Spice Up Your Family Vacation To The Philippines With Some off the Beaten Track Activities in Manila
Manila, Manila…the crazy capital of the Philippines sometimes gets a bad rep for its pollution, honking traffic and its reputation for petty crime. But while Manila is often seen as a mere starting point for beach-hopping fun, here’s a whole lot for families to love about the city. Once they’ve got to grips with the noise and the hectic pace of life, offspring of all ages are likely to fall in love with a city where they can learn trapeze skills, visit brightly colored theme parks and where marshmallows regularly crop up in salads. Older kids and teens will likely pile on the pressure for their parents to take them to brag-worthy mainstream attractions such as Splash Island waterpark, the kid-sized city that is Kidzania and the city’s several amusement parks, but parents looking for more satisfyingly under-the-radar family fun will find that Manila really delivers the goods. From hidden foodie adventures in Metro Manila itself to exciting escapades outside the city limits, these under-the-radar activities will add extra oomph to your family trip to Manila.
Explore Quiapo, Chinatown and the Muslim Quarter.
Many family visitors to Manila give the city’s somewhat down-at-heel historic downtown a miss, preferring instead to take the usual tourist route around Intramuros – the walled, Spanish-founded ‘city within a city’. But concerns about safety shouldn’t deter families in Manila from visiting Quiapo – while it’s wise to take the usual safety precautions (don’t flash expensive belongings, keep wallets in front pockets, keep kids close by…), there’s a whole lot of adventuring to be had in the maze of streets that make up the Old Town. There are several companies offering walking, shopping and tasting tours of Quiapo, but intrepid visitors can certainly go it alone – along with the near-obligatory visit to the Black Nazarene statue, said to have miraculous healing powers, there are heaving produce markets, street food galore, and endless opportunities for all members of the family to practice their haggling skills, pick up all manner of ‘magical’ potions, and even have their fortunes told. Look out for the Ocampo Pagoda – a castle/pagoda hybrid that looks like something from a Studio Ghibli film. Families can continue their cross-cultural explorations by crossing the Quezon Bridge to the Muslim Quarter, notable for its grand Golden Mosque, and the crowds of locals that come here to pick up keepsakes. Meanwhile, the city’s busy Chinatown, between Binondo and Santa Cruz, is the oldest in the world, and the place to come for delicious dumplings, sticky rice and ‘pork floss’, as well as posing by the grand arch that marks the entrance to the district.
? Tip: In Manila they use paper straws, so make sure to not let them sit inside the drinks for too long…
See the City from the Water on the Pasig River Ferry
It’s impossible not to be struck by the scale of the traffic chaos in Manila. Bottlenecks make getting from A to B a time-consuming affair, and the choking fumes are an unfortunate part of life in the city. One way to skip the backed-up traffic and get an alternative view of the city is to take the Pasig River Ferry, which carries a mainly local crowd of commuters from Pasig to Intramuros. Making a total of 12 stops, Pasig River Ferry Service is the only water-based transportation in Metro Manila that cruises Pasig to Intramuros in the City of Manila, taking in sights such as the grand Presidential Palace (no photos!) and offering a chance to jump on and off at the 12 stops, along the route, neatly dodging the traffic. The trip costs around a dollar, and it’s both a fun boat trip and a practical way to get around.
Go Shopping at Greenhills
Forget the slick, modern malls, and do your souvenir shopping at this vast network of indoor and outdoor markets and boutiques, Brush up on your haggling skills (it’s not unreasonable to expect vendors to drop their original price by up to 50 per cent) and set aside the best part of a day to fully explore the flea-market style, 1970s-built Greenhills Shopping Center, which is easily reached by metro, and buzzes with sellers hawking everything from knock-off designer label fashions and genuinely bargainous phones and gadgets, to artsy knick knacks, gourmet goodies and local handicrafts. It’s also the place to come for genuine pearls, if that’s your bag (it’s also the place to come for bags…). Stalls and cafes selling easy eats such as burgers and donuts will keep kids’ energy levels up.
? Eat at a Dog Cafe
Taiwan gave the world the concept of the Cat Cafe, but Manila has upped the ante with its kid-pleasing Dog Cafes, where diners can pet and pat friendly pooches as they sip chow down on burgers and slurp up coffees and milkshakes. The original Manila Dog Cafe, Barkin’ Blends, has a dedicated, santized ‘Dog Zone’, where visitors can spend up to two hours cuddling (but strictly no carrying!) their new furry pals. The kid-pleasing menu includes brightly-hued burgers (the Fiona Burger comes on a pink bun) and Skyeghetti (presumably named for canine superheroine Skye from Paw Patrol) with meatballs. Dog-loving diners can relax in the knowledge that the four-legged friends here are treated with kindness, and strict rules ensure that the visits are as much fun for the hounds as they are for hungry clients.
And when you come to book a hotel, make sure you check these family friendly hotels first.