Favorite Travel Experiences
Learn to Love Manila on a Walking Tour: Likening Manila to halo-halo, a Filipino dessert that mixes shaved ice, beans, milk and fruit into an unlikely if enjoyable concoction, guide Carlos Celdran (www.celdrantours.blogspot.com) offers insights into Manila's contradictions. "Everything means something, from the history of the brick on the floor to walls made of volcanic ash," he says. "Never take Manila at face value." His enthusiasm is infectious whether you're on his essential -- and occasionally controversial -- tour of Intramuros or absorbing his evocation of martial law under Ferdinand Marcos.
See Another Side of Manila from the Pasig River: Over the decades Manila's main waterway has been choked by the pollution of a rapidly expanding city. The current ferry scheme (www.prrc.com.ph) shows signs of succeeding where others failed, tackling pollution with a dredging project and cleaning up the riverbanks. It's primarily a commuter service, operating at rush hours during the week and in the mornings on weekends. Try the hour-long ride between Guadelupe and Escolta, with vistas that range from the president's residence to decrepit factories.
Enjoy a Traditional Massage: In some rural communities, traditional healers still treat illnesses through herbal remedies, chiropractic-style manipulation and massage. It is primarily the latter that has made the transition to modern urban spas. Practitioners start by applying coconut oil and running banana leaves across a customer's body -- the leaves are used to detect imbalances in the body, areas where the flow of "energy" is congested. These areas are then worked on with massage. Try the Spa (www.thespa.com.ph) in Makati or Le Spa at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza (www.sofitel.com).
Watch Martial Arts at Dawn in Rizal Park: Locals gather in this popular park, also known by its old name Luneta, to practice tai chi and arnis de mano (traditional Filipino stick fighting). On Sunday mornings they're joined by ballroom dancers. With ornamental gardens, an orchidarium and butterfly house, and a monument to the national hero José Rizal, the park is actually worth visiting any time of day. Free concerts are often held in the open-air auditorium on Sunday evenings.
Immerse Yourself in the World's Oldest Chinatown: The smell of incense and the sound of Chinese music mark the busy streets of the Binondo district, set aside in the 16th century for Chinese merchants who converted to Catholicism. Binondo Church is one of the oldest in the country, but many Filipinos visit Chinatown primarily for its great places to eat. Try the stalls on Carvajal Street or pick up the Big Binondo Food Wok Map, issued by guide Ivan Man Dy (www.oldmanilawalks.com), who runs popular tours through the area.
Join the Crowds for the Grand Marian Procession: Filipinos love a good party, and the calendar is packed with festivals ranging from the sacred to the secular. Held on the first Sunday in December every year, the Grand Marian sees white-clad devotees accompanying carriages with images of the Virgin Mary through the streets of Intramuros (the city's historical heart). It starts in the late afternoon and at night the carriages are illuminated, adding to the festive atmosphere.
Take to the Streets in a Horse and Carriage: Traditional kalesas still provide public transport in some parts of the city, particularly in Chinatown, where they are used by locals (but the drivers have a reputation for overcharging unwary travelers). The kalesas in Intramuros and around Rizal Park are a much better bet -- the set-up is more organized and drivers usually adhere to standard rates. Hire a kalesa for an hour's tour for around PHP250.
Ponder Wartime History on Corregidor Island: With a strategic location at the entrance to Manila Bay, this volcanic island (www.corregidorphilippines.com) has played a key defensive role throughout the history of the city. During the Second World War it was used as the Allied headquarters until U.S. forces withdrew in May 1942. Most visitors today are day-trippers enjoying the scenery, but the island has several war memorials and battle-damaged buildings to visit. Among the island accommodation options is a camp where basic jungle survival skills are taught.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.