After Hong Kong, Clem and I flew to the Philippines. He has a lot of extended family there and visits every few years, but this was my first time. We were in Manila, the sprawling capital city, for about 48 hours at the beginning of our trip, and then an afternoon and overnight at the end.
When we first arrived, we spent two nights at Hotel H2O, located on Manila Bay and next to Manila Ocean Park. We got a great deal thanks to some family connections, and stayed in an aquarium room; instead of a window, we had a giant aquarium along one wall! It was actually quite calming to listen to the water and watch the fish swim around. The room also came equipped with complimentary snacks (an easy way to my heart) and toiletries. I loved our room, and even though I was horribly sick the second night I was able to curl up with a bunch of pillows in the insanely comfortable bed and feel a little less miserable.
After arriving at the airport in Manila we were picked up by some cousins and driven to an auntie's house in the countryside for a big family lunch, so for dinner we decided to keep things simple and eat at the hotel restaurant, Makan Makan. The menu was absolutely huge, which I generally don't love, but we were eventually able to decide on a few dishes to share. It was all fresh and delicious, and I enjoyed watching the cooks at work in the huge open kitchen in the middle of the restaurant.
For our one full day in Manila, we did a lot of walking in the area near the hotel. We went first to Luneta Park, right across the street, sometimes referred to as "Rizal Park" in homage to the national hero José Rizal. The park is more of a curated area for statues as opposed to an open green space, but I enjoyed the walk, and had my very own private tour guide/boyfriend to give me a brief rundown of Filipino history. It was crazy hot and the park has few shady areas, so after one loop around we continued on our way to Intramuros, Manila's oldest district.
The district was initially built by the Spanish in the late 16th century, but suffered severe damage in World War II, during a battle to take back the city from the Japanese Imperial Army (little known fact: Manila was the second most devastated city during WWII, after Warsaw). Few of the remaining buildings are original, but many were reconstructed to look as they once had, helping preserve the architectural heritage of the district. We stopped in at San Augustin Church (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Manila Cathedral, had a shade and drink break in the Plaza San Luis Complex, and then headed to Fort Santiago. After a walk through the famous gate and along the walls, we escaped into the air conditioned haven of the Rizal Shrine, a small museum dedicated to José Rizal. We took our time going through; Clem had been before and in the intervening years had done quite a bit of research on Filipino history, so he was able to augment the information given in the exhibitions for me, which was awesome.
After exiting the museum we still had some time to kill before family dinner plans, so we walked over to Manila Bay. It's not particularly beautiful, but I enjoyed being outside and seeing the little bit of Manila that surrounded the hotel. At dinner time we were picked up by some more cousins and driven to Clem's uncle's house in Tondo. Tito Roy is a successful butcher in his neighbourhood, so dinner was fantastic, and, in true Filipino style, plentiful! After eating we played with babies and cats (and baby cats), and even did some karaoke, a favourite nighttime activity in the Philippines (not just in Japan!). I'd heard so much about these cousins, so I really enjoyed finally getting to meet this part of the family. On a more serious note, Tondo is a district made up of a network of slums, and is not exactly the place a tourist should just wander into. Al Jazeera produced a great documentary on the area; I'd recommend giving it a watch.
At the end of our trip we were back in Manila overnight, and this time we stayed in another auntie's vacant condo near the Mall of Asia. We ventured over to the mall for a late lunch at Jollibee, the favourite fast food restaurant of the Philippines. This was the first chance we'd had to eat there, and the last chance we had before leaving, so I decided to go all out and order the typical meal: Chicken Joy (seasoned fried chicken) with a side of sweet spaghetti (yep, you read that right), and Sarsi (a Filipino soft drink that tastes like root beer). I enjoyed it, even if the sweet spaghetti was pretty crazy. And even though I don't eat a lot of fast food, everyone visiting the Philippines should eat at Jollibee at least once.
For dinner that night we tried to go to a popular Mexican restaurant in the fashionable district of Makati, but the queue was long and turnover didn't seem to be very fast. So we cut our losses and cabbed over to Quezon City for Middle Eastern food at Mister Kabab. It had been a long time since I'd had good Middle Eastern food (I'm missing Ottawa staple Shawarma Palace like crazy), and I was so happy to have a delicious beef kebab. Mister Kabab was also busy, but it's a large place with bench seating, so it wasn't long before we got a table.
We didn't spend a lot of time in Manila this trip since we wanted more of a beach vacation (more on that coming later), but I'm sure we'll be back again before too long.