Metro Manila is a psychedelic kaleidoscope of sights and sounds—colourful speeding jeepneys, gigantic billboards, and always-switched-on karaoke machines. Our Travel 3Sixty local heads home to help you find your way around the metropolis and make the most of your stay in the Philippine capital.
Words & Photography: Abby Yao
For most travellers, Manila is a mere gateway to the stunning islands of the world’s second largest archipelago (yes, everyone knows we’ve got Boracay and the Palawan islands). Many visitors go no further than the requisite tour of the colonial-era walled city Intramuros in old Manila and the cruise to the rocky fortress of Corregidor Island off Manila Bay.
But there’s more to this metropolis of 12 million (22 million including the suburbs) than the usual tourist trail suggests. In the past few years, lifestyle spaces have mushroomed all over the city, just waiting to be discovered. Hang out and see how fascinating Manila can be if you know where to go.
The Greenbelt complex in the Makati business district has long been the de facto shopping and dining place on most travellers’ itineraries because of its proximity to hotels. Feeling the need to stretch your legs some more? Bonifacio Global City or BGC, a short ride away, brings equally classy experiences.
Walking from east to west in BGC, you will find Serendra, Bonifacio High Street, The Fort, and Burgos Circle—each of them with dozens of upscale retail outlets and restaurants, including several places offering excellent Filipino fare with some of the best bars and clubs in town. Further south are the striking curves of SM Aura Premier, the SM supermall group’s latest foray into the high-end market.
Watch you want
The Philippines exports singers and bands to perform all over the world, and a stop in Manila is not complete without some live entertainment. A number of companies stage world-class musical theatre productions in English, so it pays to check listings.
The cosmopolitan Newport Mall at Resorts World Manila is home to the state-of-the-art Newport Performing Arts Theater (where no seat is too far away from the stage) and Newport Cinemas, as well as the legendary nightspots Opus and Republiq. Best of all, Newport Mall is adjacent to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport complex.
For a truly local flavour, come to Mabuhay Restop Travel Café and Museum after your Rizal Park photo op. The restaurant has a dinner show featuring Filipino songs, cultural dances, and a buffet of island specialties on Saturdays. It also carries products of social enterprises supporting the Gawad Kalinga community development movement.
Thanks to the 24-hour business process outsourcing (BPO) offices, late-night food markets are on the rise. Night owls flock to the different sites of Banchetto or Mercato Centrale and its spin-offs Mezza Norte and Levanté, where street food grilled on-site meets rare gourmet delights. Isaw (chicken intestines) with your Spanish rice dish Paella Valenciana? No problem. Just don’t forget to look up the schedules to avoid disappointment.
Taking cue from the recent food truck phenomenon in the United States, the food-on-wheels trend is a step up from the old Burger Machine mobiles that stayed open until late and the Jollijeep stalls catering to Makati office workers. And it’s not just about individual trucks—the Philippines’ first food truck market Cucina Andare rolls into Glorietta 3 Park every weekend.
Art for urbanites
A haven for indie musicians and emerging artists, The Collective is synonymous with hip subcultures. There is an eclectic assortment in store: fixed gear bikes, ukuleles and everything from designer shoes to organic chili sauce.
RONAC Art Center is a great stopover after bargaining for cheap finds in Greenhills Shopping Center. RONAC is unusual for its distinctive façade and unique set of retailers—an art gallery, a mattress showroom, cafes, streetwear and sportswear stores, and a basketball court-cum-events venue.
Seafood and smorgasbord
For eat-all-you-can lunch and dinner in a fancy setting without the hotel buffet price, Manila is the place to be. Head over to the Mall of Asia Complex for the widest choices. Get your fill of East Asian food at Yakimix, where you can pile up the sushi and grilled specialties to your heart’s content. Vikings and Buffet 101 offer international cuisine on either side of the bayfront, with Filipino delicacies numbering among the 300-plus choices available for patrons. All three of these buffet restaurants have also opened other branches in Metro Manila.
The Manila Bay sunset is an attraction on its own, but the city turns a different persona after dark. On the restaurant row at San Miguel by the Bay, you can watch the sunset (and fireworks every Friday and Saturday at 7pm), have a drink, be entertained by buskers or listen to live bands. Scour the market for the day’s fresh catch and have it cooked any way you like. Imbibe the anything-goes island vibe and you might just find that city life in the tropics suits you just fine.
GETTING THERE Fly to Manila from various destinations via AirAsia Zest. For flight information and the lowest fares, go to www.airasia.com.
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