After the vibrant Saigon, I went for something totally unknown and a bit unconventional for digital nomads. People who travel to the Philippines to visit its pristine beaches and islands often try to avoid its capital. Me, I was willing to try out the big city life.
Makati City, background check.
I had heard some horror stories about Manila in general : safety issues, traffic, slums, etc. But that was before I learned about the geography of the entire Metro Manila. I was recommended the city of Makati, which has the convenience of a modern city and is, somehow, nicer than the city of Manila itself.
Makati city has diverse neighborhoods. A Singapore-looking Central Business District. high condominium towers, shiny shopping malls. Unfortunately, it comes with a higher cost of living that mostly impacts locals. Next to the malls and the condominiums, you can notice extreme poverty.
- Makati is alive. It has small affordable restaurants, international cuisine, a mix of cultures. The party places are also quite enjoyable. Poblacion, my neighborhood, is a mix of sketchy and gentrified. Good and bad things happen here. Rooftop parties with deep house music and Mexican food on one side, prostitution and sugar daddies on the other.
- Everyone speaks English. Meeting new people and doing things on your own has never been easier in Asia. People here speak Tagalog (the official language in the Philippines) and English. Other dialects are spoken all over the 7000 islands of the archipelago. This potentially explains why the Philippines is popular amongst Americans and Koreans (who want to learn English in affordable settings)
- Also, people are very outgoing and friendly in addition to being bilingual. This can sometimes lead to confusion when you are not sure what people really expect from you or are just being nice.
- The cost of living/eating is still low, even though it can be cheaper in other places in South East Asia. You can still get meals for 2 dollars or less. I’d highly suggest getting Filipino food whenever you can, as fast foods and international cuisine can be either unhealthy or more expensive. I’d highly suggest chains such as Andoks or Mang Inasal for classic Pinoy food.
Another great tip to eat at foodie restaurants is to use Zomato Gold. This app will give you 1+1 on food or 2+2 on drinks. The only condition is that you need to be with someone else to avail the complimentary dish or drinks. If you want a discount on your membership, feel free to use my code ANTO7650
- It isn’t too far from the airport, even though traffic is a permanent issue (see below). It will be convenient for your trips to the islands.
… And now the cons
- Safety: it is one of the things that bothers me quite a lot (even more since I got my laptop stolen here, which hopefully was backed up). The place is gentrified, with impressive condominiums hiding extreme poverty and street crime that goes with it. You will see security agents everywhere, malls, shops and buildings.
- Traffic: it is simply worse than Bangkok or Paris during rush hour. I thought I would hack this with my folding bicycle, but the quality of the roads makes it dangerous and not a long term solution. If you want to get somewhere, Grab and taxis remain quite affordable but will most likely be in high demand, especially during the rainy season. It looks like that car ownership is a status that Filipino don’t want to give up on, which is encouraged by the lack of public transport infrastructures. In result, being a pedestrian or a cyclist isn’t really appealing.
- The internet: the slowest I have experienced in Asia (especially for mobile data). If you wanna upload content, you’d rather go to a place known for its speed or reliability or have your own connection (which isn’t easy to find as explained below)
- Eating out & healthy: even if diverse and affordable, it isn’t exactly healthy. It feels like to me that the Philippines is a bit Americanized, and you feel it when you want to eat out. There are a lot of fast foods chains and restaurants in shopping malls that outnumber the street food I was used to in other countries. Street food exists, but it mostly consist of stalls. Fish bowls, Coconut Juice, Fried bananas and grilled meat sticks are some of the food you can buy on the streets of Makati.
- The foreign status. (Note : this mostly apply to the Poblacion area) .
The foreign look will give you extra attention in Makati. You will be offered unsolicited products or services, taxis will slow down for you even though you don’t need a ride and kids will beg for money. The fact is: the place is know for sex tourism, and as a young traveller you might suffer from this reputation and it gets tiring after a few months.
How does it accommodates nomads?
Makati City and the Metro are far from becoming a nomad hub, even though people I met own online businesses here. Safety, Internet quality and short term accommodations don’t really make it a better option than Chiang Mai or Ho Chi Minh City for instance.
Speaking of places to work, I haven’t found many. Moving around the city isn’t exactly a delightful experience if you wanna go work outside of your home.
In Makati City, you still have some nice working spots
- Z Hostel (cheap coffee, international and decent internet)
- Coreon Gate (fast internet but limit on time and volume)
- Café Commune
- Regular chains : Bo’s Coffee, Coffee Bean & tea Leaf, Single Origin, Krispy Kream
If you choose to work from home (which isn’t a bad idea considering how difficult getting around can be), make sure that the place you rent has Wifi and have it tested by the broker/owner. If not, you can survive using your phone as a hotspot, a pocket wifi, or better, an LTE powered router.
This last option will give you the most volume and best signal, depending on your area. With Globe, I can reload 200p (3,8$) every week which gives me 12 GB of data. If I run out of data during that week, I can add 1GB for 15p (0,3$) as long as my promo remains active.
Short term rental isn’t as straightforward as other places. Airbnb doesn’t work so well and is also more expensive. In my case, I was lucky enough to find a listing who does short term at a an affordable price. If you plan to make Makati your base while travelling the Philippines, have a look at the following options :
The Philippines deserves a shot as a nomad, especially for its numerous paradise destinations you can reach with local flights. As stated above, life in Metro Manila has its pros and cons, and it’s up to you to figure out whether it works for you.