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Manila for Families

April 18, 2008 By: Mark Rogers

Senior Editor Mark Rogers is participating in Hawaiian Airlines’ inaugural non-stop flight fam tour to Manila. Here’s his day-three account of his trip.

Manila dancers

The singing staff from Ihaw-Ihaw, Kalde-Kaldero, Kawa-Kawali at Aawitan Kayo Restaurant.

On my first morning in Manila, I got the chance to sample the city’s sights, which gave me a better feel for the city. I’m accustomed to visiting Asian cities, such as Bangkok and the Kowloon side of Hong Kong, so I wasn’t overwhelmed by Manila’s frenetic pace and sensory assault. In fact, as bad as the traffic is in Manila, the presence of decorated jeepneys, which are Philippine twin-benched jitney buses that seat about a dozen passengers, add a colorful and distracting touch as you wend slowly along the city streets. When you add cyclos, motorcycles and bikes—plus kids hitching rides by hanging off the rear end of the jeepneys—you have a road mix that plays out like a chase scene in a Hollywood movie. It’s hard to imagine kids from the U.S. not being knocked out by the panoply of vehicles.

Although the day was filled with sightseeing and not particularly family-focused, there were two stops along the route that are excellent for families. The just-opened Manila Ocean Park houses one of the largest aquariums in Asia. Don’t be put off by the unimpressive entrance: even though the park just opened this March, the entrance looks like it belongs to a much older facility. Once inside, after paying a 400-peso (approximately $10) fee, you’ll be surrounded by fascinating marine exhibits, showcasing such species as tiny spotted garden eels—so-called because they plant themselves in a vertical burrow and spend their lives in one spot, swaying in the current like plants in the wind.

When the Manila Ocean Park is in full swing, it will have one of the largest man-made seawater lagoons in the Philippines, where guests can swim and snorkel and even learn how to scuba dive. A completion date for the lagoon isn’t set, but the hope is that it will be completed by the end of the year.

If you’re a family with kids, or just a small group with a sense of humor, you can’t go wrong making reservations for lunch or dinner at Ihaw-Ihaw, Kalde-Kaldero, Kawa-Kawali at Aawitan Kayo Restaurant. That’s a mouthful, but if you ask about the restaurant on J.P. Rizal at the corner of Makati Avenue, the one with the singing staff, anyone in Manila will know what you’re talking about.

When I arrived with the Hawaiian Airlines’ contingent we were shown to our seats and the singing and dancing by the staff didn’t stop until we were done eating, more than an hour later. There was high-spirited singing of songs in Tagalog, with an occasional American standard mixed in. What could have been a corny experience was instead completely entertaining. The whole staff pitches in—from the cooks to the security guards, to the waiters and waitresses. Not only was the singing good, the food wasn’t bad either. One dish after another of authentic Philippines countryside cuisine appeared on our table, such as Tepanyaki Buat, a platter piled with prawns, shrimp, squid and fish, or the Manachit Special, a chicken and pork dish accompanied by seven kinds of sauces. Entrees are reasonably priced and it would be easy to put together a selection of platters, side dishes and drinks for less than $10 per person.

As the meal progresses, diners are encouraged to get up and sing along with the staff. During my visit, a tagline I saw marketing Philippines tourism was: “We go the extra smile.” Surely it characterized the restaurant’s singing staff. Their good nature was even more impressive when I learned that they work 12 hours daily, running a restaurant and performing with zeal, all for the equivalent of $12 a day.

The restaurant doesn’t have a website, but you can call Ihaw-Ihaw, Kalde-Kaldero, Kawa-Kawali at Aawitan Kayo Restaurant at 899-75-28, or, better yet, have your hotel’s concierge phone for you. The restaurant is a short drive from Manila Ocean Park, making it easy to combine the two.

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