Philippines: Shopping stopovers in Manila

Pierra Calasanz-Labrador for Yahoo! Southeast Asia
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A refreshing stretch of manicured greens flanked by boutiques at Bonifacio High Street.

In case you haven’t already noticed, Filipinos love to shop, and can’t resist a good bargain! So whether you’re just in Manila for business, or on a stopover on the way to our beautiful beaches, do check out what the local malls have in store.

Ayala Center
A stone’s throw from most Makati hotels, the network of malls within Ayala Center is ground zero for shopping in Manila. Score generic goods at cheap prices at department stores like Landmark and SM. The labyrinthine Glorietta offers a good mix of high street brands (Zara, Mango, Marks&Spencer) and popular local chains (Bench, Penshoppe, Bayo, Plains&Prints, Just G), as well as trendy fashion at The Ramp (Glorietta 3).

Want to make nice with the wifey? Shop with Manila’s upper crust at the iconic Rustan’s department store for luxury goods, designer brands, and classy handicrafts. For souvenirs, visit gift emporium Balikbayan Handicrafts (1010 Arnaiz Avenue).

Still within Ayala Center, cross Makati Avenue to the sprawling lifestyle haven that is Greenbelt (1 through 5), punctuated by koi ponds, pretty pocket gardens and the occasional art installation.

For premium brand devotees, Greenbelt 4 is your mothership (no lines at Louis Vuitton!), and the adjacent Greenbelt 5 features even more shopping choices, jewelry and designer watches, and uniquely Filipino home furnishings.

For fab local fashion finds, pick up minaudiéres at Celestina (as featured in Vogue), gorgeous gowns by Cebu-based designer Jun Escario, must-have pieces by young designers at Myth, funky tees at Bleach Catastrophe, modern Filipiniana in delicate piña by Tan-Gan at L Manila, chic abaca bags at Aranaz, and South Sea pearls at Jewelmer.

Manila’s sartorialists shop at the posh department store Adora in Greenbelt 5 for a curated selection of fragrances, below-the-radar fashion, and tasteful accoutrements from around the world. Break for tea and rest your feet at TWG, or bite into the insanely rich “Sisa’s Dementia” chocolate cake at Pia Y Damaso. Après-shopping: soak in some local culture at Ayala Museum (Greenbelt 4), then chill out with the chic crowd at the Museum Café after sundown.

Bonifacio High Street
For arguably the most pleasant retail therapy in town, head toward this shopping lane at Fort Bonifacio (or simply, “The Fort”), Taguig. With a refreshing stretch of manicured greens flanked by mid-range boutiques, restaurants, and open-air cafés, the bright and breezy Bonifacio High Street is a popular hangout of expats, yuppies, trendy teens, and entire families (pets included).

Capsule itinerary: Gear up for adventure gear at ROX and Flight 001, browse at the five-floor Fully Booked, stock up on stylish basics at MUJI, The Gap, and Topshop, and pick up a bottle of moisturizing Know-It-Oil Coconut Oil (“soothing skin miracle” according to Lucky Magazine) and other wonder products at beauty boutique VMV Hypoallergenics.

For merienda (afternoon snack), try fishballs at Elias or ensaymada-and-hot chocolate at Café Mary Grace (further down the lane, in the Serendra area, 11th Avenue). Also in Serendra, check out Echo Store, which sells indigenous goods made by marginalized communities (shop for a cause). For more wallet-friendly finds at The Fort area, cross the road from Serendra to the bustling Market! Market! mall.

Greenhills Shopping Center
The famed year-round bargain mecca, featuring endless rows of disposable fashion (clothes range from about US$10-20) and south sea pearls and gem stones (you’ll need a keen eye for spotting the genuine articles, though). Resist the temptation to pick up designer doppelgängers; you’re better off with the generic but satisfyingly cheap fashion goods/toys/home accessories.

Over at the adjacent Virra Mall, you can find every tech device and service under the sun—these guys can “fix” anything (but stick to the reputable stores in the main mall though, and steer clear of dubious “second-hand” goods). Heads up: on weekends and holidays, the bargain-mad crowd can resemble a rabid mob of teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert, so it’s best to come before lunch, and always mind your belongings.