I glanced over the reviews quickly online but then hit the “Book It” button anyways, their warnings unheeded.
“A dirty, run-down place.”
“Outdated and not nice.”
“Way too expensive for what you’re getting.”
Surely these were just westerners or foreign travelers who weren’t used to the conditions in the Philippines , I justified, and were just spoiled or nitpicking when they bashed the Swagman Hotel in Manila.
Boy, was I wrong (and boy, were they right!).
I was actually surprised because:
1) Swagman is an Australian hotel. That is, it has an Australian theme throughout, and was started and owned by Australians. Aussies usually know the meaning of clean and don’t cut corners, like their British mates.
2) Swagman is also iconic in this area and has been around a long time.
In fact, there’s a sister Swagman Hotel up in Angeles City about 60 miles north of Manila. It’s where I first heard of the hotel, but not because of their accommodations or even their restaurant. Instead, Swagmans offered one of the cheapest and best transportation alternatives if you want to get from Manila to Angeles City (where Clark airport is located), or if you were going the other route from Clark to Manila.
For those of you who don’t know, traffic in and around Manila is so horrendous – some of the worst in the world – that that easy 60-mile highway journey could take 1.5 hours if you’re whipping through on a Sunday or late at night, or take 5 hours if you get caught during rush hour, when the whole city snakes to a complete stop.
Taking the bus just plain sucks and a taxi could cost about $65, but Swagman’s offers a van service three times a day between their hotels for only $10.
So, the point is, I booked the van coming to Manila and booked a room at their hotel for about $40 a night (not insignificant here) because I only had two nights to kill before I flew out, so how bad could it be?
They smartly dress up the lobby and front restaurant area to look pretty decent (although one of the ladies working in the lobby gave out a huge belch when I walked in without an ounce of embarrassment!). The restaurant has a confused wooden/Australian/fishing/rock n roll motif with a huge stuffed crocodile, but the people working there are nice enough, although the food itself is way overpriced and really marginal. (For instance, I wouldn’t trust ordering veggies or lettuce here for fear that they’d make me sick.) However, the pizza is the best thing you’ll find on the menu since they make them in a pizza oven right there.
Want to go up to your room? Good luck finding the elevator, as you have to wind back in a maze of mismatched furniture, service closets, and rooms under construction to find it.
But the elevator will take you up to a seven-story complex of rooms on an oval mezzanine surrounding a wide-open courtyard that goes all 70 feet or so from floor to ceiling. It gives it a strange prison cell block feel, and is completely dark and dingy.
Walking in my room I was hit with a blast of mold and mildew, and saw that the room looks more like a $15 flophouse, with graying, ancient sheets, towels that are so old they’re falling apart, an aircon that I’m sure hasn’t been cleaned in forever, and the like.
I was worried about security, but the good news is that even the maids or cleaning staff haven’t
stepped foot in my room in the three days I’ve been here!
Swagman is unexcusably gross and, yes, outdated, run-down, and way too expensive for what you’re getting.
Book the shuttle and then stay somewhere else.