Philippines, oh Philippines
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About 20 different people have sent this link to me, so I guess I should react even though it’s a bit late.
I just arrived from a really great trip Hong Kong. It was truly pleasant, mostly because we traveled Cathay business class and stayed at the Four Seasons. Save for one grumpy Chinese waiter at Isola IFC, there were no unpleasant events.
We came without a plan or agenda. Meals were planned on the day itself. While my husband and my father-in-law bonded over high tea, coffees, wines and walking around, I met up with a couple of friends and shopped till I dropped.
While I totally agree with what Geoffrey James Quartermaine Bastin wrote, staying at a cheap hotel is truly getting what you pay for.
Unfortunately in the Philippines, not even the best hotels are good enough. I stayed in one of Makati’s five-star hotels last year and was surprised that the bathrooms were so worn out.

Hermes toiletries
They had Hermés toiletries but really old marble, as you can see in the background—yikes!

I also had a tour of a five-star hotel nearer my home and the bathrooms did not pass my standards either.
A few years ago, I checked in my family at the Discovery Suites in Ortigas Center so that Jeroen could watch the World Cup in the wee hours of the morning (this was when home cable TV wasn’t high-tech yet).
While the bedrooms were pretty OK, I have to say the bathroom really grossed me out, with its archaic aluminum sliding doors.

Discovery Suites ü (9)

I really wonder how Philippine hotels manage to keep their bedrooms pretty and not think the bathrooms are just as important. I was so grossed out, I couldn’t wait to check out.
Not too long ago I also did a tour of all the rooms of Discovery Country Suites in Tagaytay. Though some of the rooms look cozy and habitable, the bathrooms were once again really gross.

Discovery Country Suites 4

I guess a common mistake of hotel owners here is they hire residential designers to design their hotels, when in fact there is a certain art to designing hotel bathrooms. As paying guests, we don’t really want to stay in a hotel with bathroom that has the feel of nakikitira in someone’s house.
I experienced the same problem in the almost cool Inn at the Cliffhouse in Tagaytay, which has the most beautiful bedrooms, but yucky bathrooms and lacking in cleanliness and upkeep.


Let Geoffrey James Quartermaine Bastin’s writeup be a wakeup call that Filipinos really need to learn how to reinvest, repaint, renovate and upgrade their businesses. This includes restaurants, stores, malls, hotels and especially, that stupid airport.
Let’s not even compare our country to our neighbors—Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore—because we are nowhere close to them. We are the miserable poor neighbor with that ironically unparalleled nationalistic pride, beautiful sunshine, beautiful beaches and natural wonders with rarely the beautiful accommodation.

We have a new Secretary of Tourism. If you want tourism to really work for the country, here’s what you have to do.
1) Fix the airports, the interiors, the washrooms, the workers, the beggars outside, the rickety carts, the lack of things to do, the bad food choices, the ugly stores and the useless souvenir shops. Don’t forget the washrooms.
2) Force all public establishments and malls to upgrade their restrooms with new fixtures, toilet paper, air and odor management, ventilation, and other necessities. Malls should require dodgy tenants to renovate or move out.
3) Fix the traffic problem. Have a unified government bus company. Fix all public transport. So much time is wasted on commuting. I personally dread going to countries with bad traffic.
4) Make sure all taxis are safe and friendly. Kick out the grumpy, corrupt taxi drivers.
5) Get the beggars out of NAIA and the streets that are bugging tourists. Close down corrupt money changers.
Okay, so that’s five things. There’s a lot of work to be done, but no new slogan, ad campaign, or travel expo is gonna help if the tourists come here and experience crap. Every businessman knows repeat customers make a successful business. The plan is to make tourists wanna come back here and not dying to get out.
Also, luxury, cleanliness, efficiency, attract moneyed tourists. Check out the tourists in Hong Kong and Singapore and compare to what we have here. What kind would you rather have?

Here’s the complete text of Geoffrey James Quartermaine Bastin’s blog entry:

I honestly do really HATE to write negative posts. If you check through this blog you’ll see that even the posts on Afghanistan have a few positive things to say…….

But my GOODNESS the Philippines!!! Or more precisely Manila, because you cannot and should not generalize about such a large country spread over thousands of islands. Manila – what a dump!

The city has got to be the disgrace of South-east Asia, all the more so because twenty years ago when I used to come through here en route to Papua New Guinea it was THE place in the region to come to for shopping and R&R. How the mighty are fallen!

Let’s start with the international airport. Ninoy Aquino International is exactly the same as it was all that time ago; the same awful green lino when you arrive, the same over-crowded Departure Hall, nowhere to sit if your check-in desk isn’t open. Once through security you find the same down-market shops, toilets that don’t work or are “under repair” and very few F&B places.

I pay the extra $15 to go up to the Sampaguita Lounge just to get out of the crush of people. No, despite the fact that I’m an inveterate traveler I DO NOT LIKE crowds of people! The travelling public en masse is a necessary obstacle that has to be endured and overcome.

The coffee in this over-priced lounge is awful…. Over-boiled and they don’t have a modern machines (which these days can be purchased even for home use) to produce fresh coffee from beans. NO ONE uses this old filter method anymore, at least no one that likes good coffee. Where is George Clooney!!???

As for the hotel downtown: I have stayed at the Discovery Suites in Ortigas Center for the last 15+ years ever since it opened. It used to be very good and remains convenient for my business meetings. But the owners have invested nothing in upkeep and I stay in a room that has the same furniture, same carpet as it has always had; it smells musty. The TV is years old. The water heating system provides limited hot water for my bath. My room is not cleaned until I have to go and ask. The internet (OK, free wifi in the room) is dreadfully slow and the room service food lukewarm.

Frankly at $119/night the Discovery Suites is no longer the good deal that it once was and I shall change to another hotel if I have the misfortune of coming back here.

Manila itself is a shambles. The traffic is AWFUL (I seem to be using a lot of capital letters in this post) and nothing has been added to shops or other amenities (whereas e.g. Bangkok has transformed itself into an almost livable city).

Look: people will say the Filipino people are nice, and indeed they are polite – we Brits might say “smarmy” – obsequious or ingratiating are maybe less pleasant words. But they do try. That does take the edge off the sheer misery of a crumbling, filthy, depressing city and an economy that exists only on the remittances of the smart ones who have left.

Sorry folks. I know there are many people who love the Philippines, but its economic development has been a disaster; the irony is that Manila is the headquarters of the Asian Development Bank (the reason I come here) and it has the WORST growth history of any of the ASEAN countries – Cambodia which was torn apart by civil war up until 1997 has a first-class airport (fresh ham and cheese sandwiches on foccacia, freshly brewed cappuccino , clean lounges) and some great restaurant food and hotels (see my next post). But the Manila, where the intelligentsia sneer at their Asian brothers and sisters for their lack of English, is beaten hands down even by little Phnom Penh and left standing by every other mega-city in the region.

There seems to be a theme here: the Philippines has many natural advantages and in fact a talented people who provide services everywhere in the world. But there has been no re-investment in the country, neither by the public sector (hence the terrible airport facilities), nor by private industry. People might build a hotel, but they run it into the ground rather than trying to build a long-term institution. Philippines can be described as an extractive or exploitive economy, not one where people want to build sustainably long term. As I say, the smart one’s all want to leave.

My suggestion if you want to see the Philippines: get through Manila as quickly as you can, it has nothing to recommend it. Go out to the islands, Cebu, Mindanao, up to the cool of Bagio and see the people in the countryside and some of the spectacular scenery. That’s probably worth the trip. Otherwise pick almost anywhere else in Asia and you’ll get a better deal.

Final note: for those that wonder, I’m NOT backpacker and I’ve travelled so much that the novelty or “exciting local colour” of dirt, disease and bad food no longer fills me with wonderment; I stay in decent hotels and expect good service, anything less is patronizing the people in these emerging countries. For most of Asia I get it in spades – better value overall than travelling in North America or Europe – but not the Philippines.

For the Philippines the question is surely will it ever emerge from the mire into which it has sunk? Very frankly based on my very long experience of the place I really doubt it, in fact it is a “disappearing” country if there is such a thing.

Discovery Suites
25 ADB Avenue, Ortigas Center
Pasig City 1600

P.S. No pictures because there’s nothing worth photographing in Manila, it’s drab and dirty.


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