Mention Manila and the most common image that comes to mind is heavy traffic, smoke-belching jeepneys, swerving buses and congested streets. Our country’s capital city hardly seems like an ideal place to visit, and even more so by motorcycle.
But if you give Manila a chance, it may just surprise you. On a Sunday morning ride, when the traffic was relatively light, I found it extremely satisfying to be able to zip along Roxas Blvd. and visit various tourist spots and cultural and historic landmarks. Though I wasn’t expecting it to be a great ride, I have to say, Manila does have a unique charm. Here are just a few scenic spots you can easily ride to and a rough guide of what you can do there.
MANILA CATHEDRAL, INTRAMUROS
- Ideal for: Sightseeing, photography, mass
- Motorcycle parking: Free (beside the church; just give the guy watching bikes some change)
By day: As one of the oldest churches in the country, the Manila Cathedral in the historic district of Intramuros is a very popular wedding venue . Masses are held on Sundays, so the cars parked right in front the church sort of ruin the view. If you want to grab a bite to eat, the options nearby are fast food joints like Max’s Restaurant, Greenwich, Bacolod Chicken House and Binalot Restaurant along A. Soriano St.
By night: While the Manila Cathedral is pretty by day, I think it looks much more scenic at night, with the soft glow of the lights and trees framing the view. You can take a walk along the cobbled pathways or try out the fine dining restaurants nearby like Ilustrado (try the sampaguita ice cream!), Barbara’s Restarant, or Bistro Marinero.
FORT SANTIAGO, INTRAMUROS
- Ideal for: Sightseeing, historical tour, photography, kalesa rides
- Motorcycle parking: P30.00 per bike in the secure parking lot beside the entrance
- Entrance fees: P50.00 for students, P75.00 for adults: Open daily from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm
By day: Fort Santiago is one of the oldest Hispanic stone fortresses in the country, standing in the northern part of the Walled City of Intramuros. Inside the fort, you can find a visitor’s center, museum shop, chapel of the Lady of Guadalupe, Rizal Shrine, Royal storyhouses and several parks and picnic areas.
By night: Though the Fort closes at 6:00 pm, you may be able to still get good night shots if you go in before six. Seasonal theater plays used to be held at the open-air Dulaang Rajah Sulayman theatre. I remember watching a PETA play there when I was younger. I’m not sure if plays are still held there now since PETA has its own theater, but I remember how cool it was to watch a story unfold in the ruins.
- Ideal for: Human interest photography, watching the sunset, coffee, dinner or drinks
- Parking: Free (sidewalk)
By day: The whole strip of Manila Bay and Baywalk offers interesting human interest photo opportunities like people exercising early in the morning or families watching the sunset. If you have money to spare and haven’t been there yet, the nearby Manila Ocean Park is worth a visit. If you want to have lunch in the area, you can try dining at the Harbor View Restaurant (which opens at 11am).
A foodie friend also recommends the following nearby restos: Cafe Ilang-Ilang, Century Hotel’s Tsujiki, Corniche, The Fireplace, Highlands Steakhouse, Emperor Seafood Resto, Legend Chinese Resto, Hong Kong Chef (best peking duck) and La Cocina de Tita Moning. (WARNING: He says all of these restaurants are expensive. I have not tried any of those restaurants myself.)
By night: Have coffee or dine with friends at any of the restaurants fronting Manila Bay while watching the famous sunset. There are numerous restaurants with a view of the sunset in SM Mall of Asia or head to Seaside Macapagal Blvd., for “dampa” options. Alternatively, you could take the Manila Bay Sunset Cruise (P550.00 a person inclusive of roundtrip fee, dinner and live entertainment) before heading home.
- Ideal for: Food-tripping, shopping for Chinese delicacies and products, sightseeing, walking tours, food tours
- Motorcycle parking: Free (street)
By day: Binondo’s bustling streets are popular with photography buffs and adventurous foodies. Several walking tours are offered here including Carlos Celdran’s Walk this Way Tour and Ivan Man Dy’s Old Manila Walks. Don’t forget to stop by Eng Bee Tin Bakery, which sells hopia and other Chinese delicacies like mooncake ube, glutinous peanut ball, peanut and sesame candy and radish cake.
By night: There are several seafood buffet places in Binondo that I have yet to try. Popular restaurants include President Teahouse (which serves noodles and dimsum), Sincerity Restaurant (known for their specialty fried chicken) and Wan Chai Restaurant (serving traditional Chinese fare). If you’re craving for something exotic, head to Estero, a creekside carinderia serving hawker-style Chinese-Filipino dishes like Hoto Tai Soup, Yang Chow Rice, Steamed Fish, deep-fried Calamares and frog’s legs cooked in various ways.
- Ideal for: Food-tripping, bar-hopping, nightlife, entertainment
- Motorcycle parking: Free (street)
By day: Malate is probably the closest equivalent to the backpacker’s district of other countries, with lots of cheap hostels, spas, travel agencies, KTV joints, cafes and dining places in the area to choose from. For a time, it was known as a favorite hang-out of artists, poets, writers and actors. The last time I really went out of my way to go to Malate was to cover the Gay Pride March, the largest demonstration for legal rights of the LGBT community, which was held in the vibrant district a couple of years ago.
By night: Take your pick from the many night clubs, bars, and watering holes that line the streets of M.H. del PIlar, Mabini and Adriatico streets in Malate, including upscale restaurants like Cafe Havana, Cafe Adriatico, Larry’s Bar and the Korean Village. If you want to show tourists on a short visit more of the Philippines, Zamboanga Restaurant on Adriatico Street is a good choice as it hosts a nightly cultural show that features dances from different regions of the Philippines (some dances like tinikling require audience participation).
Why motorcycle in Manila?
Of course, there are some drawbacks to riding a motorcycle in Manila. The heat, the pollution and sudden rainshowers are just a few of these. But based on the feedback of fellow riders and our first-hand experience, there are a lot of benefits to exploring Manila by motorcycle.
- You can easily weave through traffic on the road, thereby cutting your travel time. On a Sunday morning, it took us around 45 minutes to get from Quezon City to A. Soriano, passing through Kamias- Rotonda-Quiapo-Aduana route. In the past, this has taken me 1.5-2 hours by taxi, and 2-2.5 hours by MRT & Pasig River Ferry (excluding waiting times).
- Parking is not a problem. Even on the crowded streets of Malate or Binondo, you can always find parking on the street or sidewalk.
- The parking fee for motorcycles is free or costs less than for cars and vans.
- You won’t consume as much gas for your trip. I loaded P100.00 in my scooter and the gas tank was still half full by the time I got home.
- You can avoid having to constantly transfer rides when by public transport (MRT, LRT, jeep, tricycle, pedicab) or expensive cab rides.
- You really get see the place more. When I travel by car, I tend not to notice the people or interesting spots along the way, in my hurry to just reach the next planned destination.
- You can always stop anytime on the road when you see something that you want to take a picture of (like the National Museum or the old Metropolitan Theatre.
Note: Thanks to Randy Rana of Alamat Crewsers for his suggestions on places to motorcycle to around Manila and Art Fuentes
who I forced for accompanying me on this ride and his great night photos of Manila Cathedral, Malate and Fort Santiago from previous trips.