Explore the Thriving City Culture of Manila

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It can be easy to overlook the Philippines’ capital city of Manila in favor of getting lost amongst the 7,641 beautiful islands that make up the country instead. However, the developing sub-culture of art, food and music found there makes it a place worth visiting for more than just boarding a plane. Here you can find a unique cross-cultural experience influenced by neighboring China, Spanish settlers and Western visitors.

Manila has a cool underground vibe, influenced by European and American culture in the 50s, and 60s. Hidden speakeasies have sprung up all over the city in recent years on rooftops and in basements, offering those in the know a bite to eat along with their cocktail or craft beer. There are also plenty of microbreweries where you can sample locally brewed ales, and bars serving masterfully crafted cocktails both original and classic in style. A coffee culture is gradually expanding in the city, slowly building up to the levels found in other coffee-loving places like Melbourne, Singapore and London. Try the cute Tweedle Book Café or Catabolic Café, both in Quezon City.

The food scene in Manila covers everything from cheap but tasty cafés, to Michelin-starred restaurants. Street food is a big craze, with food trucks and stalls spread out across the city. Check out El Chupacabra for spicy Mexican food at a great price, or Charlie’s Grind and Grill for quality American-style fast food. Areas like Z Compound and Cubao Expo in Quezon City or The Collective in Makati are comprised of Manila’s famous ‘food streets’ where you can find all sorts of cuisine at a great price. Stand out places for food in Manila include Maginhawa Street, a foodie’s paradise, and Van Gogh is Bipolar, a kooky café serving up healthy, happy food with a twist.

When it comes to entertainment, Manila has a little something for everyone. In recent years, nearby Macau has seen a massive boom in the casino industry and is now the world’s hottest destination for gaming. But the East Asian gaming fever may have originated from the Philippines, where a strong poker and casino culture still exists. The new $500 million casino-resort coming to Boracay island will cement the Philippines’ place on the world stage for gaming and entertainment.

In the meantime, you can go all out at one of the city’s awe-inspiring resort parks. City of Dreams boasts high-quality restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues alongside its fantastic casino. Resort World Manila has three floors of gaming space, a mall, a cinema and a whole host of great restaurants to choose from. Or you can head to the 5-star Solaire Resort for a one-stop-shop in luxury, where you can experience first-rate dining, relaxation and gaming all under one roof.

Outside of the classy resort world, there is a grungier music scene in the city. There are rock and roll bars like SaGuijo, as well as more chilled out acoustic venues like Bar 1951 and Conspiracy Garden Café. B-Side is a much-loved warehouse venue, with plenty of space to dance to the soul and rock music they regularly serve up. Their Sunday reggae parties are not to be missed! If you’re after a full-on clubnight, then head over to B-Side’s sister club, Black Market. Another warehouse venue but with a more hardcore feel, this club plays dub, jungle and garage on a Saturday before switching to full-scale techno on a Sunday.

Gem is the co-founder and author of Travels with a Hobo. When she’s not hopping on a bus or a plane, climbing mountains, or soaking up the sun in one of the 7,641 islands of the Philippines, she lays in bed all day watching crime documentaries and TV shows and rewatching Game of Thrones. Winter is here.