The Manila Hotel in the Philippines’ capital city, Manila, is known for its high-profile clientele. It’s hosted celebrities like Michael Jackson and world leaders like former US president Bill Clinton.
The hotel had been the site of many important events in Filipino history. It’s where US General Douglas MacArthur commanded his post during Japan’s occupation of Manila during World War II. It was also the “second home” of former first lady Imelda Marcos, the wife of late Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
A revolution has even started at the hotel: Late Filipino president Cory Aquino gave her famous 1986 speech in the hotel’s heritage room, which sparked the movement that overthrew the Marcos dictatorship in the same year.
In the late 1990s, the hotel’s clientele began to include celebrities and royalty. Pop icon Michael Jackson stayed at the hotel in December 1996. Prince Charles made a visit in July 1997. Presidents from all around the world flocked to the hotel too, like late South African leader Nelson Mandela and former US president Bill Clinton.
I was born in Manila and have for years been hearing all about the hotel’s celebrated history. I was curious to experience the hotel’s star-studded reputation myself, so I booked an overnight stay on a recent trip to the Philippines.
The hotel is located right beside the Manila Bay, a harbor that serves as the main port of the city.
It took around an hour and a half to get to the hotel from Makati, the city’s financial and business center. Traffic was bad — hundreds of cars lined the streets of the capital.
On first impression, the hotel was opulent, with a regal exterior and bell men in uniform.
Like most places in Manila, there were security checks — all bags were screened in a scanner, and I had to pass through a metal detector. My vaccination status was also checked.
The Manila Hotel did not immediately respond to my requests for comment for this story.
The lobby had an old-world charm, with wooden ceilings and huge chandeliers.
Dozens of people were lounging about in the lobby. Staff members were decked out in traditional uniforms, some of which were falling apart — some had been taped and stapled together.
Check-in only took around 10 minutes. I had booked a grand deluxe room for 6,000 Philippine peso ($110), which was discounted to around 4,000 peso because of some card privileges my relatives had.
The next morning, my sister and I visited the breakfast buffet. She ended up being turned away for wearing hotel slippers.
The hotel’s website explains that “housewear, undershirts, revealing outfits and slippers” are “discouraged.”
I wasn’t dressed too nicely — I wore a cardigan and leggings — but at least I wore covered shoes.
After my sister retreated to the room, I walked around to check out the buffet. It had a plethora of options from Chinese to Filipino cuisine, which many guests said were delicious.
My sister and I opted for in-room dining. I ordered waffles and an iced mocha coffee. The waffles were hard and weren’t too appetizing.
Ultimately, while the hotel has a splendid history, it’s just not up to today’s luxury standards.
The hotel’s amenities were dated and struck me as a far cry from the glitz and glamour of the typical five-star hotel. But the price seemed fair enough for a historic hotel in a prime location.
If you’re seeking a modern, high-end experience, The Manila Hotel is probably not a fit. For my part, I doubt I’ll return, but it was worth trying it out once — just to see where the world’s most famous spend their free time.