48 Hours In: Manila, Phillippines

Shop 'til you drop in designer stores or just appreciate the colonial architecture in the Philippines' bustling and exotic capital, says Joe Bindloss

WHY GO NOW?

Because most travellers miss Manila in the headlong rush to visit Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore. Manila is one of Asia's least-known capitals, but it is one of the most high-spirited ­ and it has a fascinating colonial history. Try to be here for Todos los Santos (All Saints) on 1 November, when families flock to Manila's cemeteries to feast all night and swap spooky ghost stories.

TOUCH DOWN

No airline flies direct from the UK to Manila, so you have to change planes. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (0870 507 4074; www.klm.com) flies via Amsterdam from 16 UK airports. Emirates (0870 243 2222; www.emirates.com) flies via Dubai from Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester. You can also fly via Singapore, Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur. Ninoy Aquino airport is 8km south, near the city of Parañaque. A pre-paid taxi from the airport to the city costs from 345-400 Pesos (£3.45-£4), depending on destination, and takes around 40 minutes.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Manila sprawls along the eastern shore of Manila Bay. In the centre, overlooking the Pasig River, is the walled city of Intramuros, divided from the popular entertainment districts of Ermita and Malate by Rizal Park. The main business district, Makati, is south-east on Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue (known locally as Edsa). Manila has two elevated train lines: the LRT (Light Rail Transit) runs north-south, while the MRT (Metro Rail Transit) links the suburbs along Edsa, connecting with both ends of the LRT.

For tourist information, head to Room 106 in the huge Department of Tourism Building (1) in Rizal Park (00 63 2 525 2000; www.tourism. gov.ph); it's open 7am-6pm daily (until 5pm at weekends).

TAKE A RIDE

The main form of transport in downtown Manila is the jeepney, jazzed-up jeeps decorated with a bewildering array of lights, mirrors, horns, hood ornaments and go-faster stripes. Fares start at a mere P4 (4p) and destinations are displayed in the front windscreen. Alternatively, ride the elevated railway for P12 (12p) or take an air-conditioned cab (make sure you insist that the driver uses the meter).

CHECK IN

Right in the heart of the business district, the Makati Shangri-La (2) , on the corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues (00 63 2 813 8888; www.shangri-la.com), is widely regarded as the best hotel in Manila. Rooms have real style and rates start at US$150 (£85) for a double, including buffet breakfast. In the old part of town, the Bayview Park Hotel (3) at 1118 Roxas Boulevard in Ermita (00 63 2 526 1555; www.bayviewparkhotel.com) has a delightful rooftop pool and a handy location close to Rizal Park; doubles start at US$84 (£48) with breakfast. Further south in Malate, Bianca's Garden Hotel (4) at 2139 M Adriatico Street (00 63 2 526 0351) is a glorious Spanish-style villa with a pool and patio bar, a gifted cook and traditional Filipino furniture in the rooms; doubles cost from P1600 (£16).

TAKE A VIEW

There are pleasing views over the old Spanish quarter from the walls of Intramuros; a 4.5km walkway runs along the ramparts, starting at Fort Santiago (5), which opens 8am-6pm daily; entry P40 (40p). This was the former headquarters of the Spanish colonial administration and served as a notorious prison during the American and Japanese eras.

TAKE A HIKE

From Fort Santiago (5), walk south-east along General Luna Street past Manila Cathedral (6), which was built in 1951 to replace the bomb-damaged 16th-century cathedral, to San Agustin church (7). Across the road, you can tour a reconstructed Spanish mansion at Casa Manila (8); open 9am-6pm daily except Monday, admission P40 (40p). Leave Intramuros on the same road and stroll through the ornamental gardens of Rizal Park to Roxas Boulevard, for views across Manila Bay. Dotted around the park are the stately administrative buildings of the American colonial government, now housing the National Museum of the Philippines (9), the Department of Tourism (1) and the General Post Office (10) .

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Manila's shopping malls are packed with food stalls serving everything from inihaw na bangus (grilled milkfish, a Filipino speciality) and halo halo (crushed ice with sweet syrup) to stir-fried noodles and Chinese century eggs. The best downtown choice is Robinson's Place (11) on M Adriatico Street in Ermita, open 10am-9pm daily.

WINDOW SHOPPING

Manila offers some of the best retail therapy in Asia. You can find almost anything in the city's super-sized shopping malls, from Armani suits and Nike trainers to iPods and Uzis (seriously). For the ultimate shopping experience, visit SM Megamall (12) on Epifanio de Los Santos Avenue. This air-conditioned cathedral to consumerism is open 10am-9pm daily.

AN APERITIF

For a flashback to the Spanish colonial era, hit the bars and restaurants of Malate. Well-heeled thirtysomethings gather in Cafe Havana (13) at 1903 M Adriatico Street (00 63 2 521 8097) to sip Cuban rum, puff on Havana cigars and dance to pulsating salsa beats.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Set in a restored Spanish mansion in Intramuros, the exuberant Ilustrado (14) on General Luna Street (00 63 2 527 3674) serves modern interpretations of traditional Filipino food; the house speciality is adobong usa, a rich stew of venison, soy sauce and vinegar. For hearty Spanish fare, try Casa Armas (15) at 573 J Nakpil Street in Malate (00 63 2 523 5763); the chef prepares a legendary paella negra (with saffron rice and squid ink). Imelda Marcos is a periodic visitor.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

The Philippines has the largest Catholic population in Asia, so there are plenty of choices for church-goers. San Agustin Church (7) in Intramuros is the oldest church in the Philippines and one of the few Spanish-era buildings to survive the American bombardment during the Second World War. Mass takes place daily at 6.30am and 5pm. The attached museum is open 9am-noon and 1-5pm, admission P65 (65p).

OUT TO BRUNCH

Munch on freshly grilled tiger prawns on a pontoon overlooking Manila Bay at Seafood Wharf (16) on South Boulevard (00 63 2 536 3522). Choose your seafood from the ice counter at the front of the restaurant; chefs will cook it up on the spot. It opens at 7am daily, and there's a buffet breakfast every Sunday for P190 (£1.90).

A WALK IN THE PARK

At weekends, thousands of Filipinos promenade through Rizal Park, just south of the old city walls. Dotted around this green expanse are ornamental gardens, a three-dimensional model of the Philippines (17), an open-air chess pavilion (18) and the execution site of the national hero José Rizal (19). Look out for locals practising arnis de mano, the national martial art.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

Manila's main cultural offering is the huge National Museum of the Philippines (9) in Rizal Park (00 63 2 527 1215). Housed in the former finance ministry, the museum has some impressive displays on Filipino culture and history, including a life-sized model of the islands' most famous shipwreck, the San Diego. It's open 10am-4pm Wednesday to Sunday and admission is P100 (£1), but free on Thursdays.

WRITE A POSTCARD

The best selection of postcards is at the National Bookstore in the Robinson's Place mall (11) on M Adriatico Street. Scribble home from the peaceful gardens of Fort Santiago (5).

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

Head north to the enormous Chinese Cemetery (20) on F Huertes St (open 7.30am-7pm daily), where Manila's wealthiest ex-citizens reside in extravagant "houses for the dead" with marble bathrooms, fitted kitchens and crystal chandeliers.

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas