Known as the “Pearl of the Orient”, Manila has much to offer visitors willing to pry open its shell and discover the beautiful lustre lying within. It is true that, on first appearances, Manila doesn’t appear to be as impressive or spectacular as other Asian cities. Having survived both natural and human disasters, today the city is a thriving mass of contrasts: skyscrapers soar above a city dotted with vast shanty towns and street stalls stand proudly against a backdrop of shiny, new, air-conditioned malls.
Most direct flights to Manila will fly into Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL), 4 miles south of the city.
Manila has a tropical climate, which is typically hot and wet in June-November, hot from December – February, and hot and humid in the summer months of March – May. Most visitors hedge their bets and visit between December and March when it is relatively dry and not too humid. However, if you are willing to brave the drenching downpours of rainy season, you are more likely to find cheap flights to Manila from June to November.
During your trip to Manila, a day in Intramuros is a must. Situated on the south bank of the Pasig River, Intramuros is the oldest part of Manila, dating back to the Spanish occupation in the 16th Century. The city is aptly named, gaining its origin from the Latin term “intra muros”, meaning “within the walls”; a name that is perfect for this walled city, which is fortified by high walls and moats. The classic Spanish architecture of Intramuros features thick stone walls, embellished with a stunning array of landscaped flowers and plants. Be sure to take a tour of Intramuros on a horse-drawn carriage, where you can stop and admire the architecture as well as a range of fascinating museums. Aside from its colonial beauty, the cool, shaded streets offer welcome respite from the heat and heavy traffic of central, modern Manila.
The Philippines is a practicing Catholic country and, as such, boasts a host of authentic cathedrals. The Church of San Augustin in Intramuros is a UNESCO Heritage Site, its distinctive design is a perfect example of the fusion of Spanish, Latin American, Philippine and Chinese architecture that is so unique to Manila.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Manila is home to some of the world’s largest malls and is considered one of the shopping capitals of Asia. Bargain seekers favour shopping in Manila over Singapore and even Hong Kong. Shopping is a much-loved pastime for the city’s inhabitants, and most spend their weekends milling the vast malls, which, like microcities, house department stores, theatres, spas, churches and temples. Designer shoes and clothes can be found in multitudes, at incredibly low prices. Be warned, though, the sizes tend to be on the small side and few of the clothes have been pre-washed, so are likely to shrink. If in doubt, go larger!
ou can spend a whole day and more in one of Manila’s many shopping precincts, such as the SM Mall of Asia, which faces Manila Bay. At a vast 390,000-square-metres, it is one of the world’s largest malls, offering something for everyone. You can start your day with a coffee, get your hair done and grab a massage before indulging in retail therapy. Stop for an Asian buffet lunch or complete the day with a trip to the cinema; the choice is yours.
If there is one thing that Manila knows how to do, it’s celebrate! On your trip to Manila, you are likely to encounter some sort of festival. Fiestas of patron saints are celebrated throughout the year, accompanied by a riot of colour, street music and an infectious air of excitement. It is not uncommon for the city to start celebrating Christmas as early as September, continuing through to mid-January. April’s full moon brings the Passion of Christ and Holy Week. With May comes Flower Month, or Santacruzan, during which time you will witness elaborate parades of beautifully dressed women in honour of the Virgin Mary.
Like any Asian city, Manila offers a broad choice when it comes to eating. Balut, a boiled, fertilized duck egg containing an embryo, may not be for the faint-hearted, but most Filipino menus will contain something for even the most sensitive taste buds. You can enjoy anything from traditional Filipino street food to Chinese, Thai and Western influences; you are limited only by your sense of adventure.
Street food in Manila still bears the influence of the Spanish occupation: the Filipino empanada, cocido and ensaymada all add an Asian twist to their Spanish origins. Visitors to Manila must try the adobo, a Filipino national dish containing pork or chicken (or both) marinated and stewed in pepper, garlic, soy sauce and bay leaves, served with rice and atchara (a pickled salad popular in Manila). Whether you enjoy street snacks or fine dining, sweet treats or savoury delights, don’t be afraid to explore the culinary offerings of Manila; you may just discover something exceptional.
Manila is a city just waiting to be discovered. Behind the bustling façade of one of the Philippine’s oldest cities you will experience something down-to-earth, beautiful and utterly authentic. Don’t just pass through on your way to the stunning beaches further afield: stop for a while and enjoy the many hidden gems that this incredible city has to offer.
If you want to discover this fantastic city, Travangelo can help you to find cheap flights to Manila.