I recently spent two weeks in Manila for work. I had to work US hours (10pm-6am in Manila) which means I got very little sleep but was able to explore the surrounding areas during the day with my boyfriend (who tagged along to keep me company). If you’re headed to Metro Manila yourself, here are some of my favorite things to eat and do from those two weeks!
Where to Stay
Shangri-La at the Fort
Shangri-La at the Fort is the best hotel I have ever stayed at and exemplifies what it means to be a 5-star hotel. The customer service exceeded my expectations – the staff always beat me in opening the car door and I was consistently greeted by name over the phone. The room was clean, comfortable, and had everything we needed for our stay (even robe and slippers!). The hotel has multiple dining options, a fitness center with free classes, and a spa. Plus, it’s located right by Bonifacio High Street where you can find more restaurants and shops! This was the perfect place to call home for 2 weeks and I will definitely stay here again the next time I’m in Manila!
What to Do
Get a Massage at The Mandara Spa
Mandara Spa was our go-to spot for massages! On our first visit, we got a scrub, wrap, and massage package for only 2100 PHP. The scrub and wrap were unnecessary but the massage was great! We ended up coming back again for the Mandara Signature Massage (950 PHP) and again for the Hot Stone Massage. Make sure to bring cash because they don’t accept credit.
Take a Walking Tour of Intramuros
To explore the city of Intramuros, I recommend the Walk this Way Tour with Carlos Celdran. Carlos will guide you from Fort Santiago to the San Agustin Church. There will be a carriage ride, halo-halo, and most importantly, a history lesson. Carlos is extremely entertaining and will keep it real with his opinion of Manila’s history. A must-do in my opinion!
Walk Amongst Fish at Manila Ocean Park
After missing out on Helmet Diving in Boracay, we decided to walk amongst fishes at Manila Ocean Park with the Aquanaut Experience. The experience was more about the photo opportunities than the fishes themselves (good for instagram lovers, less so for me). With that said, I still enjoyed walking in a big fish tank and feeding the fishes around me.
Go Shopping at SM Mall of Asia
A great way to escape the heat and humidity is by shopping at one of the many malls in the area. Of the ones we went to, SM Mall of Asia was my favorite (SM Megamall is another good option). It’s quite big so if there’s a particular store you’re looking for, they’ll have it! Don’t expect any bargains though – the clothes are similarly priced to that in the states. If you are looking for cheap knock-offs and bargains, Greenhills Shopping Center is the place for you.
Ride a Gondola at Venice Grand Canal Mall
While this mall doesn’t have the best shops, it does have a unique design. Like Las Vegas’ Venetian, it’s built to look like the city of Venice. There’s even a canal offering gondola rides!
Gamble at City of Dreams
I am always up for a game of roulette (just not the Russian kind)! If the kids need somewhere to go, bring them to DreamPlay within the resort.
TIP: The casino does check bags and does not allow DSLR cameras (you will have to check it into a locker).
Drive to Tagaytay
If you’re sick of the metropolitan area, I would recommend driving to Tagaytay to see the Taal Volcano. The Taal Volcano is a volcano within a lake within a volcano. You can get a great view and a great meal from Bag of Beans – make sure to try the Pork Tocino!
Weekend Getaway to Boracay
If you run out of things to do in Manila, hop on a quick 1-hour flight to Boracay. Read about my weekend in Boracay here.
Where to Eat
Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung is a global chain specializing in Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). It was such a great deal for delicious food (dishes cost twice as much in the states) that we came here over 4 times in 2 weeks! I recommend ordering the Pork Xiao Long Bao, Noodles with Minced Pork Sauce, and Stir-Fried Watercress.
Ramen Nagi, a Tokyo-founded ramen shop, is the next global chain on my list. The ramen is one of the best I’ve had, and I’ve had a lot of ramen from my travels. I ordered the Original King Ramen and was not disappointed with the rich broth and fatty pork belly. If you like your ramen spicy, I would recommend ordering the Red King Ramen.
High Street Cafe
High Street Cafe is the restaurant in Shangri-La at the Fort. We came for the buffet and were greeted with a huge assortment of international options. My personal favorites were the sushi and noodles. It’s a bit pricey at 1350 PHP but it’s worth the try! They also have an à la carte option if that works better for you.
Sariwon Korean Barbecue
Sariwon is a taste of Korea in the Philippines! This chain was awarded “Best Korean Restaurant” by the Seoul Metropolitan Government for its legendary bulgogi. I recommend ordering the Sariwon Bulgogi and Soondubu Chigae.
Wildflour Cafe and Bakery
I came for the cronuts but left happily stuffed because of the food. Of the dishes we ordered, I would recommend the California Burger and Kimchi Fried Rice. Who knew that a cafe would have such delicious kimchi fried rice! The cost of food here is higher than most places in Metro Manila but the food is worth it.
Jollibee is a Filipino fast food chain, similar to your local McDonald’s. While the food won’t blow you away, it is a must try when you’re in the Philippines. I ordered the Cheesy Classic Jolly Hotdog – a hotdog topped with a cheese-based dressing, grated cheese, and ketchup. It sounds like a strange combo but I really enjoyed it!
Other Helpful Tips
- To get around, use Grab or Uber for rides. I found the rides to be affordable and safe even when riding alone.
- Traffic in Manila is terrible (lanes seem optional in congested areas) so be mentally prepared.
- The weather in October was hot and humid – leave the jeans at home friends.
- Most restaurants accepted credit cards, but I would still recommend having Philippine Peso as backup.
- Avoid tap water and drink bottled water to be safe.
- Christmas spirit starts early in the Philippines so you’ll be sure to see Christmas decorations in October.