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There are a few interesting Spanish colonial remnants in the capital and major ones can all be visited in less than a day. Most are churches which form the focal point of passionate worship for the predominantly Catholic population. Dating back to 1571, Intramuros, the walled city, marks the original capital. The seat of the Spanish colonial government, Intramuros still has some traces of European architecture in its reconstructed cobblestone streets. Some structures survived the ceaseless pummelling of WWII when much of it was reduced to rubble. Since restored and featuring a few interesting buildings, Intramuros is the only area of charm in Metro Manila and in cooler weather could be an enjoyable stroll.
Within Intramuros is the strategically important Fort Santiago, prison of Dr Jose Rizal who was executed by Spain for rebellion in 1896. Exhibits connected with the national hero are displayed within the Rizal Shrine. During the Japanese Occupation the photogenic Fort housed torture chambers where countless prisoners of war were killed.
Other buildings within Intramuros include the understandably mundane cathedral - destroyed and rebuilt five times, with the new version built in 1958, and Casa Manila, a furnished 19th century Spanish mansion complete with period antiques.
Outside the walled city is Rizal Park or Luneta, a great place to people-watch in relatively fume-free air. It is full of vendors, lovers, photographers, prostitutes, and faith healers. At 7.30 p.m. the park features a light and sound show of Rizal's execution. Rizal is buried at the Rizal Monument, the park's centrepiece.
Government buildings in the park's vicinity were built during the American Period at the turn of the last century and designed along classical lines. Among these are the Department of Tourism, where you can get copies of tourist brochures, and the newly refurbished National Museum which houses Filipino cultural, historical and natural artefacts and documents. Behind it, the Museum of the Philippine People is recommended for an overview of Philippine life and culture. Other museums in the area, Museo Pambata (Children's Museum) and Metropolitan Museum, are worth a quick look if you want something else to visit while in the area.
The Malacanang Palace, official residence of the Republic's President has a museum of presidential portraits and memorabilia along with other historical items. Interesting displays here used to be Imelda Marcos' infamous three thousand pairs of shoes, and other glimpses at how the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and family lived off the country's coffers in royal luxury. Otherwise the museum is somewhat boring unless Philippine history excites you.
The culturally inclined will appreciate the Cultural Centre of the Philippines in Pasay. This arts centre contains exhibition halls, museums and performing arts theatres.
Quiapo is not your regular tourist attraction but is definitely the district that has the most character. Famous landmark is the once-impressive baroque Quiapo Church, now just a dull cement building due to a well-meaning but badly-executed restoration. Lots to see here: Chinese and Muslim merchants manning all sorts of shops and stalls, Catholic devotees in fervent prayer, lines of fortune tellers near sidewalk stalls selling images of Catholic saints alongside folk talismans and Buddhist charms. The place is crowded, and some parts very seedy but if you fancy seeing Manila as the common folk know it and don't mind socialising with the hoi polloi, then Quiapo will give you a feel of the city you won't find in any museum.
Tourist Information Offices
Tourist Information Offices are located at Ninoy Aquino International Airport and in Rizal Park, close to the skating rink.
Entertainment and Eating Out
Lively Metro Manila lacks nothing when it comes to having a party. It's very much a night city brimming with bars, nightclubs, karaoke joints, discos, live music and pubs.
Although much of it has been cleaned up, only Bangkok can rival Metro Manila's liberal night scene. The freewheeling red light districts are centred mainly around Ermita, Malate and Pasay. The capital also has broad choice of cosmopolitan restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets and the food is generally good.
The tourist belt is loosely based around Ermita and Malate and offers many restaurants and bars that range from the hip and trendy to the downright sleazy. The area presents a very wide variety of cuisine: spiffy French and Spanish restaurants among traditional Chinese dim sum and noodle houses, as well as Indian, African and Mediterranean places. Some eateries in the area may look like holes-in-the-wall but can be surprising finds. Generally, a quick look at the clientele will tell you if the place is worth trying.
Chinatown's many tea and noodle houses may not look snazzy but the food is decent and the atmosphere is non-touristy. In Intramuros, the established Ilustrado is an excellent restaurant that serves Spanish and Filipino cuisine. Superb dining is also available in top hotels in the Makati and Malate areas.
In the upmarket business district of Makati, Glorietta, Greenbelt, The Fort and Rockwell Centre are the fashionable places for entertainment, dining and shopping. Jupiter Street has a considerable number of good quality restaurants and bars, and the area along Makati Avenue, Kalayaan and P Burgos streets are dotted with nightclubs.
A twenty minute drive away, El Pueblo and the Strip in Ortigas Centre, Mandaluyong are lively places at night, with coffee shops and bars filled to the brim on weekend nights.
In Quezon City, the tourist hub is centred around Tomas Morato Avenue. The street is literally lined with familiar international franchises as well as stylish local bars and restaurants which serve cuisine almost as varied as that in Malate. Mama Rosa, located right beside the street's roundabout serves local dishes in a refreshingly non-traditional atmosphere. Nearby West and Timog Avenues are also known for their restaurants and bars.
The city's newest happening spot is Eastwood City in Libis, Quezon City. The commercial complex has more than its fair share of up-and-coming restaurants, but it's best to be picky as some can disappoint. The bars and clubs in the Libis area are mostly frequented by the young, sophisticated college set.
The ubiquitous fish-ball hawker stands are fixtures in almost every city street. They sell fried balls of all sorts - squid, fish chicken, etc - skewered onto barbeque sticks. Some also sell hard-boiled eggs fried in batter and banana-cues, fried bananas coated with caramelised sugar. At night, they're joined by stalls that sell barbequed innards. Safety is uncertain, but if you must try these stick to the franchised stalls.
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Manila Travellers Tales
I would recommend to go Greenbelt for meal, Lndmark and Glorietta for shopping and Sanry''s for money exchange.
Restaurant: Harbour View on the Pier!!!! Outstanding food - a different experience (and we went three times!!!!) Fed 9 people for the equivalent of $100.00 USD!!!!! And everyone was stuffed like a Christmas goose with everything from Female Crab (and I never knew that there was any ''significant'' difference (more meat on the female) to Steaks to Veggie favorites. It is not a fancy place and it is somewhat slow for service... But the price, the food and the experience - it can not be beat in Manila for family dining!!! Unless you are under 5 feet, stay away from the Jeepneys and the trikes...Metered taxis (or if you stay at the Copa, the associated taxi/limos) are the way to go. It is actually much nicer and not all that more expensive to take the taxi/limo from the Copa to your destination and HAVE THE DRIVER WAIT for you for other destinations or the return to the hotel. 9/10 times, picking up a cab at the location and trying to get back to the hotel can be hair-raising and expensive not to mention time consuming while the driver tries to find the hotel. ( You will see some interesting things though!!!) CAUTION: The best drug store in Manila is the chain Mercury... BUT - they require a prescription for EVERYTHING including what is an over-the-counter item anywhere else in the world. And - they sell by the tablet - not by the bottle or box. You can find some smaller drug stores that will sell w/o but they do not always have what your are looking for. BEST: BRING ENOUGH OF YOUR PRESCRIPTION and non-prescription items with you for your stay. It is best not to have to rely on the local outlets for your needs.
Moving around Manila by car was not a bad experience this time. The roads got better, less traffic jams, rental car was good idea, especially if you are traveling with family. But this is of course if you do not mind driving and you have driven in Philippines before.
Metro Manila is quite and interesting place with and interesting mixture friendly people. People who are shopping oriented can find most of anything they need. People like myself who like to sample various ethnic foods, will find this city rewarding. I enjoyed my trips to Baguio,Cabanatuan and Tagaytay learning some of the cultural aspects. On my next visit, I promise myself a trip to Boracay.
In Makati at Glorietta--try the Cabalen restaurant--filipino buffet for only 260 pesos--good food. In Boracay, there''s Jona''s shake. And while in Boracay, stay at Escondido, though not a beachfront hotel, is one of the best kept secrets in the island...Find out for yourself why.
We visited Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte. We stayed at the Vigan Plaza Hotel in Ilocos Sur. Very beautiful Hotel and great location. Highly recommend. We also visited Baguio. Be wary of people offering homes for rent. We were offered a 3 bedroom house for 5,000 pesos. We later found out it was an agent and the actual cost of the house was only 2,700 pesos! I would recommend staying at a hotel. Never will we do that again!
Bay Walk in Ermita was nice on a warm summer night. This was a "locals" destination so we got a good feel for the local nightlife instead of the touristy area.
Jeepney is most economical means of transportation. Negotiate taxi rates in advance,else you may be taken for a ride. I actually ate cooked food at corner stands without a problem. I liked it, even after I found out I was eating pig intestine.
We were fortunate enough to go to the rice fields at Banaue as well as Pagsanjan Falls which I would also recommend and last year took in Baguio City and Boracay. Only the best and strongest minded drivers should attempt to rent a car and drive in Manila but Makati is fair once you understand the filipino way of driving.
Lake Taal was an incredible place to visit. It is located in Cavite towards Laguna so accessiblity from Manila was easy. The scenery was breath taking. The climate was cool and pleasant because of the higher elevation. This volcano within a lake is a must see. The restaurants that overlook this panoramic view are all excellent as the serve traditional to modern cuisine. This was the culminating point of our trip. Every picture we took developed into a picture perfect postcard.