It’s a pity that Manila is often disparaged, as there’s actually much to like about the city. All the adjectives often associated with the Philippines – jovial, laid-back, passionate, casual, corrupt, shambolic, earnest – are on manifested here more than anywhere else in the country.
Manila can be a very discombobulated place – being a collection of towns with no definable centre – but if you focus on enjoying each of its individual areas, you will start to get a feel for the greater Manila, which is a very charming city indeed.
A city rich in history, Manila is home to many notable monuments and post-war relics. Take a trip to the San Agustin Church [Santa Potencia, Intramuros, Manila], which is one of four churches in the country designated as World Heritage sites by UNESCO. This baroque church features the classic European church design fused with local construction techniques and decorations. Manila’s Spanish heritage and influence is evident in the old quarters of the city, most notably in Intramuros. Built by the Spaniards in the 16th century, it is the oldest district in Metro Manila. Visit Fort Santiago, where the national hero Jose Rizal, spent his last day before his execution.
Manila also offers an insight into World War II and its horrible aftermath. The 615,000 square-metre Manila American Cemetery and Memorial [Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, Manila], contains the remains of 17,000 US soldiers who died in the war. The embattled island of Corregidor has stood through several wars, occupied by the Spanish, Japanese, and the Americans. It is now a popular tourist destination, where tourists can witness audio-visual presentations of the events which unfolded on Corregidor as they walk through the Malinta Tunnel.
Taking a break from the war memorials, travellers can enjoy the best nature has to offer – Pagsanjan Falls [Pagsanjan, Laguna, Manila]. One of the most popular waterfalls in Philippines, it is a magnet for tourists. The base of the waterfall allows for a great swimming and diving experience. Or stop by the Philippines’ first state-of-the-art Oceanarium, Manila Ocean Park [Behind the Quirino Grandstand Luneta, Manila], which is also one of Asia’s largest aquariums.
SHOP TILL YOU DROP
Without question, Manila is the best place for shopping in the Philippines, with Makati being the best shoppers’ haunt. The Ayala Centre [Ayala Avenue corner, Makati Avenue,
Makati City, Manila] is an elite recreational, shopping, dining and entertainment development in the heart of Metro Manila.
Head down to Glorietta [Ayala Triangle, Ayala Avenue, Makati City, Manila], divided into five sections, boasting shops, restaurants, cinemas, gyms and arcades. It is linked to the higher-end, neighbouring shopping complex Greenbelt [Ayala Triangle, Ayala Avenue, Makati City, Manila], with a host of high-end retail options – from Massimo Dutti to Sergio Rossi, discerning shoppers will be spoilt for choice.
Built on the site of a former thermal plant, The Rockwell Centre [Amorsolo Drive, Poblacion, Makati City, Manila] taps on the “city within a city” concept. The mall incorporates a mix of international and local brands, which includes lifestyle retailers, signature mini-anchors, themed restaurants and state-of-the-art cinemas. This is where Manila’s jet set goes to shop.
When the sun sets, Manila’s city lights bring about a lively social vibe. The streets of the city are dotted with bars, clubs, lounges and casinos. In vogue at the moment is the Fort Bonifacio area; an ultra-chic development that was once a United States military base.
This is where Filipino high society converges to soak in the exciting atmosphere and partake in lavish revelry. The Embassy nightclub [Unit D, Fort Bonifacio Global City, Manila] is the place to rub shoulders with stylish urbanites and trendsetters. For a bit of raw energy, Bed [Maria Orosa and Julio Nakpil Streets, Malate, Manila] draws huge and diverse crowd for its rave-style music.
For something less chi-chi and a little more gritty, take a stroll down Roxas Boulevard. It offers a more earthy mix of live music, street food, and karaoke bars. Most notable is Bedrock [1782 Adriatico Street, Malate, Manila], which features a solid line-up of live hip-hop and pop-rock acts. The famed rock kingmaker – 70s Bistro [46 Anonas St., Project 2 Quezon City, Manila] – known for acting as a springboard for the country’s rock groups – regularly plays host to the top names in Philippine’s folk-rock scene, such as The Jerks, Noel Cabangon, Joey Ayala, Gary Granada, Asin , Kamikaze, Cooky Chua, Pinikpikan, and Tropical Depression.
If your idea of a night out involves cards and slot machines, then Manila, with its world-class casinos, will be right up your alley. Usually located within hotels, the most notable casinos are the Hyatt Hotel and Casino [M.H. Del Pilar, Malate, Manila], the Waterfront Pavilion Hotel & Casino [United Nations Avenue Corner Maria Orosa Street, Ermita, Manila], and the Heritage Hotel Manila [Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue, Pasay, Manila].
As far as luxury accommodation goes, business travellers and affluent tourists prefer the upscale Makati district. Here, an assortment of big-name hotel chains have established their roots in the city – often offering rooms for cheaper than elsewhere in the world. Just twenty minutes from the international airport, the Makati Shangri-La Hotel [Ayala Avenue corner, Makati Avenue,
Makati City, Manila] provides business and leisure travellers with spacious accommodation and exceptional restaurants. The Peninsula Manila [Ayala Avenue, Urdaneta, Makati City, Manila], which prides itself as being the “Jewel in the Capital’s Crown” needs no introduction – it is undoubtedly the hotel of choice for Manila’s rich and famous. For those drawn to the appeal of a boutique hotel, the colonial-inspired Herald Suites [2168 Don Chino Roces Avenue, Makati City, Manila] offers an elegant and distinctively Old World charm that cannot be found in any big hotel chains. The hotel is a perfect blend of grand decor, quality service with the signature traditional Philippine hospitality and graciousness.