Manila is no Hong Kong; not even Singapore. It may be a little bit like Bangkok. But, the Philippine capital has its own character which sprung from its long history, its people and its aspirations.
Whenever you find yourself for the first time in Manila on a weekend, en route, probably, to the luscious Boracay or the enchanting Palawan, go out and see the Manila charm for yourself. Here is a curated itinerary for you to consider with the 48 hours you are in town:
Waste no time and kick start your weekend at the Salcedo Community Market. Located at the heart of Salcedo Village in Makati, the market boasts a wide array of food options – from slow-cooked ribs, to beef lasagna, to samosas, all the way to scallop balls. It’s no short of refreshments and sweets, too!
The market also caters to your gardening and home aesthetic needs with potted plants, succulents and fresh flowers that are on sale. You’d also find an assortment of fresh produce and seafood. The market is open on Saturdays from 7am to 2pm. In case you miss it, you can try its nearby sister, the Legazpi Sunday Market, from 7:30am to 2pm.
History junkies will certainly have good time at the Ayala Museum. The six-story building in Makati houses a massive collection of Filipino archeological and historical exhibits. Begin your tour with its impressive library of gold pieces and ceramic pottery from pre-colonial Philippines. The museum also features 60 intricately crafted dioramas which will take you down Philippines' history. The exclusive gallery for the paintings and drawings of Fernando Zobel is also a must-see.
You may visit Ayala Museum from Tuesdays to Sundays from 9am to 6pm. For lunch, you may pick from the tons of restaurants at the adjacent Greenbelt – and probably take a quick shopping spree.
Immerse inside the walled city of Intramuros and experience colonial Manila during the Spanish occupation. Begin your tour at the main gate of Fort Santiago – the fortress where national hero Jose Rizal was imprisoned more than a century ago. Then, find your way to the imposing Manila Cathedral – an important religious and civic landmark in the predominantly Catholic Philippines. A few blocks away is the equally impressive San Agustin Church. The cobblestone pavements will certainly add a degree of authenticity to the experience.
Being one of the major tourist attractions in Manila, Rizal Park, aka Luneta, is frequented by locals and tourists, alike. Stroll along the greeneries of the many gardens within the park and be entertained by the Musical Dancing Fountain. Pay homage at the Rizal Monument – a bronze sculpture that’s definitely hard to miss. If you have some time to spare, the park is also a good place to picnic. Spanning 58 hectares, the park is open everyday from 5AM to 9PM. It gets overly crowded on holidays, though.
End the afternoon by soaking in the breathtaking and glorious Manila Bay sunset anytime from 5:30PM to 6:30PM. This is probably the one thing on this list that you wouldn't want to miss. Prepare to take quite a lengthy time lapse as the sun sets or the perfect, Instagram-worthy photo. Or simply admire the richness of the view all to yourself.
There are various vantage points to see this priceless moment – at the SM Mall of Asia by The Bay, at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila or at Manila Ocean Park. You may also pick a free spot at the Baywalk, the promenade along Roxas Boulevard.
At times sketchy, the vibrant Poblacion Distict in Makati is known for a thriving food scene. Main players are the Mexican food joint, El Chupacabra, the sari-sari-store-turned-chillout-spot, Tambai, and the Latin-American chicken place, Señor Pollo. Biker bars are also common in the area. This is a sure fire way to cap the night.
Sunday morning in Manila is a window of downtime to do various activities since most establishments are yet to open for the day. You may take a jog at Ayala Triangle Gardens, avail of your hotel’s amenities – a dip in the pool or a grub at the breakfast buffet, or just have some quiet time at Baclaran Church.
Take some time of public art appreciation with ArtBGC – a collection of murals around Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig. Started in 2015, this is likely Manila’s answer to Melbourne’s Hosier Lane, Penang’s George Town and Singapore's Haji Lane. With the vibrant colors and offbeat concept of these works of art, you’ll surely up your OOTD game real quick! Most murals are located at Bonifacio High Street reaching the ends of 7th Avenue all the way to Rizal Drive.
The mall culture is really strong in Manila, especially on weekends. While in BGC, visit the Uptown Mall or the Bonifacio High Street for your retail indulgences. You may also head to Ayala Center in Makati where a series of shopping malls will keep you company from Greenbelt all the way to SM Makati. Alternatively, there's SM North EDSA in the north of the metro and Alabang Town Center in the south. With all these retail hubs, you can easily spend the entire afternoon – till evening – scrambling around.
At night, hit Forbestown in BGC for your dinner fix and some late-night drinks. Forbestown is a strip of restaurants, bars and cafés adjacent to the Manila Golf and Country Club. There’s a ton to choose from: Wrong Ramen for Japanese, Melo’s for all things beef, Frank's for all-day breakfast, and of course, Tipsy Pig for internationals with a hint of Filipino.
Late-night bonus – Casino hopping
With the fast-growing casino industry in Metro Manila, particularly in Pasay City, it surely is giving neighboring Macau a run for its money. You can choose from the major casino-resorts around the area – Solaire, City of Dreams, Resorts World or Okada.
Of course, there are a lot more things to see, food to taste and experiences to enjoy in Manila – a food crawl in Binondo and Maginhawa, a trip to the National Museum or the Mind Museum, to name a few. But you can only do so much in two days. So there's even more reasons to discover Manila for more than just a weekend – a week or a month, perhaps?
Truly, Manila is a major tourist hub in the making and I can’t wait to see it at the top of every must-visit lists.