Once considered the most beautiful city in Asia, Manila was reduced to rubble by extensive bombing during World War II. But from the debris has risen a cosmopolitan city that's surprising visitors with its vibrancy.
Elongated and brightly painted jeeps honk their way through the gridlocked streets, passing the cranes and scaffolding of new sky-high property developments as the city prepares for its population to rise to more than 30 million by 2025.
Then there are the luxury hotels, the vast shopping malls and the mammoth casinos. And away from the glitz are centuries of colonial history, a flourishing art scene and a setting rich in natural beauty with its waterfalls, volcanoes and wildlife.
Cruising is still a relatively new part of the city's tourism industry, so there's not yet a dedicated passenger terminal for international cruises in Metro Manila. Cruise ships currently use Pier 15 at South Harbor, which is otherwise a cargo port. However, some vessels have begun to use the North Port Passenger Terminal Complex at Tondo, which reopened in 2012 after a redevelopment increased its capacity to 3 million passengers each year.
There's not a lot going on at the terminal at South Harbor, which is still primarily used by cargo ships. Temporary souvenir stalls and a money changer are set up when a cruise ship sails into town, but they won't keep you occupied for long.
The port is well located in Manila Bay, close to the old colonial city of Intramuros and the Rizal Park. A short taxi ride or even a stroll can take you to some of the city's most vibrant areas and key tourist sights.
Don't bother hanging around. There isn't much to do, but if you don't feel like venturing far, head for the Manila Hotel (just across from the port). It opened in 1912, making it the city's oldest hotel. It was a regular haunt of former first lady Imelda Marcos, and it's a great place to have a drink while taking in the views of the bay.
Otherwise, you can stroll around the well-tended Rizal Park or head for nearby Manila Ocean Park, which offers marine life attractions, retail outlets and amenities. (Behind Quirino Grandstand, Luneta; +632-567-7777; www.manilaoceanpark.com)
The traffic, as in many Asian cities, can be horrific, so if you're taking a taxi anywhere, factor this slow crawl into the equation.
Be prepared for window knockers as the slow crawl puts your patience to the test. Some will be selling snacks or DVDs, while some will be begging. If you're not interested, a polite "no" should suffice.
With the port slap-bang in the center of the city, it's easy to make your way from the ship on foot. The main tourist area of Intramuros is just a short walk from the port.
Temperatures in Manila can soar as high as 97 degrees Fahrenheit (about 36 degrees Celsius), so to slightly farther, you may find it more comfortable to go by taxi. There are also autorickshaws -- similar to those you might find in other parts of South East Asia, but with a sidecar twist. Or take a jeepney, a kitschy and colorful elongated Jeep originally made from U.S. military vehicles left over from World War II. They're now a national symbol.
If Intramuros is your planned destination, you can explore by bamboo bicycle with Bambike Ecotours or take a horse and cart ride. (Bambike Ecotours; www.bambike.com/ecotours)
The Philippine Peso is the local currency. Check out www.xe.com for the latest rates. There should be a money changer in port upon arrival, but you can draw currency easily from ATMs, which can be found around town and in the major hotels. Credit cards are also widely accepted, but for smaller shops, cafes and restaurants, cash is best.
Although once officially a Spanish-speaking country, Filipino and English are now the national languages. Most people in Manila speak excellent English albeit with an American twang, thanks to the U.S.'s long-running involvement in the country.
Filipino dishes like Bistek Tagalog and Kinilaw (the local take on ceviche) might be little known around the world, but the local cuisine's delicious blend of Malay, Chinese and Spanish influences deserves to be discovered.
Sweet and savory often go head to head among the flavor combinations of popular dishes like ensaymadas (a cheesy, sugared breakfast pastry) and tangy adobo -- a stew most often made with chicken and pork.
Get ready to feast till you are beyond full. Buffets are big business there, allowing you to try numerous dishes and go back for more.
Spiral: Take the buffet at Spiral in the Sofitel Philippine Plaza, for example. This magnificent dining room is the centerpiece of the grand hotel, set along the waterfront of Pasay City, a short taxi ride from the port. This is considered one of city's top dining spots with a vast, almost overwhelming array of both Filipino and international cuisine. (CCP Complex, Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City; 632-551-5555; www.sofitelmanila.com)
Cafe Adriatico: For something a little more low-key, head to the nearby Mall of Asia for a seafood lunch overlooking the water at Cafe Adriatico, or head to the bustling food court for a super affordable fast feed. (Second Floor, Entertainment Section of SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City; +632-556-0608; Monday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
Ilustrado: If you fancy dining among the atmospheric surrounds of the historic Intramuros area, then Ilustrado is a safe bet. Several heads of state from around the world have dined at this courtyard restaurant, which serves Spanish, Filipino and international cuisine. Specialties include Paella Ilustrado, Callos Madrilena (Madrid-style tripe) and lengua con setas (ox tongue with mushrooms). (744 Calle Real del Palacio, Intramuros; +632-527-3674; www.ilustradorestaurant.com.ph)
Cafe Juanita: If you're willing to make a longer journey, take a taxi for the 45-minute ride to Pasig City, where Cafe Juanita serves up homestyle Filipino cooking in a flamboyant setting. There, you'll find dishes like asohos (a type of fish) cooked in crab fat sauce and kare kare ni Juanita (oxtail and tripe stewed in peanuts and toasted rice with tropical vegetables). (19 West Capitol Drive, Pasig; +632-632-0357)
Crafts from the more than 7,000 islands that are part of the Philippines make ideal souvenirs. These range from wooden figurines, carvings and basketry to banana fiber hats and brightly painted jewellery, which can be found in the many souvenir shops among the streets of the old colonial city in Tesoro's in Makati (1016 A. Arnaiz Avenue, Makati; +632-887-6285; www.tesoros.ph) or in Kultura in the vast and air-conditioned Mall of Asia (Ground Floor Main Mall Southwing, J.W. Diokno Blvd, Mall of Asia, Pasay City; +632-556-0416; www.kulturafilipino.com).
A bottle of sweet Don Papa rum also makes a great souvenir. The country's first sipping rum is distilled from Negros sugarcane and aged in oak barrels for more than seven years.
Or, for something that will squeeze easily into your luggage, grab a bag of wincingly sour yet super sweet tamarind candies.