The Manila Mandarin Oriental – a tourist at home

How does it feel to be a tourist in my country’s premiere business district? That’s an interesting question I always wanted to answer, and I finally got the chance. October 29 to November 1 was a long holiday in the Philippines, and we decided not to join the crowd in rushing out of the cities or out of the country. Instead, we checked in on one of the prime hotels within the Makati Central Business District (CBD), and see for ourselves what it feels like to be a visitor here.

I am, of course, very far from being a stranger to Makati. The city was my home for almost 8 years in the past, and even now that we have moved to a neighboring city, barely a month goes by without us finding ourselves in Makati – to eat, shop, and do other stuff. This is the most “happening” place in Metro Manila after all.

The Hotel.

We checked ourselves in at the Mandarin Oriental, one of the prominent hotels in the business district. Situated at the intersection of Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenue, the hotel has an imposing location that’s hard to miss for anyone passing by the CBD. It also holds the distinction as one of the pioneers in this area, and together with the likes of the neighboring Manila Peninsula and the Hotel Intercontinental, it was one of the first hotels to be put up during the infancy of the CBD.

By now, it may have already been overshadowed by the newer Shangri-la and New World not far down the road, but the Mandarin still has it’s own following of businessmen and vacationeers, and its reputation as a premier upscale hotel is still intact.

The lobby, at the Mandarin Oriental
The front desk

We only got for ourselves the most “standard” of their rooms, the Business Room, but it was more than enough for a comfortable stay. It was big enough for our little toddler to run around, and had a large, comfortable king-size bed with fluffy pillows that invite you to just laze around all day. Like any upscale hotel room, it comes with a large toilet and bath, a complete set of toiletries, large cabinets for all your stuff, cable TV, a large working desk and large chairs and a coffee table that looks perfect for a bedside snack or tea.

Perhaps the only gripe I have is that they don’t have free “wi-fi”, even though they have complimentary “wired” internet connection. Their “wi-fi” comes with a fee, which is like pariah in this age of compact internet gadgets. Apart from people traveling on business, nobody brings laptops on vacations anymore, and people get it in touch with the rest of the world through their Iphones and Androids. Given how “interconnected” everyone now is, the absence of wireless connection for free is a bit puzzling for me (but then again maybe I’m just spoiled). Our room also shows a bit of the hotel’s age, but it’s very clean and nicely maintained, and I don’t mind feeling a little of that “heritage” in it.

The evening view, from our room at the 5th level.

The hotel also comes with the usual (and pricey) amenities. There’s a spa, a cigar and jazz bar, and the Tivoli, Tin Hau and Paseo Uno restaurants (I wrote about my previous visit to Paseo Uno in a separate article). However, for those who would rather use their money elsewhere, there’s the outdoor pool at the second level. The pool has a tropical island theme, and combined with the high-rise office buildings of the CBD as its backdrop, gives a interesting visual contrast. All guests are free to bask in the pool all day long, of course.

Food in any premium hotel never-ever comes cheap, expectedly, especially if your discount package doesn’t come with free breakfast, but there will always be times when you’d feel too lazy to scour around for a meal in the morning. The Mandarin offers the usual list of breakfast items in their room service menu, from continental choices of breads and fruits, to heavy Filipino breakfasts of meats and eggs, and everything else in between. Their servings are quite generous as well, so even though you pay quite a lot, you don’t feel ripped off by much.

Eggs Benedict
Congee...
...and the condiments that go with it.
Fresh breads...
...and a generous selection of jams.

The Surroundings.

The Mandarin sits at the heart of the Makati CBD, one of the few places in the county that might feel quite familiar to foreigners used to wide roads and clear sidewalks. Here, high-rise buildings dominate the skyline and public parks dot the landscape, and the whole area itself feels like a piece of another country.

The entire CBD is abuzz with activity during weekdays, with office workers darting here and there as they try to beat the clocks in their offices. On weekends however, it becomes the opposite. The whole area falls calm and tranquil, and becomes a suitable location for an early morning jog, or just a plain lazy walk-around.

The inner streets of the CBD.
Makati Avenue at dusk
A statue of Gen. Pio Del Pilar, a revolutionary hero, along Makati Avenue
Sunset at the CBD.

The “triangle”, formed by the Ayala and Makati Avenues, and the Paseo De Roxas – all of which cut through the CBD, form what is perhaps the most prestigious business address in the country. And, in the middle of this triangle, and quite literally just a skip and a hop away from the Mandarin, lies the Ayala Triangle Park (which I have also written about previously), a patch of mother nature in the middle of the buzzing district. During the day, the restaurants along this park provide a venue for quick lunches for people who work in the nearby buildings, and in the evening, it serves as a hang-out place where the same workers loosen their ties, roll-up their sleeves, eat, drink, and talk about stuff. For the curious tourist, it’s also a nice place for dinner, and a little bit of a stroll, just to kill the time before calling it a night.

Evening at the Ayala Triangle Park.

The "restaurant row" at the Ayala Triangle Park

Shopping.

On the Western end of the CBD lies the sprawling Ayala Center, a complex of malls and department stores which could take a day to go through. Malls are malls though, where ever they are, but one interesting thing about the Ayala Center is an area called Greenbelt. It is a “complex within a complex” composed of 5 buildings enclosing a central garden. I have seen malls that are larger and more “elitist” elsewhere, but Greenbelt has its own distinct appeal, which I haven’t quite seen anywhere else. The combination of a beautifully landscaped garden, a good list of shops, and nicely decorated interiors make this mall a must see, even if you really aren’t into malls or shopping.

Inside Greenbelt 5

Most of Metropolitan Manila could either be shockingly daunting, or a bag full of adventure, depending on what type of a traveller you are. The sardine can squeeze inside the LRT and MRT trains, the homicidal bus drivers, the long taxi queues, and the equally suicidal taxi drivers could be a bit of a handful for unseasoned travelers. But the more adventurous ones could find navigating its narrow streets, walking through its tight sidewalks, and squeezing through its crowded malls quite a bit of an adrenaline rush. However, whichever type of traveller you are, the Makati CBD – with its wide streets, open parks, and beautiful malls, is one place that’s sure to make you feel at home.

The Glorietta, another complex within Ayala Center, adjacent to the Ayala MRT Station.

Rustans, a high-end department store within Ayala Center.

*We stayed at the Mandarin last October 2011. Photos within Mandarin taken with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 50mm f2 / Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5. Photos of the CBD, the Ayala Triangle and the Ayala Center taken with Panasonic Lumix LX5.

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