Saturday, May 10, 2008

Places to stay (and not to stay) in the Phillipines

For being a truly cosmopolitan city with its own international airport, Davao is still incredibly cheap. When I first met my in-laws last October, I took us to Jack's Ridge, perhaps the most popular resort and nighttime destination with city limits. Dinner for seven came to about $38. Fast food prices reflect how much cheaper labor and land costs are. A burger, fries and soda will run about $2.50 at McDonald's or Jollibee, and what we'd consider a "medium" supreme pizza is about $6 at Greenwich.

Before, we've stayed at Villa Margarita, not too bad a hotel with a "junior suite" (larger room with chairs and a table) running about $60 a night, which is starting to get pricey for Davao. Villa Margarita's rooms aren't too bad and quite clean, but this time we tried the Regency Inn, about five minutes from the hospital where my sister-in-law was admitted. The rooms aren't quite as refined, and the bathrooms are clean although need a little scrubbing/polishing on the metal, but in the end, you can't beat a pretty decent room for only $32 a night. The staff was exceptionally friendly, and free Wi-Fi in the lobby is a nice amenity you don't always find in more upscale Manila hotels.

Manila is more expensive, but still cheap by typical U.S. prices. When in town, we've always stayed at the Manila Pavilion, where a very nice "deluxe" room is about $150 a night. The last time, we were told the rooms had just undergone renovations, but I really didn't notice, because the rooms before were in excellent condition. There are better, more luxurious hotels in Manila, and sometimes for not much more, but those are in the Makati business/entertainment district (which is to Manila like Manhattan is to New York City) and very far from the airport. The Pavilion is only 30 minutes away from the international terminal, which in heavy traffic might be 45 minutes. Makati is busy enough that you don't want to risk being stuck for a couple of hours among these insane Manila drivers. When I was little and, my American ex-pat father occasionally took a few hours to drive home across Manila.

This time we tried the Bayview Park Hotel, at the busy corner of Roxas Boulevard and United Nations Avenue. From the seventh floor, rooms do have a view of Manila Bay, although only technically so. The hotel is currently undergoing outer renovations and has scaffolding and a black nylon mesh over much of the outside. If this "superior" room (no extra furniture, $90 per night) is any indication, the hotel could use some room renovations too. Minor scratches and blemishes on furniture can be dismissed, but not worn edges on the nightstand, or gouges in the adjoining room door. The lobby and hallways are nice and very immaculate, although when first reaching our floor, I was not impressed when we had to navigate around a fold-up guest bed just outside a room. I could understand if staff were preparing it, but it was just "left there" with nobody in sight.

The noise is a real problem. Rooms aren't very sound-insulated from each other. Last night I could hear the Japanese next door chattering and watching TV, muffled, but it was still distracting. The main problem, however, is noise from the street. Roxas is a main thoroughfare in Manila, so even if you're on the seventh floor, rush hour (more like rush four hours) will be your 5 a.m. wakeup call, like it or not. Motorcycles are common in the Philippines (less expensive than cars and more fuel efficient), so you'll hear their loud exhaust in tandem with incessant car honking. This lasts until very late at night.

When we first checked into the Bayview a couple of days ago, my fiancee decided we'll book for only one night, then extend if we like it. That's why she's the wiser of the two of us. We checked out after one night and took a taxi over to the Pavilion, just a few blocks down United Nations Avenue. Street noise is considerably less, and I find the staff friendlier. Rooms do cost more, but they're much nicer, and the Pavilion has a wonderful breakfast buffet that's included with rooms. The Bayview has a coffee shop but no included breakfast, and its coffee shop is mahal enough that you're not paying much less than at the Pavilion.



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