Filipinos love to give gifts. They describe souvenirs as pasakuong – gifts to be welcomed home with. There are vibrant malls, markets and stores to enjoy in Manila and if you don’t really like shopping, the good news is that many of the shopping venues also have places for food and drink plus other things to do – to help distract you from the shopping!
S M Mall of Asia is one of the largest shopping malls in the Philippines and is situated in Manila Bay. It covers 40 hectares and has boutiques, restaurants, a concert area, and three movie theatres! It is quite possible to spend an entire day there! Shangri-La Plaza is the place for upmarket shopping with 300 snazzy fashion shops and boutiques.
The Legazpi Sunday Market is a great hunting ground for local crafts and handmade accessories. Balikbayan is a long-established store with three branches in the city, stocked with furniture, handicrafts, and jewelry – with the bonus that it is open every day! Situated in a grand old building in the walled city, Silahis Centre is a multi-story store. One entire floor is an art gallery and the others dedicated to handicrafts – with a population comprising of numerous tribes – each with its own culture – there are so many different crafts to admire. Whilst prices are fixed in the shops, bargaining is fully expected in the markets and if you are buying 5-6 of the same item you will definitely get a good price!
Manila welcomes you with so many great things to buy.
1. Select a colorful festival mask
There are festivals throughout the year in the city and vividly colored and elaborate masks are worn with equally sensational costumes. The best time to buy the masks is during one of the festivals. The biggest festivals are the Manila Day celebrations in June and the Feast of Black Nazarene in January and numerous stalls are selling all types of masks during both. At other times they can be bought in some of the souvenir shops. A festival mask certainly makes a dramatic wall decoration, but might not be the easiest souvenir to pack in your suitcase!
2. Choose some lovely Piňa fabric
It is hard to believe that this intriguing fabric is made from the Spanish red pineapple. The fabric is really fine, soft and almost translucent with a lovely sheen. The fibers are sometimes woven in conjunction with silk or cotton threads. There are attractive dresses as well as men’s formal shirts to choose from and ladies’ blouses that feature traditional embroidery designs. Piňa fabric is not the cheapest, because it is considered a luxury fabric. A good selection of garments can be seen at Kultura Filipino
3. Buy a model Jeepney
Colorful jeepneys can be seen everywhere in the city as they are the ideal way to get around. The jeepneys are grand old military trucks that date from the Second World War. The trucks are open-sided and many have been brightly painted and re-upholstered. They will certainly feature in your trip to Manila as they are unique to the Philippines. Models of the jeepneys are available in all sizes and colors and make the perfect souvenir to have as an ornament on your work desk or to take home as a gift for a child.
4. Try playing the kubing
If you are looking for an unusual souvenir, what about a kubing? This is a traditional musical instrument that is remarkably easy to fit in a suitcase! The Kubing is 25-30 centimeters long, quite narrow and made from bamboo. It is a flattened oval shape and often has painted features so that it resembles a snake, lizard or another animal. Other kubings are varnished with colorful hand-painted patterns. The instrument is played by blowing through the mouthpiece and plucking the end of the instrument. If you are lucky you may well see one played during a traditional ceremony.
5. Admire the colorful Banig
Banig products are made from various woven grasses including Tikog and Romblon which are then colored using vegetable dyes and decorated with bold designs. Banig casual bags and clutch bags are popular fashion accessories, but there are other items in the range including mats of all sizes as well as placemats. They are certainly light and easy to pop in your case! For a great selection, go along to Balikbayan Handicrafts.
6. Enjoy some Baked Yema Cubes
Everyone enjoys candies in the Philippines and they make a fun and reasonably priced gift or souvenir to take home. The mixture for making the ever-popular Baked Yema Cubes is often shaped in an attractive mould and served in local restaurants as a dessert. Yema cubes are made from a mixture of eggs and condensed milk often with chopped walnuts added. The mixture is poured into large trays, allowed to set and then cut into cubes – hence the name!. The Baked Yema Cubes are sold in small attractive candy-striped tins that are easy to pack. Pastillas del leche is another soft creamy candy that is also made with condensed milk, whilst in contrast, Polvoron is a crunchy bar that is available in a variety of fruity flavors. Local chocolate nut bars are fun to try because they are quite different as the chocolate used is not in a thick coating but powdered chocolate that is used to dust the nut bars!
7. Treat yourself to some beautiful pearls
Pearls make a very special gift from Manila. Just south of the city lies Palawan Province which is known for its rare and beautiful golden pearl. Both natural and cultured pearls can be found in the city and along with the usual cream color, you will find some lovely pearls with rosy and lemon hues. There are several specialist shops in Manila and an excellent selection in Greenhills Shopping Centre. If you are tempted to buy some pearls, the best way to test that they are authentic is to rub them on your lips – they should feel slightly gritty!
8. Don a salakot
The salakot is the local version of the popular conical hat that can be found all over south-east Asia. There are several different styles available and these are crafted from different materials including palm, pandan, tikog, and seagrass leaves. All of the styles of hat, shade both the face and the neck from the hot sun. Apart from salakots, you will also find yoga and sitting mats made from the same materials. The salakots made in the south are usually brighter in color and often feature geometric patterns, whilst the ones from the south are darker colors – because of the different materials used.
9. Grab some Philippine coffee
The Philippines are not usually linked with good coffee but the country’s coffee scene is gathering momentum with several big coffee farms on Luzon island (the island on which Manila is located). Some packets of excellent coffee beans can be picked up in the local supermarkets or better still at the coffee specialists Craft Coffee Revolution.
10. Admire the beautiful shell products
Capiz is the name of one of the provinces in the Philippines and also a shell. Capiz shell is flat and semi-transparent with a beautiful pearlized surface and comes from the marine mollusc that lives in the coastal waters around the archipelago of 700 islands that make up the Philippines. Capiz shell is even more beautiful when it has a light placed behind it so the shell is often used for making lampshades and candle holders.
Mother-of-pearl (also known as nacre) is the shell lining found in many molluscs – especially the pearl oyster. Mother-of-pearl is used as a decorative inlay in jewelry and furniture as well as lovely wooden boxes of all shapes and sizes. Mother-of-pearl is used in its natural shimmering creamy color but is also dyed with vegetable dyes for use in the most intricate designs. A popular gift from Manila is a gift box of six mother-of-pearl caviar dishes. Not only do the dishes look pretty and delicate, but mother-of-pearl is also one of the few materials that do not alter the fragile flavor of the caviar.