Mixing business with fun – My business trip to Manila, Philippines


How many of us have been able to combine work with fun when traveling?

It’s weird to think that two years ago, I spent a month in Manila, Philippines, on business. I decided that when not at work, I was going to be a tourist and take advantage of the opportunity my company provided me.

The city is the densest populated city in the world, so transportation within Metro Manila is challenging. Metro Manila consists of 12 cities in the area. Fortunately, we had drivers provided, so I did not have to do any driving (thank goodness).

My first day there consisted of a six-hour tour of the city. Our first stop was the American Military Cemetery and Memorial. It was emotionally moving. More than 17,200 people are buried there. The grounds are immaculate and well-maintained. The graves are aligned perfectly in line and all rows curve. We were there Memorial Day, but missed the official observance ceremony by a day. The US and Filipino governments, along with other nations and civic/veteran organizations, lay wreaths near the chapel. In addition, miniature American and Filipino flags were placed at each grave marker.


The memorial grounds consist of two hemi circles with a clean courtyard in-between. Trees and the American and Filipino flags are located there.

Encircling the Memorial is the cemetery. As I said, the graves are perfectly aligned. The landscaping of the cemetery is breathtaking.

Afterward, we visited the Filipino military and VIP cemetery. The contrast between the American and Filipino cemeteries was obvious. The grounds were not well-maintained. The grave markers were not aligned like the American ones. In addition, the gravesites were plain. The VIP section, where presidents (excluding Ferdinand Marcos) and other politicians are buried, was well-maintained. A Filipino friend said one Congressman’s gravesite could have been used for eight average Filipinos.

We visited San Augustin Church. The church is about 440 years old. It is the oldest non-rebuilt building in Manila. Manila Cathedral, while technically older, was destroyed during World War II and had to be rebuilt. San Augustin was not damaged during the war. The church offers a nice glimpse into the history of the area. The altar was beautiful.
Off the altar is a room where the body of Miguel Lopez de Lagaspi has been enshrined. De Lagaspi is considered the founder of Manila.


Manila Cathedral hosted Pope John Paul II when he visited the region. Manila Cathedral is located near the Intramuros area, but is not as attractive as San Augustin, in my humble opinion.

Intramuros (the walled city) is the original location of Manila. Fort Santiago sits there. Intramuros offered a great look into the history and present of Manila. Intramuros has played a major role in the area’s history. Besides being the original location of the city, it was the site of Jose Rizal’s imprisonment. Rizal led the revolution against Spain. His execution in 1896 eventually led to the overthrow of the Spanish control of the Philippines. He is considered as the National Hero. His birthday is a national holiday. Intramuros has an exhibit of his imprisonment, including a trail of his footprints from his cell to the area’s exit, eventually to the location of his execution.


Intramuros has a Rizal museum on site, highlighting his life and his writings. His final letter, to his fellow Filipinos, is painted on the walls of the museum.

During the week, after working an overnight shift, I walked the area near the hotel, familiarizing myself with the area and looking for items of interest for photo opportunities. Ortigas Park was a nice diversion from the busy pedestrian traffic on Ortigas Avenue. The park has a nice hand-carved mural with a waterfall sculpture. The park is shaded with several palm trees and has benches of sitting, relaxing and people watching.

Ortigas Avenue is the hub of the Ortigas business district. It is the second busiest business area in Metro Manila, behind Makati City. It is home to breathtaking skyscrapers and several American-based companies. Starbucks, KFC, 7-11 (yes, 7-11), Texas Roadhouse and McDonalds are located along the avenue. It is a financial district so there are a lot of well-dressed people walking in the area. IMG_0356 (3)

Malls are very popular in Manila. In our area, there were five malls. The most popular ones were Megamall and Robinson’s.

Near Robinson’s Galleria was the Shrine of Mary. It is the smallest church in Manila. It had a landscaped tribute to Mary. It was quite beautiful, with plaques displaying the 10 commandments and other statues.

The mall itself was a nice break from the heat. Malls allow Filipinos to enjoy air conditioning. Malls open at 10 a.m. daily. It is common to see people lined up waiting to get inside. The heat in Manila can get well above 100 degrees with the heat index. Most Filipinos do not have air conditioning at home.

Robinson’s is home to TGI Friday’s, Gold Gyms, Team Pacquiao (sports store with world champion boxer Manny Pacquiao clothing), Kenny Rogers Broasters and Burger King.

Hard Rock Cafe in Makati City
Hard Rock Cafe in Makati City

Megamall is the largest mall in the district. It offered a variety of stores, similar to what we have in the US.

Mall of Asia is the world’s fourth largest shopping center. It is larger than the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN. It is cavernous. It combines outdoor shopping with indoor shopping. It is located along Manila Baywalk. The mall has hundreds of stores and restaurants. It is home to several Filipino stores, and some American-based stores. It has a store that sells only crocs shoes.


It has an indoor ice rink (we joked that falling on your butt made it the coldest spot in the Philippines). The Mall has a multi-plex movie theatre, along with an IMAX. The Mall has an eight-lane bowling alley. On the Baywalk, children can “Walk on Water” – in zorbing balls that float on a pool of water. In addition, people can ride a zipline outside the mall.

The Mall is home to several events, including an outdoor Miley Cyrus concert (fortunately, I had to work that night and could not attend). However, I did get to watch a jujitsu competition in the amphitheatre. Hundreds of people viewed the athletic event.


San Miguel by the Bay is the official name for the Baywalk. It is home to several restaurants (primarily seafood ones), entertainment venues and park areas. The Monument to the Worker is located on the Baywalk. It has statues of a farmer, construction worker, nurse and teacher. A statue of Manny Pacquiao was recently erected there. The Mall of Asia hosts a fireworks show every Saturday evening along the Baywalk. It challenges fireworks shows in many American cities.


Rizal Park was among my favorite spots to visit. I could have spent an entire day there, but did not have the time. It houses the Rizal national monument, also the burial site of Jose Rizal. The monument is guarded around the clock by the Filipino Marine honor guard. The monument is opened to the public once a year, on his birthday.

IMG_3208 The park offers several historically important exhibits. The execution site of Rizal is available for viewing but is also closed off to the public for security reasons. There is a row of busts highlighting Filipino “heroes.”

An attraction that caught my eye was the water fountain area. It consists of three main fountains. The center fountain is in the shape of a fan.


Other statues in the park include a “Filipina Madre” – a mother comforting two children.

Other attractions I visited included St. Joseph Church, home of the bamboo organ; the organ is made of bamboo, except for the pipes. IMG_9700

I had the honor of traveling with co-workers outside the city to Tagahtay. It is home to Caleruega Church, People’s Park in the Sky and Taal Volcano. Taal is a volcano with a lake inside it. The volcano is also in the middle of a lake. The volcano has had recent activity, so we were not allowed to go there. We viewed it from the mainland. The recent activity released sulfur, giving the sky a hazy look.


People’s Park was originally built by Ferdinand Marcos as a host location for a planned visit by President Reagan in the late 1980s. It was then to be a summer palace for the Marcoses. However, the Filipino revolution started and the Reagans did not visit the country. Soon afterward, Marcos was overthrown from power. Construction funding was dropped by the new government. The palace was eventually turned into People’s Park in the Sky.


My favorite attraction was Corregidor Island. As a military veteran, I am interested in seeing military memorials and monuments wherever we travel. The island played a key role during World War II. It is located at the entrance of Manila Bay and was the last line of defense for Manila. American and Filipino forces were able to hold off Japanese forces for almost four weeks after the fall of Bataan in 1942. The island was recaptured by the US in March 1945.


The tour was memorable from the start. I treated myself for Father’s Day, since I was away from the family that day.

A typhoon had passed through the area a couple of days earlier. The waters were choppy on the boat ride to the island. It was a rough trip. People on the boat became ill. The staff handed out bags for people to use. The water settled for the return trip to Manila later that day.

The first two stops were a little disappointing because it rained heavily. The Japanese and Filipino monuments were still interesting, but I could not get good photographs because of the heavy rain.

The rain stopped soon afterward, and the trip proved enjoyable. The original buildings that were bombed and destroyed are still standing (sometimes propped up). I appreciated the historical significance of the buildings and the large guns.


The Pacific War Memorial is located on the island. The memorial has a domed roof over a pool and fountain area with an eternal flame sculpture near the edge of the cliff. A museum of the Pacific theater’s battles is near the memorial.

The vegetation on the island was lush and colorful. There was one spot that had a splash of red among the green leaves.


While I feel like I could go on and on, Manila offers a combination of modern comforts with historical perspective.

So, have you ever been fortunate enough to combine being a tourist with a work trip? If so, I’d love to hear about it.