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.
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.
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.
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.