Once known as Maynilad (the name of a plant with white flowers which grows in the mangrove), Manila has been the capital of the Philippines since 1571. Located on the island of Luzon, the city is only 4 miles from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. However, you will need to be patient when it comes to other forms of transport here, as traffic jams are frequent! Manila is a blend of historical monuments, Asian architecture, and futuristic modernity, set in a landscape of volcanoes and tropical forests, with a huge lagoon and the Luzon (or South China) Sea. Although it does hold a few sites of interest, it would be a pity to stay in the city for the entire duration of your holiday in the Philippines.
There are numerous ways of getting around the city. Taxis are available (approximately 100 pesos, or £2 per ride), as well as three over-head metro lines, the price of which varies depending on the distance you travel. Tricycles are also a popular means of transport, but they're called 'pagak' (approximately 30 pence). However, the most remarkable way of getting around is in the famous jeepneys, which are privately-owned buses that can be used by groups. There are over 150,000 of them and they are the cheapest way of getting around (12 pence for the first 3 miles) These aluminium "minibuses" are entirely handmade, except for the larger parts, which are machine-cut. All in all, they add a pleasant touch of colour to the streets of Manila!
Take a stroll down Manila Baywalk, along the seafront, or for the night owls, head for the livelier districts like Makati and Green Belt Five.
Go on an excursion to the volcanic island of Taal where you can visit two craters, one dating from 1911 and the other from 1965. It is about a two hour drive from Manila, near Talisay, in the Batangas province.
Lunch at the Cocina de Tita Moning: this is an old colonial house, dating from 1937, which has been turned into a museum and a restaurant. This residence is located in the San Miguel district. Its cuisine is delicious and refined.
Old Manila: this is the historical centre of Manila, with numerous monuments such as St Augustin's Church (the oldest in Manila) and Fort Santiago. The Chinese cemetery of Santa Cruz: this place is just like a real city with proper houses. Manila Ocean Park: the largest aquarium in the Philippines. The Saaro factory: this was the first jeepney factory, dating back to the end of the Second World War. Saint Joseph's Church in Las Pinas (1913): it houses the only organ made from bamboo in the world.
Out of respect, you should cover your shoulders before entering a church, as Filipinos are extremely devout and might be offended if you don't. Even the police sometimes check that visitors to such places are suitably dressed.
Like all big cities, certain parts of Manila should be avoided at night. As for traffic, journeys always take longer because of incessant traffic jams.
You should avoid coming here during the rainy season when there are still quite a few typhoons, especially between July and October. The dry season is from November to May.
If you take the underground, keep in mind that the first carriage is reserved for women and children. However, they can also take any carriage they choose.
The Filipino national dish is called adobo. It is a spicy mix of meat (chicken or pork) cooked in garlic, oil and vinegar, with a touch of soya sauce. Do not be surprised if you see rice served with every dish; the locals can eat up to five helpings of rice a day! Pork is also very popular and often served on a skewer. Not a morsel is wasted. Furthermore, as you're not far away from the sea here, the local cuisine includes many fish-based dishes: bangus, milkfish, lapu-lapu, tilapia, etc.
There is a vast array of souvenirs that you can bring back with you. You will find a wide choice of fabrics, items and jewellery made with mother-of-pearl, basketry and coconut vinegar, among other things. If you're after a bargain, you should visit the trading district in Old Downtown Quiapo, where many shops sell all sorts of electronic equipment and crafts at reasonable prices.