After my slum tour with Smokey Tours, I was kindly offered to join them on one of their bike tours through Manila.
At the time, I hadn’t ridden a bike in over a year, so I jumped at the chance.
I used to live in the Philippines, so I’d already seen quite a bit of the city, and I’d never imagined the roads to be exactly cycle friendly, with the crazy traffic, potholes, and slightly insane drivers. Surely it would all make for a very interesting afternoon.
On the day of the tour, I meet my guide Jessie at around 2pm in Gil Puyat. The clouds are hanging low, and it’s almost a certainty, especially in Manila, that the rain is going to be coming down sooner or later.
After meeting my fellow tour buddies, we walk across some carpark to a small shed-like building in the corner, and Jessie sits us down for a quick briefing before unveiling our weapons for the day – four BMX style two wheelers ready to be thrashed:
Our first destination is Rizal Park. As a foursome, we cycle out single file onto the main road. At this time of day, the traffic isn’t too hectic, but there’s still enough cars whizzing around that you need to be extra careful. Without helmets on, dozing off for a second could end very badly.
After about ten minutes of pedalling we eventually find our way into a few backstreets, and attract a few looks from the residents. Poverty is evident here, but there are an abundance of smiles nonetheless.
After around 20 minutes we arrive at Rizal Park, named after the Philippine hero Jose Rizal, who was sent to execution by the Spanish army during the country’s Spanish rule. Despite living in Manila for several months, I had never made it out here before, and was surprised at how enormous and well kept it was. People sat around reading, playing, talking, eating, just like any other park in the world. The only difference was, Celine Dion was blasting from the various loudspeakers erected around the place. Only in The Philippines.
After chilling at the park for a bit, we start the long ride out to Intramuros. By this stage, the roads are getting busier, and we need eyes and ears open at all times. Manila roads are not the easiest to navigate, but our guide Jessie does a great job of directing traffic and helping us through the busier areas. He also rides out front, so if anyone is going to get hit first, it’ll be him.
Even on crowded, four-lane roads, he attempts to direct traffic, and surprisingly, people actually listen to his hand signals and stop when we need them to. I can’t help but smirk – if he tried any of this in New Zealand, he would’ve been beeped and sworn at so many times he’d probably be in tears by now.
As we arrive in Intramuros, the rain is setting in, and we take shelter at a nearby McDonald’s while we wait for it to die down a bit. It doesn’t take long.
From there, we cycle around a bit and check out the famous walls of Intramuros, which were constructed several hundred years ago during the times of conflict. As it’s raining, there aren’t many people, but we still spot a few people doing parkour and the odd couple sitting around cuddling. On a sunny day, I’m sure the place is a little more lively.
Intramuros has a very colonial feel to it, with it’s historical buildings, churches and cobblestone roads. It’s not the easiest place to cycle around, but a must-see spot of Manila nonetheless.
Throughout the tour, Jessie shares stories about the city and the places we visit. Whether it’s the church that is cursed with broken marriages, or the church that no storm or war can destroy, there is a tale behind everything.
My favourite part of Intramuros however wasn’t the churches, or history, or cobblestone roads. It was the street art. Throughout the area you will find some beautiful and culturally relevant artwork, which brings the streets to life:
After Intramuros, we start the ride back towards Rizal Park, only this time, we visit the other side (it’s huge). Here we check out the Rizal monument (where the hero’s remains lie), and Jessie tells us the story of his execution and it’s significance in Filipino history. Then, a quick toilet break, a chance to shake out our legs, and we start the ride over to the Manila Bay waterfront.
By now the sun is starting to set, and we have the pleasure (or displeasure) of riding our tiny bikes out of Rizal Park and down Roxas Boulevard in Manila’s rush hour. As expected, the traffic is crazy, but it’s not has hard as I imagined.
When we finally reach the Manila Bay waterfront, we take a break and enjoy the sunset. Like many sunsets in Asia, it doesn’t disappoint.
As the sun comes down, we enjoy a slow, leisurely ride down the waterfront. Families sit together along the water and eat, elderly ladies sell snacks and drinks and the odd person enjoys their evening jog. It’s a peaceful place, full of smiles and laughter, and the perfect end to a long afternoon. Along the way, Jessie also shares a few stories of his own, which paint a wonderful picture of Filipino culture and the way of life here.
Eventually we find our own spot, and park the bikes to sit, relax, and enjoy one of life’s pleasures: a freshly cut coconut.
From there it’s a short ride back to the bike shed where we drop off the bikes, sit and chat, and take a moment to recollect ourselves. We’re all a little tired and weary, but are definitely left with smiles on our faces.
Just another day in Manila.
Want to bike Manila with Smokey Tours?
If you’re visiting the city and want to see it in bit of a different light, the tour can be a lot of fun. It’s around 3-4 hours and you’ll get see quite a few different pockets of the city, with a local to share all the tales that go along with them. Jessie is a fantastic tour guide and you’ll be very well looked after. My only recommendation is you might want to think twice if you’re not entirely comfortable riding a bike. Manila’s roads are no joke, and even though you’ll probably be ok, I wouldn’t risk it (try the Slum tour instead!). All in all, it’s a great way to spend a free afternoon, and if you love exploring and have a sense of adventure, I guarantee you’ll have a great time.
Interested? You can get in touch with Smokey Tours on their website here.
Heading to Manila?
- If you’re looking for affordable accommodation in Manila, I highly recommend using Airbnb. You can get $25 of Airbnb credit, absolutely free, using this link.
- For reliable and fuss-free travel insurance, I always book with World Nomads.
- For more useful websites for cheap flights, accommodation and other travel needs, you can check out my Resources page.
Disclosure: I was invited to write a piece on this tour by Smokey Tours. Smokey Tours covered the cost of my tour. All opinions are my own. You can read my Disclosure Policy here.