I was recently faced with a quandary. We had planned an indulgent weekend away in the Philippines as our first escape from Hong Kong since we moved here. My excitement was uncontainable at the thought of sneaking out of the cold, grey city and reclining on a beach with nothing to distract me apart from the gentle noise of the ocean. Keen to maximise my weekend as much as possible, we took the Monday off, meaning that we could be gone Friday night and get almost 3 whole days of vacation.
But then a problem arose; our onward island flight from Manila left too early on the Friday and the next flight wasn’t until lunchtime on the Saturday. My husband just couldn’t get out of the office earlier than 4 on Friday but I was loath to spend all of Saturday travelling, feeling like I had lost a day’s holiday. The Manila flight time worked so why didn’t the island one?!
As a keen problem solver I knew there must be a solution and boy, did I find a good one! The old HK favourite, The Peninsula, has a branch in Manila (bear with me as I know Manila isn’t a city famed for its pleasantness). It has a reputation for being unsafe and grimy and thus isn’t on many people’s holiday hit list. But I wasn’t looking to go sightseeing, merely a way to extend my holiday. The Peninsula, a 5 star hotel with a spa, three restaurants, two bars and a gorgeous swimming pool bathed in 30 degree sunshine (with rooms starting from only HKD$1300) could surely offer me a holiday-like escape even if it was a transitory stopover?
Researching further revealed how genius my plan was and the execution cemented the fact that I am a holiday planning whizz! Our flight arrived into Manila at 8pm, then it was a twenty-minute, HKD$50 taxi ride to the hotel (the manic roads and crazy traffic meant we were thankful this was our only road trip). We had to go through a number of security checks to get into the hotel as crime is a problem, but the thoroughness we encountered made me feel safer than in Hong Kong.
The lobby of The Peninsula is an impressive four-storey high atrium; it’s like a ballroom in itself, only bigger and with impressive artwork, a lobby bar and great architecture. The staff were all delightful and some of the most helpful I have encountered. We were then shown to our room, which ticked all the 5 star boxes and made us instantly feel like we were on holiday.
Now for the important part: the commencement of holiday mode. We quickly showered, dressed up in our glam outfits and headed down for dinner at Spices, their Asian restaurant. We got tempted by the live music in the lobby en route and ended up stopping for a pre-dinner aperitif which was, for me, a delicious lychee martini. Dinner was in a conservatory style room overlooking the pool, which instantly made me feel like I could be by a beach somewhere rather than in a city. The food was scrumptious and very affordably priced compared to HK.
Feeling well and truly stuffed, we headed to Salon de Ning; just like in Hong Kong they have a stylish, funky bar serving up delicious cocktails (try the signature Ning Sling) against a backdrop of funky music. Unfortunately for us, the bar was so achingly cool that by the time we got there, there was nowhere to sit. If you were up for a night of dancing and cocktail sipping then this wouldn’t be an issue (especially if you’re holidaying with a group of girls). However, we were starting to wind down after a hard week, so headed to the Cuban inspired bar next door. Leather chairs and an intimate atmosphere provided the perfect space for us to have a nightcap, even if we did have to contend with cigar smoke wisps circling our heads. The Irish coffee, intricately constructed in front of us, was by far the best I have ever tried – the perfect blend of whisky, coffee, sugar and cream.
We headed to bed that evening feeling like we had been away for days. The next morning we rose early, keen to continue the theme of maximising time. We headed downstairs and were confronted with a feast of a breakfast buffet. With everything from waffles, pancakes, sushi, cereals and fresh juices, we indulged and didn’t once think back to our normal boring Saturday morning muesli bowls!
I booked myself in for a sneaky massage treatment at 9am. So whilst the other half camped out on a sun-lounger in the already boiling hot sunshine, I spent an hour being pampered and looked after during a traditional Philippine Hilot massage. I requested that the therapist focus on my tense end-of-work-week shoulders and she expertly pummelled away my knots. Traditional elements included the use of banana leaves, coconut oil and cupping, and I serenely emerged ninety minutes later feeling like the luckiest and most relaxed girl in Asia. Next week’s Saturday morning TRX class will never compete! I then joined the husband for an hour of lying unashamedly by a divine pool, reading a mindless fiction book and letting my skin shed its jaundiced coat and reveal its honey coloured glow.
As 1130 approached, we ran up to the room, showered and closed up our case. Checkout was swift and we got to the airport an hour before our flight to the island for the continuation of our holiday. We may have only been there for 15 hours but opting to stay at The Peninsula Manila that Friday night was the best decision I made. The experience in itself was truly indulgent and we could have stayed there all weekend. But adding it onto two further nights in a beach hotel meant that we returned to HK on Monday feeling like we had escaped for much more than a long weekend.
I can’t implore you enough to never again start your weekend vacation on a Saturday. Always make the most of the Friday night and head to The Peninsula to give your holiday the kick start it needs and yourself the dinner, drinks, spa treatments and sunning time you deserve!
The Peninsula Manila, Corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues, 1226 Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines, www.peninsula.com, +63 2887 2888
Rooms from HKD$1300 per room per night – check rates online; 90 minute Hilot Massage HKD$580