Story by Kristine Ortiz.
Often considered by many tourists as a place to just “skip over,” Manila is slowly changing such impressions by emerging as the heart of Philippine development and by reflecting a strong Filipino spirit (Haiyan relief efforts were still going strong here). It’s a place where you can now find the traditional and the modern side by side, from the quaintest coffee shops to the most luxurious high-end boutiques (Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Prada to name a few), if you just know where to look. Though it may not be perfect, Manila is one of the most fascinating places in Asia today. Here are some of my favorite picks.
Satisfy your sweet tooth at this cozy Quezon City cafe, which specializes in everything chocolate. Some personal favorites include the Xoco Latte, Churros and Chocolate, and the Chocolate Fries. With its charming, hand-painted decor and too-cool outdoor seating (popular with nearby university students), it’s the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon. Details: Xocolat.com.ph.
Conti’s Bakeshop & Restaurant
Open since 1997, Conti’s has combined traditional, homestyle Pinoy cooking with a contemporary dining environment. Expect attentive service and mouthwatering meals. Be sure to get the mom-approved fresh lumpia (my mother is a fan), lechon kawali (fried pork belly) and a generous slice of their famous cakes. Details: Contis.ph.
Intramuros Walking Tour
Former theater actor Carlos Celdran guides both locals and tourists alike on this two-hour tour of the “Walled City.” Undeniably entertaining and brilliantly thought-provoking, Celdran provides new insight into Manila’s history. As an added bonus, there’s free halo-halo at the end of the tour! Details: Celdrantours.blogspot.com.
Wanna hear what OPM (Original Pilipino Music) is like? Then look no further than 19 East. This music bar is the top spot to catch some of the best acts in the Manila music scene today. Besides the great music, this bar has a mean food and drink menu. Details: 19east.com
Started in 2001, this modern lifestyle brand has become a local favorite by taking cues from the distinct imagery that makes up life and culture in Manila. Expect to find prints, shirts and mugs emblazoned with the images of national hero Jose Rizal, jeepneys, Philippine catchphrases and iconography. Details: Teammanilalifestyle.com.
Sunnies by Charlie
The brainchild of It-girl Georgina Wilson, Sunnies by Charlie is a too-cool boutique that features a quintessential Manila must-have — sunglasses. With on-trend offerings (we spotted some great Karen Walker and Prada dupes) that are also affordable ($12 or less), it’s hard not to pick up a pair or two. Details: Sunniesbycharlie.com.
This luxury resort is a true oasis amidst Manila’s infamous hustle and bustle. Looking to really treat yourself? Consider booking the 1,800-square foot Opera Suite, which features an incredible panoramic view of Manila Bay. Looking to indulge? Their buffet, Spiral, is hands down one of the best in town. Details: Sofitelmanila.com.
This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here.