Manila, The Philippines

With The Philippines being only eight hours away, I cannot believe that it has taken us so long to get to this charismatic and welcoming country in the Asia Pacific! But with less than a fortnight to explore and a strong desire for some serious beach and snorkelling time with a bit of history thrown in, we chose our destinations carefully.

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Many visitors to The Philippines suggest that time in Manila is time better spent elsewhere on one of the many islands of this nation, but the capital has much to offer in terms of history, cuisine, culture and shopping! AND an abundance of gorgeous luxury hotels in which to pamper yourself: you just have to accept the incessant traffic and gridlocked streets. It took nearly an hour to get to the hotel in the Sunday evening traffic, but it was less than 10 km. Crazy.

Our first three nights in the city were spent at The Manila Hotel, near Intramuros. The detailed account of our stay at this grand dame of Manila can be found here.


Our focus for the capital was to explore the historic area of ‘Intramuros’ – the old walled city that contained several sites of interest for us, such as Fort Santiago, San Agustin Museum and Casa Manila.

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We were out and about early to avoid the midday and afternoon temperatures of 36 degrees, bamboozling the tricycle drivers who couldn’t understand our desire to explore on foot – “But ma’am, you don’t have to walk!” It seems that tourists are usually keen to be chauffeured about.

Fort Santiago

Highly recommend an early start for this open-air attraction to avoid the midday and afternoon increased temperatures (27-36 daily). Less crowds, too. But even being there just after 8am it was still warm and there were still a few school groups – all very polite and sweet teenagers who nodded in greeting and moved to let us pass.

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The remains of Fort Santiago retained glimpses of the past beauty of the architecture, such as the gate into the fortress beyond the moat. But the dungeons where the occupying Japanese tortured and killed many civilians in WWII were sobering; photographs of the remains taken by the liberating forces displayed on the stone walls.

Lunched at Ristorante Delle Mitre in the centre of Intramuros near San Agustin; a charming, authentic Filipino dining experience with tasty food and smiling service. Looking for vegetarian options in The Philippines can sometimes be a challenge, but we found this place on TA and thought it would suit. It did. There was a wide range of choices on the menu, and we found a couple of new dishes we hadn’t tried before: Laing (taro leaves and coconut – which didn’t look particularly enticing but was delicious) and Tortang Talong (Filipino eggplant omelette – could eat that every day!).

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San Agustin Museum

The San Agustin Museum is far bigger and grander than one first expects. Completed in 1607 the church itself is the oldest stone church in The Philippines. Some extraordinary relics and artworks were on display throughout both floors of the cloister, but the highlight was the choir/organ loft and the magnificent view of the church it provided. There is so much to see and learn about the history of this church, the order, and the role it played in the life, community and history of Manila.

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Casa Manila

Being a fan of grand homes of eras past, we were drawn to Casa Manila, a recreation of a home of an affluent Filipino family during the late Spanish colonial period. The decor is late 19th century when the furnishings were sourced from Europe and China, all so shiny with the abundance of wide, polished wooden floors! And they provide the complete ‘upstairs/downstairs’ experience for visitors having the kitchen, bathroom and lavatory on display.

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Bahay Tsinoy, Museum of Chinese in Philippines History

A block north of Casa Manila in Intramuros is Bahay Tsinoy, Museum of Chinese in Philippines History. This was a revelation for us – we had no idea of the long historic connection between the Chinese and Filipino people of this country. It is a beautifully curated museum with finely crafted mannequins in daily working settings. Love a fun and engaging history lesson!

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National Museum of Fine Arts

We walked from Intramuros to the National Museum of Fine Arts. Knackered before we even started, there was no hope of us really doing it justice, but we gave it a crack because seeing even a fraction of the collection was better than missing it all together. Loved the work of Vicente Silva Manansala and Carlos V. Francisco, particularly the latter’s gigantic ‘History of Manila’. Sat and drank that one in for ages from many angles. If we could’ve replanned our visit, it would not have been after a big day of sightseeing (although it is also a lovely place to escape the afternoon heat).

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Palawan Adventure

We left Manila to spend a week in the Palawans, all of which was spent at Two Seasons Coron Island Resort, where we spent many hours relaxing and exploring this gloriously gorgeous part of the world (see full report here). Who knew so much joy could be had from so many hours in the water?!

Greenbelt, Makati

Makati is centre of Manila’s shopping universe. There is an overwhelming amount of shopping options in this city, and this area provides amazing food choices and high-end brand shopping in abundance, all in a lush garden area that softened and soothed.

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Our final night in Manila was spent at The Peninsula Hotel near Greenbelt Shopping Mall. It is another glamorous hotel (there are many in this area), but more contemporary than The Manila, and while it has fewer rooms, its public spaces are much larger.

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We had a delicious dinner in house at ‘Spices’, with some extraordinary tuna loin marinated in calamansi and vinegar served with green mango and chilli peppers. The Rao Xao was also yummy – stir fried vegetables with garlic and ginger. The bright green cocktail supported the spicy theme well – Phraya’s Way (chilli-infused vodka, lemongrass, Thai basil, ginger syrup).

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With only one full day left in this trip, we wandered the Greenbelt Shopping Mall for a short time (there are SIX buildings full of stores!) before wanting something a little more substantial. Luckily the Ayala Museum Manila is in one of the six mall buildings. With the intricate ancient gold jewellery, gigantic model ships. varied traditional indigenous clothing displays and 60 dioramas of the history of the Philippines (love a good diorama!) we easily spent a couple of hours in this museum.

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Our final meal in Manila was at Ember by Josh Boutwood – an outstanding dining experience! Boutwood is a British-Filipino chef who has four restaurants in The Philippines, all offering different dining experiences. Ember seats only 30 diners (indoor), and it was an intimate and flawless meal. Our indulgence included: The Test Kitchen Bakery house sourdough (not a couple of slices – a whole loaf!); smoked shrimps, aioli, lemon; raw tuna, avocado, tapioca; salmon, watercress, flying fish roe. Superb.

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Our late check out from The Peninsula for our 10:30pm flight meant that we left Manila rested and refreshed, keen to return to this country and explore more of its exquisite islands. Also glad we stayed only 6km from the airport, cause that journey took an hour with the horrendous traffic!

LINKED POSTS: The detailed account of our stay at The Manila Hotel can be found here. The detailed account of our stay at Two Seasons Coron Island Resort can be found here.

Accommodation: The Manila Hotel, Two Seasons Coron Island Resort, The Peninsula Hotel

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About bontaks

Nic is the the 'Bon' part of 'Bontaks.' Together we are Nic and John - two travel-addicted teachers who enjoy every opportunity to go places, meet people and experience life.

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