Visiting Manila is a must!
Spending a few days in Manila is a must for everyone who visits the Philippines. Please don’t let the chaotic, horrendous, and deafening traffic put you off. Just as in every city, there are some things to dislike but there are a lot of things to like in this metropolis. Therefore I recommend visitors to the Philippines spend at least one day or, even better, a couple of days in the city that was once known as the “Paris of Asia”.
I always stay in the Ermita or Malate district which is the ideal location from which to explore the most interesting parts of the city. These are Luneta Park, Roxas Boulevard, China Town, and, above all, the old walled Spanish city Intramuros. For me, the best way to explore a city is on foot. In Bangkok I often walk around 20 km per day, starting with a walk before sunrise, which is the best time of the day. Walking is time-consuming though and a bit hot depending on the time of the day and the weather. Anyway, I put on my walking shoes and took off for a hike from Ermita to the Manila Hotel.
The Manila Baywalk Dolomite Beach
I left the hotel on Bocobo Street and headed straight for Roxas Boulevard, the avenue that runs along Manila Bay. To my surprise, I encountered a stretch of white beach, which I didn’t recall from my former visits. Quite a few people were enjoying the breeze and the openness of Manila Bay. Later on, a Filipino friend told me that this beach has been a huge source of controversy under the former Duterte presidency.
The Manila Baywalk Dolomite Beach is commonly known as Dolomite Beach. It is an artificial beach created through the process of “beach nourishment”. It is part of an overall integrated coastal zone management aimed at the coastal defense of the Manila Bay Rehabilitation project. There was a lot of wind and I didn’t see anyone swimming in the murky water. I enjoyed the stroll along the beach and the views of Manila Bay so I continued along the huge US embassy to the Manila Hotel, an old favorite where I spent two nights in early 1991.
Back to the Manila Hotel
In 1991 I took part in a so-called “fam trip” for Dutch tour operators organized by Singapore Airlines. The airline wanted to promote on the occasion of the opening of their direct flight from Singapore to Cebu City. The ground handler of the trip was Marsman Travel, and our guide was named Pedro. I remember we had one official dinner in the hotel for which there was a dress code that included wearing a jacket. I had not brought a jacket so they draped one over the back of my chair, which I found rather odd. On the second evening, some of us explored Ermita, the then-infamous red-light district of Manila. Just months later Mayor Alfredo Lim cracked down on entertainment in the district and closed most bars in the area.
Visiting the Manila Hotel
Anyway, I arrived at the Manila Hotel, the equivalent of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. I never stayed in those hotels, by the way. I love the Manila Hotel and was again surprised that I just could walk into the lobby. There were a lot of people attending some kind of event. The last time I visited the hotel was in October 2014 just before All Souls’ Day. All Souls’ Day, also known as Halloween, is celebrated in the Philippines as a family holiday. The people offer flowers and pray for the dead. For the occasion, the hotel had put skeletons in different places in the hotel, such as at the bar and in the restaurant. I had never seen this anywhere before and it was fun!
History of the Manila Hotel
The hotel dates back to 1912 and is most famous as the residence of General Douglas MacArthur when he was Military Advisor of the Philippine Commonwealth from 1935 to 1941. The General stayed in the Penthouse Suite that was built on top of the hotel. This suite offers panoramic views of Manila Bay. After that many celebrities stayed at the hotel over the years such as Hillary Clinton, Gloria Estefan, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Prince (now King) Charles, and Liza Minelli.
During World War Two Japanese troops occupied the hotel. When American troops had landed on Luzon in early 1945 it became clear that the Japanese would defend Manila until the last man. The ensuing Battle of Manila is one of the lesser-known episodes of World War Two in Southeast Asia. Approximately 100,000 civilians lost their lives and most of this beautiful city lay in ruins after the fighting had ended. Japanese forces set the hotel on fire but the hotel was rebuilt after the war.
I can’t wait to go back to Manila!
The Manila Hotel is my favorite hotel in the Philippines. I love the building and its location, just next to Intramuros with views over Manila Bay. Writing this story I realize there is so much more to find out about the history of this iconic hotel. I recommend all our guests who have a sense of history to stay here. You can find many fantastic old pictures of the hotel and of the Philippines on the Flickr page of American John Tewell, who resides in the Philippines. I will be back at the Manila Hotel as soon as I can.
A story by Frans Betgem