If Manila had a human avatar she’d be a sultry seductress. She would at first be a little scary, and a little overwhelming. Over time she’d make you feel comfortable drawing you in closer and closer. That’s the way I think of this thriving metropolis that is Manila. After spending some time here you understand why the locals absolutely love it, and why tourists in for a few days don’t stand a chance of seeing what this city really has to offer.
Manila reminds me a little bit of an Asian Miami. If you were to take Miami and put it close to China, Korea, and Malaysia instead of Latin America you’d be getting warm. There are some super posh parts, and some neighborhoods you wouldn’t want to be caught alone in. The dichotomy between developing nation and world-class wealth is absolutely stunning. There is crazy traffic, awesome shopping, and the world’s oldest China Town. There aren’t a lot of organized tourist things in Manila and there isn’t a central core. More like 16 (or 17 depending on who you talk to) merged cities all offering up their own specialty. The transportation system is geared for moving workers around more than anything else, BUT if you arrive with an adventurous spirit and the right attitude what awaits you will blow your mind!
Are we in The Philippines or Miami??
Of course we had an edge because of the amazing people we met at the Malisimbo Festival. There’s nothing like having a few dozen local tour guides that are hooked into the scene to show you around! A special thanks to Aidan and Rhiannon, and the rest of the Cholo crew! Party takes on a whole new definition around you guys…..
If you happen to have friends that live in Manila to show you around you’re golden, but if you don’t here’s our Delos list of 10 cool touristy and non-touristy things to do in Manila:
1) Adventure Market Shopping!
Just jump on the MRT and get off somewhere like Doroteo Jose (D. Jose), then walk towards Carriedo stop along Rizal Ave where you can find the finest counterfeit merchandise, electronic gadgets, weapons (Tasers) right next to sex toy stands. The area is really intense and fun! Leave anything of value at home, and wear your backpack on your front like the locals do ?
2) Check Out Greenbelt
Grab a taxi and tell them Greenbelt in Makati! We did this right after our intense local market experience on Rizal so it was a real shock to our system. Sit outside of Greenbelt 3 at Café Havana or Cerveseria and see how the upper echelon of Manila shop and dine. As the sun goes down watch out for the Lady Boys that tend to flock around foreigners!
3) Do the Carlos Celdran Intramuros Tour!
Carlos Celdran is pretty much a legend here. His tours are awesome, more like a theatrical performance packed with cool knowledge about Manila and the Filipino culture in general. It’s really an awesome afternoon and we loved it. Check out http://celdrantours.blogspot.com/ for his schedule.
4) A Night On The Town!
Oh wow there are just so many options here…..
Head to the top of 71 Gramercy for a night of Manila clubbing! Expensive drinks by Philippines standards but the view looking down on Makati from the 71st floor balcony is worth it!
No visit to Manila (or the Philippines) can be complete without a girly bar experience! Come watch the expats awkwardly hit on the girls. Get offered Cialis and Viagra everywhere you turn. Just get dropped off on Burgos Street, sit back, and observe. It’s a crazy, crazy place….
You can also get a back massage from a dude for about 20 pesos (.50). No, it’s not weird or anything……
In the mood for the local music scene? Check out the Saguijo Café. It’s a really small and intimate venue but some great acts. Reminded me a lot of something you’d find in Seattle.
And last but not least if you want to go on a rum tasting binge don’t pass up Le Café Curieux ! They infuse big buckets of Rum with local flavors and essences. Great place to start (or finish) the night off!
5) Jim Jil Bang Korean Spa Action!
Photos Courtosy of Laserma Website
On man, we really love this place! So much that we made three visits here. Just ask to be dropped off at Makati Golf, which is in the central business district. It’s just a few minutes walk from the big HSBC building. You’ll see the driving range nets strung up in the middle of the sky scrapers. Can’t miss it! The Laserma spa is underneath the driving range. Dip your self in a steaming Ginseng Bath, then a cold pool, then go to the hot saunas where you can get baked at 70C with Korean minerals before jumping into the –17C cold room next door (we referred to this as the Sweden room for Karin). Then when you’re really nice and loose it’s time for your hour long massage! After your massage take a well deserved nap in a sleeping cave. Total cost for a 12 hour spa pass and hour long massage- 770 Pesos, less than $20! The Korean business travelers know what up!
6) American WWII Memorial
We were driving around with Aidan exploring the city when he got this gleam in his eye and that “I know where we should go!” look on his face. A few U-turns later we gave a very intense armed guard our nationalities and pulled into one of the most beautiful war memorials I’ve ever seen. Just strolling through the tens of thousands of names on the columns was mind blowing, especially since we’ve spent a lot of time exploring and diving WWII wrecks the past few years. Beautiful, sobering, and fascinating at the same time. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manila_American_Cemetery_and_Memorial
7) Stuff Yourself Silly!
I’ve been to some good buffets before but this one takes the cake. Make sure to wear loose fitting pants to get the most out of it. Also do one lap around the joint to figure out a game plan before diving right in. You need a method to your madness at a super-buffet like this or you’ll bench yourself by halftime! It actually had a walk in chilled room specifically for cured meats and cheeses! Not to mention the Foie Gras station…. And the unlimited sushi…. And the cooked to order steaks….. Dessert bar with chocolate fountains…… It just goes on and on and on. It’s probably one of the pricier meals in Manila but still a steal by Western standards. http://spiralmanila.com/
8) Support The Little People!
If you like scantily clad Filipinas and midgets then this is the place for you! Where else can you combine dancing girls and midget boxing? What an absolutely brilliant place. Check out Ringside Bar in Makati City. While you’re in the area check out Handlebar just a few minutes walk away- a local biker hangout. Especially on Friday nights where there’s a sweet BBQ!
9) Get Cultural In Makati
Thanks for the photos Terence Angsioco!
We never expected to find an awesome local farmers market in Manila. All organic and locally grown meat, cheese, honey, spices, you name it! It seriously reminded me of being back in Seattle and going to the Ballard Street Market on a Sunday. The Legazpi Sunday Market is a perfect way to nurse that weekend hangover from all the girly bar action.
After you’re feeling a little better meander over to Art In The Park for a bit of Jazz, Winetasting, and local art on display. Very civilized! Are we in Melbourne or Manila? The Philippines is always surprising us.
10) Experience a “Crocodile”
This ones easy. Just borrow your friends car and make a wrong turn down a one way street right in front of a yellow vested predatory traffic cop. Watch his eyes as he tells you how serious the violation is and how he’ll have to hold your license until you go to court. Save your license, avoid a trip to court, and practice your negotiating skills all at the same time by offering to pay the “fine” on the spot. I started at 50% of what was asked for and it worked out ok! Don’t ask for a receipt though…..
We had an absolute blast in Manila! The more we saw the more we wanted. Thanks so much to Aidan, Rhiannon, and the rest of the Cholo Crew for showing us such an epic time ?