(Solo) Man (No) Van Visits the Philippines – Week 1

(Solo) Man (No) Van Visits the Philippines – Week 1
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Now there’s an unexpected blog post title for a motorhome travel blog, and, as it will no doubt raise a fair few questions, I’ll attempt to answer them before getting into the description of this trip.

The Navigator and I have worked hard and we are fortunate to have been able to travel extensively over the years, especially since we bought our first motorhome in 2007. Our travels have been mostly in Europe, but two trips to America at the turn of the Millennium has been the sum of our long haul travels, although, I had the good fortune to win a ten day Caribbean Cruise with one company and travel to the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg Tennessee for a week long conference and from what I remember of it – it was a superb experience!

Being in Sales all my career allowed me to travel extensively but the seeds of my love of travel was sown much earlier, in front of a black and white TV in a little one street village in Central Scotland where the world was brought into our living room thanks to the likes of Alan Whicker. Whicker in particular loved the Far East, and Hong Kong in particular and I have always wanted to visit there and had planned to do so on this trip, but it was not to be because of the strict Chinese Covid restrictions there at the moment. If you have the time come back and see this master journalist reflect on his travels to Hong Kong in the following YouTube video…


Because I was born in the mid 1950’s, my formative years were witness to some major world events like the moon landing, which actually happened on my birthday in 1969. For some reason, my father was a passionate boxing fan, and the ultimate boxer of that era was of course, Muhammad Ali, and we watched all of his fights including the “Thrilla in Manila” and the “Rumble in the Jungle” and that was the first time I had heard of Manilla, or the Philippines for that matter. The other reason I have an interest in the Philippines is that just before we moved back to Scotland in 2011 I worked for a year with EON, the electricity supplier, and sat next to Kevin who was planning to retire out there one day, which he has subsequently done and I’ll be flying to the island he is on to meet up with him again, but more of that later…

Although I have spent time away from home on business trips in the past, this trip to the Philippines will be the first time in 47 years The Navigator and I will not be on a holiday together, but have no fear, we will be off on our biggest motorhome adventure to date later in the spring. The Navigator will be on her travels when I am away, albeit to the not so exotic destinations of Leeds and Belfast.

Wednesday the 1st of February.

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said; “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”. He wasn’t wrong, because you won’t get anywhere unless you actually start the journey and for me the journey started yesterday when I caught the West Coast Motors bus to Glasgow Airport from a very wintery Ardrishaig. 

I arrived at Glasgow Airport a full 24 hours before I was due to fly! The reason for that was, living in the wilds of Argyll there are only four busses a day which go to Glasgow in the winter, and only one goes into the Airport. It leaves Ardrishaig at 10am and gets to the airport at 12.30pm just as the check in is closing for the 1.30pm take off time, so it was too close for comfort, hence the journey the day before and a restful night in the Travelodge for a reasonable £ 28 with a cooked breakfast for £ 8.50, about £ 5 cheaper than in the airport.

Suitably rested, I wandered across to the terminal building, checked my case through to Manila and headed for the departure lounge, just in time to see the Emirates plane arriving. The plane was a Boeing 777 and it was huge, with a capacity of over 400 passengers. In my naivety I thought it would be half full at best and I would get stretched out and sleep through most of the seven and a half hour flight. How wrong could I be, it was full and every seat was taken. When you think about it, which to be fair, I hadn’t, Dubai is one of the world’s major hub airports, so anyone flying onwards to New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Thailand, and of course, the Philippines, change onto their particular destination here.

The Captain did his usual announcement before take off and the only thing I remember is him telling us that there were thirteen nationalities in the cabin crew, which got me thinking about where they all lived and the logistics of how they all managed to be on this flight from Glasgow of all places!

We were well fed and watered for the duration of the flight and the entertainment system on the seatback in front of me was very impressive. You had a choice of what seemed like hundreds of films, TV shows, Radio stations, Podcasts, and genres of music to listen to. I watched the latest Tom Cruise film, Top Gun Maverick and was surprisingly entertained by it. What passed my time for the other five hours however was the simulated journey screen showing the route and where we were at any given minute so I can confirm that we were flying over Turkey when I lost all feeling below my waist and we still had more than three hours still to go!

Dubai is four hours ahead of the UK so it was after midnight Dubai time when we touched down after circling for half an hour.

Thursday the 2nd of February.
The Dubai terminal was mobbed at such an early time of the morning, but t
ransferring to the next connection was a very simple process with the most lax security check yet. As I had just over two hours to kill, I walked the full length of the main terminal which must be a mile at least. The shops and brands on display were impressive to say the least with every luxury brand you can think of represented, and the shop selling gold, jewellery, coins and ingots was queued out.

Not knowing when I would be fed again, I had a KFC which was really good and the Fanta seemingly had more of an intense orange flavour and was very similar to Club Orange, on sale in Northern Ireland. I should mention at this point that at 1am it was eighty degrees in Dubai but the terminal air conditioning made for a comfortable experience.

Once we took off the first thing the crew did was to come round handing out face masks which everyone had to wear, a marked contrast to the first Emirates flight where no one wore a mask. The window blinds were closed and the lights were dimmed but I couldn’t sleep, only dozing for a few minutes at a time.

Breakfast was served over the Pakistan / India border and it was a bit of a feast. The choice was billed as mushroom omelette or a prawn thingy which turned out to be a generous portion of prawns on top of noodles. I had the mushroom omelette which was a plain omelette with, in one corner, a creamy mushroom sauce and in the other corner, a sausage on a bed of creamed spinach. It sounds a weird combination but it worked. Chunks of fruit were also on the tray, as was a croissant with a sachet of Bonne Maman jam, Lurpak butter, with a Nature Valley oats and honey bar also squeezed onto the tray and this was all washed down with orange juice, tea and water.

The sun rose as we passed between Delhi to the north and Agra and Jaipur to the south, but we only knew this from the seat back display as the blinds were still down. I mentioned earlier that I had wanted to visit Hong Kong but at least I got to see it first hand as we flew directly over it and the downwards pointing camera picked out every detail of the famous harbour area. After what seemed like an eternity, if just over nine hours can be deemed an eternity, we landed at Ninoy Aquino Airport at just after 4pm local time, some eight hours ahead of the UK.

With over 2,000 inhabited islands out of a total of 7,400, and flights arriving from overseas, this airport is incredibly busy and when you have just spent over twenty four hours travelling, all you want to do is get to your hotel room, have a shower and change from clothes which were appropriate in Scotland to something a bit skimpier to cope with the ninety degree heat of Manila!

With over four hundred people decanting from our flight and loads more from other flights, progress was slow to say the least. First a travel app had to be scanned to prove you conformed to the Philippines Covid rules, then queue for the immigration check and passport stamp, queue for baggage reclaim and pass through customs hoping not to get stopped, not that there would have been a problem, just the prospect of being further held up on the way to the refreshing and reviving shower.

My first night was to be spent in an AirB&B within walking distance of the main terminal, which once found, and the security passed through for the block of flats, was on first sight ok. Once I had showered and changed into my shorts, t shirt and sandals I wandered back across to the main terminal building to buy a local Philippines Sim for my phone, which for the equivalent of £ 30 gave me unlimited data, calls and texts for thirty days. After a snack in the airport it was back to the Air B&B for what was to prove a disastrous night’s sleep.

Although I was very tired I decided to have a walk about the blocks of flats and stumbled upon a market selling street food which looked tempting. I phoned The Navigator to report that I had made it and all was well. The heat was incredible and at eight o’clock it was still over eighty degrees!

I hadn’t slept on either flight so thought I would zonk out but my room was on the fourth floor and this was at the same height as the elevated motorway a few yards away, and not only that it was right beside a toll plaza so the traffic was starting and stopping with lots of horns being tooted – all night long…

Friday the 3rd of February.
Was it the traffic noise, the noisy air conditioning unit, or my body clock being all over the place, whatever the reason, I hardly slept. In the morning I wandered back to the terminal building for breakfast and to get the Global Telecom people to take my BT Sim out of my mobile as I didn’t want to be using it as it would have been horrendously expensive, but they showed my how to turn it off in settings and they advised I might lose it if I took it out. I had no idea my phone could take two Sim cards! In the following picture you can see the terminal on the left and my AirB&B flat on the right with the other picture showing a WH Smith shop a long way from home!

I didn’t have to be out of the flat until midday so I had a relax in the shade beside the pool, but even in the shade it was incredibly hot.

I checked out and took a taxi to a hotel in Poblacion, a suburb of Makati, which in turn is a suburb of Metro Manila. Technically I was two hours early to check in but they had a room ready so I was checked in right away. The U Hotel’s claim to fame is that when it was built all the rooms had a feature wall painted by a local artist so it billed itself as Manilla’s only art hotel. My room did not have a window but I didn’t mind this as the street outside was manic and noisy but no noise could be heard in the room. The U Hotel was great value and the lobby was always buzzing with residents and people nipping in for a coffee or a cool drink and to make use of the wi-fi.

Because I had checked in earlier than anticipated it gave me time to jump into an air-conditioned taxi to an air-conditioned mall and had lunch at a Korean restaurant which was very good. I had just ordered chicken in a chilli / honey sauce but was also served six little bowls of Korean starters at no extra charge!

The Greenbelt Mall, however was full of very expensive designer shops so I moved on to another Mall nearer the hotel called the Power Plant Mall and this was more of a middle class mall and had quite a few British owned shops, including Marks and Spencer and The Body Shop. Back at the hotel it was time for a siesta. I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea as I might not sleep all night, but I was so tired that I felt I needed a sleep, but set my alarm to only have two hours. There was a Chinese restaurant across the street from the hotel and so had dinner there and it was excellent quality and value.

Saturday the 4th of February.
Residents of the Philippines love a shopping Mall and the daddy of them all in Manila is the Mall of Asia, so, after a Philippines version of a full English breakfast in the hotel, with the sweetest sausages I’d had in my life and the oddest tasting baked beans, I jumped in a taxi for the Mall of Asia.

I maybe didn’t think this through properly, but to visit the Mall of Asia on a Saturday morning along with half the ten million population of Manila was eventful to say the least. The taxi driver was not too chatty as he was in a hurry to get me there and on to his next fare. The traffic in Manila has to be seen to be believed and no one has any patience and they continually switch lanes and have a hand continually on the car’s horn – it was an experience and a half, but a cheap adrenalin rush.

As well as a massive Mall there is a concert venue and lots of young teenagers were walking about with souvenirs of a boy band concert that had just finished.

The Mall of Asia is massive and very interesting. Inside the theme was a combination of Chinese New Year and Valentines and the decorations were top class.

The Mall was cool and relaxing to walk around but I ventured out of the rear of the Mall to get a view of Manila Bay and the ships at anchor there. There is a promenade that seems to extend all the way up to Metro Manila where I would be going on Monday.

Between the Mall and the concert venue is an IKEA. Recently opened in 2021, it is the only IKEA store in the Philippines and now takes the crown as the biggest one in the world at more than 700,000 square feet. I gave it a miss!

Everything is on a massive scale to cater for the tens of thousands of people that come here daily, including a superb food court. There was also a busy ice rink which is a novelty given the 90 degree heat outside.

Lunch was another delicious Korean fast food outlet specialising in seven basic flavours of chicken, including honey mustard, which I had, Caribbean jerk, cheesy bacon, smokey BBQ, hickory BBQ, lemon pepper and salt & pepper. Can you imagine KFC offering seven styles of chicken and another seven flavours if you have the premium meals? By mid afternoon I was flagging so got an other eventful manic taxi ride back to the hotel for a siesta and I managed a good sleep. Back home, Emma and Adam had been up in Argyll this week and they set off today, taking The Navigator on the start of her two centre break, starting in Leeds…

Sunday the 5th of February.
I decided on a quiet morning would be in order as I’ve been on the go since arriving in the Philippines. My first priority today however would be to find the nearest Jollibee and have breakfast.

Never heard of Jollibee? Well according to their website, “Jollibee is the largest fast food chain brand in the Philippines, and operates a network of more than 1,500 stores in 17 countries including six in the UK. A dominant market leader in the Philippines, Jollibee enjoys the lion’s share of the local market that is more than all the other multinational fast food brands in PH combined. With a strict adherence to the highest standards of food quality, service and cleanliness, Jollibee serves great-tasting, high-quality and affordable food products to include its superior-tasting Chickenjoy, mouth-watering Yumburger, and deliciously satisfying Jolly Spaghetti among other delicious products.”

Jollibee outlets are nearly always found next to a McDonalds, as in the above picture, but you can also see the crazy electrical system there is in the poorer areas of Manila. Imaging having to trace a fault with any on those cables!

Their actual breakfast offering was underwhelming compared with McDonalds, but unlike McDonalds, you can have anything off the full menu at any time, so I chose (don’t judge me) their famous Jollibee Spaghetti and a piece of chicken, and although it comes as standard, I didn’t cover the chicken in the accompanying pot of gravy. A refreshing pineapple juice topped off the meal.

I can see why Jollibee is so popular as the food is great value for money and tasty with it. The rich Spaghetti sauce was amazing! The tallest tower you see in the following pictures is the Trump Tower and the contrast between the areas with modern tower blocks and the less well off districts is highlighted with the power supply and telephone cables.

Back at the hotel I sat in the lobby for a long time to avail myself of the free wi-fi as the signal is stronger there than in the bedroom. Through the wonders of modern technology I caught up with everyone back home and wished Jill a happy birthday.

I had deliberately missed out on lunch as tonight was going to be a visit to the famous ‘Filling Station’ which is only a five minute walk from the hotel. It’s website describes it as ” Hearty dishes served in a kitschy American-themed diner decorated with 1950s memorabilia.” It goes on to say it is “LGBTQ+ friendly and a Transgender safes pace” which I’m sure our Supreme Leader back in Scotland would heartily approve of!! (Thankfully now an ex Supreme Leader as I type this).

The menu runs to 18 pages and is an incredible selection of dishes from around the world. I chose the ribs, fries and corn and it was amazing. As soon as the waiter put the plate on the table the meat immediately fell off the bone, a true culinary feat.

The decor is an assault on your senses and their choice of music was spot on with the Franki Valli selection proving popular. Every now and then a loud siren would blare out and half a dozen staff would congregate at a table and belt out a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday.’

A great night and the Filling Station lived up to its well earned reputation.

It was dark by the time I left the Filling Station and, although not in the best area of Manila, the area is buzzing with western tourists sampling the many bars and clubs surrounding the restaurant.

On the walk back to my hotel I passed the Catholic Church of Peter & Paul which is probably the oldest building in this area of Manila and by contrast this young guy was selling a weird combination of peanuts and boiled eggs. Only they weren’t boiled eggs but eggs with a complete embryo inside which people do actually peel the shell and eat. In the Philippines, BALUT is generally incubated for 14 to 18 days before being boiled for consumption. At about 14 to 16 days of incubation, the embryo floats on top of the egg white and yolk, and the balut is called “mamatong”. For most balut makers, the ideal incubation is said to be 17 days old.

Monday the 6th of February.
I am staying in the Poblacion area of Makati and have already visited some of the upmarket Malls which are as good as any you will find anywhere in the world, but today I was going to experience the polar opposite – a visit to the Divisoria shopping area of Metro Manila, ten miles to the north and slap bang in the centre of Manila. The Divisoria Market is one of the best places to shop in Manila. It is often called the “mother of all markets in Manila” with a reputation as “the Mecca of value shopping” for the variety of products and the extremely low prices it offers.

Rather than jump in a taxi and be whisked straight there, I chose to travel up to central Manila by the nearby Pasig River Ferry. If the truth be told, it is more a waterbus service rather than a ferry, but it was free and a bit of an experience. It is said that the Indian State Railways is the most bureaucratic organisation in the world, but the Philippines have equally as many organisations where unnecessary hoops have to be jumped through and getting on this boat was one of them, including giving your life story to a lady who wrote everything down and handed me a slip of paper to be deposited in a box at my destination.
The Pasig River is a chocolate colour and varies in hue from milk chocolate to dark chocolate in places! The view from the boat is a mixture of massive modern high rise towers to the contrast of people living in shanty conditions ‘off the grid’ along the banks of the River.
To further highlight how crazy the system is here, at one point when the boat is approaching the Presidential Palace, which is directly on the water’s edge, the boat pulls over and a number of armed coastguards board and stand in the passageway between the seats to prevent anyone photographing the building. Once past, and out of sight of the Palace, they disembark to repeat the process on the return journey. Seemed daft to me but…

Once off the boat, a Chinese Arch is one of the first things you see, but unlike in the UK there were no restaurants to be found only a long line of bank branches lining both sides of the street, all guarded by armed guards, with at least one of them sporting what looked like a pump action shotgun, but was in fact a bullet firing gun.

As an obvious foreign tourist these guys were, to a man, hospitable, smiling and chatty and I was encouraged to have my picture taken by the guy with the cup. As I eventually walked on, a loud alarm went off inside the bank they were guarding which they all ignored and continued waving and smiling to me!
I had arrived at the Hulo ferry terminal this morning by taxi but to finish off today’s nautical themed adventure I crossed the river by a small boat at a cost of 5 pesos (7p).
It was baking hot so I retired to the sanctuary on my air conditioned room and had a siesta. After reporting into The Navigator, I had a tasty chicken teriyaki main course at a nearby Japanese restaurant.

Tuesday the 7th of February. Today I am leaving Manila and heading on a two hour bus journey to Tagaytay, a busy resort and especially popular with weekend visitors from Manila.

What’s there, I hear you all ask? An online guide describes it as follows, “Tagaytay City is always on top of the list of weekend destinations for Manila city dwellers. It’s known for its stunning views, gastronomic food trips, and family-friendly activities. Despite being just 2-3 hours away from the Philippines’ capital, Manila, Tagaytay has cooler weather.”

I think it was the ‘cooler weather’ that swung it for me, but as it is the No. 1 out of Manila attraction, it had to be visited.

After checking out of the U Hotel (highly recommended) I had a 15-minute taxi ride to the Pasay Bus Terminal where I managed to find the correct bus, which was not as easy as it might sound. As a ‘senior’ the fare was only 100 pesos, which at £ 1.50, was again great value for a two hour bus journey.

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.

The bus pulled out of the terminal only about 20% full but within five minutes it stopped and about fifty people got on. The ‘conductor’ then came round and gave everyone a ticket based on where you were going (obviously) and this ticket was seemingly randomly punched by a pliers-like device. No money was exchanged at this point and after everyone had a ticket, he went to the front of the bus and then started collecting the fare based on how many holes you had on your ticket.
While the conductor did his job, the driver was navigating us through the southern suburbs of Manila. To say it was an ‘experience’ would be an understatement of epic proportions.
The first thing to say about driving in this country is that there is no lane discipline whatsoever. Every driver of every vehicle has a built in timer in their brains that buzzes if they have not moved for all of ten seconds so they automatically beep their horns and try another lane. If that is not a success the process is repeated continually which actually makes the congestion much worse! Our driver spent most of the journey either texting or talking on the phone. At least HE had a seatbelt on!
The congestion is a sight to see and it must have taken an hour to clear Greater Manila and the bus stopped randomly to not only take on more passengers, but also snack sellers who rode the bus until no one wanted anything, which could be all too brief for some of them. The driver was compensated for letting them on board by a gift of whatever the vendor was selling.

A few years ago Emma was on the bus from Glasgow on her way to visit us and a woman started selling pots of jam on the bus to anyone who wanted one! Having some old dear selling her wares is one thing but I wonder how the West Coast Motors passengers would react to the guy in the pink hat selling his wares!

Dasmarinas was the destination for a lot of passengers and the bus became less crowded and we started to pick up speed as we drove through a more rural landscape. It had been an entertaining couple of hours but I was glad to get off when we arrived in Tagaytay. It was midday by this time and as i was too early to check in I passed the time having lunch at a nearby McDonalds.

The apartment I am in is fairly basic but, being on the 20th floor, it has the most amazing views over Lake Taal and it’s recently active volcano (2020). I’ve been suffering from a touch of bronchitis the last couple of days so bought a cough bottle, some paracetamol and had a siesta.

It was dark by the time I woke up so only ventured as far as the nearby supermarket for a few things and my first pork adobo at a small restaurant. This dish is a bit of a staple in the Philippines and can also be made with chicken. Here is a RECIPIE for it if you want to try it.

Being a mostly Christian country, especially on Luzon, the main island, a stand out foreigner like moi feels very safe. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is incredibly friendly and nearly everyone speaks perfect English so the Philippines is a place where mostly Americans, Canadians and Australians come to retire as the cost of living is so much better than in their home country.

Face masks are still worn here but they are not compulsory but it creates a problem when trying to converse with the staff in the hotel, shops or restaurants, especially the softly spoken female staff, as you can’t see their lips move and their accent can take a bit of figuring out too.

That said, the hospitality is amazing and they can’t do enough to make you feel welcome. You are greeted by “Sir” constantly and I’ve been here a full week and have yet to open a door as someone rushes to open it every time.

The intense heat is both welcome and an issue as you cannot help but sweat so much so can have three or four showers a day. We have experienced 100 degree heat in the south of France a few years back but this seems to be a different kind of heat. It’s not a burning heat but more of a humid sweaty heat if that makes any sense.

The variety of food is amazing and you have the choice of nearly every cuisine, especially the neighbouring Far Eastern countries with probably Korean the most abundant.

All in all, a great first week with lots planned for week two so look out for the next instalment coming soon.

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Week 2 sees me explore some of Tagaytay before returning to Manila for a few days. I then fly to Bacolod on Negros Occidental to spend the weekend with former workmate Kevin, and his wife Emma.

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