MANILA (Reuters Life!) - The capital of the Philippines is not the kind of place you fall in love with at first sight: the Spanish colonial-era mega-city is home to around 12 million people, congested, polluted and often chaotic.
But amid the confusion, there is a lot to see. Reuters correspondents with local knowledge provide hints to help visitors make the most out of a short stay in the city.
6 p.m. - Take a jeepney, the country’s iconic mini-bus, to Quiapo Church in downtown Manila to see Catholics attend Friday mass in the thousands. Devotees flock to the church to revere the Black Nazarene, a 400-year-old statue of Christ from Mexico believed to be miraculous. A plaza outside bustles with stalls selling candles, flowers, herbal medicines and potions.
8 p.m. - Start your Friday night at the financial district, Makati. Young professionals hang out at Greenbelt, a leafy outdoor mall with a cinema and a park. M Cafe makes excellent cocktails — ask for the citrusy Sunset Sake.
9 p.m. - Dine at Sentro restaurant, also in Greenbelt, and order Filipino favorites such as adobo (pork and chicken stew), sinigang (beef in tamarind broth) and crispy pata (pork knuckles).
10 p.m. Take a cab north to the gritty side of town and head to Cubao X, a cul-de-sac of curios shops, art galleries, funky bars and cozy restaurants. Mogwai Bar screens classic Filipino films from the 1940s and 50s, and nearby Black Soup Gallery exhibits cutting edge visual art.
Also, check out the local music scene at 70’s Bistro at nearby Anonas Ave., a popular watering hole for artists, activists and journalists. Bands belt out original music and a bit of The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, and Sting.
12 a.m. - Woozy from all that drinking? Head to the nearest street vendor and try balut or duck egg, an unusual delicacy which contains a duck embryo, a solid yolk and soupy fluid.
8 a.m. - For breakfast, try arroz caldo (rice porridge) or the more adventurous dinuguan (stewed pigs’ blood) with puto (steamed rice cakes) at Aristocrat restaurant near Malate Church. The Baroque-style church served as a base for British soldiers who launched an assault on Manila in 1762.
9 a.m. - Wander across Luneta Park, where national hero Jose Rizal, a renaissance man whose writings inspired the revolution against Spain, was executed by firing squad. The park also features a gigantic relief map depicting the 7,000 islands of the Philippine archipelago.
10 a.m. - Relive Manila's Spanish colonial past in the cobble-stoned streets of the old walled city, Intramuros. Visit the 400-year-old San Agustin church, a World Heritage site that boasts a fine collection of religious relics. You might chance upon a wedding reception across the street at Casa Manila, a museum depicting a typical Spanish colonial house. Around the corner is Manila Cathedral, which sheltered wounded soldiers in the Spanish-American war. Walking tours by history buff Carlos Celdran are entertaining. (celdrantours.blogspot.com/)
11 a.m. - Walk to Fort Santiago, a Spanish garrison where Rizal was imprisoned until his execution. A small museum houses manuscripts of his novels and his medical instruments. His famous poem, Adios Patria Adorada, is translated in several languages. Climb on the ramparts and watch barges cross the Pasig River.
12 p.m. - Ride a horse carriage to the old quarter of Sta. Cruz and for lunch: try the tasty fried chicken of Ramon Lee Panciteria. The pink-walled restaurant with retro upholstery and high ceiling fans dates back to 1929.
1 p.m. - Stroll along Ongpin St. in Chinatown, a bustling commercial hub in Binondo. Snack on hopia (mung bean cake) at Eng Bee Tin Chinese deli, or try the dimsum at Wai Ying Fastfood.
3 p.m. - Shop for native handicrafts at the market under the bridge in the Quiapo area, near the church. Haggle with vendors and beware of pickpockets. A large Muslim community lives in the neighborhood, and the Golden Mosque is worth a visit.
5 p.m. - Cool off at the SM Mall of Asia, a four-hectare maze of shops and restaurants, with a skating rink, bowling alley, science museum, a music hall and an IMAX movie theater.
7 p.m. - Buy seafood at the dampa (wet market) on Macapagal Avenue near SM Mall of Asia, where you can ask restaurants to cook the day’s fresh catch any way you want.
9 p.m. - Catch a ballet, play or concert at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, where the award-winning UP Madrigal Singers often perform. If your taste is more risque, head east from the bayside to Club Mwah in Mandaluyong. Their glittery spectacle is Manila’s answer to the Moulin Rouge, but with transvestite artists decked in flamboyant costumes.
7 a.m. - Enjoy breakfast at Jollibee, the country’s biggest fastfood chain that outsells McDonald’s. They serve traditional Filipino breakfast meals, including tapsilog (salted beef with fried egg and garlic rice) and longsilog (pork sausage with the same combination), as well as sweet spaghetti and hamburgers.
9 a.m. - Head to the mecca of flea markets, Greenhills Shopping Center, lined with stores touting fake designer bags, clothes, knock-off iPods and pirated DVDs. Vendors from the south offer good bargains for pearls.
12 p.m. - If you had a light breakfast, binge on the buffet lunch at Spiral, at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza hotel. The scrumptious all-you-can-eat choices include lobster, Angus beef, sushi and lechon (roasted piglet).
2 p.m. - Learn Philippine history through finely-sculpted miniature dioramas at the Ayala Museum. The galleries also show pre-Hispanic gold artifacts and paintings by Philippine art pioneers like Fernando Amorsolo and Juan Luna.
4 p.m. - Hop in a cab and head to The Fort, a sprawling complex of offices, condos and malls in a former army camp. Soothe those tired muscles with a massage at The Spa on Bonifacio High St., which offers traditional hilot and a range of lush treatments. You can book a private villa, with its own massage beds, steam room and hot tub.
8 p.m. - Chomp on more Filipino dishes at Abe, which specializes on kare kare (ox tail in peanut sauce), binagoongan (pork in shrimp paste) and binukadkad na plapla (butterflied tilapia fish). Then wind down at Cav, a wine bar that dispenses Sauvignon Blancs and Merlots from vending machines.
Editing by Miral Fahmy