Strong Spanish and American influences make this metropolis pulsate with a thoroughly western rhythm, says Gigi Onag
CRUISE THE PASIG
The 25km Pasig River that cuts across Metro Manila was a major waterway transporting people and goods during the Spanish era from the 15th to 18th centuries. The river is currently undergoing major rehabilitation.
Visitors who want to see the metropolis from a different vantage view can take one of the passenger ferries that have been re-introduced in 2007. There are 17 stations in the ferry network.
It’s best to get on Guadalupe station in Makati City and get off at Plaza Mexico in Intramuros. Along the way, watch out for historical and cultural landmarks amid the changing landscape: the Sta Ana Race Track, the high-end Rockwell Commercial Centre which used to be the site of an old power plant, the iconic orphanage Hospicio de San Jose, Malacañang Palace and of course, the old walled city of Manila in Intramuros.
Depending on the distance of travel, ferry tickets are priced at PHP25 (51 cents), PHP35 (72 cents) and PHP45 (92 cents).
FOLLOW THE HERO
From Plaza Mexico, it’s a quick 20-minute walk to Fort Santiago, one of the oldest Spanish fortifications in Manila built in 1571. It was the last place of confinement of national hero Jose Rizal before he was executed before firing squad on December 30, 1896. The museum contains his memorabilia, and his footsteps, leading to the nearby Rizal Park are embedded in bronze on the grounds.
There is much to explore beyond the walls Intramuros. A must-see is the Unesco Heritage site San Agustin Church, the oldest church in the Philippines and is renowned for its magnificent trompe l’oeil murals covering the walls and the ceiling. Across the street from San Agustin is Casa Manila, one of the grand houses circa 1850. It contains a museum showcasing artefacts from a typical ilustrado (well-to-do) household of that time. Casa Manila is now part of a complex that houses specialty and gift shops.
Travellers can join a jeepney tour (the Philippines’ ubiquitous mass transport), operated by Hop-On Hop-Off Travel. Unlike the standard jeepney, this one is air-conditioned and fitted with a karaoke system onboard. It comfortably sits 20 people. A tour guide tags along to give local facts and trivia. A half-day package tour costs PHP2,500 (US$51) per person.
SEE THE SHARKS
From Intramuros, you can take a taxi (flag down fare is PHP30/61 cents) and traverse Roxas Boulevard for a 10-minute taxi ride to the newly opened Manila Ocean Park at the back of the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park.Entrance fee is PHP400 (US$8) for adults and PHP350 (US$7) for children from 1.37m and below. Walk through a 25m long underwater tunnel surrounded by sharks, fishes and invertebrates indigenous to the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia.
After the tour of the park, visitors can also enjoy a glass-bottom boat ride (ticket priced at PHP150/US$3) or dip their feet into the water for fishes to nibble away dead skin in the unique fish spa (PHP120/US$2).
Dine BY THE BAY
San Miguel by the Bay is a popular dining strip along the redefined shoreline of Manila Bay. It is located behind the Mall of Asia (MOA), one of the world’s largest shopping malls. From Manila Ocean Park, the quickest way to go there is via a south-bound taxi ride along Roxas Boulevard towards Baclaran for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Standing on reclaimed land off Manila Bay, San Miguel by the Bay features a fresh seafood market (called dampa in Pilipino) where people buy ingredients and produce that are taken to any one of the restaurants lining the strip to be cooked however way they want – grilled, steamed or deep-fried etc. The restaurant charges a service fee for cooking each dish which is weighed by the kilo.
Most restaurants offer a choice of either alfresco or indoor dining. To get your money’s worth, it is best to come in a group of at least three people.
From MOA, a trip to Makati City’s Greenbelt 5 takes about half an hour at the minimum. Located in an upscale section of town, the new Greenbelt 5 is part of five-section complex of dining, entertainment and commercial establishments. What sets this newest mall apart is an area called the Filipino Zone where you can discover the finest in Filipino fashion and lifestyle products. Adventurous gourmets, who love to sample the culinary delights from different parts of the country, can go up to level two and exercise their taste buds at Travel Café Philippines, a destination-themed lifestyle outlet run by the country’s Department of Tourism. Here, you can also try Coffee Alamid, made from civet droppings and said to be one of most expensive coffee types in the world.
SHOP FOR SOUVENIRS
Sans the normal traffic congestion along EDSA (site of the historic People Power revolution of 1986), a trip from Makati City to the Tiendesitas complex along Ortigas Avenue in Pasig City takes about 30 minutes. If you want to take home some souvenirs, this sprawling shopping mecca has plenty of merchandise on offer – local delicacies, handicrafts, antiques and a lot more – from 18 regions of the Philippines. You can bargain up to about 30 percent off the tag price.
Sales personnel manning the stalls speak English well so communication won’t be problem. One can go around the complex riding a calesa (the native horse-drawn carriage) that charges PHP10 (20 cents) for adults and PHP5 (10 cents) for children.
by Gigi Onag