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It's funny how some people think that doing exactly the opposite of what I wrote on my "contact me" page is going to make me mad.  Nice try, but it takes a lot more than that to upset me, and what upsets me are usually things that aren't obvious.  People who try to make me mad usually make me laugh.  It took them tons of time to both write me a "sneaky" e-mail and then spend all night thinking about what I must be thinking.  It's not like you are the only one trying to be slick.  Your all night vigil of attempting to mess with me takes me 2 seconds to delete, one more to forget about it, and then one more to move on to constructive questions like the one below:

A reader from Japan e-mailed me to ask about his difficulties when traveling to the Philippines.  It seems that the last time he came here he would always get stuck with the worst kind of taxi drivers wherever he needed to go somewhere.  When I mean the “worst” kind of taxi drivers, I’m talking about the ones who prey on foreigners.  Basically these guys are opportunists who will sit and wait for specific fares only. Their goals are simple: grossly overcharge on the fare since many foreigners don’t know the meter policies here in the Metro and possibly take them to a whorehouse looking for girls where they will get a commission.  In this case, the individual was traveling on business and had no interest in meeting comfort girls.  My first guess was that he was staying on Burgos Street in Makati, near the central business district, but notorious for shady characters and their drivers.  But I overlooked somewhere that should be even more obvious-Century Park Hotel (Sheraton) in Malate, where he was staying.  In fairness, Century Park Hotel is one of the nicest hotels (inside, it's beautiful) in Metro-Manila.  It’s close to Manila Bay and a discount shopping mall while still within reasonable distance of Makati CBD.  The problem is that Century Park is known more as a “tourist” hotel than it is a “business class” hotel.  The mall I talked about, Harrison Plaza was the first mall in Metro-Manila.  Years ago, HP was a very classy place.  As I said, that was years ago. Now it is nearly a cess-pool of discount shops, cell-phone repair booths, eateries, smoky air, and very shady characters.  It is also full of foreigners, mostly tourists from everywhere you can imagine, together with girls much younger than themselves who don't look like their wives or girlfriends.  The coffee shop near the center entrance looks like a UN meeting because it gets full of foreigners of all colors and accents.  Harrison Plaza is basically a one-stop-shop if you are looking to meet male or female prostitutes, a connection for drugs, or whatever else that interests you while on vacation.  Therefore there’s no better place to stay than Century Park for people with this in mind since the mall is right across the street.

So the picture I’m painting should tell the tale of why he was targeted by those taxi drivers.  It’s where you stay that basically brands you with your purpose of travel. Experienced travelers won’t have these problems when staying at Century Park, because there are plenty of good drivers roaming the area as well…especially the big chain taxis such as MGE or Nine Stars.  As I said, the problems start if you let the hotel staff “pick” your taxi for you.  The taxi drivers give money to the attendants, who let them sit right outside and wait for you to come out.  If you’re new to the city, it’s annoying to have to worry about what brand of taxi is a safe and reliable one.  Therefore on your first visit, try to stay in Makati in Shangri-La, New World Hotel, or some others nearby.  They’re slightly more expensive, but at least you won’t have to put up with disrespectful taxi drivers.  These hotels don’t tolerate this kind of activity, i.e. porters and doormen working with the drivers.

The other part of this question dealt with NAIA Airport and how to get a good taxi driver there.  Uh..well…good luck. At the airport, you’re basically stuck with whatever you can get, unless you pay for a van.  If you don’t want to be bothered, pay extra.  Otherwise you’ll get the same scumbags that work outside of the hotels.  The final option is to walk about 1 km to the main street (in a bad part of town) and flag down a non-airport taxi…but as a foreigner new to Manila, that’s about as wise as smoking in a swimming pool of gasoline.

April 25th, 2005

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