When I was invited to check out Manilla’s Bahaykubo hostel, I knew I’d be in for a serious case of house envy. Situated in Malate, the city’s former red light district, it’s a green oasis of calm nestled within a concrete jungle of congested streets and constantly growing high rises. Decorated with an eclectic mix of bamboo furniture, antique finds and palm printed cushions, Bahaykubo (meaning ‘nipa hut’), is the perfect antidote to the neighbourhood’s neon-flooded streets.
It’s not just the décor that’s tropical. I think you’ll struggle to find a warmer welcome to the one I encountered as I walked through the door of Bahaykubo hostel manila. Front desk staff Lambert, with his Eminem-blonde hair, and aptly name Prinzzi (pronounced ‘Princey’) will win over even the most jaded of traveler with their jokes and banter. They epitomize the friendly Filipino spirit I encountered throughout my trip and make you feel instantly at home. Another good person to befriend is the handsome German, Max, an amateur photographer who has lived in the Philippines for a while and is always happy to help with onward plans.
Manilla is certainly not the prettiest of cities, it’s characterized by ugly concrete buildings and heavily congested streets. Bahaykubo hostel have responded to this with an abundance of greenery, tree house-inspired chill out areas and fish tanks teeming with tropical fish. Sure, it looks Instagram-worthy but beyond that, they’ve created a calming respite from the chaotic streets. I found this lush little haven of tranquility kept me in Manilla a little longer than intended.
The welcome foyer is adorned with vintage maps, an out-of-tune piano and vignettes of carefully curated Asian artefacts and memorabilia. This theme continues upstairs to the garden room, a communal area (with the BEST wifi connection I found in PH) where weary travelers share stories on huge sofas and call home in the midst of lush jungle foliage.
Situated on bustling Orosa street, Bahaykubo hostel is a short walk from Robinson’s Mall, an enormous air-conditioned mecca of clothes, electronics and restaurants. But for something more authentic, make a bee-line for the palm-tree lined Remedios Circle, a rare patch of green space in one of the most densely populated cities on earth. It’s a great people-watching spot but it’s also home to my favourite restaurant in Manilla, the Filipino-run Bistro Remedios. Look out for its emerald green exterior (not an intentional theme of this post!).
This local haunt serves the most delicious and inventive Filipino food you’re likely to find in Manilla. We feasted on grilled stuffed calamari, fish poached in coconut milk and lemongrass and giant prawns straight from the grill. You’ll notice wealthy Manilla locals come here for special occasions and to order their famous garlic rice, which comes ceremoniously served insider a length of bamboo and then melodically tapped to prize it open. For travelers, it’s an expensive but up-market place to try creative Filipino food that goes beyond the usual chicken adobo (although you can also find a variation of that on the menu). Head this way early to buy sundowners (shop bought bottles of Red Rooster beer) on Roxas Boulevard. Then nab yourself a prime viewing spot for the best sunset in the city on the bay.
After dinner, I ambled back to Bahaykubo hostel, past bored call girls sat outside gentlemen’s clubs, 24-hour massage parlours and neon-lit nail salons. The area by no means feels threatening or unsafe, but it’s definitely a relief when you step back into the serenity of Bahaykubo hostel. It kind of feels like coming home, if only my home was decorated like a botanical paradise…
Before you scroll on – visiting Hong Kong on your way to Manila? Here’s my top recommendation in HK.