Dragonboats in Manila Bay
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Dragonboats in Manila Bay

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Manila travel guide

Manila Local time

A curious cocktail of Asia, Europe and America, the capital of the Philippines is fast-paced and frenetic, but far from boring. This is a city where sophistication and spirituality go hand in hand with seediness and consumerism, against a constant backdrop of karaoke and traffic noise.

Metro Manila is difficult to pigeonhole. The Filipino capital is actually a confederation of 17 different cities and municipalities, stretching for miles beside Manila Bay and linked by a bewildering network of train, bus and jeepney routes.

First impressions of this mad metropolis can be daunting. Looming concrete flyovers, snarling bumper-to-bumper traffic, deafening music blasting out of windows and doorways, stifling heat and choking pollution, and extreme wealth juxtaposed with desperate poverty.

However, give Manila time and its joie de vivre will grow on you. Despite the lack of obvious historic sights (a legacy of the devastating battle for Manila in WWII), the city has some of the best nightlife and shopping in Asia, and some impressive museums that provide a fascinating overview of Manila’s melting pot of cultures.

History buffs can walk with the ghosts of Spanish settlers, Japanese invaders and American generals within the crumbling 16th-century walls of Intramuros. Shoppers will adore the air-conditioned malls of Makati, and foodies will delight in Manila’s seafood restaurants and Chinatown’s dim sum heaven.

After dark, Manila moves things up a gear. The bars and nightclubs of Makati, Quezon City, Malate and Ermita pulse through the night to big name DJs, astonishingly talented Filipino bands and ceaseless karaoke, while the sex industry, although obvious, is easily avoided.

What really knits everything together is the Filipino people, who ensure that this is Asia’s most gregarious capital. Their openness and love of conversation, and willingness to keep on going despite the odds, is highly contagious.

Manila is not the easiest place to explore, not least because of the road congestion, but a ride on one of the city’s outrageously decorated jeepneys is a tourist attraction all by itself. And if it all gets too much, buses, flights and ferries connect Manila to every corner of the Philippines.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.