Thursday, June 28, 2007


Thanks to the Philippine Daily Inquirer Magazine for printing this one:

The 8 Best Kept Secrets of Manila

1. Best Secret Garden - Arroceros Forest Park - Snuggled by the MacArthur Bridge next to The Manila Metropolitan Theater in downtown Manila, the controversial Arroceros Forest Park is a calm oasis amidst the madness that is downtown Manila. And although it was given to the City Schools of Manila Division during the term of Mayor Atienza, the park has recently been promised back by mayor-elect Mayor Lim to it's former caretakers, the Winners Foundation. Environmentalists and Cultural Heritage advocates in Manila are delighted that the park can now be opened up to the public and that the foundation can once again continue their efforts to re-green a lot that was once occupied by an office building until the 80's. No word yet about what will happen to the teachers who still hold office there. Thanks tornandfrayed for the photo.

2. Best View of Old Manila - The Baluarte de San Diego. Located at the southernmost corner of the City of Intramuros, this is one of the most breathtaking views of Luneta Park and the Ermita district beyond. Just walk over to the corner of Muralla Street and Sta. Lucia, enter the archway that leads into the garden, and you will find a little adobe staircase that will take you to the top of the walls. Best time to go is at sunset. Bring a bottle of wine and some cheese if you can and watch the sky change colors along with the rest of the university students who knew this secret well before we did.

3. Secret Shopping District - Rizal Avenue - I put this on the list because I'm pretty sure that a lot of you readers out there still haven't checked out this lovely little corner of our capital's fabric. Formerly the quintessential picture of urban blight, Rizal Avenue was retrofitted into a pedestrianized retail zone in 2004 by the aforementioned controversial Mayor Lito Atienza. Today, hot dice hopia, vintage clothes, tools, electronics, bolitas, accessories, shoes, and housewares are all on sale inside the charming mid-20th century structures that line this promenade. And for those needing the conveniences of a mall, there is even a Chowking, a Goldilocks, a National Bookstore, and a Robinson's Supermarket if you are so inclined. Accessible by both LRT and MRT lines, it is a perfect example that a pedestrianized Manila is a civilized Manila. Really, why build more ugly energy sucking malls where only one entity makes money when we already have a pedestrianized commercial zone where street life and commerce can work side by side? But hurry though, I hear Mayor Lim is planning to rip out the pavement and give the area back to the jeepneys soon.

4. Best Secret Art Deco Rendezvous - Orchid Garden Suites - Located on Vito Cruz (now Pablo Ocampo) in Malate, Orchid Garden Suites is the perfect little boutique hotel that could. Formerly the Roces Mansion, this charming art deco treasure was adaptively re-used into a hotel almost ten years ago. And despite being Manila's first "boutique" hotel, the structure doesn't seem tired in the least. Their lobby is still as classy as ever while all of their 89 guestrooms have recently been refurbished to evoke that "Old Manila" feeling. The higher suites with a sunset view are perfect for a romantic getaway, their conference facilities and close proximity to the PICC make it perfect for business meetings, while their swimming pool and large rooms make it ideal for family accomodations. Don't forget to drop by the groovy Tutso Bar at the top of the Mansion/Lobby wing. Perfect for happy hour if you are in the neighborhood. Orchid Garden Suites Manila is located at 620 Pablo Ocampo Sr. Street, Malate, Manila, Philippines Telephone 523-9870 523-9860 523-9836

5. Best Bar - Oar House - Opened in 1978 by retired US navyman, Chuck Monroe, it is perhaps one of the last old school bars left in the rapidly changing Malate landscape. Now owned by a former regular, Nonoy Tan, the Oarhouse still lives up to it's promise of serving warm food and cold beer to a new, much younger clientele. On any given night, you could catch a photo exhibit (it is turning out to become quite a photojournalist hangout), shmooze with actors from the CCP, or chat up a Peace Corps Volunteer. Wilson,a Malate bartender veteran from the days of Blue Cafe on Nakpil, is more than ready to share a friendly word, or mix a deadly Margarita. Leave the diet at home too. Their Pork Wiener Schnitzel and Balbacoa (Bone marrow stew) are definitely worth the trip downtown. They also have a blog run by Ben, a dedicated habitue.

6. Best Little Restaurant - Ambos Mundos - Aptly called Ambos Mundos (which means "both worlds"), this little restaurant is literally a combination of the past and the present, the east and the west, the Philippines and Spain. First opened in 1888 by Spanish immigrants, the Gaudinezes, Ambos Mundos could be arguably Manila's oldest restaurant (unless of course, somebody knows another that's older). Originally located on Echague (now C. Palanca), right beside Plaza Goiti (now Plaza Lacson) before settling at their current location near the Rizal Avenue MRT-2 stop, near the corner of Florentino Torres and C. Recto St. (formerly Azcarraga). Their menu is definitely Rizalian in flavor. Written on a chalk board out front, their selections are strictly old school Manila fare, a mix of Philippine and Iberian specialties with paella prices looking like they came from an era long forgotten era as well. But aside from the Nick Joaquin chic decor: I.e., Spanish plates, bullfighting posters, carved narra details,and capiz lamps, most importantly, their staff was friendly and their San Miguels came to the table ice cold and immediately.

7. Best Secret Snack - The Diamond Hotel Ensaymada - Although the Hotel itself has been looking kinda faded as of late, it cannot be denied that the hotel can still draw in a crowd. Not a bad feat considering that it's a fifteen year old hotel that has not undergone any major refurbishments at all. But this aside, I'm pretty sure it's the ensaymadas at the Kohikan Cafe on the Lobby Level that keeps everyone coming back for more. Generous in size, perfectly fluffy, smeared with ube and dripping with butter, it is perhaps the most insane ensaymada served this side of the South China Sea. So sinful is this pastry, I feel almost guilty telling you about it. Have it toasted till the top is brown and take it with a cup of KOHIKAN coffee just to push the experience over the edge.

8. Best Little Museum - The GAMABA Museum - Located on the fourth floor of Tesoro's Handicraft Shop on A. Mabini in Ermita, this one-room display honors the life and achievements of the National Living Artists Awardees of the Philippines(Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan or Gamaba). Drop in and learn the life and techniques of such traditional artists as Master Blacksmith Eduardo Mutuc and Bagobo master Weavers Lang Dulay, Salinta Monon and Haja Amina Appi. You could also check out the history of T’boli tinalak, or Hanunuo Mangyan script - including the ambahan poetry by apprentices of the late Ginaw Bilog while perusing over authentic Maguindanaon kutyapi lutes and Yakan gongs by musical geniuses Samaon Sulaiman and Uwang Ahadas. And if you like what you see, Tesoros' will be selling their works downstairs with the proceeds going directly to apprenticing a new generation of traditional artists. Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Ask the sales ladies on the ground floor to assist you. Tesoro Building located at 1325 A. Mabini Street, Ermita, Manila, Telephone: 524-3936 to 40.

And here is my ninth secret that didn't get into the papers because I'm not sure if Benjie wanted the word spread too far.

9. Best Secret Little Party - Wine Hour at Friendly's Guesthouse - Not only is Benjie Garcia's Friendly's Guest House the most reasonably priced accomodations in downtown Manila, but his weekend Wine Hour is proving to be one of the most fun parties that you haven't been invited to yet. Thrown every early Saturday evening by Benjie himself, the wine flows and so does the conversation. The crowd is usually an eclectic mix of backpackers, volunteers, Peace Corps on leave, and artsy locals. A great place to warm up your party pants before walking out to enjoy the Malate night.

I would also like to send out fuzzy feelings to the fabulous Dorothy Bangayan of the Davao Sun Star (A great Non-Imperialist Manila based English daily and it's accessible online) for her fabulous article on Old Manila and to Scott Berlin for his fantastic shout out in Triton Travellers Webpage. You are really too kind to include me your top ten things to do in Manila. Log onto the Triton site here.