All around me, cars, buses and jeepneys are clamoring to get ahead, completely ignoring the white lines that divide lanes or any other traffic rules for that matter.
On pavements, pedestrians are jostling about, either waiting for the right jeepney or walking hastily to their next destination. Even the buildings and houses have been thrown so closely together, I start to wonder how they could possibly find empty lots for the shopping malls that seem to emerge in the city every couple of months.
This is Manila, one of the busiest and most congested cities in all of Asia.
It’s so congested, in fact, that cellphone data speed is slowed considerably. It takes an hour or more to get anywhere, and one would be hard-pressed to find a street without people around. I’m surprised that it rarely makes anyone’s Most Congested Cities list.
Bonifacio Global City
This recently emerged financial and commercial district in the city of Taguig is a venture spearheaded by one of the most powerful families-cum-corporations in the Philippines. It’s home to modern high-rises where banks, offices, and call centers are based.
Mix in the condominiums, shopping malls and a plethora of excellent restaurants and coffee shops, and it’s a hip-yet-high-end neighborhood with wide, pedestrian-friendly pavements.
Walk up and down Bonifacio High Street for small green spaces, outdoor fountains, plus the retail and culinary scene. There are many excellent restaurants to dine in, including CRISP on 28th. When the heat becomes unbearable, do what most Filipinos do and pop into a nearby mall—SM Aura Premier is a good one, with local retail stores, affordable shops and high-end brands on offer.
Also in Taguig is the brand new neighborhood of McKinley Hill. The residential and commercial village seems like an odd addition to Metro Manila, mostly because of its Italian/Mediterranean look and theme.
It offers a nice respite from the region’s plethora of modern skyscrapers and never-ending pandemonium. Everything here is Italian-influenced, from the paint colors to the façade of apartment buildings.
Meander around the Venice Grand Canal Mall; It’s not only home to a number of retail stores and great restaurants, but also the spot to be if you’re suddenly craving a gondola ride in a Venice-inspired canal. It’s all so very Vegas-esque, but who knows? You might just enjoy the kitsch.
Manila’s oldest and most historic section—known to many as Intramuros—may be busy, gritty and dirty (at times), but it’s an important stop for learning about the city’s history and how it helped shape the country.
This old Spanish Colonial town used to be the seat of government for the Spanish Empire, and many of the old fortifications and colonial houses are still standing today, though not as well-preserved as in Mexico or Puerto Rico.
Must-visit historic places are Fort Santiago, which defended this old capital from invaders; the UNESCO World Heritage Site of San Agustin Church; the beautiful Manila Cathedral; and the dilapidated Intendencia Ruins. Walk a couple of blocks and wander around Rizal Park where Philippines national hero, Jose Rizal, was executed by the Spaniards.
Whatever you do, do not take a “tour” with one of the many peddling tricycle drivers there. They’ll only try to squeeze more money out of you after a lousy tour.
Bay City/Entertainment City
Gambling is especially popular in the Philippines, so it’s little surprise that the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation started Entertainment City in the early 2000s.
It’s a gaming and entertainment complex nestled in the much bigger Bay City, which is essentially a commercial and financial district that spans several different cities along the Bay in the Metro Manila region. Think of it as the Filipino Las Vegas, only set along the waterfront.
Important stops include the SM Mall of Asia (locally called MOA)—the third-largest yet somehow most-popular mall in the Philippines— along with the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex, home to performing arts venues, theaters, and museums.
Make a point of visiting the pink-themed wonder that is Okada Manila, whose main attractions are its adorable interiors and dancing fountain show, reminiscent of the iconic one in Bellagio.
Further along in the northeastern part of Quezon City is Eastwood City, a sister district of McKinley Hill. This commercial and residential development is known for the many call centers and computer companies that consider it home, including Accenture and Dell.
It also boasts several luxury condominium towers. (In the Philippines, they call all apartments condominiums or condos).
Commercially, Eastwood is a local foodie mecca thanks to its hodgepodge of excellent restaurants. Stop by one (or all) of the several malls here: Eastwood Mall, Eastwood Citywalk and Eastwood Cyber and Fashion Mall. Be sure to take notice of the Eastwood City Walk of Fame, Manila’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which showcases many of the Philippines’ biggest celebrities.
By Michelle Rae Uy