For us backpacker and budget travelers, the Philippines is not the cheapest country in Southeast Asia. Manila is the stepping stone to many travelers of the great adventures waiting ahead in this country. For most tourists it’s a necessary stop on the way. Also, the living costs in the city are higher, and temptations (for spending money that is) are many.
Something we noticed about a lot of tourists we met in the Philippines, is that they almost always said they hated Manila. Sure, it’s a chaotic place, overcrowded, noisy, polluted, ugly some will say, but it can be a lot of fun. The prices of Manila were a major issue for many people too, so we wanted to create a guide for future budget travelers, on how to enjoy this crazy city without spending much money (because you’re most likely to spend some time there anyway).
Manila on a Budget:
Save Money on Accommodation in Manila
Finding a cheap hostel in Manila is not the problem, but finding a decent one to sleep in is going to be difficult, and the same goes for cheap hotels. When we travel it’s safe to say that around 50% of the usual daily budget (exclude special activities: diving, bungee, etc.) goes for accommodation. Well, even if you’re staying in a cheap place, it’s still your home away from home.
In Manila, most have the worst experiences when it comes to budget accommodation. It’s just that the backpacker scene has only recently started to develop in the country. Up until recently it was harder to find decent cheap accommodation and only now that it’s getting better. Check these places out for your nights in the city.
What else can we say about Tambayan – the Tagalog word for “hanging out”? This is the place we stayed in Manila, and we loved every second of it. Moreover, we had some of the best meals we had in the Philippines. This place is also closer to Intramuros if you plan to spend some time there, and to the mall if you need some break from the heat. Go to our full review for more details about the hostel we fell in love with.
This super modern hostel is among the best you’ll stay in the Philippines. It’s very clean, spacious, comfortable, and most of all FUN! The owners know how to make young people enjoy their stay. Beside of the café that sells great local food, there is the roof deck, where every night there is a party: house, techno, hip hop. Each night is different, but there is always a good crowd.
Z has mixed dorms, female dorms and private rooms. The prices start at 17 USD, and goes up to 52 USD for the private room. This hostel is not the cheapest, but for Manila it’s still cheap. Plus, even the dormitory beds are very big, with lights and electrical outlets. There is a small kitchen, but you probably won’t use it as the area around the hostel is abundant with restaurants and street food.
5660 Don Pedro St. Brgy. Poblacion, Makati City, Philippines 1210
This one is located in Malate, the original backpacker area of Metro Manila. The beds may not be as spacious as the beds in Z Hostel, but this a very cool place none the less with its own pluses. Well if you like pink that is (we loved it, everything is painted pink, the bedsheets are pink, the lights are pink). Pink Manila Hostel is located in a safe residential neighborhood 20 minute walk from both the historical district of Manila (Intramuros) and Green Belt in Makati, a nightlife district with many clubs and bars.
It is very cheap too! Only 9-12 USD and 32 USD for a twin room (bunk beds). For that price you also get a large common area, a rooftop swimming pool, and free breakfast. On top of that, most of the nights there is something going on, like pool parties and movie night. That’s quite a deal for the price, and the pool is a big bonus, as you will find it very relieving on the hot humid evenings of Manila.
2551 Don Pedro St. Cor. Bautista St. Malate, Manila 1004
Try to strike a good deal on a hotel or look for an Airbnb
You can travel on a budget and still care a great deal about you privacy. Also, in some parts of town that are not used to budget travelers it becomes difficult to find a proper place to sleep. All of the cheap hostels you’ll find are going to be of very low level, dirty, boring, etc. In those case you better find a good deal on a hotel in Manila.
Airbnb is also on the rise in Manila, in all parts of the Metro. Staying in Taguig on a budget for instance can become difficult if you’re looking for a cheap hostel (part of Metro Manila that is rapidly becoming very popular). Nonetheless, many residents of Manila purchased apartments for investment in many of the new high-rises which are constantly being built in the city. With no one to occupy them, the owners started to rent them in Airbnb. The prices are usually cheaper than hotels, and you get to stay in a nice new apartment.
Where to eat great food in Manila on a budget?
We already posted about delicious Filipino food, so you can get an idea of what does the local food looks like. Here we will tell you about a few places where you can find great food – filipino and international, for a very good price.
There is a great Chinese food scene in the Philippines, but the best Chinese food in the country is found in Binondo, the oldest China town in the world. It is close to Malate and it makes perfect sense to go there after a visit in the historical district. Keep in mind that it’s a hectic part of town, so listen to our advice on where you should eat.
Masuki Mami House
This small restaurant still make egg noodles in house. They serve the noodles in hot broth, for almost 100 years already. Side dishes are siopao and siomai, steamed Chinese buns and dumplings. Altogether you’ll end up paying around 4 USD for a meal there.
931 Benavidez St, Binondo, Manila
Dong Bei Dumplings
This small shop sells a variety of steamed and fried dumplings, and fried Chinese pancake. It all comes with chili oil, soy sauce and spicy vinegar on the side. The servings which are good for one are 2.5 USD each. But you can easily eat two servings just by yourself.
642 Yuchengo Street, Binondo, Manila
New Po Heng
Lumpia is a perfect snack if you don’t feel full yet. It is a fresh Chinese style spring roll (not fried), filled with cabbage, carrot, seaweed, tofu, lettuce coriander and peanuts wrapped in a spring roll wrapper, and served with a sweet sauce on the side. It will only cost you 1 USD. Just be sure you won’t miss this small canteen as it is tiny small.
531 Quintin Paredes St, Binondo, Manila
Sincerity Café & Restaurant
Their Chinese style fried chicken has made a name for itself, and yet remained very cheap too, 3 USD for half, and 4USD for a whole chicken. The other hose specialties are Kikiam with brown sauce (pork and shrimp sausage, 1 USD), and oyster pancake (4-5 USD).
497 Yuchengco street, Binondo, Manila
Don’t worry, because once you’ll get out of Manila you get so many options to eat Filipino food, as it is the staple of the islands and provinces, and for certain is the cheaper option. That being said, some of the best Filipino restaurants are in Manila, and some of them are really cheap too.
The Aristocrat Restaurant
This place has been operating since 1936, when Lola Asiang converted her ground floor into a restaurant. They grew ever since and now the huge main branch is in Roxas Boulevard, feeding people proudly 24/7. They sell many of the Filipino classics like sisig, adobo, kare-kare and more. This is one of the best Filipino meals you’ll have, and though the average price for a dish is 7 USD for a dish, the size is really good for two, or two dishes can easily feed three people. They have many locations in town, so check out the Aristocrat website for more information.
Dampa – fresh seafood in the wet markets
Seaside Dampa Macapagal is a fresh sea food market in Pasay city, sandwiched between Malate, Taguig, and Makati. It is a bit far off, but you should only go there in a group of 4 or more anyways, so a taxi/Grab/Uber is not going to cost so much each (only if you care about the budget, read on in order to understand). The system is like so: you buy the seafood, which is very cheap, in the stalls of the market; after that you take it to one of the restaurants around the market and they cook it for you the way you want for a fee.
Because most of the time you’ll buy more than you can actually eat, and that the cooking fee (“paluto” in Tagalog) is about the same for a small and large quantity, it makes sense to come with a small group. In any case you will not find seafood fresher than that. All of the restaurants are good and charge about the same price, but Hong Kong Master Cook Restaurant is supposed to be the best. Most of the restaurants are of Chinese or Filipino style. And another tip, haggle down the price!
Expect to pay 9-11 USD per person in a group of four (including cooking, sides and drinks).
Diosdado Macapagal Blvd, Pasay, Metro Manila
Quan Yin Chay
The name and location (Binondo) indicates that this is a Chinese restaurant. Quan Yin Chay actually offers both Chinese and Filipino dishes, but with one twist. The Taoist owner cook all vegetarian food (also without onion and garlic btw). It is a small cafeteria style eatery with delicious, fresh and healthy food, which is also very cheap. This is one of the few restaurant to serve vegetarian Filipino food, so if you are vegetarian (or just feel like it) give this place a try.
739 Ongpin St (at Salazar St), Binondo, Manila
This is the local name for grilled chicken that the Philippines is very proud of. Well it’s really delicious, and can be found almost everywhere in Manila, and even more so in the provinces. The famous ones are: Andoks, Baliwag, Sr. Pedro, Mang Inasal, and Chooks to Go. It cost less than 5 USD for a whole chicken, which is divine (both pricewise and taste wise).
I won’t point you to any specific restaurants here. I will just say that Manila boasts with many international cuisines. To most parts those tend to be a little pricier, but you will also find any American fast food chain you can think of, as well as some higher quality ones (Chili’s, TGI Fridays, Outback Steakhouse…). You can also find Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Italian and many other cuisines easily.
The only thing we are going to recommend on comes from a need that we found in many people including ourselves (mainly San). The craving for meet when traveling in Southeast Asia is something that many people feel after a while. Well in many of the restaurants described in this paragraph you will find a decent steak or burger, but If you want a cheap 100% beef quality burger, go to Brothers Burger. They sell good quality burgers for 5-8 USD, and have many restaurants scattered around Metro Manila. This is your go to burger joint if you need you fix of red meat.
Things to do in Manila on a Budget
Now that we got your accommodation and food covered, you will want to do some stuff beside sleeping and eating, in order to make you time in Manila enjoyable. Manila can also be a playground for the rich, but there are so many free and budget thing to do that are lots of fun. In this section we will tell you about some of our favorites.
Visit Rizal Park and Intramuros – the historical district of Manila
This part of town is a walled city the Spanish built upon arrival to the Philippines. They built it in methods they brought with them from Spain. It has a citadel inside called Fort Santiago and Manila Cathedral one of the oldest in Asia. Walking around Intramuros is FREE! After spending the time there (and there is much to see) you can go to Rizal Park (also free), and/or to Binondo for lunch.
Rizal Park, also called Luneta, was the execution ground of the national hero Jose Rizal, killed by the Spanish in 1896, that brought to the outbreak of the Philippines Revolution. It was name after him, and now it’s a very picturesque park with monuments for national heroes, that stretches all the way to Manila Bay. It’s an excellent spot for a stroll.
Art in Island 3D Museum
10 USD will take you all the way into a world of dreams and illusions (8 USD if you have a student card. This place is where that 3D painting are drawn directly on the floor and walls, and it will challenge your perception of depth and balance so be warned. The place is quite recent and all the picture were drawn by 18 Korean master artists.
Escape the heat in MOA (Mall of Asia)
Mall of Asia is the 4th largest in the Philippines and the 11th largest in the world, but it’s probably the nicest one in the country. It will be a good chance for you to buy some goods and souvenirs, or just go window shopping. You can watch a movie or believe it or not, ice skating! In a tropical country.
Drinking out and Nightlife in Manila
Going out in Manila is not so expensive, and a part of being a good backpacker is going out to drink every once in a while. Alcohol is dirt cheap in the Philippines, also in the majority of the bars. A beer in a normal bar will cost you around 1-1.5 USD, so little money can take you a long way. Going to clubs and parties more expensive than that, but also affordable (15 USD will get you in most places with a complimentary drink or two usually). Best areas to go out to are BGC in Taguig, and Green belt in Makati. Eastwood in Quezon City is a bit far off but has numerous bars and restaurants open 24/7.
Now, do you want to get out of Manila ASAP?
It isn’t the nicest city, we can say that for certain, but there is some kind of magic in its controlled chaos. There is really a lot for you do see and do, and it doesn’t even have to cost you that much, and as we said before, you are most likely to spend some time in Manila whether you like it or not. In that case, make the most out of it and ENJOY!