In Manila the mall has taken over from the shopping street. Sure, as you drive around you see plenty of streets lined with shops. But you soon find that walking to the shops is an almost impossible proposition, mainly because the pavements/sidewalks are non existent, or blocked by parked cars and roadside vendors. In the rainy season drains and gutters overflow, making navigation by foot an unpleasant experience. Easier to get around by car, jeepney or tricycle. If not you find yourself walking in the road, anyway, dodging the traffic.
So it’s little wonder that malls have taken over. Malls are everything Manila’s streets are not – air conditioned, clean, traffic-free and safe (security guards at every entrance).
Every self-respecting city in the Philippines has a mall, usually belonging to one of the big chains, such as SM, Robinson’s and Ayala. Manila has hundreds. One of the largest (and one of our favourites) is the Mall of Asia, the largest in the Philippines and the fourth largest in the world. Built on reclaimed land by Manila Bay, Mall of Asia is BIG. In addition to 780 shops and 250 dining establishments it includes a children’s soft play area, Olympic-size ice rink, cinema and an IMAX theatre – the first in the Philippines. (We went to see Tron: Legacy at the IMAX, for less than the cost of a regular movie ticket at our local Odeon. And the popcorn was free.)
Mall of Asia demonstrates a recent trend towards outdoor shopping and eating. On the bay side there are numerous restaurants with outdoor seating areas. (Several with live music.) Other parts of the mall are laid out like public squares, with tables set out amongst palm trees and shrubs. Apparently the aim is to capture some of the feeling of European-style street cafe dining.
This is taken a step further in some of the new malls and shopping areas being developed in Makati, the financial and commercial centre of Manila (and, indeed, the Philippines) and increasingly a major cultural and entertainment centre. We particularly enjoyed visiting the Glorietta and Greenbelt malls. Greenbelt actually consists of a number of small malls linked together by walkways and open spaces, some of which are beautifully landscaped with trees and water features. It even has its own church, so you can take a break from shopping to attend Mass.
Glorietta has a wonderfully eclectic foodcourt, with something for everyone. For example, Sophia was craving a salad and reckons that the salad, pitta bread and humus that she got from a Greek outlet was the best she has had in the Philippines. I enjoyed a very acceptable mutton biryani from an Indian food counter.
As if the combined shopping and eating joys of Glorietta and Greenbelt were not enough, from there we went to one of the latest developments, Bonifacio High Street. This is located just east of Makati, in the adjacent Taguig City. En route we passed through Forbes Heights, which has some of the most expensive real estate in the Philippines, home to millionaires and celebrities. Bonifacio High Street has attracted a number of high-end retail outlets, but the interesting thing about it is an attempt to create a traditional outdoor high street experience. It reminded us of a larger scale version of the Brunswick Centre in London, which has a similar mixture of shop and restaurants around a purpose-built pedestrianised area.
Time will tell whether Bonifacio High Street is a success – we enjoyed walking around the shops, though skipped the restaurants for the cheaper eating places of the nearby ‘Market! Market!’ mall. That’s the whole point of malls, I suppose; there’s something for everyone. You don’t even need money to go ‘malling’; it’s fun just walking through the mall and watching the people go by.
You can see a few more pics of our mall visits here.