How to escape Metro Manila without leaving it

In Photo: Bunk

By Pauline Joy M. Guiterrez and Jt Nisay

There’s nothing wrong with sunny beach getaways or retreats to the chilly highlands when the urbanity of Metro Manila becomes too toxic—just don’t buy into the mind-set that escape can only be achieved with a trip outside the nation’s capital.

Amid the traffic logjam and the many more negative things we could write about the Metro, there are bright spots in it that could make us forget about the city’s madness…even for a while. Here, we list down 20 such places where you can seek accessible refuge, broken down to four categories:

1. ABV, Makati City. In bustling Makati City, we recommend two spaces that are tucked inside food establishments. The first is ABV, or Alcohol by Volume, found behind an intriguing, decades-behind elevator shaft in the underground bacon haven Lazy Bastard on Jupiter Street.

Enter the elevator door and push the wall behind it to enter this posh, checkboard-floored bar that won’t only transport you to another place but to another era: the 1920s, or the Prohibition Era, when alcohol was considered “America’s National Curse”. ABV offers extensive selections of this curse, and you can even request for the “Bible” for a hidden list of concoctions. It’s just one secret on top of the other.

2. Mandalay Whiskeys & Cigars, Makati City. Another refuge you can seek in Makati is Mandalay Whiskeys & Cigars. Head to The Belle & Dragon resto pub on Palanca Street and in it, look for an old closet.

Open that and sift through the hangered robes to make your way inside this bar of Asian and European inspiration, evident from the design principle to the selection of offerings.

3. The Blind Pig, Makati City. A few streets from it is what’s considered to be the pioneering speakeasy concept in Manila, The Blind Pig. It’s found along a nondescript building on Salcedo Street with nothing more than a black sign in Braille as a marker.

If you do find a place, you’ll still need a reservation to enter. All of that proves to be worthwhile because on top of preset drinks, you can go with Bartender’s Choice for an exclusive tailored to your preference.

4. Bunk, Mandaluyong City. If tony bars don’t cut it for you, head on to Shaw Boulevard for a simpler variety that will give you more breathing space, literally and figuratively.

Bunk is as much a rooftop bar as it is an art gallery with murals to go with the sunset backdrop and a cold beer. It is located at the inconspicuous Jovan Building right across the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. Just approach the property’s security guards, and they already know what you seek.

The Burgery’s Asiong Salonga burger

5. Aguirre Avenue, Parañaque City. A sprawling food nexus, Aguirre offers quality food on a par with international cuisine sans the international price.

For the ultimate bun sandwich experience, visit either The Knuckle Sandwich Station and get yourself boxed with K.O. Burgers or race to The Burgery for some sandwich bad-assery (Asiong Salonga burger, anyone?).

If sweets are your thing, head to Larcy’s Cupcakery Café, where flavors, such as Sweet Tamarind and Pink Velvet, reign supreme. It also has an entourage of entrées, pasta and the house-blended Larcy’s Freeze.

For heavier meals, there’s Chef Bruce Ricketts’ Sensei Sushi Bar, where the menu is as fresh as what’s in the kitchen, and where food is made à la minute. Must-tries include Crispy Philly Roll, Spicy Pork Ramen and Chef’s 12-course Omakase.

There’s also The Girl + The Bull, an artistic name for an artsy atmosphere offering cuisine inspired by Italian, Vietnamese and Korean tastes. Try the Saturday-only Buttermilk Fried Chicken or the Homemade Faux Twix Bars with Sea Salt, and you’ll find yourself raging back like a wild bull in no time.

Liquid nitrogen ice cream at The Seventh Element

6. Barangay Kapitolyo, Pasig City. Gastro Park Kapitolyo’s 15-food stall setup in an otherwise empty lot offers varied palate-pleasers: choco lava and cotton candy-topped milkshakes at Sweet Nothing; all-you-can-eat shrimp tempura at Tokyo Tempura Unlimited; your choice of ribs at Brick Plate; Thai-Mex mix, such as Sriracha Carnitas Street Tacos and nachos at El Phante; and liquid nitrogen ice cream at The Seventh Element. That’s just a sampling from five of the 10 stalls.

If you want more choices, then visit the 77 Food Hub at 22 stalls strong. Have your churros fix at Xurreria, grilled skewers at Fire Station and grilled meat at Fiyah Peri Peri Grilled Chicken, American (food) dream at Bravissimo, and burgers bonanza at Liberatoz. Craving for a drink? Cocktails and a roster of other brews are available at Bar 77 Kapitolyo.

7. Marikina City. Have you been wanting to fly to a Chinese rural town or an Italian city minus the expenses? Here’s Montare Food Hub to give you the feels without going out of the Metro. While relatively smaller than most, Montare offers quality dishes, thanks to hands-on chefs and stall owners.

The area doubles as an event space and a hub of international flavors. Grab Chinese food, from dim sum to wanton noodle soup, at Montare Dim Sum Kitchen; or a T-bone steak from Bourgignon. Also, try the Ribdibs Duo (a rack of ribs plus two sides) at Ribdibs; finger food, such as salted egg sauce-covered “Shrimp in a Bag” at Peci; or Italian noodles at Caprizzo Pasta Hub.

Of course, there are burgers—these sandwiches are immortal staples at any food park. Bite into a Golden Eye Burger or a Roast Beef Sandwich at Tux Burger. You might want to order nachos for side, too.

Finally, wash down the taste of your meals, or simply indulge your sweet tooth with a tiramisu- or taro-flavored milkshake at Montare Dessert Hub. We’re sure that after eating here, you’ll wonder how close heaven can be to traffic-clogged Manila.

8. Maginhawa Street, Quezon City. From street food to haute cuisine, Maginhawa gives you the comfort of a coveted vacay.

Declare a Filipino boodle fight at Gerry’s Jeepney—right inside the famous king of the Philippine roads. Of course, the serving consists of traditional ulam during kamayan feasts, like this: itlog na maalat (salted egg), inihaw na manok (grilled chicken) and pork barbecue.

Relive lovely childhood memories while you chow down on some grabs at Snacks and Ladders. Enjoy a plate of Dominion Nachos while owning that Scrabble game, or Crispy Monopolies while you reign over a square patch of make-believe property.

Channel that inner bookworm and secure your private bubble at Antiteasis, a tea and pastries shop with a minilibrary and game boards. Believe us, you’ll come out refreshed, recharged and enlightened.

But, hey, I’m more of a coffee person, you scream. Worry not, nerd—there’s The Nook Café for all things coffee and Harry Potter. You might want to brush up on your spells and potions to fully savor the ambiance, though.

For a heavy-meal fix, go to Little India Healthy Cuisine for some vegan goodness, or Samu Eats for your Japanese food cravings. Up for some Thai and Vietnamese dishes? Me Love You Long Time’s for you, as you’ll definitely love this place for quite a spell. For the sweet-toothed, Papa Diddi’s Handcrafted Ice Cream, Snow Ice and The Sweet Spot are stores to drop in.

Finally, detoxify with The Daily Jusa, where you’ll get the power juice that’ll help you achieve that leaner, sexier, healthier look you’ve always wanted.

9. Intramuros. The Walled City was once considered not only part of Manila, but Manila itself. Today a trip there is also a journey through the history books with sights of Spanish-era buildings and cobblestone streets. Touring the historic premises can be done on foot, riding a calesa or through an “educational ecotourism activity” called Bambike (bambike.com/ecotours), where visitors can rent a bamboo bike handmade by villagers of antipoverty nongovernmental organization Gawad Kalinga.

National Museum

10. National Museum Complex at Rizal Park in Manila. The institution houses artworks and artifacts that are of great cultural importance to the history of the Philippines and the Filipinos. It used to charge an entrance fee of P150 for adults, P120 for senior citizens and P50 for students, but since July 1 last year, admission was made permanently free of charge for Filipinos or foreigners, in all its museums in the complex and the 19 others throughout the country. The National Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 5 pm.

11-12. Cinematheque Centre Manila & Cinema ’76 Film Society. Our two remaining entries for the cultural destinations in Manila aren’t your run-of-the-mill moviehouses. Cinephiles looking for tasteful screenings of classic films or modern masterpieces can get their fix at Cinematheque Centre Manila of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, located at 855 T.M. Kalaw Street in Ermita; and at Cinema ’76 Film Society at 160 Luna Mencias Street, Barangay Addition Hills in San Juan City. Both offer tickets prices well below the rates in commercial cinemas and even provide occasional free film screenings.

13. Mystery Manila. Whoever said that a vacation requires long trips to the beach in lands far, far away probably hasn’t set foot in one of Mystery Manila’s “mystery rooms”.

In the span of 60 minutes, participants must uncover clues to figure their way out of mystery rooms that are themed with locations and scenarios. What happens if you do succeed? According to Mystery Manila, other than the fulfillment of solving the puzzles, you’ll be rewarded with a special prize depending on your recorded time. If not, you’re eternally trapped. Just kidding. You have the option to try again at a discounted rate.

Jump Yard

14. Jump Yard, Ortigas. Jump Yard is one of the first and largest trampoline parks in Manila. With over 2,000 square meters of total space area, guests can play dodgeball, jump into foam pits, slam dunk basketballs, enjoy the obstacle course, have a go at cage ball, wall climb and do many other activities basically done in foam pits.

The park comes with exciting amenities, including a viewing deck (for nonjumpers or parents), 2 Foam Pits, Slam Dunk areas, Free-Roam Area, Climbing Wall, Balance Beams, Monkey Bars, Dodgeball Cage and Cage Ball Area. Located just along C-5—the site sits in the Frontera Verde Complex, Ortigas Avenue—it is the perfect adventure destination without having to go for a long drive.

15. Gandiva Archery Range’s Arrowland, Pasig City. Channel your inner Katniss Everdeen in an indoor archery range on the fifth floor of Mega Fashion Hall, SM Megamall, with Gandiva’s Arrowland. It’s one of the pioneer archery brands in the Philippines, cofounded by Joseph Bismark and Tim Bismark in 2007, with the goal of promoting and advocating the sport in the country. Its first branch opened in 2009 at the SM Mall of Asia. The rate ranges from P680 per hour on a weekday and P980 per hour on weekends, inclusive of coaching, range rental, target face and equipment rental.

16. Ninja Academy, Pasig City. Dubbed as the Philippines’s first indoor parkour facility, Ninja Academy gives you the feeling of being like Naruto Uzumaki of Konohagakure. The good news is that if you’re looking for a ninja training ground just like his, this play area on Dr. Sixto Antonio Avenue in Pasig is the right place to be.

Ninja Academy was first established by members of Philippine Parkour Freerunning Association and opened its first branch in Pasig on March 15, 2014.

Ninja Academy’s Signature Class is called the Gauntlet Class, which offers a 30-minute circuit training plus, 30-minute obstacle course challenge. There’s also the Kenjutsu Class and the Tricking and Rogue Day activities, which teach the art of swordsmanship and how to combine martial arts, gymnastics, break-dancing and capoeira.

Marco Polo Ortigas façade

17. Marco Polo Ortigas Manila. Located at the heart of the Pasig-Ortigas central business district, this Marco Polo hotel combines Asian warmth with a blend of Western comfort to provide the perfect staycation destination to the busy dwellers of the Metro.

Inside its sophistically designed interior lies 316 spacious and luxury rooms and suites. It also features the first sky lobby in the Philippines nestled on the 24th level of the hotel tower offering panoramic views of the cityscape.

Located on the 44th floor, the hotel’s Continental Club transforms into a stylish venue for business and leisure travelers. Club floor guests can indulge in such exclusive services as complimentary daily breakfast, afternoon tea and cocktails.

Also adding to Manila’s best dining destinations are Marco Polo’s four specialty outlets that offer limitless dining choices. Cucina, the all-day dining restaurant that features live show kitchens; Lung Hin, the contemporary Chinese restaurant; Café Pronto, the relaxed and friendly café offering a wide range of designer coffee, specialty teas and freshly baked items; and VU’s, the first-of-its-kind sky bar and lounge on the topmost 45th floor.

18. I’M Hotel, Makati City. Another staycation destination in the thick of the metropolis is the new I’M Hotel in Makati City. The name of this property is culled from its vision to offer services focused on the individuality of the guest.

Located at the corner of Makati and Kalayaan avenues, this urban oasis features 434 guestrooms, 182 suites and the first Onsen Spa in the country (onsen means “hot spring” in Japanese) that spans 3,800 square meters spread in six stories.

The property also comes equipped with a couple of modern dining options. There’s the Chinese concept Empress Jade, which takes pride in its dim sum treats; and another is Antidote, a rooftop bar that captures a panoramic view of the cityscape.

Mi Terraza private resort

19. Mi Terraza Resort, Antipolo City. Wanting to go on a Mediterranean vacation but you just don’t have the time to travel? Mi Terraza has you covered. The private resort house sits on the hilly faÇade of Grand Heights Road in Antipolo City. Mi Terraza translates to “my terrace”, and the couple who owns the property made sure that it is perfectly situated to overlook the landscape of Metro Manila.

Like many traditional Mediterranean houses, Mi Terraza echoes the relaxed, outdoor lifestyle of the region from which this retreat drew its name. The house has a plain white exterior with wide, airy glass windows.

Inside are brick pavers/floors, solid wood furniture and Mediterranean décors.

An outdoor patio and a mini nipa hut are part of the amenities. The best part, however, is the infinity pool, which gives the best view of sunrise and sundown.

20. Luljetta’s Hanging Gardens and Spa, Antipolo City. Set in a mountain resort in Antipolo City—and very much like Mi Terraza—Luljetta’s is a place where one would enjoy a quiet getaway without having to travel too far from Manila. It has an unparalleled view of the metropolitan skyline, and organically shaped pools nestling on a hill.

Luljetta’s also has a variety of spa services and water amenities to choose from. Guests can get the resort’s signature full-body massage performed by an expert masseur in an indoor or outdoor setting.

  • Unless otherwise indicated, the photos are gathered from the official web sites and social-media pages of the featured destinations.

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