My first trip to Manila was way back in 1981, when I visited a friend I knew from my Burma days. At that time he was assigned to the Burmese Embassy in Manila. I flew from Hongkong to Manila by Philippine Airlines (the first of my many future flights with this airline). When I arrived in Manila, I was quite surprised to see my buddy waiting on the tarmac of the airport, near where the plane landed. When I asked him how he managed to be there, he pointed to the ID card lapeled on his shirt that said "Diplomatic staff." Then I realized that foreign diplomats enjoy a host of privileges and immunities when they travel or stationed in other countries.

I can't remember much about my first time in Manila, except I stayed in an apartment hotel, and there was a police station right across the building. He took me to a bar somewhere in town, and we drank a lot of San Miguel beer. He also took me to a department store called 'Shoemart' which sold a thousand other items, besides shoes. My first impressions of this place was they had female security guards which I had never seen before in my own country. Another Burmese friend in Manila invited me to his house for dinner where I met Mr Nair and Mr Kim of the Asian Development Bank, and who were work associates of my late wife.

There was a long gap between my first and next trip to the Philippines. In 1998 I moved to France where I lived for 8 years. During that period I went back to see my old friends and relatives in Myanmar (the new official name for Burma) every other year. On one such journey in 2003, I made a side trip to Manila again, and was there for almost a week. This time I stayed, first at the Malate Pension in the Malate/Ermita district which is the main tourist area of the city, and where I usually find accommodation on my subsequent visits. After a few days at the Malate Pension I moved to the Manila Manor Hotel as they were having a promotional special on their room rates which included breakfast and I wanted to try them out. Here again, I can't remember much about this trip, except going to Robinson Mall several times to do a lot of shopping, especially for corned beef in cans, and other stuff which were much cheaper than in France. I might mention that there are many brands of corned beef in the Philippines which are quite tasty and reasonably priced.

A couple of years later I went to Manila again. This time I stayed at the Park Hotel which is very close to Paco Park a well known place in the city. I liked it there as they had a swimming pool, plus the corridor outside the rooms had table and chairs where one could relax with a beer or two in the evenings. On this trip I did a lot of sightseeing around the city. I visited Luneta Park, a historical park located in the heart of Manila on Roxas Boulevard, and Fort Santiago in Intramuros, known as the Walled City which I found very interesting. I saw the Rizal Shrine there. It is dedicated to the lifework of Jose Rizal the revered hero of the Philippines. There is also a monument to Jose Rizal at Luneta Park. Not far from Fort Santiago is the Manila Cathedral which is referred to as the country's national church. I think we just walked there from Fort Santiago. The next day I went shopping for CDs and other pirated goods at Quiapo another old quarter of Manila, known as 'the old downtown.' There is a big market there where bargains can be found, and also a beautiful Spanish colonial style church.

In 2006 I moved from France to Thailand. The following year I went back to Manila for yet another visit! During the five year period of my stay in the capital city of Bangkok where I worked in a missionary school, I was in Manila at least three times visiting friends that I had made there on my previous trips. And, that's not counting the number of transits at Manila International airport nearly every year, on my way from Bangkok to Los Angeles (to visit my family) and return, to catch the Philippines Airlines connecting flights.

Needless to say, I have always enjoyed being in Manila. One time I stayed at the Kabayan Hotel in Pasay City which was very convenient as it was practically next door to the Taft Avenue MRT station, and also close to the airport. Another time was at a place called El Rico Suites in Makati City which I really didn't like that much, location wise. It was an apartment hotel and had a kitchen, but far from the main attractions of Manila. The only good thing I remember about this hotel was it was within walking distance of a fairly big supermarket named Shopwise. As mentioned earlier, I would do some grocery shopping everytime I went to Manila. Corned beef and cheese were always on my shopping list!

As for food, Chow King was my favorite fast food restaurant in the Philippines. Their halo halo drink is really delicious! Another place which I enjoyed eating at is a restaurant called Max's. I believe Chow King and Max have branches all over the country, and I am sure if any Filipinos are reading this they will know both these places. The reason I like Max is they have great local dishes (lumpia is one of them), and if it happens to be your birthday. a group of the restaurant's staff will come and sing "Happy Birthday" at your table. Amazing, isn't it?

One time I went to RJ Bistro, I think it was on Jupiter Street, with some Filipino friends and had a very good time listening to the band there playing oldies music from the 60's and 70's. There was even a Filipino Elvis belting out the old Elvis Presley hits. My friends told me the club belonged to Ramon Jacinto, a famous TV and Radio personality. By the way, if you're ever in Manila don't forget to take a ride or two in one of those colorful jeepneys of which thousands ply the city's streets on various routes and stops.

MANILA.......you will always have a special place in my heart!