When Jean saw the advertisement on a booking site it seemed too good to be true. “Manila. Private room in university district. Shared bathroom. Gym and swimming pool: Php450 a night. Call Linda-May ….” However she decided that it was worth a try and called Linda-May on the number given. A friendly voice answered her call, gave her directions and suggested that they meet in a coffee shop across the road from the accommodation. Unfortunately the old adage “If it seems too good to be true, then it is too good to be true” turned out to be all too accurate. It was in the university district, there was a shared bathroom (shared by what seemed to be 30 people) and there was a gymnasium and a swimming pool. However the “private room” turned out to be a mattress in the corridor outside the dormitory room Linda-May shared with five other students.
Budget accommodation in Manila
Instances such as this might be rare but they do happen. You are unlikely to get a room to yourself in Manila for that rate: especially in the busy seasons around Christmas, Chinese New Year and Easter. On the other hand dormitory accommodation in a room shared by six or eight people can be found at that price point (Php 350-Php 500). In many cases this accommodation is in a guesthouse or hostel that also offers private rooms.
The next step up from dormitory accommodation is a fan room (i.e. not air-conditioned) with a shared bathroom and, very often, no windows. The shared bathroom will probably only have a cold shower and the water pressure may be low, with a bucket and dipper as backup. Depending on the time of year and how close the accommodation is to areas popular with tourists single rooms with basic facilities can be found in Manila in the price range Php 750 to Php 1,000.
Most accommodation in Manila catering to travellers on a tight budget has free Internet access, with Wi-Fi in public areas such as the lobby and, sometimes, in guest rooms. The speed and reliability of Internet access varies from place to place and time to time but is frequently poor. Many guesthouses also offer kitchen facilities and free coffee (a kettle and jar of instant coffee). Not all offer drinking water so it is wise to bring a bottle of water with you just in case.
In areas away from the main tourist and business centres air-conditioned rooms with a private bathroom can be found for a few hundred pesos more (Php 1,000 upwards). In this price range the price for the night is unlikely to include breakfast. When looking at the rates for comparable accommodation in different parts of Manila take into account the cost of transport to the location. Taking a taxi or car can add several hundred pesos to the cost of your first night’s accommodation.
Budget accommodation outside Manila
Outside of Manila prices are generally lower: except in major centres such as Cebu City and at resort destinations. At the bottom end of the market the price difference for accommodation is less, but unlikely to be much less, than in Manila. However in many places it is possible to get a private room or beachside cottage for about Php 500 to Php 600 a night. This price may even include private bathroom (albeit with a cold shower or bucket and dipper). In more remote areas there might be no hotels or hostels of any kind. In these areas local people frequently offer a room in their house as ‘homestay’. At its best homestay can be cheap and comfortable as well as offering an opportunity to get to meet local people. A disadvantage of homestay is that it is generally not possible to arrange accommodation before you arrive. To find homestay accommodation enquire at the local tourist information office (if there is one) or at the barangay (local council) offices. The price of a homestay is generally negotiated directly with your host so it is best to ask at the tourist office or barangay first to see what they consider a fair price. Then you will have a better idea of what to offer when the host says: ”It’s up to you.”
If you are in a major metropolis such as Manila or Cebu City and need accommodation for only a few hours you could take a more creative approach to finding somewhere to stay. There are hotel chains (e.g. Sogo in Manila) that offer short-term accommodation for people who wish to stay for only three or four hours. If you are arriving in the Manila late in the evening from the provinces and have an early morning flight this could be ideal, giving you a comfortable bed and the opportunity to take a shower for a few hundred pesos. Another option if you are flying out of Manila is the short stage lounge at terminal three of Manila Airport (NAIA).
Cash is King
Many of the cheaper places to stay in the Philippines do not accept credit cards or debit cards: especially outside of major cities. So make sure that you carry adequate reserves of local currency. US dollars can be changed in most large towns but other currencies can be problematic. ATMs are far and few away from major centres of population and may well be out of money or offline
If you make an online booking it is as well to double-check to ensure whether or not a prepayment was made at the time of booking: especially if you have an account with an online travel agency such as Booking.com or Ctrip. There are cases of travellers arriving at their accommodation thinking (erroneously) that their accommodation had been paid for already and then finding that they needed to pay cash on checking in. With time this is likely to become less and less common since booking sites such are recommending that owners ask for pre-payment of at least 50%.
Ctrip (Trip.com) https://www.ctrip.com.hk
NAIA Terminal 3 lounge https://jipang-group.com/thewings
Note that rates quoted are typical at the time of writing (January 2018) and are likely to change over time.