When I used to travel back to the Philippines many years ago, I would stay with my aunt in Malabon or cousins in Quezon City. Those visits were typically short in duration so I did not mind that my movement around the city was restricted. But now that I am semi-retired, I like to stay longer: to reconnect with a large extended family and to explore the city I used to know. My stay coincides with winter in the Midwest when temperatures get stuck in varying freezing degrees for days. In contrast, temperatures in Manila, from December until February, are usually in the mid to high 70s. And humidity is mostly absent.
I heard about Airbnb through an article in the Los Angeles Times and decided to try it out three years ago. I have been using the service since then and I have been a satisfied customer, except for some glitches here and there (see details below). I even booked a condo in Taipei last year. So far, I am hooked.
If you have not heard of Airbnb, then you have not been roaming the Internet highways. It is basically a service that allows owners to put their condos, houses or even rooms for rent on the Internet. For a fee, Airbnb provides the website and the collection agency that pair a renter with a landlord. Typical stay is short and the service is used by those who are on vacation or even on business trips.
Signing up is easy, but finding an ideal place to stay can be difficult, especially if you are unfamiliar with the city or country. Metro Manila is dense and consists of several cities that flow from one to another without possibly understanding where the boundaries are.
Since it was my first attempt, I made a list of several condos in the Manila area and asked my niece to check them out for me. I eventually picked a condo along Shaw Boulevard with very easy access to MRT Shaw station and two humongous malls.
The following year I tried to be more adventurous and made some blunders along the way.
I booked a two-week stay at one of the SM condos in Quezon City and ended up abandoning it after two days. There was a condo tower being built next to my balcony and the construction was 24×7. I did not get all a full refund so I will certainly not go back there.
Then I booked a condo in the Robinsons-Magnolia area in Quezon City. The condo is high-end and next to a mall. As an added bonus, it is within walking distance of an LRT station that connects to the Cubao MRT. But several condo towers were being built close to each other that phone and internet receptions were pretty spotty during the day. The other condos were so close that you could literally call out to the construction workers in the adjacent building. I kept the curtains closed the entire time I was there.
Next I booked a two-bedroom house only two miles away. The house was fenced in but the kitchen was very primitive. Its close proximity to other houses made the noise at night from barking dogs difficult to handle. Probably an inexpensive place for a group to stay but not for a woman travelling alone.
Views from condos in Quezon City (on a smoggy/clear days)
So I am hoping that my third year with Airbnb will be much smoother and it is. Now that I know where to stay. I still made minor mistakes. Not quite about the location but on the details of renting. Will they clean the place after a week? Do they have a stove? The first needs to be negotiated with the owner; the second can be deduced from the list of amenities or pictures. My first landlord this year wanted extra money for replacement beddings and towels even though I booked an extra week; my Makati condo is cleaned and beddings/towels changed every week.
There is also the question of space. I stayed at SM Light condo this year and the space is really tight. Imagine a dorm room for one student. I was told by relatives that most SM condos are very small — fitting more than two occupants is not really an option. Its close proximity to EDSA also comes with the traffic noise. I was on the 29th floor but I could still hear the trains and the occasional bus horn blaring. I think that I will look for one facing the swimming pools and higher than 20 stories, at least, if I go back.
The condo I might add is in prime location: direct access to Boni Metro, one station away to Shang-rila and SM Mega Malls, 2 floors of restaurants and one movie theatre.
View from SM Light towards EDSA(left); SM Jazz towards Buendia
Where to book?
The decision on which condo to select depends on what a person needs. Does one need to be close to transportation, like I do? Traffic is notoriously difficult in Manila and becomes impossible during December when Filipinos who live abroad come back for their annual vacation. Uber and Grab are available but fares triple during rush-hour, which can be anytime nowadays. The trains are the fastest way to get around the city, and the easiest, if they are running on full schedule. The trains have been hobbled with problems this year.
High-end or low-end?
The choices are many — from very simple, small condos to ones that are quite roomy and upscale. And you can find them along EDSA or a bit further out to BGC or Taguig, where the rent starts at $60 a day. I even stayed at SM Jazz in Makati when my Quezon City condo did not work out. So it is not just the condo itself that affects your decision, you have to choose your particular location. Quezon City to the north is densely populated and has poorer neighborhoods while Makati to the south has more affluent neighborhoods.
I tend to go middle-of-the-road. I pay around $30 a day for a nice condo along the MRT/EDSA route and I get the benefits of many transportation and shopping choices.
Although I might take the plunge and rent a BGC condo next year. I love the Bonifacio High Street area and I imagine myself walking there every morning, stopping for a cup of coffee and taking pictures.
West of Makati condo, plane landing towards Laguna Bay; Bonifacio High Street, Finance Centre, BGC.
When to book?
Getting any available condos the last two weeks of December becomes difficult if you do not plan in advance. I usually book those days no later than September.
Is Airbnb for you?
If you are retired and on a tight budget, staying in an Airbnb condo is not exactly cheap. As I mentioned, rent runs from $27-60/day, depending on the location and type of condo. Still, the cost is much cheaper than a hotel stay. Plus you can cook your meals, further saving you money.
Someone mentioned pension houses but I passed them by in the Cebu area. As a woman travelling alone, I don’t think I would like to stay in one.
So unless you are willing to share a room with your niece or nephew, may be this year is the time to try Airbnb.