This week, #DebutDoll Lydia – who is an expat living in Saudi Arabia – gives us her travel guide for the city of Manila.
Manila isn’t usually somewhere on people’s lists of places to go. The Philippines in general might be, but travellers usually whisk through Manila on their way out to the beautiful beaches and forests of other islands. It is worth staying a while though and exploring this intriguing city. In reality Manila is not really just one city, but a sprawling area where several cities have merged. As such Manila is a city of contrasts. There are huge differences between each district – each have their own vibe and atmosphere.
Manila (downtown Manila) is one of the older parts of the city. Much of it was destroyed in WWII so a lot of the buildings are concrete, brutalist structures with little charm. There is also a lot of poverty evident in this area, with people sleeping on the street or in old Jeepneys (large, colourful taxis fashioned from old jeeps). However, what makes it beautiful is the way greenery has forced its way into every available space. Coconut palms shoot up next to ramshackle shops and other vegetation fills spaces next to roads. This contrast between concrete and plant-life creates something striking to look at. There are lots of fantastic museums and galleries to check out here.
The main draw to downtown Manila is Intramuros, a walled city that was the main government and religious seat during Spanish colonial rule. Also hit hard by WWII, it has been carefully restored and preserved. You can walk around a lot of the ramparts, visit the fort where Jose Rizal and others were kept prisoner and explore the wonderful cathedral. Wear lose clothing, it gets hot and humid!
At the other end of downtown Manila is the City of Dreams, a huge hotel/restaurant/casino complex. Get dressed up and head here for food, play Blackjack and check out some of the amazing clubs also housed here. KTV offers awesome karaoke packages, you can book themed rooms for your group, and Chaos Manila and Pangaea are international standard clubs.
Heading away from the frantic pace of downtown Manila is Makati. Here several malls interconnect and it is impossible to avoid shopping, even if you wanted to. Start in the SM Makati mall, where you can find familiar stores like H&M and Forever 21 and pick up souvenirs in Kultura. Then wander through the Glorietta malls which cater for a more local crowd and have some fantastic quirky shops. Finally you reach Greenbelt mall, where you either prepare to spend or just window shop! Here there are high end shops, from recognised labels to acclaimed Filipino designers. There are some amazing bars and restaurants here too, overlooking the pretty park in the centre, so you can put your feet up and your shopping bags down. Try Mesa in Greenbelt 5 for delicious Filipino classics.
Next to Makati is Bonifacio Global City (The Fort), another urban, contemporary space. Here you can shop for days, people watch and again, eat amazing food. The Bowery is a small NYC style pub worth a visit. BGC is also home to some of the best clubs in Manila, Valkyrie and Revel. An excuse to put on all those purchases and experience the Manila night.
Heading on holiday to the Philippines any time soon? We hope our Manila travel guide helps. Happy travels!
Words: Lydia Morgan