What can Manila offer the young Singaporean traveller?

A sharing platter of ceviches - a South American seafood dish - served to ST reporter Jose Hong on Tuesday (May 29) at the Shangri-La at the Fort, Manila, as part of a tour to show how the Philippine capital is on the rise.
A sharing platter of ceviches - a South American seafood dish - served to ST reporter Jose Hong on Tuesday (May 29) at the Shangri-La at the Fort, Manila, as part of a tour to show how the Philippine capital is on the rise.ST PHOTO: JOSE HONG

Manila is a city that has a less-than-desirable reputation. Over the years, my Filipino friends would say two ominous words whenever I asked them what one should do when visiting their country: "Avoid Manila."

Yet, here I am for the first time, with an itinerary that promises an art tour on a bicycle made of bamboo, a pub crawl in the capital city's old downtown and a 10pm spa session at the Shangri-La Hotel.

This is Straits Times reporter Jose Hong, and I am exploring the capital of the Philippines on a five-day trip in a collaboration with the Shangri-La Hotel.

The sprawling metropolis that heaves with 13 million inhabitants, more people than two Singapores, is poised to swell even more as the country's economy becomes one of the fastest growing in South-east Asia.

Against the backdrop of this surge, I am told the city - known to many outside the country for its traffic jams and pollution, and serving as the transit point to Palawan - is becoming a destination in its own right.

I arrive at Shangri-La at the Fort, and tuck into a Spanish-inspired cuisine while sipping cocktails and appreciating a view of the vibrant district of Bonifacio Global City, known for its lifestyle and financial services.

Soon, I will be working with local artists to create my own masterpiece, visiting the National Museum and discovering the cuisine of this up-and-coming city.

I am also using social media to connect with Filipinos and get another view of this mega-city, though I have only two days at the end of the trip to shape my itinerary.

I am very open to suggestions, so message me directly on Instagram (@josehongjourno) or on Facebook (key in "Jose Hong" and look for the man with the purple shirt and the wide grin).

It is my first time in The Philippines, and I am eager to find out what the city has to offer. Maybe except balut, that dish of hard-boiled fertilised duck's egg. Should I try it? Why not you readers tell me?