LOST AND LOVING IT
MANILA IS A VIBRANT CITY STEEPED IN HISTORY. IT’S EVEN BETTER WHEN YOU TAKE A CROWDED BUS OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Although I wouldn’t recommend getting lost in a foreign country, the misadventure that may take place can lead to the perfect escape. Deciding to take a Jeepney for the pure experience, we were sent on a road of discovery, witnessing the lifestyle of the Filipino through back-streets, rather than the main roads of Manila. Jeepneys are refurbished American military vehicles left over from World War II. They are now manufactured in the Philippines and are a mainstay of the country’s public transportation. On our little adventure we also tried to hop on the many other modes of transport to get us back on track, including motorbikes, tuk tuks, rickshaws, taxis and horse and buggies that contribute to Manila’s bustling atmosphere. The city of contrasts is even more apparent in Makati, one of the 16 metropolitan cities that make up the district of Manila. It is home to sleek skyscrapers, slick hotels, churches dating back to 1620 and high-end malls. It is the financial hub with lots of banks and businesses lining the streets among world-class shopping centres that seem to engulf the surroundings.
The best known is Greenbelt Park, a sprawling 2.8 hectare garden integrating an indoor experience of retail and dining. Travelling on a weekend meant the city was quieter than the usual hustle during the working week and less congested than the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong. It made it easier to explore but it was when you travelled outside of the central area that you got to see the rich history and diversity of Manila. Filipino culture has been influenced by both the East and the West with significant change brought by Spain and the US. Its intense lifestyle has been directed by several major events throughout its history. The Spanish colonised the country more than 300 years ago, Japan seized the Philippines in 1941 during World War II, and the islands were granted full independence in 1946. It was a sobering feeling to walk through the Manila American Memorial where more than 17,100 grave sites lie, and more than 36,000 names are engraved in stone for those never found. We were taken through the “old Manila’’ on Bambikes, made by a small boutique business benefiting tourists and residents alike. The strong bamboo frame carried us through the cobblestone streets to churches, museums, and a rooftop bar with a 360-degree view of Manila. Bambike Evolution Cycles founder Bryan Benitez-mcclelland is reinvesting in the community by helping tourists learn about the Philippines. Part of the proceeds from tours goes back into the region in the form of feeding programs for students, providing safe places to play and offering full-time employment with benefits. Baron Travel was exceptional in helping us navigate our way through Manila and giving us the highlights of the region in three days. If you only have a short time to visit, the Ayala Museum is the perfect place to find out about the detailed and compelling history of the Philippines. The Diorama displays were the best I had ever seen and the exquisite gold exhibit left your eyes boggled. But for something totally different, for little and big kids, is the Dessert Museum, eight rooms of deliciousness, each designed according to the latest trends. Four of the mouthwatering rooms have already been changed in the year and a half it has been open. More than 1000 people a day follow
candy rabbits through donut holes, slide down a sprinkle slide and swing on cake puffs. If you are not too full from this treat you can explore the Salcedo Markets on a Saturday. The food community is full of fabulous flavours and rich traditions in the heart of Makati. Formed in 2005, the market meets every Saturday at the Jaime Velasquez Park of Salcedo village. Its stalls offer a wide range of wet and dry food, with cuisines from all over the world. The most interesting we were tempted to try was Isaw, chicken intestine wrapped on a stick. This is something Filipinos enjoy, but I can now say I have tried it and probably never will again. An added bonus to the trip was to travel out a bit further to Marikina, the home of the shoe industry in the Philippines. You can dine in the 200-year-old building once owned by Don Laureano Guevara, recognised as the father of the shoe industry, stroll the streets and purchase some shoes, visit Our Lady of the Abandoned Church, the oldest church in the Philippines, lay your eyes on a giant floating heel, and see the fitting tribute to the city at the Shoe Museum which includes a number of shoes worn by former Philippines First Lady Imelda Marcos. There is much more to explore in the Philippines considering it comprises more than 7000 islands. But exploring Manila is easily achievable in a few days. Use the extra time to get on a quick flight and take an adventure to one or more of the famous islands like Palawan or Palaui.