Philippines Day 1: Travelling to Manila

Day 1 Destination

Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. We flew Oman Air from London Heathrow via Muscat and our definition of a day is a block of 24 hours as we saw 3 timezones in quick succession. Very few pictures as the day was spent transiting.

Lessons Learnt

Oman Air economy class is pretty great: We had great Omani food on our 1st leg to Muscat & above average asian food on the Manila leg. Spacious seats with leg rests. Extensive in-flight entertainment choices. Best of all, the ticket prices were pretty cheap (We paid around £400 return). It was our first Oman Air (or any middle east Airline for that matter) experience and we highly recommend it.

Oman Air serves alcohol discreetly: As it was our first Middle-Eastern flight, we immediately noticed the drinks trolley visibly devoid of any alcohol. So we ordered juice before the guy next to us got a G&T. Do other middle eastern airlines do the same thing? (leave a comment). The variety on offer is pretty narrow too.

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Omani tonic – guess the brand

Muscat airport is complete chaos: Sitting on the first flight and thoroughly enjoying ourselves, we built dreams of seeing a lavish Muscat airport of a high standard. Our dreams were shattered when we transferred. We’ll ramble about it in detail a bit later but if flying through Muscat, just go with the flow.

Manila airport is awesome: It took us 30 minutes from landing to taxi, get to a gate, clear immigration (visa-free travel was why we chose PH to begin with) & get our checked bags. This was the fastest international arrival experience we’ve had. Plus the international terminal is well lit and swanky. Kudos NAIA team. Also, saw this cutie at the domestic terminal.20161126_231008_hdrc

Midnight in Manila is busier than you’d think: We got out of the airport terminal at about midnight towards our hotel for the night & were really hungry. All we needed to do was cross the street from the airport to see our first of many 24 hour food plazas, quite full of people including families. After living in Britain for the last couple of years where towns go dead by 9 PM, this was a welcome change.

Our eyes now need adjusting to the sun: This was especially true in Muscat where the bright sun had us squinting constantly. Living in grey countries does affect you physically.

Ramblings

This trip was planned as a treat for our anniversary. We chose Philippines as it was we wanted 2016 to be as visa-free as possible (we hold non first world passports) and had seen some spectacular pictures from other travel bloggers.

As mentioned above, we flew Oman Air from London Heathrow as it was the best balance between cost and flying time (Philippine Airlines was too expensive and China Eastern was the cheapest but had long layovers). We reached LHR well in time to check in  our bags before most others and chilled out in the post-security area.

Our first flight boarded on time to lead us in to our more than roomy economy class seating. The footrests were a good touch too. We settled into our first 8 hour flight and the pressure was on to get some sleep. But before Dalek’s futile / Yoda’s successful attempts at 40 winks, we tucked into some delicious Omani food with the Chicken Kabsa looking like an Indian curry but spiced so differently (with lots of flavour) & Fish in Lemon Sauce which was not the “plain old western” version. The pasta salad was refreshing and the cake was rich. One of the best Economy class meals out there (along with Turkish & maybe Korean airlines).

The great aircraft experience had us speculating what we’d do in Muscat airport which we’d just assumed to be swanky & full of awesomeness. We eventually began approaching Muscat which was the first Middle Eastern city we’d physically seen which its jagged hills next to its coast. On landing we saw a huge terminal under construction, the aircraft taxiing for a long time and eventually coming to a halt with other planes far from any gate. Here’s where all dreams came crashing down as we’ve seen some other airports doing the same, having people get on buses from the tarmac only to catch another bus to another plane, highly inefficient.

The bus took us to the only terminal which is quite old and small to the most farcical transfer security ever. Oman Air’s business model is built around a number of tight connections and so the focus is on the passenger to clear this “security check” as soon as possible. The funniest moment was when Yoda went through the gate, the scanner beeped & the security guard motioned her to go to a spot where there was no one. She stood at the spot for 10 seconds and no security personnel cared. Perplexed, she walked back to the machine, got her bags and we proceeded (wut?).

By this time, our 1 hr 50 minute connection was whittled down to 45 minutes so we went straight to a packed gate for the boarding pass scan. Here again other airlines like KLM see your passport again for visas, etc while Oman Air didn’t have any fucks to give. Scanned the boarding pass and on you go. We then got another bus to our second plane to begin our next 8 hour flight. They served Filipino style chicken and fish curries this time which was still fairly tasty. Yoda managed to sleep a bit more while Dalek moped.20161126_071303_hdr_c

A touch over 17 hours after we left LHR, we touched down in Manila airport. Walking through the well lit and impeccably tiled airport reminded us of what a really good airport looks like. Immigration was a breeze with just 1 person ahead of us and a quick stamp into our passports ensued. Baggage claim was super quick as well. We used the free shuttle facility to transfer to the domestic terminal as we had flights the next morning & had gotten a hotel next to it.

The hotel was a 15 minute walk from the terminal and we were hungry again. Lucky for us, Philippines is big on 24 hour open eateries so much so that just across the street from the terminal was a food plaza that included three 24-hour eateries. We had to go for Jollibee as our first meal in the Philippines (having read how its more popular than McDonalds which generally isn’t the case anywhere). The fried chicken was so moist and the clear winner here. When we were leaving, a van with 15 people (quite a few children) came to enjoy some Jollibee. We had forgotten what Asian midnight meals looked like.20161126_232143_hdr_c

But not everything was  sunshine & roses, the area around the Manila domestic terminal turned out to be quite seedy. It’s never a good sign when bars and cafes have a “No firearms allowed” policy. we’d probably have taken a taxi had we known the kind of neighbourhood the hotel was in. But we were tired, walked through some not so pleasant areas to our hotel where we both got some much needed sleep 🙂

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