Nightlife in Manila: Malate Chic

Nightlife in Manila: Malate Chic

David Lee

Ever woken up in a hotel bed and wondered where in the world you are? It has happened to me more than once. For at least two weeks of every month, I am away from home, doing deals and visiting branch offices in cities across the Asia-Pacific region. After a while, the cities start to blur into one another. It's a case of: “If it's Monday, it must be Shanghai.” Often I don't get the chance to really get around the city – all I get to see is the airport, the inside of a taxi, my hotel and, if I am lucky, one or two restaurants.

I have visited Manila, capital of the Philippines, six or seven times in my career, but this time was different. With three nights in the city, I decided to take my wife along and use the opportunity to sightsee and find out what makes the city tick. It is quite unlike any other. The Manila metro area is actually made up of nine cities - Manila, Quezon City, Makati, Pasay, Pasig, Kalookan, Las Pinas, Paranaque and Mandaluyong, covering 630 sq. km in total. It is a delightful mix of old and new. Centuries-old buildings stand alongside modern skyscrapers, quaint street malls lead the way to modern shopping malls – but somehow it all fits together.

The Filipino people are very hospitable and friendly. There have been warnings of the dangers of crime in Manila, but I have never felt threatened at any time. My wife was certainly happy enough to go off shopping alone when I was doing business! I found people went out of their way to assist me. However, some local customs surprised me during my first visit, so let me share them with you. Filipinos do not point with their fingers – they use their lips. So, when you ask someone directions, don't be surprised if they pucker their lips and point them in the direction you should be heading. They are not pulling a face at you or being rude. They are also very fond of using a “Pssssst” sound to get someone's attention. Don't be offended – people will sometimes use it even if they know your name.

Sitting in the bar one night, I met a group who had just returned from a jungle survival course. As part of a corporate team-building exercise, they spent three days in the jungle living without electricity and first world amenities. Apparently, it was not an easy time. “This wasn't a holiday,” explained one, “This was the real jungle and we really had to survive! It was hell.” I was amazed, but the barman told me that many groups were coming to the Philippines for these courses. It was a booming business.

That night the group was heading for some nightspots in Malate to celebrate. “Malate?” I asked. “Yes, that's where it's all happening these days,” said the group leader. The barman, once again, explained that while most tourists only saw the glitzy malls and swanky skyscrapers of Makati City and Ortigas, the real action was taking place in the old-town neighbourhood of Malate.

Minutes later, my wife and I set off for a guided tour with a taxi driver, one of the barman's friends. He explained that when people talked about Malate, they were only referring to a small part of the area around Remedios Circle, which has become home to ultra-chic restaurants and bars, clubs and cafes. One of the first restaurants here was Café Adriatico. The owner has found it so profitable that he now has three other eateries in the same area, Mil Novocientos Tapas Bar & Bistro, Café Havana and Bistro Remedios. All are fabulous.

Although we whooped it up at night and I had business to attend to during the day, we still found the time to do some sightseeing. Our first trip was to see Intramuros, the famous walled fortress. A tour of this landmark provides the visitor with a good understanding of Manila's rich and varied heritage. One of the attractions in Intramuros is Fort Santiago, the headquarters of the Spanish military troops, which served as a prison to thousands of Filipinos. You should not miss Manila Cathedral and San Augustin Church, two of the oldest churches in the country, which are filled with an extensive collection of religious artefacts.

Based on the advice of the hotel concierge, we decided to visit a theme park called Nayong Pilipino (Philippine Village). Situated only ten minutes from Ninoy Aquino International Airport, it was well worth the visit, as it gave me an insight into the country's diverse culture and attractions. I also made the 45-minute boat ride to Corregidor, the island that was the scene of fierce fighting in World War 2 between the Filipino-American troops and the Japanese forces.

My wife's favourite trip was to visit the Casa Manila, a reconstructed 19th century mansion which is part of the Plaza San Luis complex in Intramuros. The house is decorated with antique furniture and furnishings from China and Europe dating back to the 16th and 19th centuries. Some of the famous collections inside are the crystal chandeliers, Persian rugs and Chinese ceramics. If we had been allowed to take anything home, it would have been the exquisite four-poster ebony bed or an antique piano and harp. I am sure that, given the chance, my wife would be able to find similar items on sale somewhere in Manila. She has already hinted that she may want to head back there. Only a week after the trip, she whispered sweetly: “Going to Manila soon? Need company?”

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