Manila – Explore the Philippines in 4 Days

Airbnb in Makati
Views for days in my Airbnb in Makati.

Manila was a surprise destination because I was in Asia and a friend of mine who happens to live in the region had a birthday. So, I made a small detour from Vietnam on my way to Bali. Once I arrived at the airport in Hanoi, I knew that Manila will be something special. The Filipino people in line at the airport line were the first indication.

Oftentimes you can tell a lot about a country as you wait for check-in at the airport. You’ll see that the locals returning home share similar cultural characteristics. Even though my stay was short, I was eager to explore Manila after a few conversations in line with the locals. People from the Philippines are extraordinarily nice, with a quick smile and friendly interactions.

Tijana, Founder
Zest & Curiosity

This was also my last big trip across Asia and Australia before the worldwide pandemic. I often feel so grateful that I have all these memories I can come back to.

Manila – Marvelous Design Finds

The second thing that left an impression on me was a Filipino design based on traditional artisan work, yet made very modern. There are so many creative and beautiful designs, but one in particular by Rita Nazareno’s Zacarias1925 stood out to me.

Rita is inspired by her travels, art, and architecture. Her team of skilled weavers uses the art of traditional weaving to create stylish and architectural accessories. They are all bewitching, from art-infused handbags to sleek totes and sculptural clutches.

Manila design - woven bags by Rita Nazareno
I fell in love with these amazing creative bags by Rita Nazareno. I got a few of them, they simply make me happy. Zacarias1925 Julie bag series (in the second row) were inspired by artist Julie Mehretu.

Manila Lucio Bag by Zacharias1925
Of course, I couldn’t resist the Lucio bag by Rita Nazareno Zacarias1925. It’s inspired by one of my favorite artists, Lucio Fontana. Her bags have an artistic and contemporary twist. They are high end, sophisticated, whimsical – and highly addictive.
Aphto Living Art and Design Store
The Alley at Karrivin has many lovely design shops and restaurants. It’s kind of out of the way, but definitely worth visiting. This is the Aphto Living Art and Design store.

Fashion by Keith Kebo Brown in Manila
KAB Studio’s (by Keith Kebo Brown) bespoke collection comes in small limited quantity but in very high-quality craftsmanship and materials.

Manila – Art Scene

Together with my dear friends, we went to the Othello Art Gallery opening in Manila. The gallery features Filipino contemporary arts and sculptures. It was a lovely event bursting with art lovers. There is something always interesting when you can see what is representing the time, culture, and physical space in a different country. Art as an expression always has its own unique language.

That is also one of the best parts when you travel – to experience culture through art, food, and interactions with people. That cultural exploration fulfills my soul, and the more foreign the place – the better. After the exhibition, we went to a superb Thai restaurant for a long and fun dinner with bottles of wine and called it a night.

Santa Ana Neighborhood

Santa Ana is a historic district in Manila that is composed of many ancestral houses. It’s known for its architectural heritage and is classified as the Santa Ana Heritage District. Whereas Makati is a very modern part of the city with high rises, Santa Ana represents its extensive past. The Church of Santa Ana was established in 1578.

Santa Ana Church, manila
Santa Ana Church is still a gathering and worship place for the community.

The church itself is among the List of Cultural Properties of the Philippines.

Santa Ana is located at the southeast banks of the Manila-part of the Pasig River, which we crossed by boat to get there. Using so many unique forms of transportation was truly an adventure. My favorite one was the jeepney. Our lovely guide Bernadette was from the Santa Ana neighborhood, and while walking we met her old school teacher who was looking at the street through the window. It’s a special treat when someone shows you their own hometown. I recommend a guided tour to experience and understand it fully.

Santa Ana Manila houses
Santa Ana, more recent housing developments.

Jeepney Manila Santa Ana, the Philippines
Jeepney – my favorite transportation in the Philippines. You need to be very fast to get in and out of them, and I never figured out if they do have official stops. But, everything works fine and the people are really nice.

Tijana in a Jeepney in the Philippines
Jeepney adventure. It is bumpy and wonderful.

History of Jeepneys

The history of Jeepneys is a fascinating one, as they are the cheapest way to commute in the Philippines. Because of its rear open door design, picking up and dropping off is easy for both passengers and drivers. Plus, unlike typical buses, they can stop anywhere. When American troops began to leave the Philippines at the end of World War II, hundreds of surplus Jeeps were sold or given to the Filipinos.

The Jeepney rapidly emerged as a popular and creative way to re-establish inexpensive public transportation, much of which had been destroyed during World War II.

The Jeeps were stripped down and redecorated locally. Metal roofs were added for shade and the vehicles were also decorated in vibrant colors and ornaments on the sides and hood. Modern jeepneys are now produced with engines and parts from Japan or South Korea. The back part was reconfigured with two long parallel benches with passengers facing each other in order to accommodate more passengers. They make for a memorable and adventurous ride.

The tricycles in Santa Ana, Manila, the Philippines
The tricycle was another form of transportation in Santa Ana. My friend and I are both very tall and slender and we barely squeezed in together. Often you can see 5 people in/on it plus a driver. Where there is a will, there is a way. I loved the ride. So much fun!

Freshly washed Laundry Santa Ana, Manila
I loved how this lady made a gradient color of air-dried laundry. All these little details are what make the place I visit so special.

Legazpi Sunday Market

This charming little market is featuring on weekends a wide selection of furniture, home goods, local produce & street food. I always go for new and unusual tastes that I’ve never experienced, so I tried the delicious local dalandan juice.

This was a very unique experience. Farmers, artists, small business owners, and many others from far provinces will come to sell their products. Lots of food is prepared on the spot. It’s a lovely way to be mingling with the locals and partaking in their daily lives.

Legazpi Sunday Market vendors Mom and daughter
Sweet mother and daughter duo creates those beautiful local kitchen utensils.

Legazpi Market Manila
Juice vendor at Legazpi market. I love dalandan juice. Dalandan is Philippine orange with a green color. Very refreshing!

Insider Tips for Manila

I loved coming in early October to Manila as everything was already decorated for Christmas, starting from the airport, malls, to even the hair salons (you can check here my glamorous Filipino hairstyle). Even though I live in Southern USA, it was so amazing to wear summer dresses in October with all the Christmas ornaments around.

The best time to visit the Philippines is from December to February when temperatures are a comfortable 24°C-31°C (75-87 °F). However, I also loved October. It was very pleasant.

Since the Philippines are an English-speaking country it is very easy to go around, and people are incredibly helpful. It may have been a short trip but it was a very fulfilling one. Polished Makati is a great starting point. Furthermore, it was nice to see older historic neighborhoods reconciled in two very different parts of Manila. It’s truly a city full of contrast.

In Makati, I walked everywhere or got an Uber when I wanted to go to the other parts of the city. Makati is also very close to the airport, but use the expressways – you’ll get to your flight faster.

I used Cebu Pacific Airlines and all was on schedule. Immediately when I arrived, I bought a local SIM card at the airport for emergencies, and it helps throughout the stay.

Decorated christmas tree in Philippines
Mall in Philippines
Greenbelt Ayala Center Makati Manila
Greenbelt is a shopping mall located at Ayala Center, Makati, and is an oasis of green and calm. A lot of nice shops and restaurants are here. It is also a nice place just to walk around and enjoy the lush greens and koi fish ponds.

Where to Eat

Chicken adobo is a famous Filipino dish, which is an absolute must-try. Due to the mixing of cultures through the centuries, Filipino cuisine has many culinary influences. I explored different foods and drinks, many of which I had no clue what they were, and I enjoyed them so much! There are many Asian and European fares also available so there is something for everyone’s food palate.

Din Tai Fung Makati Manila
Din Tai Fung. Making of those world-famous dumplings and baos.

Delicious Din Tai Fung dumplings
I had Truffle & Kurobuta Pork Xiao Long Bao to-go because the restaurant was packed and the line was long. They are absolutely out of this world. So delicious, exquisite, and delicate. I can understand why people wait in line.

Bizu Patisserie and Cafe Manila
Stylish Bizu Patisserie and Cafe, Greenbelt, Manila. Perfect place for breakfast. The staff is also very gracious and welcoming.

Bizu Patisserie and Cafe Makati
Loved the delicate breakfast and the tea at Bizu Patisserie and Cafe. Greenbelt, Manila.

Mesa, Filipino Moderne restaurant ostrich dish
Drunken ostrich – ostrich tenderloin marinated with rice wine with mushroom. At Mesa, a Filipino Moderne restaurant.

Where to Stay

Makati is centrally located and is the best area to stay. I stayed in an amazing Airbnb at Legaspi street across the Greenbelt Mall. It was a great location, and the concierge in my building was so kind and helpful with all the needs. The views from the 2 levels of windows in the loft were stunning and stylishly decorated.

Modern Loft in Makati
Top floor bedroom in loft Makati
Stylish décor in loft Manila
The amazing views in loft to high-rises
Airbnb loft Manila staircase
Legaspi Street, Manila
Walking on my Legaspi street and soaking it all in. It was a great trip.

Manila and Philippines – Basic Info

The Philippines is an archipelagic country in Southeast Asia, about 800 km (500 miles) from Vietnam. It is situated in the western Pacific Ocean and consists of about 7,641 islands. Manila is the capital, located on Luzon, the largest island.

The Philippines takes its name from Spanish King Phillip II. He ruled during the Spanish colonization of the islands in the 16th century. Since it was governed by Spanish rule for 333 years and under U.S. tutelage for a further 48 years, the Philippines has many cultural connections with the West. For example, it’s the second-most-populous Asian country with English as an official language, following closely behind India.

All of this makes it an interesting mix. The Philippines are a predominantly Catholic country with Latino influences and Anglo-European cultural characteristics. Yet the people of the Philippines are Asian geographically and culturally as well.

I would love to come back some day and expolore more of Philipines and its little islands. I heard that the beaches are divine at Cebu. Until the next time, Manila!

Where Is It?