Manila Philippines (Part 2)- Where to Live and How to Eat for $1500 per month

This is Part 2 of 4 of the Ultimate Retirement Guide to Manila, Philippines. Click the rewind icon to read Part 1. 

COST OF LIVING: LOW

COST OF LIVING: HIGH

City Overview- Manila

To help clarify some confusion for you, understand that “Manila” is used to describe the Greater Metropolitan Area and the city itself. Metro Manila is made up of 16 separates cities: the City of Manila, Quezon City, Caloocan, Las Piñas, Makati, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Parañaque, Pasay, Pasig, San Juan, Taguig, and Valenzuela. Connecting the cities are two different rapid transit systems: the Manila Light Rail Transit System (LRTA) and the Manila Metro Rail Transit System (MRTC). In addition to the rails, there are a confusing number of bus, commuter bus, and jeepney (old traditional Filipino public transportation) routes to all the different areas. Given the condition of public transit, most people will take Grab (the Uber of SE Asia), which will usually run between $3 to $5 per trip, depending on traffic.

*WARNING* Even local Filipinos hate the taxi mafia in Manila. They will try to rip you off. The good news is they even try to rip off locals, so they treat everyone equally- Like Shit.

As mentioned prior, my suggestion for FIRE Nomads and people retiring in the Philippines is to use a driver. You can negotiate longer monthly leases with local companies who will provide you a newer compact SUV (a Toyota Innova or similar) with air conditioning and a driver. Having a personal chauffeur is one of the affordable luxuries of living in the Philippines that isn’t available to you in other countries. For about $400 per month + gas, you have someone will drive you to the gym, market, or restaurant, drop you off at the door, park the car, wait for you to text them, then come pick you up at the drop off point. No trying to hail a taxi in the rain. No waiting for an Uber or Grab driver to accept your trip. No waiting in line for a bus or metro. I consider having a personal chauffeur, as one of the significant perks of retiring in Manila.

Neighborhood Comparison: Upper-Class City Center Makati vs. New Development Lifestyle Center Bonifacio Global City

Each of the 16 areas have their unique character and qualities, but the two neighborhoods that most expats gravitate are Makati and Bonifacio Global City (colloquially known as Fort Bonifacio, BGC, or The Fort). I’ve spent most of my time living in Manila in these two trendy areas. They are the most expensive in Manila, some may argue overpriced, but to me, they are the best and most convenient neighborhoods in Manila for FIRE Nomads and expats.

Retiring in Makati- Enjoy a glass of wine while relaxing on your balcony

1) Makati Central Business District (CBD)- With the concentration of visitors and tourists, Makati gives off a “let it loose” weekend vibe every day of the week.

Makati is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde district. It is both gritty and polished, family-friendly and X-rated. Home of 40% of the country’s top multinational and local companies, Makati is the financial hub of the country. With the best jobs located here and the best-paid employees living here, the neighborhood is the epicenter of more upscale restaurants, shopping, attractions, and high-end residences than anywhere else in Manila.

All the flavor, with none of the worry. Safely sample delicious local foods at the Salcedo Weekend Market.

The Salcedo or Legazpi Markets are weekly shopping events catering to people looking for fresh organic produce and well-made local crafts in an upscale outdoor farmers market vibe. The street food stalls here are one of the few places in the Philippines, where I eat any and all the foods without hesitation. You can also shop for organic Filipino coffees for home brewing, locally made ginger ales, high-end versions of traditional Filipino foods, and locally made bamboo or leather handiworks.

Ultra-luxury brands Gucci, Prada, and Balenciaga headline the walkways of the mecca of shopping: Greenbelt Shopping Center. Even if shopping isn’t on your agenda; this mall offers fascinating people-watching and your pick of international dining while chilling on landscaped greens lawns complete with koi fish ponds.

The party never ends on Burgos Street in Makati Photo Credit: vettie vette, Flickr

Poshiness in the super swanky areas provides a stark contrast to the other areas of Makati, mainly the garish and rowdy red-light district which serves as the main vice area of Manila. While not as brazen, in-your-face or numerous as the girl-bar strip on Soi Cowboy in Bangkok; alcohol, prostitution and other vices are still prevalent in the Makati red light district. Businesses have stepped up to gentrify the area, so mixed in with “extra service” massage parlors, midget wrestling, and girlie bars are several secretly amazing restaurants (we review 2 of them in Part 2 of this guide) and a few trendy Millennial speakeasy bars and nightclubs. The vibrant nightlife and the strange diversity of the area are what keeps me coming back here. Even if I am not in the mood for a crazy party, just people watching and taking in the craziness of the area is an enjoyable night out.

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2) Bonifacio Global City- A plush and modern oasis of calm in the chaos of Manila.

Retire in BGC, with wide sidewalks and less chaotic atmosphere, to transition easier to overseas living.

Fort Bonifacio, BCG, or The Fort is where I’ve spent most of my time in Manila. After checking out a few different neighborhoods, I can easily see why this area is growing wildly. Dubbed as "the next financial district," BGC is quickly becoming the go-to address for companies looking to build or move their corporate or regional headquarters. Already, the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE), Coca Cola Philippines, and Proctor and Gamble have set up shop here.

As with Makati, where the well-paying companies are, people follow. BGC is home to expat executives, upper-class locals, Filipino celebrities, and other people that want to live life in the new prestige neighborhood. I can’t blame them. While I appreciate and enjoy the chaos of Makati, especially on weekends, BGC offers two things that most of Manila sorely lacks: space and order.

The management of this area is by a private consortium run by corporations motivated to make and keep the area a symbol of a contemporary urban lifestyle community, where wealthy families can Eat, Work, and Play in a safe and clean environment without having to wander far from their homes.

Bonifacio Global City

A modern wonder of contemporary living populated by great minds and passionate hearts. From tidy roads and contemporary office blocks to storied high streets and playful parks, the city is the perfect marriage of form and function.

Bonifacio Land Development Corporation

2a) Walkability- Living in The Fort, I could cut my transportation budget by 50% or more.

Especially if you are coming from Hanoi, Bangkok, or other SE Asian capitals, one of the first things you will notice different about BGC is the width of the roads. Gone are the narrow alleyways that clog many city neighborhoods in SE Asia. The streets in BGC were initially airplane runways from when the area was an active Fort of the military, so the avenues are unusually wide for SE Asia. There are traffic cops on every major intersection that do their best to make order from the madness that is traffic in Manila.

Wide streets, actual sidewalks, and traffic rules that favor pedestrians keep some of the chaos in check. At least I don’t feel like I’m taking years off of my life the way I do when I cross the streets in Vietnam or Cambodia. Wandering The Fort on foot allows you to discover the colorful street murals and enjoy the cool pop up art installations dotting the area. The city planners have even worked to make BGC a bike-friendly community. In the spirit of a healthier and more sustainable modern living, bike rentals are available for the community's enjoyment.

2b) Self Sustaining- Live, Eat, and Play without leaving the neighborhood.

Eat- Michelin star eats, rooftop sky bars, and al fresco dining options dot the areas between the shopping malls and towering condominiums. During the week, I've met up with friends, who live and work in BGC, for a bucket of six ice-cold beers for under $6 at at after-work hangout. I found a fantastic Mediterranean casual eatery called Souv, where a date and I could sip on a $10 bottle of Greek wine while eating a Mezza platter waiting for traffic to die down. On High Street, I have eaten at a Michelin starred Japanese restaurant for under $12 per person (see the review in the Food section of this guide).

Play- On weekend nights, the bars and clubs at The Fort Strip wake up and stay up. Here the party starts late and runs even later. The Palace is home to 6 different bar and nightclub concepts, including the 4000 person capacity Palace Pool Club. Meant to mimic or compete against the World Class clubbing of Las Vegas, the place features two swimming pools, multiple bars, a multiple DJ booths and books well known International Acts.

Compared to other parts of Manila or even compared to other SE Asian capital cities, BGC is remarkably clean and gentrified. Gone are the hordes of panhandlers, street bums, prostitutes, and beggars. BGC is a Disney-fied copy of life in Manila. The city has ordinances against public smoking or vaping. The tap water is reportedly drinkable, though I don’t know of any local that doesn’t filter it. The skyline is uncluttered from the usual spider webs of telephone and power cables found in SE Asian cities, as the developers kept all the cabling neatly hidden underground. The buildings are modern and neat. Traffic is relatively smooth. Walking and biking are encouraged. Especially if you are moving from the US or Europe, BCG is the most effortless transition to moving to the Philippines.

Manila Housing Summary: Be prepared for unexpectedly high rents compared to other SE Asian retirement cities.

1) Low End- In Makati or BGC, expect to pay a minimum of $400 per month for a furnished 387 sqft/36 sqm apartment. 

Unlike some cities where high-end co-living arrangements are common, entry-level housing for expats will be smaller apartments. By US standards, apartment size is smaller, but this statement is true in every part of the world. US housing is unnecessarily large in comparison. Apartments starting at this rent will be newer construction with modern US-style interiors. Shared areas and facilities such as gyms, multiple swimming pools, party rooms, and 24-hour security are standard amenities.

As an example, $500 gets you a modest studio apartment around 335 sqft/31 sqm fully furnished with an equipped kitchen and air conditioning in the Acqua Towers in Makati . But the amenities in the complex are far beyond what you could get in the US for this price point. Your parquet wood floored lobby rivals 5-star hotels. The 55th floor roof top deck area features an outdoor swimming pool, cocktail lounge, and movie room. The ground floor houses a full sized fitness area, complete with cardio area and boxing gym.

You live in the heart of the city on waterfront development right on the river. With your very own Country Club in the building you don’t have to leave, but just outside your door is a Riverwalk Promenade with 4 floors of fun activities, fabulous shopping, and tons of dining and entertainment options.

A similar apartment in BGC would be around $500 per month for 387 sqft/36 sqm in the Forbeswood Parklane complex. The apartment is smaller, but the hotel-like amenities spoil you a bit more. Entry-level housing here includes a balcony to enjoy your morning coffee with a golf course view. Step inside for an exquisitely decorated interior with little touches like laminate floors in the bedroom and tile in the living room, to make you feel at home.

1) HIGH END- Moving up the value chain to $1500 per month puts you in housing comparable in price to the US, but with significant upgrades in luxury. 

An 850 sqft/79 sqm one-bedroom in the Joya Lofts in Makati runs about $1500 per month. Hip beach towns of Southern California were the inspiration for these lifestyle lofts. The architecture, shops, and pockets of greenery are reminiscent of a quaint coastal town, but with all the modern conveniences of city living. The spacious airy apartment has next-level luxury amenities: multiple swimming pools, spa, fitness center, playground, landscaped gardens, and a business center. You also have access to additional services including housekeeping, laundry and pressing, dry cleaning, in-room massage, concierge and reception, and 24-hour security. All of this in the heart of the Makati CBD, at the northeast block of Rockwell Center, it’s right across the Power Plant Mall where you have additional shopping and dining options.

If California inspired the example above, the Bellagio Towers in BGC is all about Las Vegas extravagance. Opulence is the buzzword around these apartments, but at a reasonable price of less than $1300 per month for a 721 sqft/67 sqm. Luxury interiors with wood-like flooring, full glass panel window walls, and wall accent mirrors abundantly positioned around the entire apartment enhance the whole flat and create an illusion of space.

You have a full view of The Manila Golf Course from the living room and bedroom. If the green fairways don’t grab your attention, then the multiple large wall-mounted flat screen TVs can keep your eyes occupied. The kitchen is perfect for your next dinner party. The tile-floored kitchen is in a two-wall formation with cream-colored granite counter tops and maple-syrup colored base cabinets and cupboards. Across the kitchen are the cabinet-type refrigerator and the induction range and convection oven below the under-cabinet range hood.

An eight-seat wood-framed and glass top dining table with beige upholstered seats and contrasting the dark wood backrests is sure to compliment your home-cooked gourmet meal. After a night out, relax in your generously-spaced bathroom with rainfall shower and cream granite bathroom counters.

If you want to reduce your monthly costs, one of the best ways to make your retirement dollars last longer is to live like a local. By moving outside the hipper upper-class expat areas, housing becomes significantly less expensive. If you don’t need to live in the heart of the city, large three-bedroom homes and apartments are more affordable and easy to find in the suburbs. A typical 3-bedroom townhouse in Parañaque and Quezon City is around $500-$600 per month. The trade-off is these places are situated far from the lively and vibrant central districts of Makati or Bonifacio Global City (BGC).

Makati or BGC Which would you choose?

  • BGC is my choice for easiest place to live for a first time expat
  • Housing starts at $500 per month
  • The value of housing in Manila is not the apartment, but the amenities
  • Most complexes are set up as self sustaining "lifestyle centers", with gyms, pools, movie rooms, cafes, and restaurants all outside your door

Do you prefer the excitement of being in the gritty heart of Makati that never sleeps or the clean and more organized BGC? Would you splurge for high-end housing or save and get a smaller apartment? Give us your feedback in the comments below.


But wait, there’s more. Check out PART 3 of our guide to Retiring Early In Manila and get answers to questions like:

  • I'm scared of Filipino food. Will I starve living in Manila?
  • Do I need to speak English to shop for food at the market?
  • Where can I eat good food, without killing my budget? 
  • It's date night. Where do I go to splurge a little?

Manila Phil…

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