Whenever Manila is mentioned, the speaker actually refers--sometimes unknowingly--to a vast conglomeration of 12 cities and five municipalities. Each is an autonomous political entity, but together functioning as one city called Metro Manila. Exploring this sprawling metropolis can be quite a daunting prospect even for its residents, but as a visitor you may rest assured that your stay will be most likely confined to certain areas, as outlined in this guide.
The Historic City
Just outside Intramuros' walls lies
The Tourist Belt
Cutting through the western tip of Rizal Park is a broad boulevard stretching several kilometers past the US Embassy,
Around the boulevard are two districts traditionally known as Manila's tourist belt--Ermita and Malate. Both areas are packed with brand-new or renovated hotels, restaurants, cafés, antique shops, souvenir stores, travel agencies and the like.
The Inner City
Facing the northeastern fringe of Rizal Park, you will notice a building with a clock tower—the
Accessible from Rizal Park by
The Modern City
Going from the inner city to Makati is almost like a journey into another time.
Proceeding north from Makati on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA), you will soon reach
The Commuter Belt
A large percentage of commuters reside in the districts south of Makati. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and the Centennial Terminal for Philippine Airlines flights are located in the area, along with duty-free shops and
The Official City
A northbound drive on EDSA or a quick ride on the MRT (Metro Rail Transit) from Makati will take you to Cubao, the heart of Quezon City's commercial life.
Quezon Avenue stretches westward from the circle, joining with West Avenue and Timog Avenue to form yet another center of dining and nightlife. This long and almost straight road takes you all the way back to Quiapo in the inner city, though en route you may want to check out more landmarks such as
On the other hand, you may opt to go north to Marikina City, the Philippines' shoe-making capital, or Antipolo City, renowned as a place of religious pilgrimage and a hill resort interspersed with public swimming pools and sweeping views of Manila. Bars and eateries on Sumulong Highway, such as Cloud 9, stay open until the small hours of the morning, allowing you to enjoy the marvelous panorama both day and night.
It may not be apparent to the visitor, but Manila is actually one of East Asia's oldest cities. Predating even Tokyo, Manila traces its written history to 1571 when Spanish conquistadors, led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, wrested control of the city from three rajahs--Manila's pre-Hispanic rulers. In the ensuing centuries Manila grew into a thriving city, enriched by wealth generated by the worlds first global economy—the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. The artistic treasures at San Agustin Museum offer an intimation of this fabulous wealth.
Though the Philippine islands were first inhabited tens of millennia before the Christian era, archaeologists estimate the foundation of Filipino culture at around the year 500. As can be gleaned from displays at the National Museum and Ayala Museum, Manilans enjoyed their own system of government and writing long before the advent of the Spaniards, but everything was lost in the destruction wrought by the invaders. Literature and other manuscripts inscribed on bamboo were burned or left to decay, while the native civil code was replaced with Spanish colonial rule.
The Kingdom of Namayan can be considered as the precursor of modern Metro Manila. With its capital in Sapa, known today as Santa Ana, Namayan encompassed present-day City of Manila, Mandaluyong City, San Juan, Makati City, Pasay City, Pateros, Taguig and Parañaque City, now all parts of Metro Manila. It is said that in the 13th century a Namayan princess was given away in marriage to the heir of the Javanese Madjapahit Empire (1292-1478) and subsequently reigned as Empress Sasaban.
Archaeological diggings around Santa Ana Church have helped reveal the social fabric of pre-Hispanic Manila. Communal agriculture formed the basis of the agrarian society that had evolved from earlier hunting and food-gathering communities. With the passage of time, periodic barter between barangays (the basic units of government) developed into regular trade with China and other parts of mainland Asia. The Chinese legacy in Philippine life can be observed today in Chinatown in Binondo and Bahay Tsinoy in Intramuros.
Filipinos jokingly refer to themselves as products of 300 years in a Spanish convent and 40 years in Hollywood. Though made in jest, it is an astute observation. Following the founding of Intramuros in 1571, the country took on the trappings of Hispanic society, with the population converting en masse to Christianity, adopting the new rulers' language and mode of writing, altering their style of dress to European fashions and so forth. Churches such as Malate Church and Guadalupe Church sprouted all over the country, serving not just as places of worship but as centers of social and cultural life as well. This began molding the unique character of Manila as a meeting point of East and West and of Filipinos as an Asian nation with a Latin temperament.
Beneath the surface, however, Filipinos retain to this very day certain social values from their ancient past, such as the concept of bayanihan and the pivotal position of women in society. Bayanihan signifies the spirit of community whereby individuals and families within a neighborhood or a village are expected to contribute toward the common good. Unique among Asian cultures, Filipino women have played a traditionally strong role in Philippine society, even before their liberated counterparts in the West gained equal rights.
Spanish rule came to an end in 1898, following a revolution fostered by the lofty ideals of Dr. Jose Rizal and fueled by the fiery tactics of Andres Bonifacio. Rizal was sentenced to death by a Spanish military tribunal on the grounds that his demands for reform were fermenting discord and discontent. Rizal faced the firing squad in Rizal Park, where the Rizal Monument and the Site of Rizal's Execution are dedicated to his memory. The Rizal Shrine in Fort Santiago displays memorabilia of the great man in the building where he spent his last hours. Bonifacio is honored with the Monumento in Kalookan City.
Instead of quelling the rising mood of rebellion, Rizal's execution only further incited Bonifacio and the revolutionary Katipunan movement to open combat with the Spanish authorities. Bahay Nakpil-Bautista reverberates with echoes of those courageous times. Two years later, on 12 June 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippines from the window of his home in Kawit, Cavite (now the Emilio Aguinaldo Shrine), giving birth to Asia's first republic. The nations first democratic constitution was drafted at Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan.
But no sooner had Manila lifted the Spanish yoke than America took over the budding nation. Following its declaration of war on Spain over events in Cuba, the U.S. made friendly overtures toward Aguinaldo. But after the final victory of the Filipino revolutionaries, the U.S. signed a treaty with Spain whereby it acquired the Philippines for US$2 million. Betrayed, the Filipino forces took up hostilities against the new colonizers, bravely carrying on the war until mid-1902.
What followed was Manila's 40 years in Hollywood. In retrospect, it was a happy period in the city's history. It saw the introduction of the English language, the institution of mass education, the construction of new infrastructure and so on. Represented in Casa Manila Museum, Manilans embraced the move toward greater Westernization with gusto—the populace donned silk stockings and sharkskin suits, flocked to cabarets and movie-houses, danced the conga and boogie-woogie, and moved into Art Deco homes. Landmarks like the Old Congress Building, Metropolitan Theater, Manila City Hall and Central Post Office rose in the heart of the city.
That bright interlude, however, was interrupted by the city's darkest period—World War II. Under the Japanese Occupation, Manila underwent the horrors of modern warfare and by the time it was over the entire city lay in ruins, suffering the worst devastation after Warsaw, Poland. All of Intramuros was reduced to a heap of rubble; the only building left intact was San Agustin Church.
Manila rapidly recovered in the postwar years, with the country gaining independence on July 4, 1946. The presidents of the republic were sworn into office at the Quirino Grandstand and took up residence at Malacanang Palace to preside over the showcase of democracy in Asia. The economy flourished, making the Philippines the second richest nation in Asia. In the 1960s, while its regional neighbors were still mired in underdevelopment, Manila launched into another building boom with the erection of new landmarks such as Araneta Coliseum and Ayala Avenue. The University of Philippines and other institutions of learning were attended to full capacity, creating one of the world's highest literacy rates.
But then came another long dark period in the city's history. In 1972, Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law and for more than 20 years Manila languished under an authoritarian rule marked by curtailed civil liberties and a widening gap between rich and poor. Once again, Manilans rose to liberate themselves. In near-perfect symmetry with the Philippine Revolution of 1896, the People Power Revolution exploded on the streets of Manila in 1986. While the whole world watched, Manilans defied the might of the Marcos dictatorship and staged an unprecedented event in history—a revolution without bloodshed. That momentous point in the life of the nation is commemorated by the EDSA Shrine.
Today, with the institutions of freedom securely in place, the economy growing apace and yet another building boom that is dramatically changing the face of the city, Manila is poised to once again resume its position as one of the preeminent cities of East Asia.
Metro Manila abounds in accommodation options. Rates run from the high end to the incredibly modest and everything in between. Visitors can pick from international chain hotels displaying well-known logos, foreign or locally run properties for long-term stays, boutique hotels with character and history, or no-frills lodgings offering basic services.
As many hotels address the traveler's need for business and leisure facilities, your choice will depend on your budget, efficiency requirements, or penchant for the out-of-the-ordinary. But wherever you choose to stay, you will not feel lost or isolated: English is spoken everywhere, and Filipinos are warm, friendly, and hospitable.
The Modern City
Expensive international hotels thrive in Makati, the city's main business district. Makati Shangri-La, The Peninsula Manila and Mandarin Oriental are among the premier business/leisure hotels and lie within walking distance of many office buildings. Their location within a bustling commercial area offers excellent shopping and dining opportunities. These hotels extend a full range of business and convention facilities plus seasoned, responsive service. Hotel Inter-Continental, Dusit Hotel Nikko and New World Renaissance Hotel, all within Ayala Center, also address standard business and conference requirements.
Catering to long-staying travelers with generous budgets, Ascott Hotel Manila provides tastefully furnished and fully serviced deluxe apartments with business facilities. Along Pasong Tamo Street, the 60-room Herald Suites offers rooms with old-world charm at modest rates.
CEO Suites, a 29-room, all-suite accommodation on Jupiter Street supplies essential business needs plus limited in-room cooking facilities. Unique furniture and furnishings create an elegant yet homey atmosphere. The newly opened and inexpensive City Garden Hotel Makati, at the end of Makati Avenue, lies away from office buildings, amid small, interesting adult bars. Clean and functional, it offers straightforward accommodations and the added plus of a helicopter charter service.
The Tourist Belt
Along Roxas Boulevard, a tree-lined thoroughfare by Manila Bay, hotels alternate with museums, embassies, travel agencies, bars and evening entertainment spots. The Heritage Hotel and Hyatt Regency, situated across from the World Trade Center, stand nearest the airport. The Hyatt is an old but well-maintained medium-size property, while the newer and bigger Heritage functions as a busy convention hotel. Casual tourist-type accommodations can be found at Copacabana Apartment Hotel, also in the vicinity.
A 609-room "city resort," the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila sits on reclaimed land that encompasses the Philippine International Convention Center, Folk Arts Theater and Coconut Palace. The Philippine Plaza offers great sports and leisure facilities such as tennis courts, a driving range, 24-hour spa and fitness center, and outdoor pool. Opposite The Cultural Center of the Philippines and beside the Metropolitan Museum of Manila stands the four-star Traders Hotel. Bayview Park Hotel, another four-star property, fronts the American Embassy at the northern end of the boulevard, near Rizal Park and the Children's Museum (Museo Pambata).
For the budget-conscious who wish to get a feel of the Ermita/Malate area in the Tourist Belt, both Adriatico Arms Hotel and Malate Pensionne deliver good options. Century Park Hotel, next to Harrison Plaza, lures travelers seeking big hotel comfort. The Orchid Garden Suites, a boutique hotel, imparts a sense of history with its laid-back ambiance. Comfortable and orderly, the Palm Plaza is straightforward and inexpensive, while the 52-room Best Western La Corona Hotel offers another alternative for the budget-minded traveler.
The Historic City
Hotel Intramuros de Manila sits amid the rich-in-culture landmarks, churches, art galleries, arts and crafts shops, and native and Spanish restaurants in historic Intramuros. Managed by the Hotel and Tourism Institute of the Philippines, it delivers good value for money plus an ambiance evocative of 19th century Manila.
The Holiday Inn, along United Nations Avenue, is a popular leisure hotel, though many prefer to check into the Manila Hotel for historical reasons. For those wanting to stay near Paco Park, another historical site, the Park Hotel provides an address with character and business facilities, while the Garden Plaza Hotel & Suites offers fully equipped kitchenettes for longer sojourns.
Ortigas Center, north of Makati, is a business and commercial area with some good hotels. Edsa Shangri-La ensures top business and convention facilities, with guest and meeting rooms in either the tower wing or the sprawling garden wing. Nearby, the Richmonde Hotel offers advanced business equipment and a good fitness center. The Legend Hotel is an inexpensive choice, with well-appointed rooms spread out in low-rise buildings. The Manila Galleria Suites features very comfortable and spacious rooms, while the Discovery Suites offer deluxe apartments that meet both business needs and relaxation requirements.
Inexpensive accommodations can be found in Quezon City, an area of government offices, schools and residences with concentrated dining and entertainment spots. Hotel Rembrandt lies in one such spot teeming with bars and restaurants. The Camelot Hotel, with its mock castle façade, provides a regular venue for small private banquets, while the Century Imperial Palace Suites, along Timog Avenue, allows longer stays in furnished apartments.
Filipinos love eating—to the extent that many a foreign visitor has remarked: Don't Filipinos ever stop eating? Indeed, a Filipino's daily food intake comprises five meals: breakfast, morning merienda, lunch, afternoon merienda and dinner. And take note that a merienda is often more than just a snack, particularly the afternoon version. It can consist of goto (Filipino congee) and tokwa't baboy (crispy pork and bean curd dressed in vinegar and soy sauce) or Chinese mami (noodles in soup) and siopao (steamed bun with meat filling). In that context, it is no wonder Manila can call itself the D & D (dining and drinking) capital of Southeast Asia. In Manila one is not faced with a shortage of choices; the problem lies in selecting from the rather bewildering diversity.
Ermita and Malate
If you are in Ermita and Malate, start your search at the junction of Padre Faura Street and M. Adriatico Street with Kashmir Restaurant which serves delectable Indian curries. From here to Nakpil Street and Remedios Circle, the entire length of M. Adriatico is lined with eateries. On the corner of Pedro Gil Street stands Robinson's Place, which is packed with dining and drinking possibilities, including the mall's own Food Court where you can feast inexpensively in cool and comfortable surroundings.
Nakpil Street, formerly a wealthy residential neighborhood, abounds with houses and apartment buildings that have been converted into bars and restaurants. More than just purveyors of food, these act as trend setters of style. Bravo! mixes fashion with a full menu of Italian dishes. Matina, a restaurant cum art gallery, introduces you to imaginative fusion cuisine. Sala offers contemporary European food in a very stylish setting. People's Palace features tasty Thai food and tasteful minimalist décor. Casa Armas draws in discriminating diners with its black paella and other Spanish specialties. Episode Café and a dozen other places lure the young sophisticates with a thematic décor and the added attraction of live music, shows or dancing.
Another string of chic eateries can be found at the crossing of Nakpil and Maria Orosa Street: Pepe & Pilar (Filipino with a modern twist), Garlic Rose (everything is seasoned with the medicinal bulb), Café Breton (coffee and crepes) and Batavia (novel varieties of coffee, tea and cakes).
Around Remedios Circle, which is just a couple of blocks south of Nakpil, the creations of Larry Cruz, arguably Manila's most successful restaurateur, predominate, each with a theme of its own. Café Adriatico is known for Spanish-based Filipino food, while the other Café Adriatico 1900 is known for refined ambiance. Café Havana is notorious for its Cuban cooking and a Hemingway-inspired cigar room, In The Mood frequented for ballroom dancing, Bistro Remedios for regional Filipino delicacies, and Larry's Bar as a hip hangout.
Guernicas (traditional Spanish food), The Red Crab (crabs and steaks), and the delightfully naughty Kink Cakes (the concoctions will make some people's eyes pop out) are also in the vicinity, as are The Library (karaoke and stand-up comedy), and Portico (continental décor).
Around the corner, on A. Mabini Street, you will find a different set of places altogether, most notably the Hobbit House (a throwback to the '60s, featuring live music) and the Republic of Malate. The latter encompasses the popular Good Earth Tea Room (contemporary Chinese cuisine).
Not to be outdone by Ermita and Malate, Makati's Ayala Center is replete with its own array of dining and drinking places. Glorietta alone contains countless bars and restaurants, including globally known establishments like T.G.I. Friday's, Hard Rock Café and Fashion Café. Cibo delights patrons with pizza and pasta a la nouvelle cuisine. Furusato Japanese Restaurant is a dependable recommendation for those who fancy sushi, sashimi or sukiyaki.
Around Greenbelt Park and inside Greenbelt Mall, you will find, among others, Italianni's (American-Italian pasta, pizza, salads, etc.), Schwarzwalder German Restaurant (schnitzel, pork knuckles and the like), and Sugi (one of Manila's best Japanese restaurants).
Along Pasay Road, also known as Antonio S. Arnaiz Avenue, many international restaurants can be found, while around Jupiter Street and Makati Avenue lies a whole enclave where Japanese restaurants compete with Korean restaurants like Kaya Korean Restaurant. Casa Armas has a branch here and so do various Filipino restaurants. There is also a conspicuous Thai presence, as well as a plethora of girlie bars where many foreigners come to roost. Do not forget Grassi's at the nearby Rockwell Center—in some people's estimate, it serves the best food in Manila. And if you do not fancy any of the above, well, there is always fish and chips!
Dinner with a view? Try Top of the Citi on Paseo de Roxas. Something light and stylish? Wasabi Bistro and Bar on Makati Avenue. And even if you are dining on a budget, you can still do it with some style at the Glorietta 4 Food Court or the Food Park at the Enterprise Center.
Here the activity revolves around the giant malls. Some pubs await you at Shangri-La Plaza Mall like the popular Watering Hole Brewery (totally new innovation serving beer brewed in-house). In contrast, the Prince of Wales at Robinson's Galleria is terribly British, complete with dartboard and framed portraits of the royals. Here is a sampling of eateries at SM Megamall: Tong Yang Hot Pot (pick any or all of the meat and seafood items on display, then cook it at your table), Dad's (extensive buffet from California maki to roast turkey), Almon Marina (roast chicken and sandwiches, excellent for a quick lunch) and the cheap and cheerful SM Megamall Food Court.
At El Pueblo & St. Francis Square, just behind SM Megamall, you will find the likes of Flavors and Spices, a fine dining restaurant featuring a good-value Thai buffet. And if you are looking for somewhere just to have a round of drinks, there are such places as Strumm's. On the other hand, you might want to indulge in some French haute cuisine, in which case you could sample the inventive culinary preparations at Le Souffle.
Nearby Greenhills Shopping Center is dotted with all kinds of Chinese eateries. Bistro Lorenzo (another Larry Cruz restaurant) and Ciudad Fernandina Restaurant, both leaning toward Spanish food, are two alternatives to the predominantly Chinese selection. Café Ysabel, in an exquisite old house, is in a class of its own.
As the biggest of Metro Manila's 12 cities and five municipalities, Quezon City merits a D & D guide of its own.
The D & D row on E. Rodriguez Jr. Avenue, also known as C-5, ranges widely in theme and food: Grilla (Polynesian-style setting and flavorful reworkings of Filipino dishes), Aqua Zoo (European nouvelle cuisine served in an interior simulating a giant aquarium) and Outback Steakhouse (Down Under ambience and steaks).
On Katipunan Avenue, which is just around the corner from C-5, Dencio's and Katips stand out as two contrasting varieties of beer gardens. Likewise Cravings, with its intimate continental mood and modernized Western food, contrasts markedly with Kublai, which serves an eat-all-you-can Mongolian buffet in a large industrial-like hall.
From this guide you should get an idea of the tremendous variety of D & D options that Manila offers. But wait till you get here—you will find this guide barely scratches the surface.