No sooner had I touched down from New York, another adventure beckoned. After a 12-hour pitstop home to wash clothes, repack and eat some avocado, it was back to the airport I wandered. I had been invited to experience 48 hours in Manila, with my favourite hotel brand Shangri-La.
I have previously had the great pleasure of staying in a number of Shangri-La properties across the world (see London, Hong Kong) – and this time around I was very excited to experience a hotel very familiar, within a brand new destination for me – The Philippines. Here’s a wrap up of my 48 hours spent in town.
Photo of me by The Straits Times journalist Jose Hong
Manila is the capital of the Philippines and the most densely populated city in the world. It is also one of the fastest growing economies in South-east Asia, and now welcoming more than one million tourists each year, is quickly becoming a destination in its own right.
Bonifacio Global City (also known as BGC, Global City, or The Fort) is a financial and entertainment district within Manila, a more compact version of the neighbouring Makati City. The entire district was once a military base for the Philippine Army – and over the past few years has completely shapeshifted into a clean, pedestrian-friendly, cosmopolitan and state-of-the-art metropolis for working, dining, shopping and living.
Popular with expats, start-ups and young businesses (and as of last year, even the Philippine Headquarters of Google) the BGC is home to a young, vibrant and thriving population.
Completely mesmerised by these colours as we landed into Manila
Stay: Shangri-La at the Fort
Shangri-La at the Fort sits in the very heart of Bonifacio Global City. Having opened in March 2016, the mixed-use complex includes the hotel (with 576 rooms), serviced residences for extended stays; Horizon Homes, over 30 retail shops and Kerry Sports Manila – an indoor sports and recreation club.
All marble everything – an oasis of calm in Shangri-La At The Fort’s lobby
Hotel sheets + welcome notes. Is there anything better?
Maybe there is! Manila showing off with incredible sunsets…
With Shangri-La At The Fort offering seven (did you read that? SEVEN!) different dining concepts within the hotel itself, you could be forgiven for checking in, and not ever actually dine outside of the hotel itself.
First up, Ceviche, anyone? A (delicious) taste of Peru at Samba Poolside offers a collection of colourful South American dishes by the pool, by Chef Carlo Huert.
Next up, all things steak. I’m not a huge meat eater, yet Raging Bull Chophouse & Bar was my favourite experience of the bunch (that may have had something to do with the pre-dinner cocktails…) Here, you can find dry-aged steaks including Wagyu, grain fed and premium cuts from the finest, sustainable cattle ranch producers in Australia and the US – not to mention bespoke cocktails crafted for you by French export and executive Mixologist Ulysse Jouanneaud.
Before sampling the signature shot – “Don’t ask, just drink!” they told me.
Breakfast with a view from the Horizon Club lounge
High Street Café – a marketplace concept, with nine kitchens featuring daily international dishes
On my first night in Manila, our small group set out on a food and pub walk through Poblacion, Makati. Said to know no bounds, Poblacion is the old downtown area of Makati, known for its hole-in-the-wall bars and an abundance of trendy eateries (it’s also the red light district). A short drive from the hotel, we spent the evening tasting (and drinking) our way through Manila’s hip and happening arts and food neighbourhood by foot, as the locals do.
Don’t miss Kartel Rooftop Bar (5921 Algier St, Poblacion) , for good wine and a panoramic view of the cityscape – and Polilya (5658 Jacobo Street, Corner Don Pedro), for its eclectic charm and witty neon sitting above the spirits.
Street art tour via ZÜM
Sustainability, reducing pollution and their carbon footprint is a core priority for Shangri-La At The Fort. Just after check-in, we were invited to see this in practice, via the hotel’s collaboration with local social enterprise and manufacturer EMotors. Down at reception, we were welcomed by a lineup of bright orange 3-wheeled ZÜM vehicles – all powered by electricity, with zero emissions – to take us on a street art tour around the city.
The Trees: created by Rey Paz Contreras. This was the first sculpture installed in BGC in 1997
We spent a morning traipsing through the oldest district in Manila – the original walled quarter, or Intramurous, with entertaining local tour guide Ivan Man Dy. The stone citadel traces its origins back to 1571 as the seat of Spanish colonial power – and still houses the UNESCO World Heritage Site San Agustin Church. Intramuros is the only district of Manila where old Spanish-era influences are still plentiful.
First stop: The Manila Cathedral as it stands today, as the eighth structure to rise on this site – having been burned, destroyed by earthquake(s), typhoons and battles.
The wall of Intramurous. Photo of me by Jose Hong
Wandering San Agustin Church and Monastery (UNESCO World Heritage Site) – Photo of me by Jose Hong
The National Museum of Natural History
Having very recently opened to the public, we stopped by The National Museum of Natural History, which houses 12 galleries about plants, animals, and fungi that can only be found in the Philippines (at the time we visited, not all galleries within the museum had opened).
A final stroll down Bonifacio High Street – which offers a mix of high-end retail shops, restaurants, amenities, leisure and entertainment.