Philippinescapes: Food, Fashion and Friends

I finally made it back to the Philippines, my birthplace, after over a decade. My Philippines escapes were mostly spent catching up with relatives and great friends like the Capilis, and frequent visits to Makati, the country’s fashion and business capital. The city of Makati has totally changed and it’s not as far as how 54th Avenue in New York looks like.Since this was my last leg prior to returning to Australia, I was excited and was careless about new purchases and additional luggage. The time has come for some retail therapy!

In an archipelago comprising 7,107 islands, there are just so many things to explore. From the powder-white sand beach of Boracay to the lush countryside of Banaue Rice Terraces or the serene environment of Tagaytay.  In the region, you can enjoy the most decadent cuisines from the renowned Antonio’s Garden, a fine dining restaurant in Tagaytay.

Antonio’s Garden, a fine dining restaurant in Tagaytay

The multiple ethnicities throughout the islands create that distinctive feature of the Filipinos.  The wide use of English language is another unique identity of the Philippines from its neighbouring Asian countries.

Food was constantly in my mind.  I could satisfy my palate with my old-time favourite Filipino delicacies. Most of them are fusions of international foods with local flavours and ingredients.

The eventful lunch orchestrated at Fely J’s Kitchen, with Jun Escario, Monica & RJ

During my visit I savoured the decadent tastes of many local Filipino cuisines in various local and international restaurants including an eventful lunch orchestrated at Fely J’s Kitchen in Greenbelt 5 by my friends, Jun Escario and Monica Figueroa.  It was the day that I discovered the mischievousness of my friends, for tricking me to eat crickets – ‘Camaru Mekeni,’ as the dish is called, cooked in authentic ‘adobo’ sauce.  I only realised what I had in my mouth when I crunched and felt the soft squelching texture!  I thought I had got away from eating them in Cambodia!  I could not resist but to re produce the event to RJ, another friend who joined us from Sydney.

Jun & Monica are fashion gurus of Manila.  To view a sample of Jun Escario’s tasteful Spring fashion selections also showcasing Monica’s latest pieces of her shoe collections, click here.

I also had a chance to see the Power IKONS concert of Erik Santos at the Music Museum in Greenhills.  Erik is one of the famous male songbirds in the country. Thanks to award-winning writer, Senedy Que for giving us front row seats.

Meet Erik Santos, the Philippines’ Prince of Pop and Pops Fernandez, the Philippines’ Concert Queen

The Philippines is considered as the No.1 international exporter of talented musicians and entertainers.  No wonder, the Philippines’ Prince of Pop delivered a respectful tribute to the icons of the international and local music industry by singing, with bravado and admiration, their classic hit songs.  This is considered Erik’s best concert to date showcasing his amazing musical prowess, versatile voice and range, and of course, his incredible showmanship.  An entertaining night down memory lane but most of all, an affirmation of how iconic love can be.  In one of his song introduction he said, “Love is like a true icon- it lasts forever, it is ageless”.  And I couldn’t agree more…

During my travels, I had the chance to meet up with Michael, a good friend from Australia, once again.  The last time we saw each other was autumn in New York last year.  This time around was for a Shangri-La getaway, to enjoy the beautiful island of Boracay and the colourful city of Manila.  When traveling on business, a good weekend escape from the hustle and bustle of cosmopolitan Manila is Shangri-la Boracay Resorts and Spa, just a one-hour flight away.  The resort offers you an ultimate private and indulging hideaway. The moment we arrived in Caticlan Airport, we knew we were in good hands.  At the resort, the choices of indulgence are endless: from your own private space of relaxation and sipping of your favourite cocktails at the resort’s private beach bar, to the banquet of spa treatment selections.  These were indeed perfect ingredients for an ultimate indulgence away from the madness of everything.

Enjoy a sumptuous high tea in the Horizon Lounge, Makati Shangri-la…

While in Manila, Makati Shangri-la is the ideal business hotel. To no surprise they received their recent accolade as 2011 Best Business Hotel Award holder of Business Traveller Asia-Pacific Magazine’s 2011 Readers’ Poll.  The five star deluxe hotel is located in the heart of the business district and close to the market shopping domain of Makati.  As the hotel door opens, it brings a world of elegance with a courteous smile from the hotel staff impeccably dressed in their long and elegant uniforms, to the opulent surrounds.  To then be led to a luxury one-bedroom suite combined with a view of the city’s skyline, as well as a spectacular sunrise as the morning awakes.

and indulge in a spacious one-bedroom suite.

Carol Mills, a close friend and a Travel Counsellor from Melbourne once again joined with me in the Philippines following our rendezvous in New York. Here’s what she had to share in this week’s article:

 “Visiting the Philippines for the first time was a pleasant surprise and blew away all my misconceptions. Although the poverty in Manila is very apparent, particularly in the slum areas throughout the city, the central district of Makati proved to be a wonderful, cosmopolitan and sophisticated oasis.

My first few nights were spent at the Mandarin Oriental in a club floor room. The rooms were huge by any standard and the bathrooms were one of the largest I have ever seen. The hotel itself was very comfortable with excellent facilities and located only a 10 -15 min walk from the popular Greenbelt area.

Makati itself is a shopper’s paradise.  The popular Greenbelt shopping area lives up to it’s name with cool parks and water features flanked by every conceivable type of restaurant all meandering through a major shopping mecca.  Every imaginable designer label can be found here including Gucci, Hermes, LV and many more along with major European chain stores such as Zara, Top Shop etc.  Greenbelt really comes alive after dark when many of the restaurants host entertainment of some sort. We spent a pleasant evening stepping within a few minutes from Salsa at a Cuban bar, Café Havana to Blues band at the next and on to M Café, a hippest cosmopolitan cocktail bar popular with expats for a Thursday night out.

The mid-range New World hotel is very well situated across from Greenbelt and few minutes walk from the very favored 5-star Peninsula and Makati Shangri-La.  The high level of service and courtesy of the Philippine nationals in all areas blew me away. A walk down the street meant a warm good morning from every passer by and good service in every shop, and restaurant etc was never an issue. Tipping though is expected, and never begrudged.

A visit to the massive market complex at Greenhills was an eye-opener, where you can buy that essential extra suitcase for the dozens of “designer” handbags that just HAVE to be bought. Taxis in Manila are the cheapest I have ever come across just be sure that meters are switched on before starting your trip.

I was fortunate in being offered a tour of a major US medical centre, which has a large and popular clinic in Makati. The clinic offers every possible surgical and cosmetic procedure at a standard, which appeared to be above and beyond what is available in here. And of course prices at 50-75% cheaper than Australia.  It clearly explains now why Medi tours have become so popular overseas.

This blue-sailed boat is everywhere in Boracay, specially at dusk.

We then moved on to the popular island of Boracay, world renowned for its powder-white sand beaches.  Our 1-hour flight from Manila was with AirPhil Express. Be aware that as in our case, itineraries may indicate departure is from terminal 2 however all flights to Boracay depart from the new terminal 3 which can be 20-30 minutes away by taxi, and quite stressful when you only have minutes to spare! The check in luggage limit is only 10 kgs and although extra can be purchased it can become quite expensive. Save your shopping for your return to Manila.

Upon arrival at Caticlan Airport, which is the closest airport to the island of Boracay,  we took a few minutes ride on a motorised tricycle to the port where we then boarded a very basic long boat for the 20 min crossing to the island. Pre-booked transfers are definitely recommended, as the process can be confusing and quite hectic. On reaching the port of Boracay it was then another 20 min tricycle trip to our hotel in D’Mall, Station 2.  We stayed at The Tides, which although quite basic but clean, comfortable and in an excellent location right in the heart of D’Mall, the main shopping and restaurant area of White Beach.

White Beach is a stunning stretch of sand, lined with luxurious to basic hotels, and bars and restaurants, sectioned into 3 boat stations: Station 1 offers the finest and cleanest white sand of the beach and most of the high-end hotels are situated, Station 2 is the heart of the thriving nightspots, then Station 3 is for low-end hotel lodging.  Reminiscent of Bali 30 years ago, streets are unpaved and roads non-existent, heeled-shoes are definitely not recommended. Every conceivable restaurant can be found here at prices that barely make a dent in the budget. With margaritas, and the local favourite Mojitos, at $1.80 a time our stay was idyllic.

The most stunning sunset of Boracay

While there we visited The Discovery Shores, a beautiful resort at the far end of Station 1. One hotel that was in an excellent location right on the beach and central to all the “action” is the Ascott, which looked to be comfortable and very popular. If you’re looking for something quieter and more luxurious the Shangri-La is very popular though a good 15 minutes out of town. We also heard favourable reports on the new resort of Aysha.

Boracay though is definitely a fantastic place to unwind but doesn’t have a lot to offer in the way of day trips. We did however decide to travel with a group of newly found friends out on a full day trip to the popular Ariel’s Point.  This was a site on a neighbouring island about an hour away and offers a great day out. The main attraction here is the cliff diving where visitors and locals dive, or jump, or our case  just look from the diving platforms at various precarious heights along the cliffs. It was an exciting and fun excursion and topped off with an excellent buffet lunch and unlimited ice-cold beers included in our PHP1400ticket.

Another favourable pastime on Boracay is the excellent massages. You can choose from the very exposed beach massage for approximately $5 or the more private, and air-conditioned day spa centres that dot the beach where $8 can get you an hour of bliss that compares with any expensive treatment experienced elsewhere around the world.

Our stay came to an end far too quickly and we had to depart on a very wet tricycle, less the umbrella in the midst of a typhoon downpour. Note to self – don’t travel in the wet season. Braving the elements we arrived at our flight looking like drowned rats, traveling via Manila to Amanpulo Resort.

After our few days there we once again traveled back to Manila where we stayed for a few nights at the wonderful Dusit Thani, proudly sponsored by Philippine Department of Tourism. Again this was in a fantastic location, across from the Ayala Shopping Centre, which connects to the massive Glorietta mall, which in turn connects to Greenbelt.  A trip out to dinner can cost a fortune with the temptation of hundreds of shoe stores along the way. The Dusit hosted a wonderful stay, the service of course was exceptional and the facilities excellent. The buffet breakfasts in particular were exemplary and hours of shopping needed to walk off the results.

Drinks at the glitzy and hippest Opus Bar
with Carol Mills

A trip out to the new Casino complex one evening was a fantastic experience as was a visit for dinner to the new entertainment district “The Fort” and drinks at the glitzy and hippest Opus Bar located at Resorts World.

All too soon my trip came to an end, or did it really have to?  A quick call to Philippine Airlines (PR) and a flight change meant another couple of days trying to fit more of it in.  The Philippines were a wonderful surprise and a definite for a return visit.  Can’t wait.

Michael & Carol, thank you once again for sharing your time during my travels as a sequel to last year’s New York autumn break, a trip filled of fun memories, dotted and underlined to paint a memorable travel wall, the special corners.

Traveling with Carol created another day in Paradise. Our visit to Amanpulo is indeed another day in paradise and is a perfect closure to end my trip – nothing but the best!  I saved the best for last in my next article.

 © 2012 by Michelle Riel, retains sole copyright to her contributions to all the contents of this site.

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