About Ozy, your tour guide for Manila

Hi, I am Ozy. I’m a regular tournament player in Asia and have been living in the region for 20 years. I lived in Manila for 4 years and return now for the regional poker tournaments. Say hello to me when you see me 🙂

 

 

This guide is copyright but feel free to link back to this page.

 

Worth going to Manila for poker

Easy yes for live tournament players and also an easy yes for live cash game poker players. Manila has many locations where you can play cash games, and various locations that hold tournaments. If you are travelling for a particular tournament series, you will typically find cash games at the same casino and be able to travel a short distance away and find a variety of other cash games to choose from as well. You might like to have a look at my guide on the articles page about Manila for beginner players which also explains the cash game locations.

 

About Manila, Philippines

Manila is a sprawling city, and something of a typical south east Asian big metropolis. It is the capital city of the Philippines and is actually a metropolis made up of many cities, of which Manila City is one. The different cities have different names, however, when you are in the city it just appears like one large city and when you travel between the politically zoned cities you don’t really know you are entering a new city. It is more of a political division. The Philippines is a democracy with corruption and has in terms of development, sections which are highly developed such as, in Manila, Makati and BGC, and it has sections which are severely underdeveloped including slums. When you travel to Manila for poker, you will mostly be in the entertainment city area which is near the airport, but you might find yourself travelling to Makati for example, which is the developed business district.

The culture of Manila is somewhat mixed, and a blend of eastern and western. The western influence comes from many years of occupation by western powers, and also the introduction of Catholicism, hundreds of years ago by the Spanish, which is still the prevalent religion in the country. The striking thing about Manila is how widely English is spoken to compared to most other, but not all other Asian cities, so communication is easy and a pleasure.

 

Visas for the Philippines

At the time of writing, most poker player countries will have a visa waiver (not need to prepare a visa), and can stay either 15 or 30 days. However, some poker player countries, including China (and Taiwan) and Iran will need to apply for a visa. See Wikipedia Visa policy of the Philippines.

 

How to get to Manila

The Philippines is an archipelago of thousands of islands and you can fly into Manila from all major airports around the world. It has a large international airport (Ninoy Aquino International Airport, NAIA) with four different terminals. The airport itself is quite central in the city and quite close to the entertainment city where most of casinos are.

 

Airport to your accommodation

How you get out of the airport to go to where you are staying will depend on where you are staying. There are two major poker destinations that most visitors are playing at, the first is called Resorts World, and the second casino is called Okada. However, there are other major casinos which you might be playing at as well. Solaire is famous for live cash game poker, and there are new casinos still under construction.
Warning: travel to and from the airport will depend on which Terminal you are using, so not this from your flight itinerary.

 

From the airport to Resorts World

Resorts World is actually like a small village amidst the huge city; it is a highly developed area for tourists and travelers and big spenders packed in with five and four star hotels, restaurants, a casino, and some shopping facilities and it is right next to Terminal 3 of the airport. In fact, there is a walkway, called The Runway, going from one of the airport terminals directly into the Resorts World area. Alternatively, because you will probably have luggage you could take a metered taxi or an airport taxi available at the airport terminal, or you could use Grab, and get a private car. That will be a two-minute drive, two to ten-minute drive, depending on the traffic conditions because there is a freeway separating the airport from the Resort’s World area. When you go near the taxi area, there will be lots of private cars trying to rent their services out. The taxi will normally cost you about a 100 peso, but if you use the private car, you might pay 200 peso or 300 pesos for a short trip, it is up to you; or just walk across, over the Runway, weather pending. If you happen to land at a different terminal, which is unlikely, then you probably need to take a taxi or a Grab or hire a car to get to your hotel in the Resorts World area.

 

 

Airport to Okada

Okada Casino is closer to Manila Bay, it is about a ten to fifteen-minute drive from most of the airport terminals, so you would probably want to get a taxi or a Grab to your hotel, which is likely to be near Okada. There might be a shuttle bus going to Okada as well, but you will have to check the times on the Okada website about that.

 

 

Airport to Makati

Many players chose to stay in Makati because they have friends there or because they are doing some business in Manila as well in which case you probably need to get a taxi or private hire car. The trip takes between ten and thirty minutes, depending on the traffic. My advice is to book a flight that lands in a non-peak period, so that you can avoid all traffic no matter where you are going, for example, landing on Sundays, there will be no traffic. Landing on Saturday afternoons is a little bit better. The times to avoid are Monday to Friday from 4pm till about 9pm, that is when the traffic is the worst, and it is quite frustrating after a long-haul flight to be stuck in traffic for an hour, when all you want is a hot shower.

 

 

Traffic in Manila

The traffic on the road to Manila is horrendous, one of the worst in the world. It can literally be faster to walk some places with the traffic sometimes crawling at 2km to 3km per hour so do not think that you are going to be able to get around Manila and see lots of things just before or after poker. There is no solid public transport infrastructure that you will be able to use if you are not familiar with the city already, and you will be relying mostly on taxis and grab. The times that you can get around a bit easier are Sundays, some parts of Saturdays, very late at night after 10pm, and very early in the morning as well, before 6am. Manila is not a walking city, there is very few places in Manila where you can walk comfortably (except the developed places like Makati and BGC), because of all the traffic, air pollution and lack of pavements. However, the newly built entertainment city area if you are playing at Okada or Solaire or City of Dreams is walkable and does have large pavements, and the pollution is not too bad, because it takes fresh winds from Manila Bay.

 

 

Where to stay in Manila to play poker

Manila does have many hotel and AirBnB options. You can checkout Agoda or Booking.com to find out those hotels. You might be able to stitch up a deal with the poker tour host to get a better deal at the actual casino where you are staying, in conjunction with playing the tournament series. The casinos themselves of course have attached hotels but these are the more expensive ones, but they are very convenient, and the quality is generally quite good. However, there are lots of Airbnb choices as well if you are staying for a bit longer and have a smaller budget.

At Resorts World, you could try any one of the number of hotels in the area, all walking distance to the Resorts World casino. You could also try Airbnb because there are literally hundreds of condominium rooms in the vicinities that rent out. The Airbnb rooms go from anywhere from US$20 to US$50 a night, and generally come complete with everything you need, with good English skills, the hosts are very easy to communicate with and they are used to people coming for gambling at the casino of course. If you are playing mostly in the entertainment city, either at Solaire, City of Dreams or Okada casinos, there are Airbnb’s in the area, there are some mid-range hotels, although I have not heard of any that are particularly popular with poker players. A short taxi ride away is the famous Mall of Asia (called MOA), a large mall on the Manila Bay and there are many condominiums in that area which do rent out as Airbnb’s as well again for US$20 to US$40 and they offer very good value considering there are swimming pools and gymnasiums and walking distance to a very large convenient mall, that has everything you need – restaurants, cinemas, and food. Of course it sometimes preferable to be a little bit away from the casinos if you are staying longer than a few days. So, check out AirBnb rooms around the Mall of Asia.

 

Getting around Manila: Walk, Taxi, Grab or Jeepneys

Manila is not a pleasant walking city except for the entertainment area, but there is not especially anything to see, so generally you will be taking taxis. The taxi service – there are plenty of taxis, but the taxi service varies from scary to good. The quality of the cars can be very old and rickety, some of them are brand new Toyota’s and Honda’s, so you might want to pick the car. They are all manual gears and tend to jolt around a lot, especially on the badly maintained roads. The cost of the taxis is very cheap however, with a ride typically being from US$1 or US$2 up to US$5, so I guess you get what you pay for. A lot of taxi drivers in Manila
will try and have a flat fare especially with foreigners so when you open the door or once you sit down, they will say 200 or 300 or 500 which will typically be anything from 50 pesos up to hundreds of pesos more than the metered rate. The taxis are required by law to use the meter, but many drivers skirt this law and try to take advantage of ignorant foreigners. The options are just to not get into those taxis or to ask the taxi to use the meter in which case they might have lied, or they might just drive off. My advice, having lived there for many years, is if a taxi driver shows any abruptness or anger, or just stay away from that taxi all together because it is likely to be a taxi driver with poor driving skills as well and not going to give you an interesting or polite conversation on the drive either. They, in all fairness, they do do very long shifts from 12 to 24 hours, under very poor traffic conditions, so I cannot blame them for being in a grumpy mood. So, search for a taxi driver that is more obliging. A good negotiation skill is to say meter plus 50 or meter plus 100, in which case they are happy because they are guaranteed a tip of 50 or 100 pesos and you are happy because you are not being completely ripped off either. That normally does the job, lets the driver be happy.

Grab works particularly well in Manila because you will be able to key in the locations, have no communication problem, and you will pay the fare that Grab says and it does not change. However, during busy periods, the Grab fare can be significantly higher than the metered taxi and you might pay instead of for example, a fare that should be 150 pesos, you might pay 300 or 400. Other times the Grab fare is the same or a little bit lower than the metered taxi, depends where you are or what time of day. The other advantage of Grab and why I like them is generally the cars are very new and the drivers are better drivers as well. So, if you are looking for a comfortable drive then definitely take Grab over a taxi. Are the taxis safe? I would say most of the time they are very safe, but you do not want to make a taxi driver angry however, you can run into problems if you make a taxi driver angry. So, stay calm.

 

Airbnb

Airbnb is very common in Manila now and most hosts do an excellent job. Many hosts are local people, and some are foreigners who have also lived or travelled to Philippines extensively and purchased condominiums there. The Airbnb rooms do range in quality a lot from very basic rooms to fully fitted out penthouses, and the posted ads are generally quite honest and accurate about what you are going to get. The advantage of Airbnb rooms over the hotels of course is that you get cooking facilities, refrigeration. It feels more like a home and the rooms typically are a little bit larger than the hotel rooms which can be very small. Also, you might stay in a nice condominium complex with access to a pool and a gym too.

 

Stay near the poker room or not?

Do try and stay near your poker destination in Manila because as mentioned earlier, the traffic is horrendous, and you will not enjoy the trips to go even a 10- or 20-minute trip will not be enjoyable. So, try and stay within walking distance of your poker room.

 

Cash or tournaments in Manila?

Manila is a fantastic poker destination, probably the best poker destination in all of Asia because you have a large variety of cash games and tournaments to choose from. The main locations for playing cash games are Resorts World Casino, Solaire which at the time of writing, had its cash game room closed (but should be reopening soon) and Okada as well has cash games in operations. Other cash games can be found in poker rooms including Masters Poker, Metroclub and GG Poker. You are probably going to go to Manila for a particular poker series and generally there is only one series on at a time in Manila, however you can find daily tournaments and one-off mid-size tournaments. Okada has daily tournaments under Poker stars. Resorts World does not have daily tournaments at all, and City of Dreams does not have daily tournaments. They used to have them because PokerStars Live moved from City of Dreams to Okada in 2019.

There is another card club which is not near the entertainment area of the airport, it is in an area called Pasig which is a 20–60 minute taxi ride away, called Metro Card Club which also has daily tournaments which you might like to check out. Another card room not too far from the casinos is called GG Poker and I believe it is, at the time of writing, they are running daily tournaments, you will have to check out their Facebook or website for more details. Malate is an alternative place to go for cash games, with 2 rooms as of December 2019: Masters and Asia Poker Federation.

 

Poker cash games in Manila

The cash games in Manila run from very small to very large. The smallest ones are 10/20 peso and they can be found mostly at the Masters Poker Club in a place called Malate, which is about a 30 minute cab ride from the casino area, and a very friendly and cozy place with between 3 and 10 tables running. They operate generally from about 4pm onward each day. That room also has larger tables, 25 to 50 peso, or 50 to 100 peso which is like US$1/US$2 and quite often they have larger games as well, 100/200 peso. Most nights they have a medium sized Omaha cash game running too, although that is not at regular starting times. You need to check it out with the managers there. The other places to play small stakes are the Metro card and GG Poker. A new room is just opening in December 2019 in Malate called Asia Poker Federation Poker room.

The casinos, as mentioned already, they have games starting at 25/50 peso and running all the way up to sometimes 200 /500 peso or larger, and if you talk to the regular players at the casinos, they will let you know about larger games that are running as (unclear #0:22:52.4#) operators or private and junket games which can be huge running from up to 1000/2000/5000 peso. This is like US$50/100 /200 kind of games. They are regularly available in Manila as well. The rake in in Manila for cash games is not particularly low and now particularly high, it is in the middle range. There is sometimes the rake is as low as 5%, but typically it is 10% rake and then sometimes an additional 5% for jackpot if it is in the casino or 5% rake with up to 10% for jackpot and the rakes are capped. It depends on each casino thoughz.

 

Bad Bead Jackpots at casinos in Manila

Most of the cash game locations do run a bad beat jackpot which can run over 5 million pesos. Typically, it is between 200000 and a couple million, however. The conditions for winning the bad beat jackpot do depend on the casino house rules. Some of them it is Aces full of 10s, beaten by quads, yet for other casinos it has got to be quads over quads, for example, so check the fine print out if you celebrate.

 

Poker tournaments in Manila

The poker tournaments in Manila are popular and attract poker players from countries all around including South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, China, Japan and Malaysia, as well as locals from within and outside of Manila. Manila is where I learnt to play poker tournaments.

All the larger poker tour do stop at Manila including Asian Poker Tour, World Poker Tour, Poker Stars Live, Asian Poker League and others, and there are daily tournaments and sometimes weekly or monthly special tournaments all around Manila as well. Check out Okada PokerStars Live for daily tournaments and the MetroCard Club for daily and weekly special tournaments and the occasional small stake series with buy-ins of up to US$200 / US$300. The MetroCard Club tends to attract quite large fields, sometimes up to 1000 players as well and it is a well-run establishment. Recently as of late 2019, GG Poker also has regular tournaments.

For a full listing of all tournaments in Asia and Australia, visit pokercalendar.asia.

 

Taxation on poker earnings in the Philippines

Neither for cash games nor tournaments is any tax removed from your winnings when you cash out. If you reside in the Philippines for the purpose of playing poker for work, you may be required to declare your earnings and pay income tax, however, I’ve not met a player who does this.

 

Poker rooms in Manila

The map below shows the main poker rooms in Manila as of 2019. Note that rooms do close down and new ones do open up from time to time.

 

 

Currency and banking

Philippines uses the Philippine peso (PHP) and the second most popular currency although it is not generally used for transactions is the US$. There are ATMs everywhere and most of them accept cards from all over the world and work reliably, however the amount that you can withdraw is typically limited from PHP10 000 to PHP20 000, which is under US$500 and further there is usually a US$5 transaction fee, so do not rely on getting money out of ATMs to pay for your larger buy-ins. You could bring US dollars over and have them changed at the casino or money changers, with the rate varying, depending on where you go. Most of the casinos do not accept credit cards for buy-ins, however the Resort World Casino does accept credit cards for buy-ins, but they charge a 3% fee.

 

Power

All power sockets in Manila provide a standard voltage of 220V with a standard frequency of 60Hz. You can use all your equipment in Manila if the outlet voltage in your own country is between 220V-240V. This is the case in most of Europe, Australia, the United Kingdom and most countries in Africa and Asia.

 

 

Personal safety in Manila

Unfortunately, Manila has a reputation for not being a safe city, and there are many historical reasons for this. In this section I just provide my own experiences. Overall, if you considered all of Manila, I would not consider Manila a safe place, compared to many other cities in Asia or in the world. There is a lot of crime in Manila and there are scams and there are hustlers. However, the locations where you are most likely to be as a poker player are safe and it is rare for any incidents to occur. Those areas would be the airports, the entertainment city, the casinos and the hotels in and around the casinos as well. Makati and BSG, developed areas, you are generally going to be very safe from all kinds of problems. If you are someone who likes to get intoxicated, go off the beaten track, visit karaoke bars, nightclubs or hang out with local people that you do not really know, there is a high chance you are going to encounter problems or scams.

12 Common Travel Scams in the Philippines & How to Avoid Them

The roads in Manila are particularly dangerous because many drivers often do not follow the road rules and the road conditions are quite poor with potholes, lack of pavements, broken traffic signals, things like this, so I would recommend staying off the roads, especially if you are intoxicated. Other things to watch out for in safety is locals inviting you to go places, acting overly friendly towards you – would you like to come with us for dinner? Would you like to come with us to lunch? Would you like to play a home game of cards? These kinds of invitations often are scams and you could be a victim of a nasty, violent crime if you go along, so I would recommend only associating with people that you have a trusted relationship with already.

 

Internet in Manila

The internet in Manila is so-so, you can pick up a sim card which will operate on 4G and has a more or less consistent signal, not fast enough to download movies generally, but fast enough to check emails, use messenger, and make phone calls. It does cut out from time to time. I think Smart is the most reliable network for 4G internet. Some locations will offer Wi-Fi service, some of the poker rooms and hotels, however, these are often slow and intermittent so I would definitely recommend having a 4G prepaid sim card backup to the Wi-Fi offered at the casino, and your hotel or Airbnb room, especially if you need to do work or do communications.

 

Things to do around Manila on your days off from poker

Mall of Asia – The Mall of Asia is a huge mall on Manila Bay and here you can have a relaxing time with thousands of locals who like to go there for chilling out. You will find a cinema, bowling alley, lots of restaurants, shopping, some fun rides along the seashore, things like this.
Malls – There are lots of other malls all over Manila which tend to be common entertainment for locals to escape the heat and enjoy some food and walking around.

 

Nightlife and things to do

Manila is not lacking in the nightlife area. The most famous place is Burgos Street where the many, many different bars and karaoke’s and ladies of the night that you can visit. Another famous area is Edsa entertainment area and certainly you can talk to the local players for other nightlife options. Here are some links that can give you further guidance.

Bar nightlife – Burgos Street in Makati is the go-to place for bars, clubs, dancing, drinking and female companionship. See TripAdvisor.
Karaoke nightlife – Try this guide for Malate and other nightlife areas in Manila.
TripAdvisor – Check out here for all the things you can do around Manila.

 

 

Food and drink in Manila

Manila has various cuisines on offer. The local cuisine is divisive for visitors, some foreigners like it, some do not. It is generally oily and salty and often uses vinegar spice. Do try some of their famous dishes such as adobo chicken and sinigang. In the casinos and entertainment areas, you can get all kinds of overseas food, including Japanese and Italian and American style food. Korean is quite popular too, and the quality of these foods is quite high and fair value for money. There is plenty of fast food available all over Manila, including McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks, and local joints such as Jollybee. One that I like in particular which you might want to try is called Mang Inasal, which is a fast food grilled chicken place which is quite delicious.

 

Eating at night in Manila

You will find that the places where you are playing poker are going to offer you food at the table while you are playing or at a very nearby café or restaurant. You can just ask the other players where they typically eat – there is always food available.

 

Home delivery food service in Manila

Home delivery is available on Grab Food on your phone. There are other delivery services. Some chains that deliver in Mang Inasal, KFC, McDonalds and Kenny Rogers Roasted Chicken.

 

Coffee in Manila

The coffee in the Philippines varies from anything weak and weird to world class, depending on where you go. There are Starbucks all around if that is what you like, you will find that, and the casinos typically have coffee and drinks service at the tables, sometimes it is for free, sometimes you need to play separately and most players seem content with that service. For excellent coffee shops you probably want to take a trip to Makati City or BGC. A lot of people in the Philippines drink 3-in-1 mix which is also widely available.

 

Language

One of the great things about travelling to the Philippines to play poker is that English is widely spoken. At many of the gaming tables, it is the only language that is permitted to be spoken although this rule is often broken. Philippines has many different languages, the national official language is called Tagalog, and in the Manila area Tagalog is spoken widely, as is English. English tends to be the language of education, of much media, and of some politics and law. Depending whether you travel to other places in the Philippines you will find they speak dialects, different from Tagalog, but they still speak English as well. So, you could say that English is the most important language of the country and helps to bring the people together. In the casinos, everyone can speak English and in the poker rooms, everyone can speak English. In your hotel, all the staff will be able to speak English as well. Chinese is spoken here and there, and in the casinos.

 

Weather in Manila

Manila generally has two kinds of weather, very hot and not raining and very hot and raining. So, you do not need cold weather clothes, although there are a couple of months a year where you might wear a jacket. Having said that, sometimes inside the casinos, it can get very chilly because the air conditioners are on strong, so you might want to wear pants and a jacket in the casinos to play and then take off the jacket when you go outside. If you walk around outside a lot, you will probably get sweaty, so consider bringing changes of clothes for that.

 

Massage in Manila

Most of the poker rooms offer a table massage service and there are massage services available in the casinos, in the hotels. At all the touristy areas, there is massage, foot massage, body massage, and oil massage. The body massage tends to be something like Thai massage, a lot of pushing and pulling, it is quite rejuvenating when you are tired, and the oil massage seems to be something like a Swedish massage, which is very relaxing as well. The value for money for the massage in Manila is excellent, with the massage setting you back between US$5 and US$15 for the hour. In various places there are spa sauna massage places, there is a few listed below which you might like to try for a full or half day relaxation.

 

Manila is foreigner friendly

Manila is quite a multi-cultural city and is foreigner friendly. Many of the locals will be interested to talk with you about where you are from and about how long you have been in Manila and the Philippines. Foreigners generally are treated very respectfully and certainly money goes a long way in the Philippines as the tourism industry is quite important for them and attracts some of the best workers.

 

LGBT in Manila

Manila has a thriving LGBT scene and LGBTs should feel no discrimination playing poker and in the casinos.

 

Romance in Manila

The Philippines is somewhat famous for beautiful woman and many Filipino girls and woman are very interested in foreign men, especially white men but also men from all countries around the world. Some of them are shy, some of them are not shy. Also, the Filipino girls are looking for all kinds of different things in a man. Some looking for a fling, some looking for a serious boyfriend, some for marriage, some are just looking for a friendship and the Filipino girls are open to meeting men and flirting in public. In fact, Filipinos are quite flirtatious in general. You can meet woman in nightclubs and you certainly can meet them on the Internet. Just beware there are a lot of gold diggers in Manila, and if you have experience, well that will be very evident to you after one or two meetings or sometimes you will even be asked for money directly on the Internet. Websites you might like to try are www.filipinocupid.com, www.tinder.com and www.dateinasia.com. Good Luck.

 

Drugs in Manila

Alcohol and tobacco are legal and plentiful all over the country. The president recently banned smoking tobacco and cigarettes in public places, however the casinos seem to have made an exception to this law and unfortunately there is still a lot of cigarette smoking in and around the poker areas which can make them quite uncomfortable. You might like to bring a mask. However, this situation is improving. As for other recreational drugs, they certainly are widely available, however you are putting yourself at risk with the authorities, if you involve yourself in illicit recreational drugs and you might find them hard to obtain so you will need to have a local contact. Further, Philippines has many fake recreational drugs which could put your health at serious risk.

 

Smoking cigarettes in Manila

The poker rooms generally don’t allow smoking in the poker area, but they have smoking rooms because you are not allowed generally to smoke outside in the street. The casinos – some do, some don’t allow smoking in and around the poker area, but they will have dedicated smoking rooms right nearby if not, and again, you won’t be allowed to go outside the casino to smoke on the street or the carpark.

 

Nearby countries

The Philippines is very nearby to Taipei in Taiwan where you can go for more poker tournament action, it is also a short trip away from Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam), Hanoi (Vietnam), Phnom Penh in Cambodia, where there is cash games, also it is only a few hours away from a trip to Bangkok for some R&R.

 

Other places to play poker in the Philippines

Manila is the prime location for poker in the Philippines, however there is a poker community in Angela City which is about a one-hour bus ride away. The scene there is much smaller than Manila however sometimes they do host tournaments such as the Asian poker league. There are a few poker rooms in the area with small stakes cash games. The other cities in Manila such as Cebu and Davao do have small poker communities with one or two rooms generally running small stakes games.