Scratch beneath the surface of the chaotic and congested Filipino capital to discover a lively city with plenty to see, do and eat.
A Suite Life
A sanctuary from the chaos that is Manila, the sprawling Makati Shangri-La is undoubtedly one of the best places to stay in the city. Located in the heart of the up-market Makati district – the business and entertainment hub – the hotel is perfectly positioned for tourists and business travellers alike. One of the original five-star properties in Manila, its offering is comprehensive, with shops, beauty salons and no fewer than four restaurants and three bars. Don’t miss the mother of all breakfast buffets at Circles Event Café, which has sections dedicated to Chinese, Western, Japanese, Indian and Filipino cuisines. There’s even a DIY station for making bloody Mary cocktails.
Forget buses and trains – in Manila the “jeepney” is king. As the backbone of the public transport system in the Philippines, these ubiquitous vehicles are a hangover from the jeeps left by American GIs after World War II and no visit to the city is complete without a ride in one. They stop and start according to the whim of their passengers; to hail one, simply make eye contact with the driver and then nod or stretch out your arm. The standard fare is a bargain at eight pesos (about 20 cents). Pass your fare to the driver or their assistant at the front of the jeepney and say “bayad po” (my payment), and “para” (stop) when you want to alight.
Hitting the streets and eating like a local is a must in any Asian city and Manila is no exception. While Filipino food hasn’t achieved the fame of its Southeast Asian neighbours, it’s both tasty and unique. On the challenging end of the scale is the infamous balut (a fertilised duck egg with a nearly developed embryo inside) and isaw (pork or chicken intestines). There’s plenty of palate-friendly fare, too, including the highly popular lechón, or slow-roasted suckling pig. For dessert, indulge in halo-halo, a mixture of shaved ice, evaporated milk, sweet beans, bananas and ice-cream made from purple yam.
If there’s one leisure activity that gets Filipinos going it’s shopping and, in Manila, an array of retail options cater to this national pastime. You can’t go to Metro Manila without visiting one of its malls, 16 of which are in the supermall category, and then there’s the slew of community and lifestyle malls. But at the top of the mall tier is SM Megamall – the largest in the Philippines and third-largest in the world, with some 1200 stores spread over more than 500,000 square metres making it retail heaven.
Manila’s busy, traffic-clogged streets can be a little hard to navigate so opting for a guide will make your experience not only more comfortable but also much more informative. ToursByLocals connects travellers with local guides for bespoke tours and if there’s one walking tour that needs to be on your must-do list, it’s Intramuros. The Walled City was the seat of the Spanish colonial government during the 16th century and this stone citadel has withstood wars, natural disasters and successive waves of colonial invaders. Within its walls are Fort Santiago – which was used as a prisoner-of-war camp by the Japanese during WWII – and San Agustin, the oldest stone church in Manila.