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5 Must Do Things in Manila

PHILIPPINES | Thursday, 11 August 2011 | Views [13806]

Parties in the Philippines ain't complete without lots of food and booze!

Parties in the Philippines ain't complete without lots of food and booze!

5 Must Do Things in Manila

When Filipinos say come to Manila, we really mean come to Metro Manila, the term for the bustling megacity of 16 cities and 1 municipality that serves as our capitol region. 

Being the most populous area in the Philippines, and the 11th most populous metropolitan area in the world, you can expect that there is a lot to do here. The best approach to enjoying Manila isn’t to let it shock or astound you – it is to take a few days to just let it soak into you and absorb the atmospher


e. It’s also a great way to begin your journey through the Philippines, as it provides a good introduction to the rest of the country, while being urbanized enough to allow visitors to transition fairly comfortably.

1.        Eat

Filipinos love food, and whatever your income class, you can find something here. Restaurants and food carts pop up everywhere. Instead of recommending some specific ones, let’s start with some areas.

Filipino street food may not be as famous as Singapore’s or Thailand’s, but it’s just as good. One major problem is hygiene, which can be circumvented by buying such food only in malls. Some street food items are also served by more traditional restaurants. This article gives a full list of them, http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php?title=Philippine_street_food, but some particularly common and popular ones are pork and chicken barbecue (try some at Aristocrat Restaurant http://www.aristocrat.com.ph/, with its famous peanut-based “java” sauce); banana cue, fishballs and squidballs, and kikiam. For the adventurous, go for betamax (dried chicken blood that is grilled), kwek-kwek (deep-fried quail or chicken eggs), or adidas (grilled chicken feet). Or, of course, the now-famous balut (boiled fertilized duck eggs), popularized by shows such as Fear Factor and the Amazing Race.

Chinese food may be common the world over, but each region has its specialty. This is no less true than for our very own Chinatown. I’ve sampled food in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, and I can honestly say that our food here is different. For a treat, head over to Binondo, the oldest Chinatown in the world. Good restaurants to try are Wai Ying (white chicken in ginger sauce and the hakaw or shrimp dumplings are a must) and Lanzhou La Mien (pretty much any noodle dish is excellent), both known for their large servings at relatively low prices. They can both be found side-by-side on Benavidez Street, so be sure to pace yourselves before you burst!  

For those willing to spend, we have several high-end buffets to offer you. There’s Spiral at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila; entrance costs upwards of Php2000 (around 50 dollars), but the variety is worth it. You can sample dishes such as the Philippines’ own kare-kare (oxtail and tripe in peanut stew) or prawn sinigang (prawns and vegetables in sour soup), to Asian dishes like beef bulgogi, tandoori lamb and chicken teriyaki, to Western delights such as steak, wood-fired pizza and plenty of pasta. Other notable buffets are Circles in the Makati Shangri-La; Heat in the EDSA Shangri-La; Yakimix, which offers both prepared food and food which you can grill at your table; and the newly-opened Vikings buffet near SM Mall of Asia, which offers almost as wide a variety as Spiral for less than half the cost.

For those who want variety of choice and a lower bill, try the food markets. These are a collection of food stalls that offer anything from pizza and pasta to Filipino street food to hotdogs to tacos. There’s Branchetto in the Ortigas area, and Mercato Centrale in the Bonifacio Global City. I’ve heard the featured booths change from time to time, so Google before you go.

For a special kind of treat, also try to eat dampa style. These are rows of restaurants wherein one can buy fresh seafood right outside, then proceed to a restaurant and have them cooked. You can specify the cooking style. There are several areas with clusters of these restaurants, and it’s one of those experiences that is very Filipino.

2.        Shop (or at least window shop)

I’ve been to malls in Los Angeles, and I can say that while they’re good, they’re not quite as complete as Philippine malls. In my experience, few American malls have bowling alleys, billiard rooms, cinemas, dance clubs, skating rinks, museums, wall climbing and laser tag facilities, small theme parks, concert grounds and even adjoining hotels in one shopping center.

In 2007, Forbes listed the 10 largest malls in the world. Three of them can be found in Metro Manila – SM North EDSA, SM Megamall, and SM Mall of Asia. All three of them are also belong to the same chain: SM Supermalls. To think that this empire started from a humble shoe store.

Enough of the history lesson, though. Suffice to say that if you’re in dire need of supplies, or are just finding the weather oppressive, a trip to one of these malls is just the thing. Even if you don’t actually buy anything, you will find yourself highly entertained.

For those who want to really mix with the locals, why not head for one of the market districts in Manila? You can find wet markets for fresh meat and vegetables, or dry markets which sell everything from cloth to trinkets. Haggling is the norm on these areas, and if you strike up a friendship with a stall owner you can become suki, or a loyal customer, and enjoy discounts, freebies and other favors. Of course, not everything sold in these areas is strictly legal (such as pirated DVDs) or of the best quality (such as fake designer shoes and bags). But you can find surprisingly good deals if you look hard enough.

Do beware that the large crowds can become suffocating, and hold on to your valuables! Many an unwary shopper has suddenly found themselves a wallet lighter. If you’re ready to take the plunge, the Divisoria district in Manila is the perfect stop for you.

There are also numerous other malls and shopping areas around the metropolis that fall in size between the two extremes listed above. One thing is for sure – you can buy almost anything you need in Manila.

3.        Learn

Some travelers use Manila simply as a station on to more “interesting” or “untouched” areas in the Philippines. Yet, Manila has some hidden gems of its own.

Intramuros, the Walled City, is probably the only area left in Manila that you can visit to get the old Spanish-era feel. It does make a good substitute for Vigan, which is an 8-hour drive to the north. The Church of San Agustin (one of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines on the UNESCO World Heritage List) was completed in 1607 and is the oldest church in the Philippines. Sadly, it is virtually the only structure that survived World War II, and its history makes it a popular choice for weddings.

Luckily, Intramuros was restored after the war and still retains its Spanish feel. The remnants of Fort Santiago, where national hero Jose Rizal was once imprisoned, serve as a museum and shrine. Calesa (horse-drawn carriage) rides are a popular way to explore the area, as are the walking tours by Carlos Celdran http://celdrantours.blogspot.com/. Another must-see is the Bahay Tsinoy Museum, which celebrates Chinese-Filipino history. The emphasis is on the word “Filipino” as the noun; the organization behind it, the Kaisa Heritage Foundation, firmly believes that the Chinese-Filipinos in the Philippines have a duty to treat the Philippines as their home. The museum gives a great view of the Chinese-Filipino contributions to the Philippines, and also gives great snapshots of some of the most interesting parts of Philippine history.

Unfortunately, a lot of the other educational spots in Manila aren’t quite as good as their foreign counterparts. Manila Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in Asia, but it has definitely seen better days. Manila Ocean Park is decent, has some nice exhibits, and has a nice little fish spa where fish can nibble at your feet; however, it is outclassed by the aquarium in Hong Kong.

The Ayala Museum is more well-maintained, and has good art exhibits. There are also dioramas on Philippine history. Watch out for special events and exhibits. As an added bonus, the museum is right beside the sprawling Greenbelt complex, and is very near the Glorietta malls.

History buffs will appreciate a trip to the Philippine National Museum. I’ve been there once, and the exhibits are decently arranged and very educational.

For a more exciting field trip, take a cruise over to Corregidor Island. It’s about two hours away, and features cannons, old army buildings, the somewhat creepy Malinta tunnel, and even an aviary and park. Visitors can choose to take a day tour or stay the night; the only downside is that you pretty much have to book a tour just to get on the ferry and visit. However, the island’s history does make it worthy of spending a few extra bucks; its location means that it has played a significant role in many battles. The Battle of Corregidor in World War II was probably what spelled doom for the Philippines’ defenders, and what gave the Japanese the final push they needed to subjugate the Philippines. Add in the ruins on the island, and you can see why the place is a favorite of ghost hunters.

4.        Gimik

Gimik in Philippine English has evolved to mea

n a doing fun things with friends. It usually means going out and partying on a weekend, but really, it can be used for any activity that one shares with their barkada or group of close friends.

Still, the most common gimiks involve meeting up for dinner and drinks, and maybe dancing. It isn’t terribly difficult to find establishments in Manila that stay open until dawn, so young Filipinos don’t have to wait until their parents are out of town to party the night away.

If you are the dancing type, the best party hotspots are in Resorts World (the renowned Republiq and the even pricier Opus); the Bonifacio Global City, A.Venue in Makati, and Eastwood. There is normally a door charge, but if you know a promoter, you can get yourself on the guest list and come in for free. As always, come early to ensure you can get in; dress appropriately (clubs here usually have a strict dress code) and bring enough money (bills are often settled in cash, and club drinks can be pricey).

For those who just want to kick back and relax, there are tons of bars everywhere. You’ll usually find many establishments clustered together; ask your friends and they’ll happily point out the ones near you. Some have pool tables to go along with the drinks, but most just offer tables and loud music. Groups usually order beer by the bucket and cocktails by the pitcher, and they throw in some pulutan to munch on. Pulutan is food, usually finger food, eaten while drinking to help the group last longer before getting drunk. Its other purpose is to prolong the night so friends can catch up for longer.

If you do find yourself finishing late into the night, take precautions when going home. If you’re coming from a posh location like Resorts World, your best bet is to take a cab. There have been horror stories of cabbies attempting to kidnap their passengers or otherwise acting strangely, so ask a friend to accompany you. If coming from most other areas, you can easily catch a jeepney even late at night; just make sure to tell the driver clearly where you’re going to get off. For shorter distances, take a tricycle instead. If you’re really not feeling up to it, crawl on over to a nearby coffee shop, convenience store or fast food joint to sober up; most establishments will happily let you and sober up stay as long as you buy a drink or a snack first.

5. Relax

After all the tiring activity, take some time to just rest and stroll around. Admittedly, Manila is a bustling, crowded city, but relaxation can be found.

While some spas are actually just covers for paid sex, there are also many reputable ones that offer clean facilities and talented masseurs. Do some quick research on Google to find one near you, if your hotel does not have one.

There are also some nice outdoor hangout spots – Rizal Park, named after our national hero, boasts a Chinese garden, a Japanese garden, an orchidarium and butterfly pavilion, and monuments to heroes Jose Rizal and Lapu-Lapu. You can find many hawkers and food stands, and you can watch martial artists practicing their craft. There’s also an open field across the park that is ideal for kite flying and picnicking.

The park is also very near Manila Ocean Park and Manila Bay. The latter stretches out over a long portion of the city; the best spots to hang around are at Manila Ocean Park itself, which offers a gorgeous sunset view; the Harbor Square area just across the Cultural Center of the Philippines; and the bayside area beside SM Mall of Asia, which includes numerous establishments and attractions such as a small zipline.

Farther up north is the La Mesa Ecopark in Quezon City. It includes a saltwater swimming pool, fishing wharf, biking and hiking trails, picnic grounds, paintball field and boating areas. It’s a great place to spend a free afternoon farther away from the hustle and bustle of the city center.

Manila may not have the most unique breathtaking sights, extreme activities or the most exotic experiences, but it does have its own unique charm and identity. You will not regret at least spending a night here; and who knows, it may charm you enough to stay longer.  

Tags: #blogyourbackyard


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