Manila impressions – Lesson learned, follow the rumours

Last modified 16.03.2022 | Published 02.04.19851980's, Philippines, South and Southeast Asia, Travelogue

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I had my first days in Manila. Among other things I learned a lesson, to follow the rumours. It set the stage for the rest of my stay in the Philippines.

This article is part of a diary based travelogue from a six month journey in 1985 to several countries in East and South East Asia: Japan, Taiwan, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand


Sunday 31.3.1985, Hong Kong – Manila

Getting settled

Finally airborne in Hong Kong we were served good and satisfying food. That was lucky for me who had overslept and did not have time for breakfast before rushing to the airport.


Philippines visa, 1985

Philippines visa stamp in my passport


On the airport in Manila I bumped into Harvey and Kathy I’d met in Lhasa. They were on the same plane as I.

After a visit to the tourist information office I went into Manila together with two other guys. Two of us had a hotel recommendation and we went there all three. Exiting from the arrival hall we immediately felt the strong heat hitting us. We had read that the temperatures were constantly above 30 °C, and this day was obviously no exception.

We found our bus and our hotel easily enough. On the way we noticed the Filipino jeepneys – modified jeeps with all kinds of decorations and paintings – used for the transportation of passengers. The streets we drove along were lined with tall, slim palm trees. All of this gave me a feeling of now, now I had finally arrived “in the Tropics”. I started to look forward to beaches, clear water, palm trees and sun.

The day was by far over with this.

Our hotel, the Malate Pensionne, was an alright place. A place where members or workers of the American Peace Corps stayed would vouch for being a safe place. Manila has a quite varied selection of places to stay the night.

  • MALATE PENSIONNE, #1771, Adriatico Street, Malate/Ermita-area. 40 pesos (2.2 USD) for dormitory. Some of the dorms had toilet and shower ensuite, others in the corridor. Clean, nice staff. Good and cheap restaurant / meeting place downstairs. (The rate is 18 Filipino pesos to a US$)


First impressions

The Ermita district where we had ended up in is known for its night clubs, discotheques and most of all the large number of go-go bars. According to my guidebook there are 100,000 prostitutes in Manila and that number did not surprise me after this evening.

I and one of the guys I arrived with, Bryan from Canada, went out and started in a Swiss style restaurant with good food and ompa-ompa and Wiener waltz music. It was a normal place.

Normal was however not the bar right across the street. The name, Aussie Bar, seemed alright though. But when we entered we really had a shock. Lots of bikini-dressed beauties were standing on mirror-framed platforms twisting in tune with the thumping rock music. (Good music by the way.) Some of them were very explicit in their twisting.

On the floor there were an even larger number of girls entertaining the guests. This kind of entertainment consisted in leaning, touching and twisting tight to the sensible parts of the body. In short, do everything they could to tease us enough to buy drinks for them and take them with us to the hotel later on.

This was so new to both Bryan and me that we immediately felt pretty confused and uncomfortable. Certainly we enjoy girls getting tight, but that is ordinary girls and not like these…


Second impressions

We rushed out of Aussie’s and found a smaller place, until we sort of had become mentally adjusted to all this fuzz. Everywhere we went the doors were opened to us so we could have a look at the girls and the dancing floor. In the end we went into to a place and sat down at the bar. The bars are always strategically placed right in front of and on level with the dance floor to make it easy for us to look, and we looked. The girls were lovely, really.

We tried to stick to ourselves and succeeded after a few minutes. The beer – San Miguel – was good and cold, and cost us on average 20P for a small bottle. That is, if you buy a girl a drink you will have to pay more.

What was interesting with the places we dropped into was the fact that there few white men inside – and of course no white women. Some places 2 men and 20-30 prostitutes in bikini. At times I had to turn away in disgust when big obese white men “played” with these young girls.

We walked around a bit and found an outdoor bar without any bikinis. It looked more popular than the others so we sat down and relaxed. We were however soon visited by girls in “civilian” clothing, i.e. normal. One of them served me the apparently plausible story that she in a couple of days was going to her fiancé in the USA. But then she started to close in on me and I had my doubts… But she was nice anyway.


And more

Well, we felt in the end more acclimatised and decided to drop by the Aussie Bar once more before returning home. It seems to be one of the larger places in the district. Inside we got seats at one of the bars, but soon had to move on as a rainfall caused drippings from the roof. The girl I got into conversation with was okay, especially when we got behind the opening phrases of name, land, and hotel. The latter was with the intention of finding out if I could take the girl home. That was neither my intention nor ability – and so I said – seemingly to her full understanding.

I asked her about prostitutes in Manila. She gave a story which, from what I have heard before, was no lie. There are 90 girls in the bar. They work in shifts, 20 minutes each on the stage. For this they get 60 pesos a night (3.3 US$). Many were shy and embarrassed to do such a thing, to such an extent that most girls were on drugs of some kind.

It was very difficult to get other employment and they were therefore forced, out of social and economic despair, into taking jobs like this. She also told me that many of them had children, even though these girls worked in a bar where they saw a doctor every day. This part she might have said to calm me. Sexual diseases are aplenty in Manila.

It is furthermore popular among white males to pick up a girl and take her with them on a vacation. The going price is around 16 USD plus the hiring man is paying for all expenses. Cheap amusement, many would say.


Monday 1.4.1985, Manila

A dream forming out of nothing

I had previously tended towards staying just a couple of weeks in the Philippines, and only in the northern part. Before that I had even planned to go through the entire country, including Mindanao in the very south, and then over to Borneo from there. This turned out to be difficult, and Mindanao was in addition kind of insecure for the time being – guerrillas and so on. Last but not least: I had taken a look into my calendar and found that I was about a month and a half behind my original plans, in reality I was running short on time.

Now I would terribly much like to go somewhere and relax for a while. I have more or less been moving constantly around for three months and felt a need to reduce the tempo considerably on a tropical beach.

Bryan told us of an island further south which was supposed to be fantastic, and many on the hotel had been there or were on their way.


Getting a ticket

I let myself be persuaded so it ended with me and Douglas (the last of the trio from the airport) went out in the morning to a shipping company to buy tickets (William Line, North Harbor, pier 14). We went in a jeepney for a peso after hailing it on the street. All jeepneys have small signs showing its route. We bought tickets for 135P (7.5 USD), departing tomorrow.

On the way back I dropped by the GPO and picked up a letter from home. Unfortunately it was more than a month old, but still interesting.

In a bank where I cashed in some money I learned that all other currencies than USD are subject to a 10 USD exchange fee. I view that as a clear sign of a strained economy.

The local, not to say national, tourist office had only one fairly uninteresting brochure to hand out. I got more at home, at the embassy, but that is apparently another story.

This evening we went to watch Jai Alay. This is a game between two men, a kind of scoop-game where the point is to strike the ball hard against a wall with the purpose of making it difficult for the opponent to catch and throw the ball back against the wall. The game made a popular gamble for the Filipino spectators.

After this we went on another round of go-go bars. Douglas came along too, clearly not very eager about it. The girls in one of the bars – Blue Hawaii – with many white ones – looked to be younger than elsewhere. They were still not used to the dancing, were clearly embarrassed, and started all of a sudden to giggle.


Tuesday 2.4.1985, aboard a ship from Manila

We went out to the pier, found the boat and the bunk on deck under a shaded semi-roof. Soon the boat and bunks was filled with Filipinos.

The voyage went fine. Calm sea, mild cooling breeze, islands and fishing boats around us. Fairly good dinner was served, included in the price. There was even a disco on board, but we didn’t bother to enter.


Read more

The introduction to this journey to East and South East Asia.

Previous chapter: Hong Kong for the last time

Next chapter: Boracay: The first week in a paradise not yet lost