Manila is not somewhere you go to get away from it all, it’s somewhere you go to embrace it all...all the honking, beeping, bartering, sweating, struggling, life that East Asia has to offer crammed into 16 square miles. It’s the most densely populated city on earth; there’s more humanity per square, sweaty inch here than anywhere else on the planet.
Thankfully I’d organised a transfer with Henry hotel, so another smiling driver was waiting to whisk us away to this little oasis in the city…somewhere to get away from Manila, while staying right in it.
The Henry hotel is a beautiful, award winning colonial style hotel, barely ten minutes’ drive from the airport. It’s such a pleasant hideaway that I was sorely tempted to just hole up here for our entire Manila stay.
On our first day we did a very little of the semi-compulsory historica, taking in Intramuros (the walled city). However I’ve had my fill of churches recently and Manilla really feels like a modern, perhaps even futuristic city, so this was mainly the side we explored.
I enjoy aquariums so this was our next stop. This has all the usual bells and wet whistles you’d expect from a major city’s aquarium – an oceanarium, a transparent tunnel so you can walk through the middle of the ocean-within-an-ocean and tropical fish and tortoises aplenty. But what separates this aquarium from others like it are the experiences: swimming with sea lions, sting rays and even donning a mermaid/merman costume and learning to swim like a giant fish.
Day two was a lazier affair – a short walk to the shops…all of them…at once. The nearby Mall of Asia is a city under (and on top of) a roof. There really is everything here – cinemas, swimming pools, an ice rink, an enormous ferris wheel, numerous miniature gardens, a planetarium, all the restaurants under the sun (or at least hiding from it)…and it never ends; at one stage I could swear we were nearly back at my place in London…
After that we meandered back to the hotel and straight into the big beautiful pool.
I did enjoy Manila but I’m not sure I could live here. It’s a constant assault on the senses.
I could, however, quite happily settle down in the Henry hotel. Like many things in this part of the world it’s younger than it seems. Built just after the War, it has a turn-of-the-century look and feel. It’s a tropical homestead, complete with Spanish moss draped across the many trees in the surrounding gardens/jungle. The style is cool, minimal and understated throughout.
The service was also excellent while still managing to be relaxed and not in the least bit officious.
We were lucky enough to have booked the garden suite and I’m so glad we did. It resembles an antipodean bach or a Finnish sauna, though of course the last thing you’d want to do here is add more heat. The semi-outdoor rain shower adjoining the back of our suite added to the sense of being at one with nature, an amazing feat given the proximity to manic Manila.
There’s a small outdoor patio where we breakfasted before retreating back to cool, air-conditioned bliss.
It’s no surprise it has so many glowing five star reviews, nominations and awards. It deserves all of them and more. Quite simply, if you’re going to Manila, book early and go the Henry Hotel.