The Philippines has recently received a lot more attention as a travel destination, and rightly so. With more than 7,000 islands, beautiful beaches and great diving, it has a lot to offer to anybody looking for a getaway. And if you are planning to visit one of those beaches, you will very likely travel through Manila, the country’s capital and main international airport! You might as well explore the city on your way through…
Manila is the capital of the Philippines, one of the fastest growing countries in Asia. While that brings some problems with it, like crazy traffic, it is worth a visit all of its own! If you are not convinced to visit the Philippines, you should check out this video – with many unspoiled beaches, few tourists and friendly locals it’s worth the trip!
To really understand the Philippines, you need to spend time in Manila: It is the center of power in the Philippines. Most government and business decisions, effecting all 100 Million Filipinos, are made in Manila. You will find a representation of all layers of the society and what moves them – from the rich and famous to the – still – many poor people of the country. From the busy streets in the financial district to the crowded malls, from the luxury high-rise condominiums to the shanty towns, from the street food to fine dining – it all makes up Manila and impacts the Philippines and is worth making part of your trip to the islands paradise of your choice. You will also find the best overview of Philippine history in Manila, from the Spanish colonial history with Fort Santiago, the Cathedral or the Church of Saint Agustin, to World War II at Corregidor. Or you can get a quick summary at the Ayala Museum.
You can get a good insight into today’s Manila by spending a day at the countless malls. They are a center point of life in the city, almost like the “zocolo” or public square is in Latin America, and on Sundays you can watch people from all walks of live, families with their kids on an outing, couples on a date or kids hanging out with their friends – a lot happens at the malls. And the shopping is not bad either: from markets for food and home items (like Salcedo Saturday Market) to market-style malls (like Greenhills or Market!Market!) and high-end malls with all the Western brands (like Greenbelt/Glorietta or Bonifacio HighStreet). Add the fact that it is much cheaper than in Europe, the US or other Asian cities and you can score some great bargains on this part of your trip!
The food is another reason to visit Manila. You can find good Filipino food all over the country and Manila offers some of the best! From the simple classics, like Bistek Tagalog or Chicken Adobo to fine dining, you can find it all. Probably more surprising is that Manila offers some of the best international food in all of Asia! While the quality of Western food in may well traveled places from Thailand to Bali, from Shanghai to Hong Kong is often fairly mediocre, you will find everything from burgers to french cuisine in Manila. Sometimes true to its origins, made by chefs from those countries, sometimes with an intriguing, local twist. And if you are eating more than your diet plans allow, don’t worry: Manila specialises in discrete “Weight and age management” clinics!
Manila is not only the gateway to all the Philippine destinations, like Coron, Palawan or Boracay, it is also a good jumping-off point for your exploration of South East Asia – with Cebu Pacific Airlines and Philippine Airlines, you have very low fares to most places around the region!
There are some downsides to Manila, with the horrendous traffic being the main issue. You need to chose your airline, the location of your hotel and the schedule of your explorations carefully to make the most out of your time and avoid traffic. The issues you do encounter are easily forgiven – the Filipinos are one of the most friendly people you will encounter and everybody has an easy smile. In no country have I been offered to share a meal, regardless of how wealthy or poor the people were, as in the Philippines. And most problems can be solved with the help of a local, who will go out of their way to make it work for you! So, enjoy your stop-over in the gateway to paradise, shop until you drop and eat well!
Now, if you are ready to go, but need some help to figure out how to get there, where to stay or what to do, check out my Mini-Guide Manila!