When Manila was in its heyday, Manila Bay must have been a sight to behold, with its dreamy sunsets and sweeping panorama across the South China Sea. The promenade has been cleaned up in recent years, but the area still feels past its peak. Nevertheless, the waterfront boasts several enticing attractions, from the Manila Hotel to Manila Ocean World and several museums – if it’s too hot to walk taxis are the best way to get around this area.
Sun Cruises (t02/527-5555, wwww.corregidorphilippines.com), CCP Terminal A, Pedro Bukaneg Street, near the Cultural Centre, runs daily jaunts around Manila Bay, which can be fun despite the often distressing amounts of rubbish floating around – the views of the city at sunset, surrounded by the volcanoes of Bataan and Batangas, are magical. Most cruises include a meal on board. Boats depart the wharf next to Jumbo Palace at the end of Pedro Bukaneg. Tickets are P550 per person.
The Manila Hotel, just northwest of Rizal Park, is the most historic of the city’s luxury hotels, perhaps though now a little careworn. It’s still the best place to get a sense of early twentieth-century Manila, those halcyon days when the city was at its cultural and social zenith; you can even stay in the General Douglas MacArthur Suite, residence from 1936 to 1941 of the man Filipinos called the Caesar of America. If even the standard rooms are beyond your means, you can at least sip a martini in the lobby while listening to a string quartet and watching the capital’s elite strut by.
When the hotel opened in 1912 it represented the epitome of colonial class and luxury. Lavish dances known as rigodon balls were held every month in the Grand Ballroom, with high-society guests dancing the quadrille in traditional ternos (formal evening dresses) and dinner jackets. Today staff glide around in similarly elegant attire.
The hotel has its own historical archive, containing signed photographs of illustrious guests, from Marlon Brando, looking young and slender in a native barong (formal shirt), to Ricky Martin and Jon Bon Jovi. The archive is available to guests only, but if you eat or drink at the hotel, one of the guest relations officers should be able to show it for you. South of the hotel is the Quirino Grandstand where various official functions take place, including a military parade on Independence Day.