With world class shopping, fascinating history, and unmatched warmth and hospitality, Manila (yes, Manila!) is an underrated spot for a family getaway, mama
Following our family’s recent beach escape to Amanpulo in the Philippines, I thought it would be a shame to fly through Manila – one of Southeast Asia’s largest and most vibrant cities – without stopping over to get a look. Plus, our family’s helper comes from Manila, so it was the perfect opportunity for her to visit with them, and then for all of us to catch up over a big meal before heading home.
On the advice of one of Sassy Mama’s own Manila experts, we opted to stay in Makati, which is the heart of Manila’s best shopping and dining, and is also a quick and easy trip from the international airport. It took us just 15 minutes to get between our hotel and the airport, though with Manila’s notorious traffic I was warned that it can sometimes take hours.
We chose to stay at the chic and intimate Raffles Makati, an all-suites hotel with just 32 rooms spread across 10 floors (in addition to many floors of residences). Ranked #1 for the area on TripAdvisor, it did not disappoint, mamas!
The topnotch service started from the moment we landed at Manila Airport, where a Fairmont-branded black car was waiting to whisk us away to the hotel (the hotel is connected by a walkway to its sister hotel, Fairmont Makati). As we pulled up to the entrance, two bellmen and ladies in traditional dresses greeted us – by name – at the door.
We were then escorted directly to our suite (Maggie running up ahead, of course), but not before pausing a moment to admire the beautiful lobby. If the original Raffles in Singapore is all languid colonial grandeur, the ultra-modern Raffles Makati – which opened just a couple years ago – is understated opulence.
As we arrived at our suite, I did a double take at the super tall doors, then my jaw basically hit the floor as we took in the spacious 60 square metre Junior Suite: the airy bedroom featured floor-to-ceiling windows with city skyline views, while off to the right was a spacious sitting area complete with a desk and library (!). Seriously, mamas, the bookshelves were lined with a full set of Encyclopedia Brittanicas!
Why the suites are ideal for families: as anyone who’s ever shared a hotel room with a baby or toddler knows, it’s basically hell doing anything once the little one’s gone to bed. I’ve spent more than one occasion watching videos on my iPad while sitting on the floor of a hotel bathroom. Here, the bedroom can not only be closed off from the foyer and sitting area, but the sitting area is actually quite comfortable!
There was also a stunning dressing area and lovely bathroom, complete with kids’ toiletries and a special child-size bathrobe and slippers just for Maggie. She had so much fun splashing around in the deep soaking bathtub before bedtime that I had to give her another bath before we checked out the next day!
Other things Maggie loved: the extensive breakfast buffet, and the private swimming pool just for Raffles guests (we had it all to ourselves). We also had access to the larger pool at the Fairmont, but were happy to splash around in the slightly smaller, quieter pool that had lots of shallow areas perfect for toddlers.
Although we were shorter on time than I would have liked for exploring Manila, the hotel’s outstanding location made it easy to tick a number of key sites off our checklist. First, we hailed one of Manila’s famous Jeepneys (sort of like a rideshare bus) to cruise around the neighborhood. Then we hoofed it back to the Ayala Museum (actually just a three-minute walk from the hotel), which features a beautiful collection of Filipino art and archaeological artifacts.
Our favorite feature at the museum, though, was its “Diorama Experience” featuring 60 handcrafted dioramas depicting key moments through Filipino history. I think our helper, who’d never been to the museum before, really enjoyed this exhibit, as it provided the opportunity for her to tell us more about her country while also pointing out some of the most famous parts of the city. I also loved the quirky feature that showed off the height of various famous Filipinos throughout history (many of them were quite diminutive!) in contrast to various Spanish, Chinese, British and American adversaries.
The Ayala Museum opens directly onto a beautifully landscaped park that actually runs through the center of Greenbelt Mall, one of Manila’s largest and most luxurious shopping malls (and Manila really loves its malls – it’s home to two of the top 10 biggest in the world). Lined with restaurants and cafes, and beautifully landscaped with sculptures, fountains, and tranquil ponds, the park was the perfect spot for Maggie to get the wiggles out before heading back to the hotel for our 3-hour flight home to Singapore.
I realize that modern, shiny Makati barely scratches the surface of a vibrant, history-filled city like Manila, and am super keen to go back. Besides visiting our helper’s diverse neighborhood of Quezon City, I’m most eager to visit Rizal Park (also known as Luneta), the city’s historic centre that’s home to multiple museums, gardens, artworks, a playground, and even horse-drawn carriage rides.
I was absolutely blown away by the warmth and friendliness shown to us throughout the Philippines, which surpassed just about anywhere else we’ve traveled in Asia. It seriously started from the moment we landed when customs agents gave Maggie a big smile, and carried over throughout our time in lively, bustling Manila. This is a totally underrated weekend destination, mama, particularly if you love shopping!
Rates at Raffles Makati start from US$244 per night (with weekend offers including breakfast and evening cocktails!). Visit www.raffles.com/makati for more details.