Tina A Dumlao gets a fresh take on this former Spanish cutpost through a pair of witty racontours; opts for a native rub; and washes down the workday stress with a mug of Pale Pilsen.
Try a traditional massage
Feeling knackered after a gruelling meeting? Check into The Oriental Spa on the 18th floor of the Mandarin Oriental (www.mandarinoriental.com/manila) for a hilot (traditional massage) or dagdagay (foot therapy).
Hilot traces its roots to the ways of the manghihilots (the local medicine man or woman). The session begins with the therapist invoking the gods for a successful treatment. A banana leaf, moistened with coconut oil, is then rubbed on the body to find specific areas of imbalance. A combination of deep-tissue manipulation and smooth flowing strokes follows.
Dagdagay (accent on the last syllable), a ritual from the Mountain Province, consists of a foot soak made from medicinal herbs, after which the therapist drums two sticks of either bamboo or rattan on the guest’s heels to stimulate nerve endings, finishing up with an herbal foot wrap and massage. The hilot costs P3,200 (US$64.61) for 90 minutes, while dagdagay is priced at P1,800 (US$36.34) for 30 minutes.
Tee off after sunset
If you’re dying for a round of golf but don’t have time in the mornings, fret not. The Intramuros Golf Club (tel 63 2 527 6612), which features an 18-hole course, offers night plays with the green fee set at P1,445 (US$29). Tee-off time is 1530 and the game usually ends at 1930. Be sure to book early as the nocturnal rounds, especially on weekends, are extremely popular.
Whacking those balls in the shadow of the former citadel is an experience not to be missed.
Stroll back in time
Since you’re already in the Intramuros area, it would be a shame not to explore this storied 400-year-old neighbourhood, and the best way is through a walking tour, led by either Carlos Celdran (email [email protected]) or Ivan ManDy (email [email protected]). Both gentlemen are excellent raconteurs who can keep any group of any size enthralled with their patter on the Philippines’ past.
After a stroll through Intramuros’ narrow streets, tourists can head for the lively and colourful commercial district of Escolta and Quiapo, stopping for a meal in Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown, ending up in the San Miguel district, a favourite haunt of the upper classes during the Spanish colonial era.
At less than P500 (US$10) per adult, the tiring but highly entertaining commentaries are a real steal, and in most cases, change a visitor’s perception of one of Asia’s most underrated cities.
Slurp a rainbow
Make a quick stop at a Razon’s outlet (Greenbelt area and Jupiter Street in Makati and Greenhills Shopping Complex) and savour a typical Filipino dessert halo-halo.
Meaning literally “mix mix”, the rainbow-coloured treat derived its name from the blend of ingredients jumbled in a parfait glass, topped with crushed ice and doused with condensed milk and sugar. While many eateries claim to concoct the best halo-halo, Razon’s boasts macapuno (“sport coconut”), sweetened bananas and leche (milk) flan, which others do not use.
The restaurant also serves popular Filipino delicacies such as pancit luglug (noodles bathed in a special sauce) and sisig (spicy minced pig’s cheek).
Pick a souvenir
Shopping in Manila is one of the region’s best kept secrets, and nowhere is there a better wealth of choices than at Tiendesitas (literally: little stores), a unique retail option located in the Ortigas CBD/Asian Development Bank area that brings together the best of Philippine-made products under one roof.
Besides the ubiquitous dried mangos (still the leading souvenir of choice), there are also bauls (wooden chests) with intricate inlays of mother of pearl or carabao horn from Marawi City in Muslim Mindanao, hand-woven abaca products from the southern Tagalog region of Bicol and wood carvings from the Cordillera mountain tribes in northern Luzon. The onsite restaurants serve mostly Filipino fare.
Operating hours are from 1200 to 2400 daily. Entry is free.
Order a San Mig
The Philippines fervently believes its San Miguel Beer is up there with the world’s best, and foreigners – even the Germans – have been known to agree.?
Enjoy a mug or two or three of the celebrated Pale Pilsen, the low-calorie San Mig Light or dark Cerveza Negra at Baywalk,?a strip of restaurants along Manila Bay that come to raucous life nightly. It’s best chugged down with Filipino-style bar chow such as chicharon bulaklak?(fried chicken skin), mani (peanuts),?crispy pata (fried pork knuckles), tokwa’t baboy (tofu with pork) and kinilaw (sashimi).?