I arrived in the Philippines’ capital Manila on a sunny August afternoon, and three things instantly hit me – the humid heat, the powerful smell and the precarious ways people travel on public transport. Hanging from buses, sitting on cycle handlebars and crammed on the roofs of jeepneys – the colourful public jeeps you hail like taxis. If there’s a space, someone will be squeezed into it!
With its 11 million inhabitants, Manila is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and with that comes all the problems you’d expect including overcrowding and endless traffic jams. But these problems are not unique to Manila. You find them in most capitals and, thankfully, I wasn’t planning to see this city on ground level.If you want to travel in style and see Manila at its best, there’s only one way to do it – helicopter!
I’d arranged a private flight to take me over the crowded streets, past the harbours and to the very top of Mount Pinatubo, the 1450m high volcano that stands proud on the outskirts of the city. It was this landmark and the mountainous regions that surround it, that protected Manila from Typhoon Haiyan that swept across the Philippines last November, thankfully leaving the capital relatively unscathed.
I arrived at the Philjets (www.philjets.com) base, situated near the international airport, early in the morning and was greeted by the delightfully named Captain Bong. With clear skies and low winds the conditions were perfect for our tour, so we wasted no time climbing aboard and strapping ourselves in.
Within moments we were up in the skies surrounded by breath-taking views. As we flew east towards the harbour, we passed endless rows of houses, skyscrapers and construction sites. It was amazing to watch the fisherman below going about their morning. Unlike a small plane, you can get much closer to the action in a helicopter because they’re so much quieter.
Eventually we reached the rice paddies and palms trees that lead up to the Mount Pinatubo, passed stunning waterfalls and winding rivers before arriving at the crater of the volcano. I suppose I was expecting bubbling lava but the crater at the very top is actually a beautiful bluey-green lake, surrounded by peaks. Just stunning. I loved every minute of the flight. I can’t imagine a more impressive or luxurious way to see the area.
Afterwards I headed to Greenbelt 5, a shopping centre located in the heart of the financial district for dinner. If retail therapy is your thing, you’ll love the ultra-modern Greenbelt malls (all numbered 1 to 5). They’re a shopper’s paradise, whatever your budget. Wanna splash the cash? You’ll find Prada, Gucci, Mulberry, Burberry and other top brands. If your pennies, like mine sadly, won’t stretch that far, there are plenty of other mid-range options. Miss Selfridge, Warehouse and Topshop, M&S and more are all there. I wish I could say the prices are lower in these stores than in the UK, but they aren’t. Expect to pay the same here as you would at home. But you wouldn’t hit the high street chains for real bargains, they are to be found in the markets further on, through the Greenhills Shopping Centre.
[Video courtesy of Rebecca Burrows]