If one country were to take the title of the most talked about on-the-rise destination of 2017, it would be the Philippines. Home to Palawan, dubbed "the most beautiful island in the world" by Conde Nast Traveler, the southeast Asian country is attracting vacationers in droves. It consists of over 7000 tiny islands, each boasting idyllic white sand, impossibly azure waters, and Instagram opportunities aplenty.
Before you can get to paradise, though, you have to fly through Manila. Mention the city to sun-seeking tourists and frequent fliers, and you'll likely get the same response: a groan. For decades, it's been considered a stopover destination, but travel insiders say that's changing.
"I'm rather fascinated by the fast-paced life in Manila and to see it transform from what it was to what it is now: a modern city," says Evan Kristine, founder of Filipino travel blog Pretty Wild World. "There are so many great destinations in the Philippines to discover, and Manila is a perfect place to get back to city life, enjoy the nightlife, and embrace the culinary fusion—there are tons of excellent restaurants!"
Her top tip? Dedicate three days to the Asian capital, and approach it with an open mind. "Manila is not exactly what everyone is expecting, but the city sure does have a ton of things to offer. A little more research, and you’ll be surprised at some of the things you can do in the infamous capital city!"
Jetting to the Philippines? Follow a travel blogger's top Manila travel tips to kick-start your adventure.
"I think the best experiences, both as a tourist and a local, are visiting Intramuros and eating my way through Chinatown," says Kristine. Intramuros, also known as the Walled City, is the oldest district and historic core of Manila. It has stunning Spanish Colonial buildings dotted throughout and is peppered with museums, churches, and forts.
If you plan explore Binondo, Manila's Chinatown, Kristine has a word of warning: "Just be careful when you head to Chinatown and make sure that your stomach can handle Asian street food!" It's still worth a visit even if you can't sample the cuisine—Binondo is the oldest Chinatown in the world.
There's no shortage of chain hotels in Manila, but Kristine recommends a slightly more unique route: an upscale hostel. "Z Hostel in Poblacion area is charming and modern," she tells MyDomaine. It's located near hipster coffee shops, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and cool bars.
Our top pick? Book a suite at Amelie Hotel Manila, a 70-room boutique hotel in the bohemian district, Malate.
Foodies rejoice! According to Kristine, Manila is a gastronomic paradise. Make sure you stop by her favorite haunt, Pink Panda, anInsta-famous Asian diner that serves up panda pork buns and Pokémon dumplings. "Their food is a South-East Asian fusion, and my ultimate favorite is their pork buns! Totally to die for," she says.
You mightn't associate Mexican street food with the Philippines, but when you've gorged on dumplings and need a change of cuisine, El Chupacabra is the place to go. Kristine says she goes there for the cocktails and buzzing vibe. "I enjoyed El Chupacabra’s cocktails, atmosphere and of course, the food. The restaurant bar is open until 2 a.m.!"
Have you been to Manila? Share your top travel tips with us.