The Essential Chic Guide to Manila Through the Eyes of a Local

The Essential Chic Guide to Manila Through the Eyes of a Local

Behind the scenes of a multicultural city

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So it has finally happened. The Philippines is getting its moment in the spotlight. While Thailand is the most well-known destination in South-East Asia, those who have ventured deeper into this corner of the continent have been richly rewarded. And who better to be your guide to Manila than a local resident?

In conversation with local Filipino Robyn Suner, I gained some insights into the real Philippines, in particular, the capital city of Manila, and just what makes it such a fascinating place to visit.

Robyn has lived in Manila for the past 12 years, making her the perfect person to help us create the essential chic guide to Manila. She is keen to talk about her hometown and very proud to be Filipino. What is her favourite thing about the Philippines?

“It’s the people. Across its 7107 islands, this country has such a diverse culture and Filipinos are considered to be the most hospitable, cheerful, resilient and friendly people in Asia. We see the beauty and humour in everything.”

Well, that’s always a good place to begin this chic guide to Manila!

All in good taste

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If you’re a foodie, then Manila is the place for you. “The Filipinos love to eat,” Robyn explains, “and it is the primary and most effective way to bond.” Makati is a great area within which to experience the real Manila and eat with the locals. Many of the best restaurants are situated in proximity to the Raffles Makati, a stunning hotel that is one of the best places to stay in the city. Encompassing the finest Filipino hospitality (“Expect Filipinos to smother you with kindness and hospitality” Robyn says), the Raffles service includes their signature butlers who will attend your every need. Featuring 32 soothing, stylish contemporary rooms and suites, the hotel also includes two outdoor pools, a magnificent spa and an exquisite collection of dining areas.

Local flavours

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If you can tear yourself away from the hotel, there are some excellent restaurants in the bustling Makati neighbourhood. Due to the many cultures and nationalities that call Manila home, it is a great place to try a range of cuisines and as our expert guide to Manila, Robyn is keen to offer her tips on the best locations and the tastiest thing to choose from the menu.

Head to Sentro 1771 for Filipino fusion food and make sure to try the sinigang na corned beef (corned beef in Filipino style sour soup). The People’s Palace is great for Thai food and veggie dishes, with homemade lemongrass ice cream and ginger biscuits for dessert. For a family friendly restaurant and a divine Sunday brunch, Conti’s is the place to go. Elsewhere, Sabao offers traditional Filipino soup in Ramen-style (Bulalo, Tinola and Molo are Robyn’s recommendations). For a fun, hole-in-the-wall style eatery, Wabi Sabi serves up delicious vegan food – keep yourself hydrated with the fresh lemongrass ice tea.

If you fancy something even more exotic, head to Pia y Damaso for ostrich steak and crisp cones, washed down with fresh Dalandan juice and Tarragon tea. Alternatively, you can sample baked oysters or duck confit with an apple brandy reduction at Myron’s – a restaurant famous with local food bloggers. Hap Chan, New Bombay and Korea Garden offer great Chinese, Indian and Korean food respectively while Bennie’s Falafel offers delectable Middle Eastern fare.

Don’t miss the chance to visit the BoTan Bubble Tea Cafe while you are in the capital and try its green milk tea — Robyn claims that, “you will hear angels after the first sip.” For an experience to write home about, head to the New Toho Food Center  the oldest restaurant in Manila. Built in 1888, it is run by the grandchildren of one of the original founders and what it lacks in décor, it makes up for with some truly spectacular food.

Great weekend markets

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Photo credits: chotda

Then there are Makati’s weekend markets, the next stop on this guide to Manila. The Saturday Salcedo Market was created in order to bring the community together and is an excellent way to experience a local tradition (Saturdays: 6am-2pm) Among a range of succulently tasty dishes — many of which are prepared right in front of you — Robyn recommends the monster burger, Lechon (roast pig), black ink paella and roasted calf.

Enjoy the sounds of street musicians and sample yet more delicious fare at the Sunday Legaspi Market (Sundays: 8am-2pm). The market acts as a platform for budding chefs where vendors face a rigorous selection process; as a result, the food is of impeccable quality. The grass-fed beef and lamb burger is delicious, or perhaps you can experiment by trying Oyster Cake with fried pigeon, with a healthy green juice from Rawlicious to wash it down.

Drink up!

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Where there is food, there is also drink and Manila is home to some world-class bars and great local haunts. To mix with the locals, head over to the Conspiracy Bar and Garden Café. This is a great chill-out place where you can mingle with underground Filipino artists and listen to live acoustic music. The Distillery is another trendy bar with a buzzing atmosphere; although make sure to pace yourself, as the drinks are very strong!

Karaoke is a big deal in the Philippines, and a visit to one of the many karaoke bars is a fun way to see the local people indulge in a favourite pastime. Red Box is a great karaoke bar with a strong local following.

If an elegant, high-end bar is what you’re looking for, both Buddha Bar and the Gramercy Manila are stunning, Makati-based destinations. The Opus is a hip lounge bar and club where the Manila glitterati spend their time, and if you fancy a dance, then the ValKyrie and Hyve are great for clubbing into the early hours.

The shopping culture

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Photo credit: btchristensen

Manila also offers some world-class shopping and this guide to Manila is here to recommend only the best spots. The Greenbelt Makati shopping mall next to the Raffles Hotel is among the best luxury shopping destinations. Makati-based Powerplant Mall Rockwell also includes a range of luxury fashion, lifestyle and beauty shops while Bonifacio High Street is the home of many fashionable boutiques. The Century City Mall is a stylish urban complex situated within a luxury skyscraper district in Makati and home to a range of designer and high street shops as well as restaurants and cinemas.

The city also includes some authentic Filipino shopping havens. Robyn suggests a visit to the Echo Store – this sustainable lifestyle store in Makati’s Business District sells green, eco-friendly and fair trade local products. With a focus on helping marginalized communities and supporting local cultural traditions, their range includes food produce from local farmers, as well as handmade, hand-woven crafts from Filipino artisans, much of which showcases unique local design. Another shop that embodies ethical values is Ritual – a Makati-based sustainable general store with a range of clean, green living products. Local lifestyle brand Yadu create some great handbags that are available in branches around the city, and Kultura Filipino sells fashion items, home accents and souvenirs which have been made by local craftsmen using indigenous materials to reflect the Filipino heritage.

Making a splash

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Photo credit: Jun Acullador

It’s abundantly clear that you could spend a long time enjoying the food, drink and shopping of Manila, a fact that Robyn attributes to the Filipino’s natural zest for life. “Metro Manila is a very busy city but you will see that people still have time to relax and bond. Filipinos are highly sociable so you will see a lot of social interaction.”

While it is a great entertainment centre, Manila is also home to many cultural destinations. As a local guide to Manila, Robyn advises exploring the city on foot, as most of the main sights are located close to one another. Both the National Museum and Cultural Centre are great ways to get an understanding of your surroundings, while a visit to the Intramuros – which translates from the Spanish as “within the walls” – offers the chance to see the oldest part of the city which existed when the Philippines was a territory under the Spanish Empire.

The next stop on this guide to Manila is the EDSA shrine, a historical site that commemorates the 1980s People Power Revolution, while the national park and shrine at Quezon Memorial Circle is also well worth a visit. Add Manila Cathedral, La Mesa Eco-Park and the Ayala Museum to your sightseeing list – the latter has a collection of ethnographic and archaeological pieces. The Rizal Park is a lovely place to spend some downtime while kids will love the Manila Ocean Park, which includes a theme park and outdoor swimming pools with snorkelling and diving facilities.

Final thoughts

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Photo credits: Gene Diaz | Roberto Verzo

I wonder; where is Robyn’s favourite place in the city? “The Washington SyCip Garden in Legaspi Village, Makati. This is my oasis in Manila. The spot has a forest feel, with a nice garden where I can sit back and reflect. There is a quiet Koi pond and a lot of spaces… the perfect place for some me-time.”

To conclude this guide to Manila, we asked Robyn what piece of advice would you give to any first-time visitor to Manila? “Be open-minded and adventurous with our food! We take pride in everything we cook, prepare and present to you.”