Makati, 5km east of Manila Bay, was a vast expanse of malarial swampland until the Ayala family, one of the country’s most influential business dynasties, started developing it in the 1950s. It is now Manila’s premier business and financial district, chock-full of plush hotels, international restaurant chains, expensive condominiums and monolithic air-conditioned malls, easily accessible via Ayala MRT station.
Opposite the station, the biggest mall is Glorietta, which has a central section and side halls numbered 1–5, and heaves with people seeking refuge from the traffic and heat. A short walk from Glorietta to the other side of Makati Avenue is Greenbelt Park, a landscaped garden with the pleasant, modern, white-domed Santo Niño de Paz Chapel in the centre. The park forms part of Makati’s other main mall, Greenbelt, which, like Glorietta, is divided into various numbered halls; on the north side is the excellent Ayala Museum.
Just to the north is the pleasant green swathe of Ayala Triangle, bordered by Ayala Avenue, Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenue. On the southeast corner facing Makati Avenue, the Filipinas Heritage Library (t02/892-1801, wwww.filipinaslibrary.org.ph) is an interesting little piece of history: it was Manila’s first airport terminal, the Art Deco Neilson Tower, built in 1937 (Paseo de Roxas, the road to the north, was built where the runway used to be). Inside there’s a bookshop that runs various literary-themed workshops. Further along Ayala Avenue, at the junction with Paseo de Roxas, is the Ninoy Aquino Monument, built in honour of the senator who was assassinated in 1983, while a block further on, the shimmering PBCom Tower (259m) at 6795 Ayala Ave is the tallest building in the Philippines (closed to the public).
Makati’s one real attraction is the Ayala Museum (02/757-7117, www.ayalamuseum.org) on Makati Avenue at De La Rosa Street (10min walk from Ayala MRT), by far the best place in the Philippines to get to grips with the nation’s complex history. The mighty Ayala family donated much of the initial collection in 1967, and this modern building was completed in 2004. There are no dreary exhibits here, or ponderous chronological approach – the permanent exhibitions just highlight the key aspects of Philippine history beginning on the fourth floor with an extraordinary collection of pre-Hispanic goldware, created by the islands’ often overlooked indigenous cultures between the tenth and thirteenth centuries. Over one thousand gold objects are on display, much of it from the Butuan area in Mindanao, including the “Surigao Treasure”. Don’t miss the astonishing gold regalia, a huge 4kg chain of pure gold thought to have been worn by a datu (chief). Other displays emphasize pre-Hispanic trade links with Asia, especially Song dynasty China, with a huge collection of porcelain and ceramics. On the third floor the “Pioneers of Philippine Art” showcases the museum’s particularly strong collections of Juan Luna Realism, Fernando Amorsolo Impressionism and Fernando Zobel’s more abstract work. On the second floor an extensive display of sixty dioramas dramatizes all the key events in Philippine history from prehistory to independence, while three audiovisual presentations tackle the postwar period, the Marcos years and People Power in 1986.
After a day sweating it out on Manila’s congested streets a couple of hours in a spa can be extremely tempting, especially now there are plenty of reputable ones serving stressed-out locals rather than sex-starved tourists.
G/F, Net One Center Building, 26th St at 3rd Ave, Bonifacio Global City t02/815-8233, wwww.neo.ph. Serene modern spa inspired by Zen minimalism, with elaborate Japanese-style massages from P1550 (90min), shiatsu (P950/1hr) and P420 head and neck massages (20min).
1826 J. Bocobo St, Malate t02/450-1127, wwww.sanctuariospa.com. Fabulous spa that, unusually, has a Filipino theme; housed in a colonial-style mansion built in the 1940s, it’s studded with Filipino artwork, antiques and tribal artefacts, and treatments feature indigenous as well as oriental styles and therapies. Try the traditional hilot (P855/1hr) a form of deep-tissue massage using coconut oil and performed by a genuine “medicine man”. All treatments come with unlimited access to the dry sauna, steam room and the tranquil back garden, which has an outdoor pool and two jacuzzis.
4th Forum Building, Tomas Morato Ave, Quezon City t 02/926-6249, wwww.sonevaspa.com. Right on the main strip in Quezon City, this offers great value for your peso – come on a weekday afternoon and it’s a dreamy, tranquil place with a huge roster of Xiamen (Chinese)-style massages from P699 (1hr) to P380 (feet) and P599 (back and feet combos).
G/F, Paseo de Roxas Drop-off Entrance, Greenbelt I, Makati t 02/840-1325, wwww.thespa.com.ph. One of a popular chain of deluxe spas, with the full range of massages and treatments, from Swedish massage (P820/1hr) to volcanic rock massages (P1500 for 1hr 15min).