Surviving Malate – Manila

Why ‘surviving’ Malate in this post title? Well to be honest if you’re traveling Manila wouldn’t be high on my list of places to visit. And then Malate isn’t the nicest looking neighborhood the city has to offer.
But don’t write Malate off right away… As one of the older areas of town with ample budget accommodation and lively atmosphere it might just have what you are looking for!

Malate – why, where and what?

Due to the horrendous traffic in Manila I decided to stay near to the marine training center where I was doing my marine training courses. Most training centers are based in the Malate/Ermita area of Manila, as this ‘seafarers central’.

Malate is one of the oldest areas of Manila. It is very centrally located just south of the historical ‘Intramuros’ area and right next to Manila Bay. Over time is has developed from an exclusive residential into a commercial area, and now the entertainment area of Manila. There is a wide range of restaurants, bars, karaoke club and nightclubs in the area. The entertainment is however for a large part in the form of being the ‘red light district’ of town with many bars filled with ‘friendly’ ladies. Also there will be no shortage of people offering you taxi’s, massages, girls, boys, Cialis, cellphones and a multitude of other scams… Just be on your toes and you’ll be alright!

I never felt unsafe, it is just a bit seedy and with some extreme poverty (think mothers and infants living on the sidewalk) quite present. I’ve seen quite a few Third World cities, but I was somewhat shocked at at this part of Manila.

This side of Malate is however contrasted by another. Going around the area you will see many nice residential apartment towers, there is a fancy mall with shops and restaurants and all your usual Starbucks, McDonalds, Jollibee etc are everywhere to be found. And in between the many ‘girly’ bars you will find some small artistic bohemian bars, a little bar with a large collection of craft beers, great streetfood and more hidden gems.

So would I recommend staying in Malate? It is quite seedy, but the lively and rougher atmosphere does create a more adventurous and authentic ‘vibe’ than some other parts of the city (looking at you nice but bland Makati CBD!). If this attracts you Malate might be just for you!

Getting around

The Malate area is not that big and I usually just walked around to get somewhere. There are enough taxi’s around to grab if you need to head out further. When hailing a taxi always discuss price first, you will usually be replied “traffic very busy!” and be quoted a high price. Just negotiate and after 2 or 3 taxi’s driving off because you are too low you get an idea what a fair price would be.  An alternative is to offer 50 Pesos over the meter price to take account for the traffic delays. I usually ended up using the Grab app (iPhone, Android) to get a taxi as these use the meter price, or at least get an idea what a fair price would be to my destination.

For public transport there are also enough Jeepney (Philippines public buses) lines through Malate. You can plan your trip by public transport using the website or app (iPhone, Android). The Manila Light Rail also runs nearby so you can use that to cover larger distances through the city. Be aware that the trains get very crowded (think of the Japanese train pictures we all know) during rush hour.

A map of Manila Light Rail Transit also serving Malate, Manila

Manila Light Rail Map (Source: Johomaps)


Malate is the area of Manila with probably the biggest selection of budget accommodation. You can find quite a few hotels where you can get a decent A/C room for around 1,200 – 1,800 pesos per night. I stayed in a small hostel, Mabini Pension and had a fan room for 850 pesos with own bathroom. They have rooms with shared bathroom from 650 pesos upward. It is is a decent hostel, friendly staff, centrally located, and some of the best wifi I’ve encountered in the Philippines. (but that’s not saying much!). Be aware that if you do laundry they charge by the piece so better to go to a laundry place in the street and pay by kilo.

I also spent a few nights at the Wanderers Guesthouse. They have a nice rooftop bar and it is a good place to meet (western) travelers. The private rooms are however really small and located next to noisy bars, so I would not recommend these. A friend of mine stayed in their A/C dorm and was quite satisfied.

I’ve heard good stories about the Tambayan Capsule Hostel. It’s pretty new and offers apparently really nice and clean dorm rooms. It is located in a beautiful old mansion in the center of the Malate neighborhood. It’s also has a good restaurant where I went for dinner. I can confirm that the mansion and restaurant look really good, and the food was nice albeit slightly higher priced.

Food & drinks

This is also where Malate will offer you a wide range of choices. There are many local and streetfood places to satisfy your desire for Philippino and other Asian style food. Next to that there are enough local, regional and global chain restaurants in the area if you crave that frappucino, burger or pizza. A large selection of these chain restaurants (and shops) can be found at the upscale Robinson’s Place mall.

During my classes I usually crossed Kalaw Street to the side of park. There are a lot of stalls where you can get a great lunch for 50 pesos (1 EUR) during your training lunch break.
My strong recommendation for food would be the Super Six Grille. Awesome street food and my travel and food hero Anthony Bourdain even ate there on his Manila visit!

If you want to have drinks and make some new Philippina ladyfriends there are enough (karaoke) bars along the streets of Malate like the (in)famous G-point. There is also a concentration of bars and restaurants with varying levels of seedyness around Remedios Circle. Here you will also find several clubs where you can dance till the sun rises again.

However in Malate you can leave the girly bars behind to find some great places. If you have a taste for fine beers drop by the Tap Station and try their wide selection of craft beers (Facebook).
A must visit in my opinion is Thebar@1951. An art gallery and bar with a truly bohemian artistic vibe and clientele, and not to mention some cool live music. Check their Facebook page for upcoming events!

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