Wake early, when the sky’s still a deep blue. Walk along the typhoon-battered Roxas Boulevard sidewalk overlooking the ocean. Watch the sunrise set Manila Bay on gorgeous pink fire. Want breakfast.
Certain guidebooks will call Filipino food “the most vilified cuisine in Asia.” 1. Forget that. 2. Chuck those guidebooks.
Notice a vendor carrying two buckets hanging from a pole on his back, calling out something sad-sounding. Order isang taho. If he asks for more than ten pesos, give him a look, but then give him more pesos. Accept it as your dayuhan (foreigner) tax. Drink warm, sweet soy out of the thin plastic cup he hands you.
Walk to Rizal Park. Watch the old folks doing tai chi, or join them. Read the violent fates on the busts of stern-looking Filipino revolutionaries. See the tall, pointed monument to José Rizal, the novelist-doctor turned national saint, shot by Spaniards here in 1896.
Or skip Aristocrat and sit at any open-air stall selling arroz caldo or goto to policemen and construction workers. Say “magandang umaga” and watch them grin. Wash your rice porridge down with cold coconut juice from a rolling cart.
Decide you’re ready to feel fancy. Cab it to Ayala Museum in moneyed Makati. Let the pre-colonial gold exhibit inspire the greed in you.
Walk to Greenbelt, the fanciest mall in Mall-nila. Observe the 1% deciding on loot from Hermes and Massimo Dutti. Join them for a white tablecloth, Filipino-fusion lunch at Felix in Greenbelt 5. Or forget the aristocracy; eat fried chicken, spaghetti, and deep-fried peach mango pie at Jollibee, the Philippines’ patriotic answer to McDonald’s.
Take a taxi to Intramuros for “If These Walls Could Talk,” a 3pm walking tour with Carlos Celdran: Experimental theater performer+political rabble-rouser+and visual artist=the liveliest, most subversive guide to Manila.
Head to The Collective, a clutch of indie boutiques, galleries, and restaurants tucked in an old warehouse. Grab a sack of hand-collected Philippine sea salt from Ritual, and press a bottle of their organic Robusta coffee to your forehead before you drink the cold jolt of it down.
Brave rush-hour traffic to eat a late dinner in Quezon City, the section of Metro Manila most residents call home. Eat pork sisig at Trellis. Eat heritage pork adobo at Adarna. Eat pork lechon at Lydia’s.
What? You don’t eat pork? Ano ba? Who are you? Fine. Go to the Farmers Market Dampa in Cubao, pick out two kilos of live crabs, then carry them to the nearby kitchens to simmer in coconut milk. Grab a whole tilapia, too, while you’re at it, and tell them to grill it. Use your hands, dammit: squeeze some lime-like calamansi over that fish, and finish your rice.
Make eyes at the hot Filipino hipsters and their sosyal asymmetrical haircuts. Talk film and books with them. Talk international relations with them. Make out with one of them.
All this dancing and eating and kissing is making you sleepy. Wait, no it’s not. Why are you sleepy? This is the Philippines, and it’s past midnight, so it’s time to sing. Go to Music Bank on Tomas Morato. It’s open til 5am, so you have no excuse.
Order a bucket of San Miguel beers. Don’t be a jerk and choose “My Way” because you read about it in that one New York Times article. Sing Madonna. Drink. Sing Weezer. Drink. Sing Dahil Sa Iyo. Drink. Sing. Sing. Sing until another of those famed Manila sunrises sees you stumbling to your morning cup of taho.
10 tips for 24 hours in Metro Manila
- When you take a cab, make sure the driver starts the meter at 40 pesos. This is negotiable during rush hour, when you can work out a meter-less, fixed price between points. Don’t agree to anything over 300 pesos. Lock the doors while you ride. If you ever feel weird, just get out of the cab and take a new one.
- Those white-shirted, navy-pantsed security guards looking bored and carrying sawed-off shotguns in front of every bank and store? They’re your friends. Smile and ask them for directions, or how much a tricycle rate should be.
- Short jeepney trips are 8 pesos. If you’re not sure about longer trips, ask your fellow passengers. When you want to stop, call out, “Para, po!”
- Po is the gender-neutral term for sir/ma’am. Which is why shopkeepers and employees will call you “Sir/ma’am” in English.
- Carry a kerchief or a bandana. It’s handy for the island humidity, and for protecting your face against the city smog.
- In addition to a kerchief, these items are in every Filipino’s bag: hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and an umbrella.
- If you’re feeling particularly bold, buy a city map at National Bookstore and use a small bike to get around. But you best look alive — Manila’s traffic redefines anarchy. There are also the MRT/LRT train lines, for sardine-style, rush-hour commuting between Makati and Quezon City.
- If you encounter a food vendor selling turon, a banana wrapped in an egg roll wrapper, buy and devour that deep-fried business immediately.
- Order as many mango shakes as you can fit inside yourself during 24 hours. Here, mangoes are edible sunshine.
- Be patient. Say Salamat, po. (Thank you, sir/ma’am.) Say Ingat, po. (Take care, sir/ma’am.) Clink bottles, and say Mabuhay! Tagay pa!