Metro Manila, the Philippine National Capital Region, has a population of about 12 million people in sixteen cities on the eastern shore of Manila Bay --among the world's most densely populated areas. Inhabited since around 3000 BC, the area was thriving by the 10th century as the Kingdom of Maynila, trading with Ming Dynasty China and the Hindu-Buddhist Medang Kingdom of Java. The Majapahit Empire governed from Java in the 13th century, until the invasion by Brunei in 1485 --after which an Islamic dynasty was imposed.
Spain arrived, bringing Christianity in 1571, and established their Spanish East Indies capital here in 1603. Maynila was simplified to Manila, and the city became the Far East center of activity for Spain, linking Manila and Acapulco with galleons; a major hub of world trade between Asia, the Americas, and Europe. Except for a brief two year British occupation, Spain's rule continued for the next three centuries; first from New Spain/Mexico, then directly from Madrid.
Americans, who took control after the 1898 Spanish-American War, were resisted in a three-year guerrilla war, but US administration city planners transformed Manila, adapting the old city to modern needs. In 1945, the World War II battle to retake the city from the Japanese was the bloodiest event of the war in the Pacific, and much of the city was devastated, especially within the historic Spanish colonial district. Only Warsaw suffered more destruction than Manila during the war. Reconstruction of the old walls began in 1951, and the Intramuros district was declared a National Historical Monument. Ties between Americans and Filipinos endured after independence, and US military bases such as Subic Bay and Clark Field didn't close until 1991. Over 3.4 million Filipino-Americans now live in the USA.
The capital of the independent Republic of the Philippines was moved in 1948 to Quezon City, to the northeast. Rebuilt and revitalized, the city was prosperous, and again called the "Pearl of the Orient," as it had been in pre-war years. But, with billions of dollars in public funds stolen during the twenty years under President Ferdinand Marcos, and other corruption scandals, the city's reputation has been tarnished, and there are fears of impending insolvency. With heavy reliance on automobiles, Manila suffers heavy air pollution, and several rivers are deemed biologically dead.
Despite these problems, over a million tourists come to visit each year, and those holding passports from most countries can stay up to three weeks without a visa. Lonely Planet ranked the country 6th among their "most popular destinations to meet locals," and 8th in their best "value-for-money" category. In this archipelago of 7,107 islands, there are plenty of opportunites, away from urban centers, to enjoy the country's unspoiled natural wonders, with some of the world's richest biodiversity. The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Palawan ranks among the best dive sites anywhere, to see coral reef habitats with marine animals of all sizes (boats leave from Puerto Princesa, a short flight from Manila).
Destinations in Manila include the Intramuros walled city, the National Museum of the Philippines, the Manila Zoo, the City Chinatown, and shopping and nightlife disticts in Ermita and Malate, along with Santa Cruz. Events include the Feast of Black Nazarene, free performances in Rizal Park, and concerts and ballet at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Divisoria is popular with those looking for shopping bargains. Much of Manila's gay nightlife is centered around the intersection of Julio Nakpil and Maria Orosa Streets in Malate, but there are also gay spots in Quezon City, and beyond.
Filipino/Tagalog is the common tongue of the Philippines, but English is widely used both in education and business throughout the country, and in everyday usage by many in Manila. Knowing Spanish is also helpful, as many words were adopted into Tagalog during the colonial era. Most city residents are Christians, with four major Roman Catholic basilicas, but there are Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu and Sikh temples here too. The Masjid al-Dahab, or Golden Mosque, is in the predominantly Muslim section of the Quiapo district.
Conservative in many ways, Filipinos are gracious hosts, and respectful of personal idiosyncrasies and preferences. As LGBT people feel freer to be open about their sexuality, the subject has been more visibile in the media and in public discourse during the past decade. Check out "Bubble" by Sebastian Castro, a Japanese-Peruvian-American who moved here recently, and made a splash with his coming-out music video.
Asia's first gay pride march took place in Manila in June 1994, and the festivities have continued each year since. The Quezon City International Pink Film Festival and Pride March now take place in December, celebrating the support shown for the local LGBT community by local government. Jungle is a new party night, presented by the guys at BED.
See our bar and sauna listings for some tips on where to go, but note that Macho Dancer bars open, close and/or move quicker than any guide can keep up. Ask around for the latest hot spots, and the more hard to find anything-goes places, once you arrive.
The Ninoy Aquino/ Manila International Airport located between Pasay and Parañaque, the main international gateway for travelers to the Philippines and the hub for all domestic airlines, is one of the busiest airports in Asia. A shuttle bus system connects all four terminals.
Nine bus routes can get you from the airport to various points in Metro Manila. Eight of these take Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), and one travels by way of Circumferential Road 5 (C-5). The Baclaran station on the Manila Light Rail Transit System and the Nichols station of Philippine National Railways also serve the airport. An airport authority-operated shuttle bus connects Terminal 3 to the Taft Avenue MRT Station.
Clark International Airport, in the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga, is the low-cost carrier alternative landing point. Shuttles and buses can get you into downtown.
The Manila Light Rail Transit System, (LRT), metropolitan rapid transit/ Metro system serves the Metro Manila area with 31 stations along 31 km (19 mi) of mostly elevated track on two lines: the north-south route LRT Line 1, (Yellow Line), and the east-west MRT Line 2, (Purple Line). Reusable plastic magnetic ticketing and Flash Pass cards are used, and bus connections can get you to points in between stations.
A famous local modes of transportation, the jeepney, patterned after US army jeeps, has been in use since the post-World War II years. Buses, jeepneys and the more modern Tamaraws follow fixed routes for set prices. Other vehicles include: taxicabs, "tricycles" (motorcycles with sidecars), and "trisikads" or "sikads" (bicycles with sidecars).
The Philippines National Railways operates rail services across Luzon Island from San Fernando and San Jose in the north, to Batangas and Legazpi in the south, by way of Manila and Clamba among other cities at the center. Commuter Express trains connect Caloocan to Calamba, with Manila stations, and connections at Blumentritt LRT-1, Sandta Mesa MRT-2, and EDSA MRT-3.
The Peso (PhP) is the currency of the Philippines, with one hundred Centavos to the Peso. Exchange shops, banks and hotels can change foreign currencies. Credit cards and debit cards are widely accepted, but ATM transaction fees can be higher than elsewhere in the world. 2012-14 exchange rates have hovered around 41-44 PhP per US$1.
Media and Resources
Outrage is the LGBTzine of the Philippines, with feature articles, lifestyle info and events listings.
Equality Philippines is an LGBT advocacy group, with a community website. UP Babaylan is the LGBT student group at the University of the Philippines, with a community-wide Pride March each June.
The Quezon City Pink Film Festival & Pride Festival includes an international Film Festival, and parade at Quezon City Memorial Circle, among other the events in December.
Travel Gay Asia's Manila pages have up-to-date listings of gay bars, clubs, bathhouses and gay-friendly hotels. They also cover other regional cities. Utopia also has gay listings for Manila and elsewhere in the Philippines, among the 20 Asia-Pacific countries they list.
Lexuality, "loud and queer" is a blog with an every-day view of life here, from various writers, going back five years.
Machos&Hostos blogspot is another local's "Lessons from Gay Bars in Manila; his "experiences, learnings, anecdotes, some secrets and personal insights on going to Manila's gay bars." The Gonograd Resident documents one blogger's experiences in local macho dancer bars and strip clubs.
Zest is a queer-friendly "guide to good life" for the region, and Fringe covers the arts, including film, music, stage, dance and other events in Manila and beyond.
Guy Masseur Top Models is a blogspot with listings of Macho Dancer bars, massage services and escorts.
ManilaGayGuy is the blog of Migs, the Manila Gay Guy, with his own and guest postings and news items.
The Manila Times, the daily English language newspaper with headlines, business, lifestyle, sports, provincial and world news, also has an online edition.
The Tourist Bureau sponsors the It's More Fun in the Philippines website, listing destinations and plenty for visitors to do.
See our gay Manila listings page for map locations of the gay bars, clubs and bathhouses listed below - with contact information and website links - plus some hotel and restaurant suggestions, theaters and museums/galleries.
Azzul Restobar (Orosa at Nakpil St, Malate), part of Destination Heaven complex, open-air rooftop restaurant/bar vistas, Mediterranean-style.
Bed (The Portal, Greenfield District), large gay dance club, DJs, male revues, go-go boys, drag shows, contests, theme parties.
Che'lu (1802 Maria Orosa St, Malate), popular gay bar and grill, late-night dance club.
Club Mwah! (652 Boni Ave, Mandaluyong City), tourists/expat and locals mix, gay dance club, drag and erotic shows.
F Club (1204 Eulogio Rodriguez Sr Ave, Quezon City), dressy, upscale gay lounge/bar, DJs drag shows, events.
Formula 690 Entertainment Bar (27 Mother Ignacia St, Quezon City), show bar, go-go dancers, drag cabaret.
GEB (184 Tomas Morato Ave, Quezon City), LGBT dance club, drag cabaret shows, go-go dancers.
King Machette KTV Entertainment Bar (3993 Crosswinds/ Airport Rd, Parañaque), gay bar, macho go-go dancers, karaoke, shows, comedy events.
Library (1739 Maria Orosa St, Malate), gay/straight mix, comedy club, cabaret/drag shows.
O Bar (Ortigas, Julia Vargas Ave, Pasig City), gay pub/showbar, go-go dancers, restaurant serving lunch through dinner.
Red Banana (1802 Maria Orosa St, Malate), part of Destination Heaven complex, gay cocktail bar/ nightclub, burlesque cabaret, go-go boys, contests, DJs, dancing; Mint chill-out bar.
XRoads (Ortigas Center, Pasig City), Friday gay cowboy line dancing, Saturday club nights, piano bar, karaoke.
Zinc Music Bar (Orosa & Nakpil St, Malategay), part of Destination Heaven complex, bar & grill, live music/ cabaret shows.
Club Bath (2456 FB Harrison Blvd, Pasay City), gay bath house/steam, gym, lounge, rooms, snack bar.
Fahrenheit Cafe & Fitness Club (1204 Eulogio Rodriguez Sr Ave, New Manila/ Quezon City), videoke bar/club, videos, shop, gym, steam/Jacuzzi, cabins.
Queeriosity Palace (1946 FB Harrison St, Pasay City), men's sanctuary and playground, bar/lounge, Jacuzzi, steam room.
The Mansion (2601 Lions Rd, Pasay City), men's sauna/bar, pool, karaoke, pool games, cabaret shows. Aka: The We’rehouse.