Most visitors to the Philippines, whether business or leisure travelers, will find themselves at least passing through Manila, the country’s capital. Manila is a fast-paced urban metropolis with many of the charms, and some of the setbacks, associated with Asian cities. You’ll find wonderful restaurants and vibrant nightlife, friendly people and history around every corner. You’ll also find a fair share of grit and grime as you navigate the exhaust-laden streets. Every great city is a study in contrasts, and Manila is no exception.
A Premier Suite at The Peninsula Manila offers a spectacular view of the Manila skyline.
Makati, Manila’s business center, is where you’ll find the largest selection of high-end shopping. The Philippine people are mad for malls, and even if you’re not a fan of shopping centers, you’ll probably enjoy an hour or two strolling through the sprawling Greenbelt Mall. The mall has loads of open space, alfresco cafés, real restaurants—rather than fast-food outlets—and shops such as Louis Vuitton and Ferragamo.
“Jeepneys”—twin-benched jitney buses that seat about a dozen passengers—are a delightful and colorful sight on Manila’s streets. Each jeepney has a name painted above its windshield, usually in Tagalog, sometimes in English—names like “Fantasy Island” or “Sunrise.” 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.
Many business travelers are now taking their families with them on their trips, combining family time with work. A good bet for families is the newly opened Manila Ocean Park, which houses one of the largest aquariums in Asia. Don’t be put off by the unimpressive entrance. Even though the park just opened in March, the entrance looks like it belongs to a much older facility. Once inside, after paying a 400 peso (approximately $10) fee, you’ll see fascinating marine exhibits. 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. Although a completion date for the lagoon isn’t available, the project should be finished by the end of the year.[PAGE-BREAK]
Where to Stay
If you’re a business traveler, the three best hotels to suit your needs are The Mandarin Oriental, Manila; The Peninsula Manila; and the Makati Shangri-La, Manila. All three are within a few blocks of each other and conveniently located in the heart of Makati City. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport is about six miles away.
A deluxe room at the Mandarin Oriental.
Although the 442 rooms and suites at the Mandarin Oriental, Manila have a residential feel, the hotel’s staff really knows how to cater to the business traveler. Each guest room is equipped with two telephone lines with IDD and NDD facilities. For even more business bells and whistles, book one of the hotel’s 91 Business Rooms on the fourth, fifth and sixth floors for quick access to the Business Centre. Business Rooms have an array of multi-function communications equipment that combines a fax, copier, scanner and printer.
For the best city views, choose one of the Skyline Rooms or Deluxe Skyline Rooms. On clear days you’ll also be treated to views of the mountains (the clearest months are November through May).
The Mandarin Oriental Club is on the 15th to the 18th floors, with a private lounge on the 17th floor. Guests enjoy complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, evening cocktails, free access for the first two hours to three boardrooms and complimentary pressing of one suit or dress per day.
The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Manila has a Thai decor and ambiance. The bi-level spa has four private rooms; two of these are specially designed for couples. The spa manager is Angelita Castillo ([email protected], 632-750-8888, ext. 1901 or 1902). Advance spa reservations can be made by contacting [email protected]. The hotel also has a yoga studio on the 18th floor.
The hotel’s Paseo de Uno restaurant has Asian and international dishes prepared in open kitchens. The Tivoli has continental cuisine and Tin Hau offers Chinese dishes. Martini’s is one of Manila’s places to see and be seen. Martini’s has a “Thank You for Smoking” policy that fits right in with its live jazz and array of cocktails and now its “Music and Wine” nights.
The hotel is proud of its personalized service. As a guest at the hotel, I saw numerous examples of this. For instance, when I returned to the hotel after making a purchase at a convenience store, the bellman took my purchase and placed it in a Mandarin Oriental logo shopping bag and handed it back to me with a smile.
The Mandarin Oriental, Manila is presently offering the Seasonal Choices package, which combines accommodations with breakfast, double occupancy at the same rate, late checkout and a complimentary extra bed for a child under 12. The package is valid through September 30. The travel agent liaison is Christine Angeles, counter sales executive at Baron Travel. Her direct line is 632-750-0015.
A panoramic view of the Makati Shangri-La.
The Makati Shangri-La, Manila has 699 guest rooms and suites. A nice touch in the corridors is the Zen-inspired waterfall treatments on each floor. The 599 guest rooms have furniture accented with Canadian maplewood finish, high-speed Internet access, a pillow menu and bathrooms fitted with TVs. Even-numbered rooms on the upper floors (19th floor and above) have sunset views. Junior Suites and Executive Suites are a popular option. These are spacious and, because of their extra closets and storage area, especially popular with travelers on Manila shopping expeditions.
Horizon Club rooms on the 23rd to 25th floors offer an enhanced level of service, comfort and convenience, including late checkout until 6 p.m., broadband Internet access and a personal concierge. Horizon Club rooms provide access to the lounge, which is on the 24th floor. The Club Floor rooms provide either sunset views of Manila Bay or mountain views.
Restaurants at the hotel include Red, specializing in seafood, Inagiku for market-fresh sushi and Shang Palace, serving modern Cantonese dishes.
The hotel’s Stresscape Spa has five treatment rooms on the fourth floor inside the Health Club. Shereen Silva is the spa manager ([email protected], 632-813-8888, ext. 7086). Agents with VIP requests can contact Senior Sales Manager Gem Morales ([email protected]).
This month The Peninsula Manila embarked on a renovation of its 11-story, 249-room Ayala Tower, scheduled to be complete in late 2008. The hotel also added eight Mercedes-Benz S-Class limousines to its fleet for sightseeing or round-trip transfers from the hotel to the airport. Rooms at The Club go fast. The Club has an Executive Lounge with complimentary dining, two boardrooms, computer workstations and a satellite business center. Services include express check-in/out, high-speed Internet access, secretarial services and a butler.
Rooms with prime views on the 2nd floor to the 11th floor include the odd-numbered Makati Tower Superior Rooms (pool and garden views), the even-numbered rooms in the Makati Tower (views of the Makati Central Business District and Ugarte Park), the corner-positioned Makati Tower Premier Suites (odd-numbered suites have pool and garden views, while even-numbered suites overlook the Makati Central Business District and Ugarte Park) and even-numbered Ayala Tower Deluxe rooms provide pool and garden views. The hotel has 12 Two-Bedroom Executive Suites that can accommodate two adults and two children. These suites have a living room, dining area and a separate powder room. The hotel’s Peninsula Suite has a master bedroom, a guest room that can accommodate two adults and two children, a dining room that can seat 12, living room, solarium, study, kitchen, two bathrooms, a powder room and private access to the hotel’s helipad.
The travel agent liaison is Cristina Ong-Cruz, director of marketing ([email protected], 632-887-2888, ext. 6600).
The Peninsula Spa has four treatment rooms. Treatments reflect a fusion of Asian, Western and Filipino-inspired therapies. Advance bookings can be arranged by contacting Spa Director Marlon Santos (marlon [email protected], 632-887-2888, ext. 6504).
The hotel has several restaurants. The Peninsula Hopper option is a fun way to sample dishes from an array of venues at the hotel. During a single evening, you’ll have the opportunity to dine at Spices (Asian), Mi Piace (Italian), Old Manila (European) and The Lobby (light meals and desserts).
Entry Requirements: U.S. citizens need a passport to enter the Philippines.
Currency: Peso ($10 U.S. equals about 420 pesos)
Language: Tagalog is the language of the Philippines, although English is widely spoken.
Electricity: 220 volts
Departure Tax: Departing the Philippines, there is a 750 peso (around $18) departure tax.
Tour Operators: A partial list of tour operators with programs to the Philippines includes Goway.com (800-387-8850), Pleasant Holidays (800-448-3333), SITA World Tours (800-421-5643) and Travel Bound (800-808-9541).
Philippine Department of Tourism: www.experiencephilippines.ph or www.wowphilippines.com.ph
If you have a small group or a family with kids, you can’t go wrong dining 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, everyone in Manila will know what you’re talking about. When we arrived, 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 pitched in, from the cooks to the security guards to the waiters and waitresses. If the food weren’t good, the whole thing would fall flat, but instead, one delicious dish after another of authentic Filipino countryside cuisine appeared on the 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. It’s 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, one of the taglines I heard marketing Philippines tourism is, “We go the extra smile.” This was definitely borne out by the restaurant’s singing staff. The restaurant doesn’t have a website, but your concierge can call Ihaw-Ihaw, Kalde-Kaldero, Kawa-Kawali at Aawitan Kayo Restaurant at 632-899-7528.