December 29, 2012

Travel Bites: Oases of calm in sizzling Manila

IT’S more fun in the Philippines, so says the government’s new tourism marketing slogan.

Here at the BusinessMirror, we definitely agree.

So beginning today, and every Monday thereafter, we will bring you the best of the Philippines—popular tourist spots, as well as destinations off-the-beaten track that readers can visit on short weekend trips, or explore on their grand holiday vacations.

Mark Twain once said, “Nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.”

With Travel Bites, we will stun you with the breathtaking vistas in the country, and put you in touch with the kindness and hospitality of our kababayan (fellow Filipinos).

To every tourist, the Philippines offers a unique experience where one’s enjoyment is measured not only by the spectacular sights, but also by the Filipinos’ own brand of fun and recreation, served up with a whole lot of heart.

(San Agustin Church in Intramuros is a treasure trove of Spanish era art and images. Photo copyright owned by the author.)

Destination: Manila 
So what if it’s hot and humid, claustrophobia-inducing and crime-riddled? Beyond all that, Manila is one of those cities in the world that pulsates with activity from dusk ‘til dawn. There are many establishments that appeal to every kind of tourist, at any hour of the day or night.

Sure, it’s crowded and traffic is a mess, but within its boundaries are also accessible pockets of comfort and calm. There are lush parks, havens of wellness, a myriad of restaurants offering simple fare to decadent meals, and a glorious sunset over Manila Bay to set many a romantic heart’s a-flutter.

Tourists, especially from the neighboring cities are most welcome to join the fun!


Historical tours. The old Walled City of Intramuros offers a glimpse into Manila’s colonial past with its Spanish-influenced buildings and churches, American garrisons and a showcase of items from national hero Jose Rizal’s last days at Fort Santiago. Hop aboard Carlos Celdran’s tours for witty anecdotes of life under our country’s colonizers Walk This Way, or the Mabuhay Tour Guides (Call T# 896-5523/63917-846-5729).

Memories at Manila Hotel. Already renovated for a more modern aesthetic, the hotel lobby with its spectacular chandeliers hanging overhead and a stringed ensemble playing music offers guests a quiet respite from the city’s chaos.

By special arrangement, guests can also take a look at its archives and rifle through old photos and other memorabilia documenting the hotel’s heydays when Hollywood celebrities, politicians and VIPs stayed there. If not occupied, the MacArthur Suite, which the legendary American military general who commanded the US Armed Forces in the Pacific during World War II called his home, also offers a curious slice of history from the POV of a leading WW II figure. (T# 527-0011 for inquiries)

Foodie haven. No other restaurant serves Filipino comfort food as authentic as Bistro Remedios (T# 523-9153). Dishes that always wow the palate of the most discriminating tourist are the Pako at Itlog na Maalat (Fern Leaves Salad with Salted Red Egg), Crispy Tadyang (Marinated Beef Ribs) deep fried to a delicious crispiness, and Gising-Gising (minced stalks of swamp cabbage spiced with small chilis and simmered in coconut cream). 

Art spaces. At the Metropolitan Museum of Manila (T# 708-7827/524-0876), beside the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) along Roxas Boulevard, runs an exhibit of Chilean painter Claudio Bravo’s works produced in Manila in 1968. Also ongoing until December 15 are the latest paintings and sculptures acquired by the BSP, including new works BenCab, Gary Custodio, Rodel Tapaya and other Filipino artists.

Those into plays or musicals must not miss Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Main Theater until October 19. For tickets and a list of other cultural events, go to TicketWorld .

(Manila's Chinatown is said to be the oldest in the world. Photo from

Chinatown stop. This tiny enclave where Chinese-Filipinos traditionally live is a haven for old-style Chinese cuisine; drugstores selling medicinal herbs and roots; and stores offering delicacies such as mooncakes, hopia, tikoy and ampaw. (Take any jeepney going to Santa Cruz, Manila, and go down Ongpin Street). Binondo is also site of one of the oldest churches in the country—the Minor Basilica of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, or simply, Binondo Church, a baroque-inspired edifice originally built in 1596.

For a Buddhist flavor, visit the Kuang Kong Temple on Kipuja Street to ask special favors from the gods by praying and burning incense sticks. For guided tours of Binondo, contact Ivan Man Dy at Old Manila Walks .

Shop ‘til you drop. Enjoy haggling over China-made toys and gadgets, apparel and accessories and the odd one-of-a-kind curios at Divisoria’s 168 Mall. (Take the LRT 1 to Doroteo Jose, then jeepney to Divisoria.) Music enthusiasts, audiophiles and photographers can head off to Raon Street in Manila’s Quiapo district for cheap turntables, stereo speakers, cameras and photo equipment. (Most jeepneys from any point in Metro Manila have connections to Quiapo.) 

When night falls. Watch up-and-coming musicians and bands, as well as Filipino rock legends at the Hobbit House (1212 Arquiza Trade Center, M.H. del Pilar andArquiza Streets, Ermita), a bar staffed entirely by “little people.”

If gaming is your thing, try your luck at the various Casino Filipino branches in the city: Heritage Hotel (Roxas Boulevard and Edsa), Waterfront Manila Pavilion Hotel (United Nations Avenue, Ermita) and Hyatt Hotel and Casino (1588 Pedro Gil and M.H. del Pilar streets, Malate).

For a romantic interlude, take a sunset cruise around Manila Bay via Sun Cruises (T# 834-6857 to 58 or 527-5555), then get a brisk but relaxing footmassage by a trained reflexology therapist at MTO Spa (1709 Apolinario Mabini Street, Malate).

Where to stay. Manila Hotel by the bay for the pomp and old world glam; CityState Tower Hotel (#1315 A. Mabini St. Ermita/T#708-9600 to 09) or Cherry Blossoms Hotel (#550 Jorge Bocobo Ext. Ermita/T#708-9901 to 06) for the value-for-money, quality guest service experience.

(Travel Bites is published every Monday in the front page of the BusinessMirror . This Manila piece was published on Sept. 24, 2012.)

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