It's More Fun in the Philippines
Grant and I were lucky enough to spend a week in the Philippines for my birthday recently. It had been 12 years since I was in the Philippines last and it was Grant’s first trip there ever.
My favorite part was getting to spend time with my grandmothers and introducing Grant to a whole new branch of the family.
Our eight days there were action packed, so we made the short video above to share our trip highlights.
In case you’re interested for more information, here are links to some of the places we visited. Enjoy!
We stayed at the gorgeous EDSA Shangri-La Hotel in Manila. It’s a luxurious oasis in the middle of a busy city. The pool area is gorgeous. We spent most nights poolside, sipping cocktails under the stars.
The SM Megamall, the second-largest mall in the Philippines and the ninth-largest in the world, is right next to the Shangri-La Hotel. Check out one of the busy food courts for tasty food that will cost you only a buck or two.
Bonifacio High Street is a trendy retail promenade in Bonifacio Global City, locally known as the BGC. My cousin Howard took us to Bonifacio High Street to experience its famous night market. It’s three long blocks of plaza space that fills with delicious food stands and offers free live music performed by local artists. Grant and I shared a meaty mac ‘n cheese burrito and sampled a refreshing mango smoothie. Afterward, we walked around the corner for drinks at the Straight Up rooftop bar on the 15th floor of the Seda BGC Hotel.
During our third day in the Philippines, we visited Intramuros, the famous Walled City that the Spaniards established in the 1500s. There we found charming cobblestone streets, horse-pulled buggies and romantic Spanish-style courtyards with secret fountains and balconies dripping with fuschia bougainvillea. Intramuros is also home to the historic San Agustin Church, the oldest church in the country. It’s also where my parents were married. If you’re facing the front of the church, find the double doors to your right to enter the church museum. You have to pay a small entrance fee, but you’re lucky like we were, you’ll find a volunteer student guide who will give you a tour for free. Our guide, named Dustin, was a hospitality and tourism student at a local university and volunteered to give historical tours of the church for course credit. He showed us the various artifacts and artwork displayed in the museum. He also gave us an amazing tour of the church itself and access to the beautiful choir loft in the back, where the famous church organ is on display. If you do take a free student-led tour, be sure to show your appreciation with a tip!
Our fourth day of the trip was spent at the Palms Country Club, a beautiful members-only establishment. Some friends of my uncle are members and invited us to a buffet luncheon at the club’s The Continental restaurant. All I can say is…it was amazing! My favorite was the hearty seafood chowder. Yum!
You’ll see in our video that we also went to Greenhills Shopping Center, a must-see for any bargain-hunting shoppers. It’s a massive indoor market that sells everything from clothes and bags to jewelry and artwork. It also has plenty of food options, from snack stands to sit-down casual eateries. A useful tip: Don’t buy any of the fake branded (e.g., Nike, Louis Vuitton, etc.) goods. You’ll see a lot of those at Greenhills and you can get in trouble at the airport if you get caught trying to bring certain fake goods home. Instead, stick with non-branded items and fun little souvenirs.
One restaurant we feature in our video is Planet Grapes, which was right next to our Shangri-La Hotel. It’s a fun, unpretentious wine bar that has live music every Wednesday night. We liked it so much that we came back for dinner our last night in Manila. Two trips to the same restaurant in one week? It was worth it. And…we ordered the same entrees. Grant had the Norwegian salmon and I had the crispy salmon, which was encrusted with crunchy crushed corn flakes and seasoning. We also had the cheese fondue for an appetizer and the Mexican street corn as a side. For dessert, we definitely recommend trying the leche flan (made with caribou milk) and the sapin sapin, a three-layered sticky rice treat.
We also took a day trip to Santo Tomas, Batangas. It’s my paternal grandmother’s hometown. It was special seeing the site of her childhood home, her elementary school and the local church. While there, we got to visit with some relatives I haven’t seen in a long time. It was nice spending the morning with them. Did I mention they have a dog??? See 05:04-05:15 of our video to see how much Grant and I loved their dog! In Santo Tomas, we also shopped for the famously strong Batangas barako coffee at the local market, had lunch at Mando and Elvie’s Lutong Bahay and visited the beautiful and unique St. Padre Pio Parish and Shrine.
After Santo Tomas, we headed south to Acquatico Beach Resort in San Juan. There we had a buffet lunch, had our own cabana, played on the beach and swam in the infinity pool. We also got a nice couple’s massage at the resort’s newly opened spa (it had just opened the day before we visited). The spa only takes one client at a time (or in our case, we were a couple). We got the whole spa to ourselves, including a changing room with storage space for your stuff, a private bathroom with a toilet, sinks, two showers and a sauna. They said we could prepare for our massage with a sauna and/or shower and to just let our masseuses know when we were ready for our one-hour massages. The side-by-side massages felt amazing after the long car ride there. After our massages, we got dressed and were greeted in the reception area with a hot pot of ginger tea. And… it was the equivalent of only $13 a person! That’s not a typo. A one-hour, five-star luxury spa experience for only $13 a person? Welcome to the Philippines!
For our last full day of our vacation, we went to the gorgeous mountain countryside: Tagaytay in Cavite. We had lunch at Balay Dako (translation: Big House). It’s a big house indeed. Balay Dako is an enchanting Spanish-style family home, turned into a top-tier restaurant. If you can, request a table upstairs for an unparalleled view of Taal Volcano and Lake, a mystical volcano island within a lake. Beautiful! After lunch, we drove down to the lakeside city of Tanauan to see my great-great-grandmother’s childhood home, the Almeda House.
Overall, it was an amazing vacation!