Sunday, February 19, 2006


The lure of experiencing folk art on wheels and hours of retail therapy in Manila’s malls has got to you. A visit to the Pearl of the Orient is high on your agenda of places to experience. If you are from but a small handful of countries (check here for a list of allowed countries) it is as easy as easy can be.

You can visit the Philippines for 21 days without a visa as long as you have a ticket to somewhere else when you arrive and your passport is valid for more than 6 months after your departure. If you want to stay longer, you can extend your visa up to 59 days when you are here at the Bureau of Immigration or you can get a 59 day visa from a Philippine consulate or embassy before you leave home. This visa, a 9a tourist visa, is good for entry up to 90 days after being issued and your 59 days start from day of entry.

You can continue to extend your visa for up to a year then you will have to leave, if only for 24 hours, and then you can start the process all over again. Like most travelers in the 21st Century, you will get to experience either of 2 of the 3 terminals at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

If you are flying with PAL, Philippine Airlines, you will experience the delights of Terminal 2. This terminal is for the exclusive use of PAL international and domestic flights. It is a 7-year old glass and steel structure that operates reasonably efficiently, although my direct experience is limited to the domestic side of its operations, which I found to be on a par with domestic terminals in Australia.

All other international flights will use Terminal 1. Terminal 3 is in a state of limbo and has been for some time as the Philippine Government squabbles with the builders and operators of this new terminal over numerous contractual disputes. The latest dispute went through the appeals process of the Philippines Supreme Court and is currently before the World Bank's International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes. When Terminal 3 will actually see passengers grace its fair halls is anybody’s guess as opening dates keep getting pushed into the future.

The kindest things that can be said about Terminal 1 are that it is old, its capacity has been out grown and due to its imminent replacement not much has been done to rectify its problems. Consequently when 2 or 3 international carriers arrive at the same time, be prepared for a long wait at immigration as 600 to 900 people are processed. If yours is the only carrier to arrive the process can be quick. I once got through immigration, baggage collection and customs and was out on the street in 25 minutes.

Before you get to immigration you will go through a SARS inspection which is not as bad as it sounds. As you leave the concourse from your entry gate you will pass what looks like a video camera that checks for high body temperatures and take a few steps on a disinfected mat. Then it’s on to the immigration queue after passing your last chance duty free shops.

From my experience of international travel it seems a truism that the longer you spend waiting at immigration the less time you spend waiting at the luggage carousel. I have yet to have my baggage arrive at the carousel before me in the USA, Australia or the Philippines.

Once you have been reunited with your baggage it’s a short walk to customs where baggage and baggage claim tickets are checked along with your customs clearance form. If you have nothing to declare and don’t raise their suspicions, it’s off the exit door. Here your stamped customs clearance form will be collected and you are free to go.

At NAIA Terminal 1 you exit into an under populated arrival hall. A few people will be hanging about with the mandatory name on a sign; this is the Claytons arrival hall and the last of the aircon. A few steps and you will be outside, smokers can at long last light up, you will notice that there was aircon inside and you are just a short walk from the Philippines.

Cross a quiet road to the entrance to the ramps that will take you to the real arrival hall. A few meters in and you will be offered the choice of a ramp to right and a ramp to the left. At the end of these ramps is a covered area with the letters of the alphabet hanging over head, A to the right, Z to the left. Across a busy roadway is a second waiting area with corresponding letters that is teeming with Filipinos awaiting the arrival of loved ones and friends. It is advisable, if you are being met, to stand under a pre-arranged letter because as everyone knows, all Kanos look the same.

It is here that you will also come face to face with the Filipino economy in the form of fixers. Whilst waiting for your welcoming party, yep there will be more than one person, ever so friendly touts will offer to arrange a taxi, accommodation or anything else your heart desires for ever so small a gratuity, especially if it is in dollars.

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