I had always thought the Philippines was very westernized and I thought the years of Spanish and American colonialism would've made the the country realatively easy in terms of culture shock. Manila's sights, sounds and smells quickly had me realizing that the the Philippines has a culture all its own.
I suppose anywhere you go to after Singapore will seem a bit dirty but Manila's mass poverty and in-your-face sex-industry came as a bit of a shock. I spent a a day and a half wandering the streets of central Manila and the old walled city of Intramuros before taking an overnight van ride to Boracay. I came across the Van company via a phone number I found online and they told me they would pick me up the next evening. As I stood on the street being harassed by transvestite hookers and waiting for the van I questioned whether getting in a van with strangers was a good idea. Turns out it was. A van ride and 3 boat rides later I was on the white sand beach in Boracay.
Boracay is postcard perfect beautiful with palm trees lining the white sand beach which in the evening is the stage for some of the best sunsets I have seen. To top it off, the beers only cost 60 cents at bars on the beach. I mostly spent my days walking along the 3 mile long beach and enjoyed swimming in the crystal clear ocean. The nightlife on Boracay was great as well and I met lots of other travellers to hang out with, most of whom were English teachers in Korea. Most of the tourists in Boracay were from Korea actually; it is apparently summer vacation time in Korea now and the Philippines is in many ways the Mexico of Asia.
One of my nights out on Boracay was cut short due to my own stupidity. I managed to break a filling off of my front tooth by biting something inedible. I was actually in a bar staffed entirely by midgets (called "the Hobbit House") when it happened so it kinda ruined what should've been pretty much the greatest time ever.
Not wanting to look like a hillbilly for too long I was anxious to find a dentist the next day. Turns out there are plenty on the island filling the demands of dental-tourism. I price shopped around a little bit and before lunch time I had a shiny new tooth for about $23.
3 nights on Boracay and I was in a van with strangers again headed back to Manila just in time for the Sunday at the Cockpit.
The Cockpit is where one of the Philippines' most popular sports takes place: cockfighting. The cockfights were awesome and gruesome but the intensity of the packed-house crowd made it all the better. The whole experience was a lot of fun and well worth the $4 it cost.
After watching meat fight for a while I was feeling hungry so I decided to try the culinary delight that is the balut egg. Balut is a semi-developed chicken or duck egg that is widely enjoyed here. Despite the egg's terrifying appearance it wasn't all that bad to eat. Mostly tasted like an egg but with some different textures.
I had planned to go north from Manila for a few days but I was exhausted from the overnight travel and travelling anywhere in the Philippines, without paying the high-cost of flying, takes a lot of time. So I ended up spending the rest of my time in the Philippines in Manila. I decided to move to a hostel in the posh part of town known as Makati.
Makati seems like it is miles away from the rest of Manila. As the cities central financial and business center and home to the rich it is an oasis in the middle of chaos. My hostel in Makati, located on the 18th floor of an upscale apartment/hotel complex, provided access to a pool and gym. It was great to go to the gym for the first time in nearly 5 months.
I met a couple of English guys at the hostel and went out for a drink with them. The plan of the night was to go to a midget boxing match at a bar in Makati's redlight district. Disappointingly the midgets only fight when there is a big enough crowd and apparently Tuesday nights aren't a big night out here. The night was a lot of fun and at the end of the night I found myself sharing beers with a few local guys in the back of a Jeepney (jeep/bus public transit here).
Manila grew on me as I gave it more of a chance, and not just Makati but central Manila as well. I ventured back into the walled city Intramuros one day to check out Manila's most famous tourist site, Fort Santiago. The fort and the history was pretty cool although it seems that pretty much everything in the old-town section has been destroyed at sometime or another and rebuilt.
All in all, I had a great time in the Philippines