[top photo: A bird eye's view of the active Taal Volcano in Lake Taal, on the island of Luzon near Manila, Phillipines]
By Deepika Shetty
Bannu Kannu, 26, a freelance writer.
IN MANILA WITH...
Occupation: Freelance writer
Length of stay: Five months
Like many emerging Asian cities, Manila is a study in contrasts. You will find Cadillacs and jeepneys, five-star hotels and streetside food stalls co-existing in harmony, says Ms Banu Kannu.
And, of course, there is the legendary Filipino hospitality. People greet you warmly wherever you are in the city.
Ms Kannu is in Manila on a sabbatical from full-time work. She was previously working in Shanghai as a senior project manager in the conference industry. She chose Manila because it is close to Singapore and Australia where her friends and family live.
What's the best way to get around?
It depends entirely on your appetite for adventure. Jeepneys abound for 8 pesos (24 cents) per ride, but good luck figuring out where they are going. Buses are usually alarmingly ancient steel contraptions with F1 hopefuls in the driver's seat. Your best bet is taxis. They are quite reliable. But insist that the driver turns on the meter.
Alternatively, you can negotiate a flat rate before the journey.
The best time to visit the place is...
From January to May and from November to May, if you do not mind the Christmas madness. Avoid the rainy season between June and October.
What is the weather like?
Like Singapore, Manila has hot, humid weather all year round, although it is a little cooler between November and February. The temperature generally ranges from 20 to 28 deg C.
Must one know the language to get around?
Not really. Basic English is spoken there.
The entire city has so much to offer, where does one start?
Manila can be confusing and erratic. Plan well in advance if you do not want to spend your holiday in an Amazing Race-like scramble trying to get from points A to B.
A typical first day should start with breakfast in the Greenbelt area in the city centre, followed by a few cultural stops, and ending with dinner and drinks at Bonifacio Global City, which has several trendy restaurants, bars and clubs.
Your favourite cultural stop is...
The San Agustin Church in Intramuros, one of four Filipino baroque churches. This Unesco World Heritage Site has survived the ravages of man and nature since its beginnings in 1586.
One cannot leave without visiting...
The Manila American Memorial Cemetery. This is a vast and immaculately maintained tribute to 17,200 Allied soldiers who died during World War II. At the centre is a chapel, a tall stone structure featuring sculpture and mosaic. It is located just 10 minutes from the modern and bustling Bonifacio Global City.
The Ayala Museum (Makati Ave, Makati, www.ayalamuseum.org/) has several exhibits on Filipino art, culture and history. Forming the core of the museum's historical collections are 60 handcrafted dioramas that chronicle the rich tapestry of Philippine history.
During Holy Week, devotees imitate the cruixifixation of Christ to atone for their sins.
Any key festivals to work into one's travel plans?
Holy Week in April is always a massive affair in the Philippines. It culminates in the solemn observance of ancient Catholic traditions and rituals which are fascinating to witness.
The best bargains and the richest variety of products are at...
Market Market! in Bonifacio Global City. It is a little like Mustafa Shopping Centre in Singapore. You can spend anything from 1,000 to 100,000 pesos on clothes, shoes, accessories, sporting goods, electronics, furniture, books, snacks and more.
Do not leave the place without trying...
The delightful ensaymadas. This is a soft, buttery bun-like pastry which melts in your mouth in an explosion of sugary and cheesy goodness. Mary Grace cafe outlets, which are found across Manila, have the best ensaymadas in town.
The best breakfast is at...
The Peninsula (tel: +632-887-2888, web: www.peninsula.com/Manila/en/default.aspx#/Manila/en/). A Manila institution, The Pen, as it is fondly called, serves a brilliant breakfast, and while you are there, you can also tick it off as a sight-seeing item on your list.
The best brunch is at...
The Sofitel on Manila Bay (CCP Complex Roxas Boulevard Pasay City 1300 Manila, tel: +632-551-5555, web: www.sofitel.com/gb/hotel-6308-sofitel-philippine-plaza-manila/index.shtmlweb). It has the best selection of fresh seafood, divine desserts and offers a free flow of 10 different types of bubbly.
The best dinner is at...
Lolo Dad's (899 President Quirino Ave, Malate, tel: +632-522-2941, http://lolodads.com/) in Malate, if you are looking for an award-winning menu in cosy surroundings. Dishes on the menu include lightly seared tuna and smoked prawns, grilled watermelon and artichoke salad and seafood pot-au-feu, which is a boiling seafood broth flavoured with saffron, baby lobster and steamed fish dumpling. Also, check out People's Palace in Greenbelt (People's Palace, G/F Greenbelt 3, Makati City, tel: +632-729- 2888, http://peoplespalacethai.com/) for fantastic Thai food in a very sleek setting.
For seafood, nothing beats The Seaside Macapagal at Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard, Pasay City. This is a fresh seafood market where there are also restaurants that will cook your purchases.
The best drinks are at...
The M Cafe in Greenbelt which is perfect for quiet post-dinner drinks. It can turn into a long night of cocktails when the DJ joins in the fun at about 9pm.
What is the one must-try drink in town?
San Miguel Light. But you must have it in a bar such as Grilla Bar & Grill in Makati City (Kalayaan Avenue, corner Rockwell Drive, Makati City, tel: +632-899-8775, www.grilla.com/index.html), where it is kept below 0 deg C. It is a crisp and refreshing beer when served freezing cold.
What is the coolest place to chill out?
Try Cav Wine Shop and Cafe (Bonifacio High Street, G/F, The Spa Bldg., Lot 5 Quadrant 8, tel: +632-856-1798, www.cavwine.com/). It has an enomatic wine dispenser - a special machine that preserves the freshness of bottled wine - offering 24 selected vintages in tasting portions or full glasses. It is definitely my idea of fun.
The one place you always take your friends to is...
Serendra at Bonifacio Global City, because it always surprises them how a place that is so hip exists in Manila. Here, trendy alfresco cafes and bars nestle among mid- to high-end stores.
Is there a Clarke Quay equivalent?
Greenbelt, a sprawling area of bars, cafes, restaurants and high-end shops. You can walk here for hours.
What is there to explore?
There are breathtaking scenic spots two hours' drive from Manila, such as the Taal Volcano in Lake Taal in Batangas, a popular coastal resort area. If you want a beach getaway without having to fly from Manila, Puerto Galera is the place to go. To get there, you need to take a two-hour drive followed by another couple of hours on a ferry. The famed beaches of Boracay, Cebu and Palawan are a short 45- to 90-minute flight away.
Any other sites that would appeal to Singaporeans?
You cannot go to the Philippines and not spoil yourself with a rejuvenating spa session. The Spa (Ground floor, Paseo de Roxas, Greenbelt 1, tel: 0918-8-843-772, web: www.thespa.com.ph/) is a wonderful place to enjoy an hour-long body massage starting at just 805 pesos.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.