The combination of intense heat and dense traffic means many Manileños forsake the pleasures of the outdoors at weekends for the computer-controlled climate of their local mall – there can be few cities that have as many malls per head of population as this one. Note that the developers rarely pay as much attention to the surrounding roads as they do to their precious real estate, which means that traffic is especially gridlocked in these areas. Despite the growth of malls there are still plenty of earthy markets in Manila where you can buy food, antiques and gifts at rock-bottom prices, as well as some decent bookshops and fashion boutiques. One trendy local brand to look out for is Bench (wwww.benchtm.com), which sells Ben Chan’s men’s and women’s lines in stores all over the city.
The best general bookshop in Manila is Powerbooks (wwww.powerbooks.com.ph), which has seven branches around the city including those at Glorietta 3 and Greenbelt 4 in Makati, and Level 4 Manila Midtown, Robinsons Place, Ermita. There are branches of National Bookstore, the country’s major bookshop chain, in Quezon City (Quezon Ave), Fort Bonifacio, Ermita and Malate – at Harrison Plaza and Robinsons Galleria – but as ever their stock is limited to contemporary thrillers, literary classics and New York Times bestsellers, with much of what’s on offer stocked specifically for students. The bookshop with the best literary section in town is Solidaridad Bookshop, 531 Padre Faura St, Ermita. It’s owned by the novelist F. Sionil José and, apart from stocking his own excellent novels, has a small selection of highbrow fiction and lots of material on the Philippines.
Handicrafts and souvenirs
The first stop for tourists looking for indigenous gifts and handicrafts is usually Balikbayan Handicrafts (wwww.balikbayanhandicrafts.com). They sell a mind-boggling array of souvenirs, knick-knacks, home decorations, reproduction native-style carvings and jewellery, plus some larger items, such as tribal chairs, drums and musical instruments; staff can arrange to ship your purchases if requested. The biggest of their outlets is the cavernous Pasay branch along Macapagal Avenue, just south of the cultural centre (t02/831-0044), with the other at 1010 Arnaiz Ave (Pasay Rd) in Makati (t02/893-0775), both open daily 10am–7pm. Teosoro’s 1325 A. Mabini St, Ermita (t02/524-3936, wwww.tesoros.ph) is another handicraft chain selling woven tablecloths, fabrics, barongs and reproduction tribal crafts such as bulol. Not as big as Balikbayan, but more convenient to budget hotels in Ermita. The other main branch is at 1016 Arnaiz Ave (Pasay Rd), Makati (t02/887-6285). There are tourist shops all over the place selling reproduction tribal art, especially bulol (sometimes spelt bulul) – depictions of rice gods, worshipped by northern tribespeople because they are said to keep evil spirits from the home and bless farmers with a good harvest. Genuine bulol are made from narra wood and are dark and stained from the soot of tribal fires and from blood poured over them during sacrifices. Opposite San Agustin Church in Intramuros is the Silahis Center, a complex of small art and tribal shops selling everything from bulol and oil paintings to native basketware and jewellery.
Taking a taxi from one of Manila’s opulent malls to a more traditional market district such as Quiapo or Divisoria is like going from New York to Guatemala in thirty minutes – the difference between the two worlds is shocking. Needless to say, prices in Manila’s markets are a lot cheaper than the malls.