog on a stick at a later date!

So far I have dined on Korean, Japanese, American, Philippine and Chinese food but tonight it would be Italian to add to my Far East culinary experience.

Surprisingly, after such a lovely day, it was drizzling when I went to go for dinner but the restaurant was only a few hundred yards away at the bottom of the next tower.

Thursday the 9th of February Today’s Tagaytay experience was going to be the No. 1 tourist attraction here, the ‘Sky Ranch Theme Park.’ The theme park is well-known for its panoramic view of Tagaytay City and the Taal Lake and Volcano. It is famous for its ride, the Sky Eye, the tallest Ferris wheel in the country at the height of more than 200 feet (63 meters).

That was the plan, however more overnight drizzle had turned into a full-blown downpour so all thoughts of going to an amusement park were hit on the head. Tagaytay is 2,000ft above sea level and when you add on another 20 stories your full-length bedroom window gets the full blast of the wind and rain so sleep was at a premium last night.

It was a grey, misty, drizzly morning so I stayed in the room until around lunchtime when the normal hot sunny weather resumed.

From the AirB&B room window you can see some dining huts and what seemed to be a viewing area so I had a walk across there in the afternoon and took in the view to the volcano from this vantage point.


The huts were in the grounds of a restaurant and the security guards said I had to pay 1,000 pesos (£ 15) to enter the grounds. After a few minutes negotiating with them I managed to gain free access for 15 minutes to take some pictures.


It’s incredible to think that one day this massive volcano might very well go BANG, but hopefully there’s ample warning to evacuate everyone in the area. Tagaytay is a growing city and has a population of 85,000 which swells considerably at the weekend and in the summer months. Later that evening I had a superb Sweet and Sour Pork at the Robinsons Mall near the hotel. It had been a slightly disappointing weather affected day but the most was made of it…


I’m not sure if I mentioned it in the last blog, but as per the above picture, you never get a knife and fork for your meal, it’s always a fork and spoon!

Friday the 10th of February
Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Check out day at Tagaytay and my plan was to take a bus further south to the port of Batangas and a ferry to the neighbouring island of Mindoro but I had to cancel as the weather forecast for the next two days in these parts was for heavy rain, not what you want when the plan was to sit relaxing on a beach for two days!

Tagaytay Screenshot b

Plan B was hastily configured and a hotel booked in BCG, Bonifacio Global City, another suburb of Manila. So, after checking out of the aptly named Wind Residences, it was time to catch the bus back northwards to Manila. The ‘senior’ fare for the two hour journey was 90 pesos, just over £1. This bus was much newer than the last one and I had the prime seat above and behind the driver. Once you leave Tagaytay, the first third of the drive is through countryside before it starts to get congested at Dasmarinas. At every stop the conductor got out and tried to round up more passengers.

From the bus terminus in southern Manila it was a half hour taxi ride to the hotel and it had to be negotiated in advance as they switch the meter off when the traffic gets too congested. Thankfully a long career in sales came in handy and a fare was agreed that was half of the driver’s opening pitch!

The IHotel is on the northern border of Bonifacio Global City (BGC) and was surprisingly inexpensive so had no great expectations, but I was surprised how clean and comfortable it was.

It was pushing 90 degrees and the journey had taken its toll so a siesta was called for with the air conditioning cranked up as high as it would go.


BGC is home to residential high rise ultra modern condominiums and corporate office buildings. Many Filipino and multinational corporations have acquired properties and have committed to relocate their global, regional or national headquarters to this business district which is about seven miles south of Metro Manila.

At about 5pm, and having skipped lunch due to the journey, it was time to head out to dinner at the nearby Megaworld Uptown Mall. This area was familiar to me as I have watched a load of YouTube videos by a young English guy who lives in this amazing suburb of Manila.


A Teriyaki Chicken Special was the choice of meal at what would turn out to be my favourite Chinese Restaurant. You will see from the menu how cheap it was (divide the peso price by 65) washed down with my drink of choice, a Royal orange juice a really tasty refreshing Fanta like drink.


As your meal was being cooked you could select some starters which were just over a pound.

After my meal and a quick walk around this fantastic Mall, I wandered outside just as it was beginning to get dark and there was an amazing transformation as the lights on the surrounding high rise buildings came on and made for a spectacular spectacle. In the above picture where you see the fountain, well this was transformed into a water, light and sound show which was incredible, with a flame throwing fountain the highlight. As well as taking these still pictures I took quite a lot of video and once I have more time my intention is to make a proper YouTube video of the whole trip!

I was back in the hotel and fast asleep again before 9pm!

Saturday the 11th of February.
Another day, another Mall to visit! This one is called Market Market and is a short taxi ride from the hotel. But first, breakfast and the only real choice is McDonalds which is on the other side of the dual carriageway from the hotel.

The dual carriageway, or Kalayaan Avenue to give it it’s proper name, is the boundary between the modern gleaming Bonifacio Global City and an area that is far from modern and gleaming. Where BGC is sleek and high rise, on the other side of Kalayaan Avenue it is, what some might refer to, as a bit of a shanty town with breeze blocks and corrugated iron the prevalent building style.

From chaos like this...
...to this in a few hundred yards...

This McDonalds, as opposed to the one in Tagaytay only serves the breakfast menu where anything went in Tagaytay. What I also miss about the one in Tagaytay is the staff on the tills shouting out as one, “Good morning and welcommme” as you enter.

The taxi ride to Market Market (so good they named it twice) was another journey where any lane was used in the attempt to save nano seconds in the quest to get me to the mall in record time, all to the sound of constant blaring horns.

Market Market is officially described as follows, “Endless selections at affordable prices. Aside from the staple shopping, dining, and entertainment offerings, Market! Market! is home to a host of themed bazaars, a hawker’s market, and a bounty of outlet and bargain stores. Oozing with character and brimming with energy; here great finds, exotic items, and a unique shopping experience is guaranteed.” This market is aimed at the ordinary everyday Filipina family and the shops are not as high end as the others I have frequented. The one common theme with all Malls in Manila, whoever their core market is aimed at, is the proliferation of places to eat.

As well as the five storey, circular main Mall, there is an outside area of stalls, mostly selling fruit and veg and I had a refreshing iced freshly squeezed mango shake to offset the sweat leaking from every pore in my body. Did I mention it was over 90 degrees every day?

It was an interesting Mall and busy with bargain hunters of all ages. As I had a decent breakfast and the temperature was so high my lunch was a Dairy Queen tub of strawberry ice cream which was a bargain at only 90 pesos.

Back at the hotel, it was siesta time as the heat is so draining that a few hours sleep with the air conditioning on full blast has a restorative effect. Dinner was at Jollibees for a quick, cheap meal.

Did I say quick? The woman in front of me in the queue ordered 25 of everything and it took forever to be served.

Jollibees is a fifteen minute walk away and by the time I was returning to the hotel it was still warm as opposed to be hot, but there was a lovely breeze which was welcome.

Where Jollibees serves food which is good, cheap and popular, what is even more popular with the average poorer person is the street food that is readily available and what you see in the following picture is pretty typical of what’s on offer – chicken, lots of chicken!

Sunday the 12th of February.
Another day, another Mall to visit, but this one was special. Called the Venice Grand Canal Mall, the name gives the clue as to the theme of this Mall.

Living up to its namesake, the mall sports an Italian-themed architectural design inspired by the Grand Canal in the classical city of Venice.

The highlight of the mall is the man-made Grand Canal. The mall’s grand canal offers mall guests an Italian experience with gondola ride tours by singing gondoliers, although they only seemed to have ‘Volare’ in their repertoire!

The canal is 200 meters (660 ft) long, and 15 meters (49 ft) wide.

The mall also has replicas of St. Mark’s Campanile in Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge, which is inspired by the famous bridge in Venice and the Ponte de Amore Bridge.

This place is well designed and draws in a huge daily attendance of people coming to see something very different for this part of the world, and of course, shop, eat and take millions of pictures, no doubt to be seen on Instagram later.

I walked about for ages taking it all in and must admit it was an enjoyable experience, and so different from all the other Manila Malls. Lunch, as yesterday, was a tub of Dairy Maid ice cream with mango being the flavour of choice today.

A taxi back to the hotel in the early afternoon followed by an air conditioned siesta is becoming a routine!

For dinner I chose to walk back to the Uptown Mall and return to the Chinese restaurant I ate at on Friday night, Marugame Udon. The place was mobbed, which is always a good sign, and it was all locals, another good sign. It took about half an hour to eventually get served but the wait was worth it as the food was delicious and great value for money.

After dinner I wandered about in the mall then outside to see the activity around the fountain area and there was a girl singing outside a restaurant until she had to stop as the fountain display burst into life with accompanying loud synchronised music and flames for effect as well.

It was a lovely evening and on the street next to the Uptown Mall, Uptown Parade,  there are some very enticing street food stalls that were very busy with customers enjoying their food in the warm evening air.

Monday the 13th of February
I am moving back to Makati tomorrow to the U Hotel again so today was not going to be a ‘Mall day,’ instead I was going to get organised, sort out laundry, charge batteries and generally have a lazy day. After another McDonald’s breakfast I had a bit of a lazy day in that I didn’t go anywhere, instead worked on some new Fyne Editions titles, which hopefully add to the travel budget for the coming year!

There are now 64 titles live on Amazon for this brand new format for Fyne Editions. An any day diary is a type of journal or diary that does not require a specific time or date for entries to be made, you write the date as you make an entry. It can be used to record thoughts, feelings, events, and ideas whenever they come to mind.

The full range can be seen HERE.

The Navigator is now in Belfast after her week with Emma and Adam near Leeds and has assumed Granny duties for the next week or so. I had a video chat with her, Eilidh, and Callie before heading down to the Uptown Mall for dinner of Spaghetti Bolognese at Pizza Express, and as usual for the food in the Philippines, it was delicious. To round off my lazyish day, I was in bed and fast asleep by 8 pm!

Tuesday the 14th of February
This was the day I was meant to be returning to Manila from Puerta Galera and had already booked back into the U Hotel in Makati so just before lunchtime I checked out of the IHotel and took a taxi to nearby Makati.

Check-in time was not until 2 pm so I took the opportunity to take my laundry over to the efficient little laundry across the street from the hotel for her to wash, dry and fold my clothes for only 200 pesos (£ 3.00).

As I mentioned in the last blog, the U Hotel has a different artwork painted by local artists on every feature wall and this one was better than the previous room.

This time I’m on the 8th and top floor, not that it makes any difference as it’s another room without a window!

That said, there is a big window as you come out of the lift and the view is superb and it shows the contrast between the richer high rise condominium areas and the neighbourhoods where everyone else lives.

This was Valentine’s Day and in the left picture above you can see the outside space at a local restaurant where there would be lots of couples enjoying a meal and dancing. I had a lazy afternoon before going out for dinner at a little nearby Thai restaurant and although it doesn’t look it, it was a delicious tasty meal to add to the list of delicious meals I’ve had in the Philippines.

Wednesday the 15th of February
After yesterday’s lazyish day, it was back to full on sightseeing mode today. After a Jollibee breakfast of chicken and spaghetti (you’ve never tasted spaghetti like this in your life) (fork and spoon again) I took a short taxi ride to the Hulo ferry terminal on the Pasig River for the free trip up to Metro Manila.

There were two sights I wanted to see today, Manila Cathedral and Fort Santiago. As you have seen in the pictures I have posted, Manila is transforming itself into one of the Far East’s megacities and the modern state-of-the-art skyscrapers have to be seen to be believed.

However, if you know where to look you can discover some of the historical buildings of Manila and that was today’s quest.

The walk to the Cathedral was only half an hour from the Escolta Ferry terminal but it was hard going in the baking heat. As you can see from this plaque on the front of the building, Manila Cathedral has not had the best of luck down the centuries! It was good to get inside to cool down and I was just in time to see the start of the mid-day mass. Although not religious in the least I would have sat through the service if only to rest my feet and cool down, but the guard took one look at me and accurately classified me as a tourist and wouldn’t let me past the barrier to the pews.

It didn’t really matter as there were TVs everywhere and the service was in English so you could follow it easily enough.

Like every tourist trap the world over, locals are trying to hustle you for everything from a horse and cart ride to a trike ride, to cheap religious souvenirs to umbrellas (for the sun not rain) and just out and out beggars.

All of the above were resisted and I made the short walk to Fort Santiago.

Wikipedia describes Fort Santiago as follows…
“Fort Santiago was built in 1571 and is a citadel built by Spanish navigator and governor Miguel López de Legazpi for the newly established city of Manila in the Philippines. The defense fortress is located in Intramuros, the walled city of Manila.

The fort is one of the most important historical sites in Manila. Many people died in its prisons during the Spanish Empire and World War II. José Rizal, one of the Philippine national heroes, was imprisoned here before his execution in 1896. The Rizal Shrine museum displays memorabilia of the hero in their collection and the fort features, embedded onto the ground in bronze, his footsteps representing his final walk from his cell to the location of the actual execution.

Fort Santiago is located at the mouth of the Pasig River and served as the premier defence fortress of the Spanish Government during their rule of the country. It became a main fort for the spice trade to the Americas and Europe for 333 years.

On August 13, 1898, the American flag was raised in Fort Santiago signifying the start of the American rule in the Philippines. The fort served as the headquarters for the U.S. Army and several changes were made to the fort by the Americans. One of these changes included the draining of the moats surrounding the fort. The grounds were then transformed into a golf course.

I hope you can appreciate the effort that that went in to taking the above picture. It was baking hot, there were loads of fellow tourists milling about heading for the archway and I resolved to wait until I could get a shot with no one in it. It took about an hour!

During World War II, Fort Santiago was captured by the Japanese Imperial Army, and they used its prisons and dungeons including the storage cells and gunpowder magazines for hundreds of prisoners who were killed near the end of the war in what was known as the Manila massacre. The fort sustained heavy damage from American and Filipino military mortar shells during the Battle of Manila in February 1945. Approximately 600 American prisoners of war died of suffocation or hunger after being held in extremely tight quarters in the dungeons at Fort Santiago.”

When you visit any historical site of any period, it is hard to visualise the events that have taken place there in the past, including the fairly recent events of WWII.

Thankfully there were shaded benches where you could sit and take it all in. It was an interesting couple of hours and would recommend it to anyone visiting Manilla. By late afternoon the heat was off the scale and I did a deal with a trike rider for a 100 peso ride back to the Escolta ferry terminal and it was money well spent.

The ferry goes like the clappers most of the way, apart from when it passes the Presidential Palace and under bridges and at one of the bridges I noticed some kids cooling off by swimming in the river. Not that I can swim, but I wouldn’t even dip a toe in this heavily polluted river!

Back at the hotel, it was siesta time before I headed out for a small pizza at the nearby Yellow Cab American themed restaurant.

Inexpensive Birthday Gift Ideas…

Titles for the four nations also include, Best Wife, Best Mum, Best Son, Best Dog & Best Cat! See the full range of titles HERE.

This was a week of mixed fortunes. The trip to Tagaytay was a worthwhile expedition to make as it allowed me to see another part of Luzon, the main island of the Philippines, and escape from the heat of Manila. It was a disappointment however to miss out on what would have been taking a ferry to the nearby island of Mindoro to relax at a sandy beach resort, which are in short supply on Luzon, within striking distance of Manila anyway.

That said, it did give me more time in Manila to see the Market Market, Uptown Mall and the Grand Venice Mall which all had their own characteristics. As well as the Malls, I also had time to see the Cathedral and Fort Santiago and learn more of the history of the Philippines from the colonisation by the Spanish and Americans, through to the country gaining it’s independence.

The development of Manila has to be seen to be believed and there is an energy about the place that is seemingly lacking back in the first world UK. The people I’ve met have continued to be friendly and welcoming which is making the whole Philippines experience a real pleasure.

Next week actually may well top everything to date as I fly to the island of Negros to stay with with a former work colleague, Kevin, and his wife Emma and see another very different island so so look out for the next action packed instalment coming soon. PS – You will find out more about this ancient monument – The building that is!!

Some of the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn a small affiliate commission from Amazon if you click through the link and finalise a purchase.


Week 3 and a bit sees me fly to Bacolod on Negros Occidental to spend the weekend with former workmate Kevin, and his wife Emma.

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