I have lived in Manila for the last two years. But I am really a citizen of the world. I was born in Hong Kong, raised in Kuala Lumpur, and was based in Australia up until I took up my post as Residence Manager at Somerset Olympia Makati in Manila. Having lived in diverse cities in Asia, I can safely say that if there is one city you can enjoy on a budget, it would be Manila.
Walk the City
Begin your adventure from Intramuros (Spanish for “inside the walls”), the oldest part of Manila, a 20-minute ride from the serviced residence. The flag-down rate for taxis is less than US$1.
The 400-year-old historic core of the city is Manila’s original walled quarter. Between 1571 and 1898, Intramuros was all of Manila. The influence from its days under Spanish colonial rule can still be seen in much of its well-preserved architecture.
Stop by Fort Santiago, a former military headquarters built in 1571. It is the oldest Spanish fortress in the country. Within the grounds, you can see a Japanese-era M4 Sherman tank and other World War II artillery. Stop for pictures at the immaculate gardens, by the Spanish-era horse-drawn carriages or with the guards dressed in the original uniform of the Spanish colonial days. The entrance fee is less than US$2 for adults and free if you are a senior citizen.
The Manila Cathedral, officially known as the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, is another worthwhile pit stop. The most important Catholic cathedral in the country, it is both the Prime Basilica of the Philippines and the highest seat of the archbishop in the country.
The other church within Intramuros still standing is San Agustin Church, the oldest stone church in the Philippines. In 1993, it became one of four churches in the Philippines built under Spanish colonial times to be designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO under the collective title Baroque Churches of the Philippines. Entrance to all cathedrals is free.
If you enjoy history, go on your walking tour on Sunday, then visit the National Museum next to Rizal Park. Entrance is free then. The museum houses the National Art Gallery, natural sciences and other support divisions. You can view the works of Philippines masters from past to present.
Time it well and can spend the evening at Baywalk Manila watching the sun set. The area is popular with local performers so you can treat yourself to free mimes, acrobatics and art performances along the promenade.
Shop for Bargains
Shopping can be a steal if you know where to look. The Landmark Manila, a 10-minute walk from the serviced residence, is where I would recommend. One of the oldest malls around, it offers four floors of bargains ranging from clothes to shoes, toys, groceries, beauty products, decorations, home accessories, office supplies and souvenirs.
Philippines is known for its handicraft. Some of the things you might want to take home from your shopping spree might be baskets woven from natural fibre like nipa, rattan, bamboo and a variety of palms that can be used as decoration or fashion accessory. Hand-woven mats with folk art are another good souvenir as are hand-embroidered barongs (a formal garment of the Philippines) and pin~a cloth, the most expensive types of woven cloth in the world; carved wood from Paete; malongs (traditional tube skirts) from Mindanao; and jewellery and decorative items crafted from seashells.
Eat on the Cheap
To enjoy cheap Filipino cuisine, the city’s street foods are your best bet. Do not let the infamous Balut (boiled fertilized duck egg with a whole fowl in it) throw you off. Filippino food is much more than that.
Salcedo Market, a 20-minute walk Somerset Olympia Makati, is a food court cum open-air market that is a mix of street food stalls and shopping where you can sample Manila’s street food best. It is opened every Saturday 7am to 2pm.
One type of street food that is a must-try is Ihaw-ihaw (pork, chicken gizzard, chicken blood, pig and chicken intestines, chicken feet broiled or roasted). Deep fried quail’s eggs or chicken’s eggs in an orange flour and fishballs on a stick dunked into sweet sauce are other street food favourites.
For classic Filipino dishes, you can go to Via Mare at The Landmark Manila. Adobo stew (a stew where meat is marinated for hours in vinegar, soya sauce and spices) is probably the most popular local dish. Try the version at Via Mare which comes in either chicken or pork ribs. Milkfish is another hot local pick. It is done in many ways at Via Mare but the best is probably Rellenong Bangus (stuffed whole milkfish in a savoury tomato sauce) which is great with Palitaw (poached rice patties with grated coconut). Most entrees cost US$5 and under.
The locals also love their sweets and in the desserts department, you will have plenty to choose from: halo halo (a mountain of shaved ice drizzled with evaporated milk on a bed of sweet beans and fruits served in a tall glass), t aho (warm soybean curd with chewy tapioca balls in a sugary syrup), and banana or sweet potato coated with carmelised brown sugar and deep fried.
In economic times where a dollar no longer stretches as far as it used to, to be able to be in a city where you can get so many things for US$10 and under is a real treat. So, when you next think of a budget destination, remember to visit me in Manila.
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