If all you know about Manila are jeepneys rip-roaring on the roads, basketball courts on every street, and karaoke joints on every corner, then you’ve missed out on what this booming megalopolis is all about! Hop on in, fasten your seatbelt, and get schooled on the Big 13 you shouldn’t miss in one of Asia’s most populous yet exciting cities!
Compiled by: Abby Yao
“It’s a jungle out there,” said many who survived the crowds and traffic jams of Metro Manila’s urban sprawl. And yet, like a moth drawn to flame, they keep coming back in droves. Metropolitan Manila, unknown to many, is a shopping mecca, centre of culture and foodie heaven; and those who were fortunate enough to discover Manila in all its splendour have kept it their own little secret…until now.
Make your way through the metro with our top 13 recommendations for the quintessential Manila experience.
OLD IS GOLD
Who needs a carriage ride in Central Park, New York when you can hop on a calesa (horse-drawn carriage) and take a trip down Old Manila’s cobblestone streets to explore the Walled City of Intramuros, established by the Spanish colonisers in the 16th century? Don’t miss San Agustin Church – one of the four Baroque churches inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list — as well as the historic Fort Santiago where national hero Jose Rizal spent his final days.
2. RIZAL PARK
Once an execution site during the Spanish rule, this lively park is now the green lung of the city. Despite its grim past, Rizal Park is where one goes for a pleasant stroll to see the light and sound show, the giant relief map of the Philippines, the National Museum, the nightly dancing fountains, and the iconic Rizal Monument close to the spot where the national hero faced the firing squad.
3. AYALA MUSEUM
In the heart of the Makati CBD, the Ayala Museum is literally a treasure trove of art, culture and history, with dioramas of Philippine history, a regular calendar of art exhibitions and a collection of pre-Hispanic gold that will make your jaw drop.
4. MALL OF ASIA
Why go to many malls when MOA has it all, with a department store, hypermarket, IMAX cinema and Olympic-sized ice skating rink. The complex is also home to the SMX Convention Center, Mall of Asia Arena and San Miguel by the Bay, where you can have seafood dinner while watching the famous Manila Bay sunset.
5. GREENHILLS SHOPPING CENTER
Greenhills has been synonymous with shopping since the 1960’s and has been updated with the 21st century shopper in mind. Bargain hunters shouldn’t miss this one-stop buyer’s paradise with 2,000 stores and stalls offering shoes, clothing, pearls, gadgets, and jewellery. Aside from the tiangge (flea market), there are performance venues and restaurants for every fancy.
6. BONIFACIO GLOBAL CITY
A shiny new district with a cosmopolitan outlook matched by classy lifestyle stores, great nightlife, and a night market for food on weekends, Bonifacio Global City is the fastest growing hotspot in the metropolis. Between Burgos Circle in the east to SM Aura Premier in the west, there are plenty of restaurants, bars and clubs for hanging out. If after-dark drinks and music aren’t for you, find tranquillity by day at the nearby American Cemetery, the United States’ largest World War II cemetery in the world.
A respite from the hustle and bustle of the Makati Central Business District, Greenbelt in Ayala Center boasts world-class shopping and dining choices in a complex of five distinct malls surrounding a park and chapel, making it a popular place for yuppies and expats to meet.
EAT LIKE THE LOCALS
Chicken and pork simmered in soy sauce and vinegar, flavoured with peppercorns and bay leaves, and served with steamed rice – a simple but tasty dish!
Forget the balut. A mainstay in Filipino home cooking, sinigang is a must-try. The sour tamarind broth of this classic dish with your choice of meat, fish or seafood is tempered by vegetables and fish sauce. Variations using miso and guava bring endless possibilities of flavour for the tastebuds.
You can’t go wrong with “mix-mix”, a rainbow-coloured concoction of shaved ice and an assortment of sweet ingredients ranging from toasted glutinous rice, beans, caramelised plantain and jackfruit, sugar palm nuts, coconut sport, jelly, nata de coco, yam, flan, evaporated milk and ice cream.
EVERYONE LOVES ROAD TRIPS!
South of the metropolis, Tagaytay ridge makes a great day trip. Drive past pineapple plantations and fruit stands to gaze at (or climb) the world’s smallest volcano on Taal Lake. Visit the Ilog Maria bee farm, go on a pilgrimage at the lovely chapels, take in the view from the country’s tallest Ferris Wheel, or simply sample the coconut cream pie at Puzzle Mansion.
12. VILLA ESCUDERO
The world went crazy for the amazing waterfall restaurant, an amazing experience all by itself. But there is so much more to the hacienda (estate) than meets the eye. The coconut plantation and resort is a great getaway where one can go bird watching and bamboo rafting on the lake, tour the farm, and see the ethnic and folk dances (weekends and holidays only) to complete your Philippine cultural experience.
13. CORREGIDOR ISLAND
The Rock, as the island is known, owes its colourful and fascinating history to its location at the mouth of Manila Bay. You may not find Nicholas Cage here, but you’ll get tales of pirates, invaders, prisoners and heroes who were all part of Corregidor’s storied past, which includes two important World War II battles. Today, the memorials, the lighthouse and the light-and-sound show are the main draws.
METRO MANILA TRAVEL TIPS
- Expect heavy traffic during rush hour (7am-10am, 5pm-8pm) and avoid taking LRT and MRT trains during this time as they get densely packed.
- Exercise the same precautions as you would any Southeast Asian city. Take care of your belongings, especially on the street and on public transport.
- When riding taxis, insist on using the meter or negotiate the price before boarding the cab.
- For your convenience, bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
- Don’t forget to hydrate and to apply sunscreen.
- Bring an umbrella as protection against the rain during the rainy season between June to November and as a parasol during the drier months from December to May.
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