It can be hard to know what to make of Manila at first glance; faced with the unwieldy urban sprawl and perpetual gridlock, far too many people arrive only to jump on a plane to Boracay or elsewhere. It's their loss, because the Filipino capital has plenty to offer -- from the world's oldest Chinatown to fashionable nightclubs to the mall as social hub. Even after more than a half-century of independence, Manila is still rediscovering and reinventing itself. Visitors willing to hop on are certain to enjoy the ride.
Things to Do
For a taste of Manila's past glories, take a walk through the streets of the historic walled city of Intramuros -- preferably in the company of a guide who can bring it to life. To immerse yourself in modern Manila, browse the street markets of Chinatown, join the crowds in the malls of Makati or spy on riverside life from the Pasig River Ferry. Finally, spare a thought for the dead at either the extravagant Chinese Cemetery or the somber American Cemetery.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Filipino singers can be found in hotels throughout Asia, and many bars in Manila stage performances by live bands; karaoke is also a national obsession. The city's nightlife gets much wilder than that, however, whether in the gay bars of Malate, the trendy clubs of Makati or the seedy dives of P Burgos Street. The Cultural Center of the Philippines leads the way for ballet, theater and classical music.
Restaurants and Dining
Unlike many Southeast Asian cuisines, Filipino food goes fairly easy on the chili and is characterized instead by sour and vinegary flavors. It is also very meaty, with pork a particularly popular choice. High-quality international dishes are also widely available in Metro Manila. Although the prevalence of malls means that acceptable restaurants are rarely far away, Makati has long been the key dining destination. Chinatown and Malate are also good bets for cheap and tasty food.
The busy streets of Manila can be pretty stressful at times, so it's important to take time out to relax and regroup. Rizal Park is where locals go to reenergize, whether it's on a family picnic or doing tai chi at dawn. If it gets too hot outdoors, do as Filipinos do and retreat to one of the city's many shopping malls. As the day comes to an end, enjoy sunset over Manila Bay from the Harbour View restaurant, or book a traditional hilot massage.