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Manila

It is not surprising that Manila’s moniker is the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ because visitors that are determined to pry open its shell are rewarded with a rare jewel. Manila is a hotchpotch of extremes. On one hand gleaming malls and skyscrapers pierce the hazy sky, and on the other you will find shantytowns, and congested roads. But despite this juxtaposition, visitors who put in the effort will discover its creative soul – from edgy galleries to a lively indie music scene. Combine this with a penchant for speakeasy bars, artisan markets and single-origin coffees, it's clear to see Manila's not only one of Asia's most underrated cities, but one of its coolest. Manila, which is the capital of the Philippines, has one of the best-preserved Spanish colonial city centres. Infact, remnants of Spanish colonial era are found right in the heart of Manila in the well-preserved 16th century walled city of Intramuros. Here, dungeons and old churches share space with art galleries, theatres and a nature park. At the edge of the city walls, Rizal Park is worth exploring in the early morning when groups of people can be seen silently practicing tai chi. Metro Manila's Chinatown, stretches along the northern bank of the Pasig River and is filled with traditional tea houses and shops selling indigenous snacks, offerings and incense. Makati is the commercial head of the capital and offers a marked contrast. It is home to smart restaurants and opulent five star hotels and shopping malls such as Rockwell and Greenbelt, which with their quieter walkways amongst manicured gardens provide cooler havens away from the teeming streets of the city. Far more traditional is Quiapo with its streets lined with herbalists, fortune tellers, traders and handicraft markets. Malate and Ermita districts are popular for their eclectic variety of restaurants, clubs, bars and cafes as well as boutiques and local art galleries.  English is widely and fluently spoken, so you are bound to strike up a friendly conversation with locals whichever district you explore.