Sandwiched between the financial centre of Makati and the shallow waters of Laguna de Bay, Taguig is one of the 17 municipal entities that make up Metro Manila, the sprawling capital of the Philippines. For decades Taguig City lay in the shadow of its more prosperous neighbour, but its fortunes began to change in the early 1990s, when tracts of a huge military reservation known as Fort Bonifacio, which occupied around 25 square kilometres of its real estate, were sold off for commercial development.
A grid of streets was laid down almost as soon as the land passed into private hands, but much of what was to become known as Bonifacio Global City – or simply “the Fort” – remained undeveloped for years, with major construction work only beginning in the mid-2000s. Yet visit today and the transformation is startling, as a new high-rise skyline of office towers and condominiums continues to erupt from the landscape with a force and rapidity that seem almost volcanic.
Inured to the combination of chaos, desperation and decrepitude that characterises so much of the country’s biggest metropolis, seasoned Manila hands can scarcely believe the neatness and order that so thoroughly pervade this enclave of rationality. Indeed, as I stroll along the pedestrian-only Bonifacio High Street, passing manicured planters of flowers and foliage, luxury stores, and upmarket restaurants and coffee shops, I can almost imagine I were in Singapore – anywhere, in fact, but the Philippines.
I’ve just emerged from my pied-à-terre for the weekend, the Shangri-La at the Fort, Manila, one of the Hong Kong-based hotel company’s newest properties and its fourth in the Philippine capital. Opened in mid-2016 and rising some 250 metres at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 30th Street, the hotel forms part of a mixed-use development that’s almost a microcosm of the Fort itself. In addition to a full complement of guestrooms and restaurants, the complex’s vast footprint also houses long-term accommodation in 96 Residences and a small collection of outrageously luxurious Horizon Homes, huge meeting and conference facilities, the massive 86,000-square-foot Kerry Sports Manila fitness facility that occupies two levels, a retail arcade housing, among other things, a Harley-Davidson dealership, as well as stand-alone cafes that open on to the High Street.
From my unfeasibly spacious Premier Suite I can look out in two directions, the nicer view being over the Mind Museum and the green swathe of the Manila Golf & Country Club towards the towers of Makati, whose primacy as a business centre the Fort now seriously rivals (and to underline that fact, the 30-storey building adjacent to the Shangri- La that’s nearing completion will soon house the Philippine Stock Exchange, which is quitting its current location on Makati’s Ayala Avenue). Averting my gaze inwards, I wonder where in my cavernous accommodations I should disport myself. Perhaps I’ll settle down on the L-shaped settee that occupies one end of the living room and get stuck into the TV for a few hours, or maybe I should put a call into room service and make use of that dining table, which is big enough to host a banquet?
The bedroom is pretty swish, too, with 300-threadcount linen on a bed that I may well get lost in – and if I were really picky I could order fresh pillows from the menu (if only I had a clue what kind of pillows I like). As for the marble bathroom, that’s obviously massive too, and if the array of L’Occitane toiletries isn’t enough they’ve even thrown in a choice of soaps from Lush. I’m clearly getting pampered here.
Yes, I do manage to drag myself outdoors now and again. On the High Street I spy brand names I’d never have expected to find in the Philippines even five years ago, and with the peso now lower than it’s been in years (for which we can thank recently installed President Rodrigo Duterte, a man described by The Economist magazine as “crass”, “brutal” and “alarmingly volatile”) Manila looks more like a bargain than ever. I’m also gobsmacked to find showrooms for Aston Martin, Ferrari, Jaguar and Maserati within a stone’s throw of the hotel. Things are clearly changing here.
But with more than a dozen options for dining and drinking on-site, there’s every inducement to stay home, as it were. I do my very best, but am defeated by an enormous slab of dry-aged beef – cooked à point and accompanied by wines specially selected for me by the hotel’s expert sommelier – in the chef’s kitchen at the Chicago-style Raging Bull Chophouse & Bar. Seated in a high-backed armchair I sip early evening cocktails beneath shimmering candelabra in the elegant High Street Lounge, and at breakfast I join in with the clamorous throng at High Street Café, where open cooking stations specialising in Asian, Chinese, Japanese, Mediterranean and Western cuisines, as well as rotisserie, seafood, salads and desserts, prepare more dishes than you could shake a fork at in a month’s-worth of dining.
As you’ve doubtless guessed, I’m more than looked after during my weekend-in-residence at the Shangri-La at the Fort. But as I spend most of my stay either seated at table or recumbent, when the time to depart finally comes around it’s a rather more portly version of myself that waddles out from the lobby and into the car to the airport. Next time I visit I’ll make the effort not only to peer around the door of the Kerry Sports centre, but actually go inside.