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A Family-Friendly Adventure in the Philippines


Scaling ropes above vertiginous treetops and soaring from an inner-city trapeze, JENINNE LEE-ST. JOHN finds there's plenty of play in the Philippine capital, and discovers her inner kid isn't afraid of a leap of faith.

Published on Aug 16, 2018

 

ON THE TOP of a jagged rock in the sky, I'm watching my friends disappear over the edge. Five of us are left on this uneven natural platform a couple of meters across surrounded by a horizon of clouds, and as I contemplate the sea of trees beneath us, the precariousness of our situation starts to creep up on me. Another person descends out of view through the steel hoop on one side, slightly jacking up my heart rate—which goes into acceleration mode when I realize one guy is having a mild panic attack. He urgently whispers, "I'm so afraid of heights."

A sky-high game of ropes and ladders at Masungi Georeserve.
A sky-high game of ropes and ladders at Masungi Georeserve. Charlie Cooper.

Wait, what? We've just scampered through a humansized birdhouse and across a boardwalk bridge to reach this peak. We'd started this trek walking a tightrope to a massive spider web, a series of concentric steel-cable circles over a slew of saw-toothed stones that's Lord of the Rings in Mordor scary, as well as aerial-shot manna (this is a primo playground for drones; arrange yourselves in a pinwheel with your Crayola-colored helmets in the center and suck up the Instagram likes). We’ve climbed ever higher through the rain forest over the previous two hours, and now is when he's going to tell us he's acrophobic?

Not that I'm one to judge. I've been suppressing my stress and laughing off our lack of harnesses, too. But the guide—who, it should be noted, had just hopped over the edge and clambered down the bare rock face, supposedly the better to spot us but it seemed like just to show us up—wants us to shimmy down a two-story rope ladder on the side of a cliff and I'm starting to wonder if the tagline should be, It's more fun in the Philippines, or more fear.

We're in Masungi Georeserve (masungigeoreserve.com; private treks for groups of seven to 14 from P1,500 per person), a nature hike outside of Manila that breathes creative energy into the concept of a conservation area. It's a colossal jungle gym overlaid on an actual jungle and, despite my whining, it is a pretty fun way to spend a day. Coming from a town of traffic nightmares, wholesome Masungi is a convenient shot 90 minutes from Bonifacio Global City (BGC), which, with its rolling lawns and strollable sidewalks and street-side eateries, is now the most family-friendly place in Manila. From the shiny Grand Hyatt Manila that boasts a massive verdant pool deck and this year joined buzzy Shangri-La at The Fort as BGC's go-to addresses, you can hop on the highway to the rain forest playground. Or, you can wander carefree around this continually expanding, supergreen 'hood, where the squeakyclean streets dotted with murals and art installations feel like Manila's mini-Singapore. Either way, BGC is a launch pad for childlike play and unguarded interaction with your surrounds.

Braving the sapot, or spider web, is the first challenge at Masungi.
Braving the sapot, or spider web, is the first challenge at Masungi. Charlie Cooper.

As a planned city, BGC has healthy doses of fitness spaces and parklands—check out Terra 28th for its artsy game boards. The several indoor play places for little ones include a role-playing imaginarium KidZania (manila.kidzania.com; admission from P500 for toddlers, P900 for kids and P630 for adults), and the slides and ball pits of Adventure Zone (shangri-la.com; open to members and hotel guests only), though the whole family will learn something at The Mind Museum (themindmuseum.org; admission from P190 for teachers and certain students, P625 for adults). Here, interactive exhibits, such as a climbable dinosaur and musical stairs, plus physics experiments put on by lab coat–clad staff make science and engineering accessible to all. Certainly you'll be interested in the law of gravity if you decide to go flying a few blocks away.

The nets and poles and ladders above a patch of asphalt that make up Flying Trapeze (trapeze.ph; classes from P800) might seem sparse, but they are representative of the type of community BGC is striving to be. Chinese-American entrepreneur William Hsu has been a trapeze artist since age 8 and, after founding a marketing and PR group in Manila, he wanted to get back to his first love, "mainly because I was selfish and wanted to fly but also to expose the locals here to what I grew up doing," Hsu told me. "I reached out to a number of different developers but the amazing folks at BGC were the only ones who believed in my concept. They're always pushing to promote arts, culture and outdoor activities."

Free falling at Flying Trapeze.
Free falling at Flying Trapeze. Courtesy of Flying Trapeze.

Flying Trapeze takes students as young as five, and, scaling a tall ladder after a primer on how to stand, leap, flip and land, I was wishing I still had the innocence of childhood. The instructors are chill rockstars, the kind of guys who might be rock-climbing guides or wakeboarders. Safety is a priority: the main uprights and supporting structures were built in the U.S.; off the ground, you're always clipped in, someone's always belaying you. To me, the scariest part about flying was being on the platform waiting to fly. It's narrow, there's a light breeze, yeesh. But the feeling of jumping off is a combination of complete freedom and intense concentration. I started with a simple inversion, flipping over from my hands to hang by my knees, and by the end of the twohour session, I learned a catch—once I was hanging by my knees, I let go and the instructor on the other trapeze grabbed my wrists. We swung together, then he tossed me down onto the net and I popped up in triumph. It was pure adrenaline. It's also probably the best workout ever. Five minutes later, I could barely walk a block.

So, this was a trip on which I entrusted my life to ropes. A few days later in Masungi, I'm staring down this vertical rope tunnel that looks like a trap fishing net. Everyone who's already gone down is lazing in a lengthy rope hammock, looking like they're having the best time, laughing and taking photos, cradled up in the clouds. So, I turn around and scoot through the hoop. About halfway down, my arms start to go to jelly. Possibly through self-hypnosis, I finally make it to the hammock bridge. But this is no salvation. It must be an optical illusion that the diamond-shaped holes the ropes form between their knots look nearly as big as my shoes. I don't fall through, but I don't really feel like tarrying just in case. After this we will climb up to more viewing points, scale more ropes, and brave more rickety wooden sky-bridges, one shaped like a serpent whose illuminated mouth you enter to exit the park. Scattered along the way are hammocks and swings and human mazes, and even a couple of fire pits for roasting meats during night hikes.

Flying Trapeze in BGC teaches kids as young as five.
Flying Trapeze in BGC teaches kids as young as five. Courtesy of Flying Trapeze.

One fascinating takeaway from Masungi is that the fear factor is personal. Nearly everyone in our group wobbles, but at different times, facing different obstacles. My brother can't get across one swaying wooden-slat bridge fast enough; another friend gets claustrophobic in a stalactite cave. But leaving during a purple-sky sunset, a bit sore and tired, we are all congratulating ourselves for having gotten a full day of glorious fresh air, and awed by this access to so much greenery so close to Manila's urban core.

 


WHERE TO STAY IN MANILA
Bonifacio Global City (BGC ) is at your doorstep from Grand Hyatt Manila and Shangri-La at the Fort, but there are a wealth of great hotels across the city, whether your priority is bay views, a boutique feel, or an always-buzzy Sunday brunch.

Grand Hyatt Manila
Courtesy of Grand Hyatt Manila.

Grand Hyatt Manila
In a glassy tower modeled on the Empire State Building, this new hotel in BGC brings fresh meaning to the phrase top-tier—it's the tallest building in the Philippines. That means expansive guest-room views (admire them from your pretty lavender chaise, out of your floor-to-ceiling windows) all the way to the ocean, as well as the sky-highest bars and grills in town at The Peak. Closer to ground level, there are great selections of craft beers and curated wines to wash down your delicious tapas and roasts in The Cellar (book a gilted private room for a special party). The Edenic pool deck is a good space to go Zen, but once you hear the live classical musicians who float in the mezzanine above the lobby, it's clear this whole hotel is sweet serenity. manila.grand.hyatt.com; doubles from P9,200.


Shangri-La at the Fort, Manila
Courtesy of Shangri-La at the Fort, Manila.

Shangri-La at the Fort, Manila
Let's say you decided to build an ideal community hub, a complex jammed with places for dining, drinking, getting active and doing deals in which the five-star hotel astride was wholly integral. You'd fill it with Filipino art, place it smack in the center of BGC , you'd add a crazy beautiful sports club including tennis and basketball courts, a kids' playplace, a stellar spa, an arcade or two of eateries to ruin diets far and wide (Pink's hot dogs or Raging Bull burgers? Too hard; go for both), haute dining from a fancy Cantonese den with perfectly crimped har gao to a swish Peruvian poolsider, and an airy gin trolley–touting lounge that doubles as the neighborhood's living room. Shangri-La built it; and they've come. shangri-la.com; doubles from P10,000.


Astoria Greenbelt & Astoria Plaza
These small, stylish, boutique-y business hotels offer homey spots to rest your head and derive inspiration. The Greenbelt property is right in the Makati CBD , offering easy access to all your meetings plus some of the city's coolest nightlife (we're looking at you, Poblacion). Astoria Plaza, in Pasig, features a lap pool, gym and spa for unwinding. Both hotels will provide brilliant pops of color for your social media feeds. astoriagreenbelt.com, doubles from P5,625; astoriaplaza.com, doubles from P5,500.


Conrad Manila
Courtesy of Conrad Manila.

Conrad Manila
Opulence and elegance are the name of the game at this glossy hotel that was modeled on a luxury cruiseliner—fitting for its waterfront perch. The impressive spa has jetlag-busting sleep pods with oxygen concentrators. Intelligent guest rooms auto-adjust blinds and air-con; the Presidential suite has its own pool. The ultimate perk in traffic-heavy Manila? It's just 15 minutes to the airport. conradhotels3.hilton.com; doubles from P8,000.

  Crimson Hotel Filinvest City, Manila
Courtesy of Crimson Hotel Filinvest City, Manila.

Crimson Hotel Filinvest City, Manila
Southern Manila is less frenetic than the rest of the capital, which means a stay at this urban oasis provides a true respite from the thrum. Rooms are decked out in soothing colors; the pool deck, with a separate kids pool, has a tropical feel with woven Dedon nest chairs and shady canopies; and the lovely Filipino art throughout the hotel is perfectly complemented by the warm local hospitality. crimsonhotel.com; doubles from P3,240.


Okada Manila
Courtesy of Okada Manila.

Okada Manila
Move over Vegas: this stunning resort and gaming compound is a standalone entertainment isle. Among the slew of foodand- beverage options is the indoor beach club and nightclub Cove Manila, with luxury cabanas that come with private pools. Each guest room has a jet tub, a touch-screen control pad, and a view of Manila Bay or the property's centerpiece: The Fountain, the largest choreographed water feature on Earth. okadamanila.com; doubles from P14,000.


Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila
Courtesy of Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila.

Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila
For a resort feel with city access, high-tail it to the Sofitel Philippine Plaza. The lush, bay-view gardens surrounding the tropical pool are a favorite for wedding photos. The luxe spa features a state-of-the art Trautwein Crystal Bath. And the 562-square-meter Imperial Residence, with private gym, spa and helipad access, lives up to its US $1 million investment price, but all guest rooms come with lovely views and luxe comfort. Be sure to book Sunday brunch—everyone who's anyone is at this sprawling spread (oh, the cheese room). sofitelmanila.com; doubles from P6,000.


Solaire Resort and Casino
This diverse palace of hospitality is an all-in kind of place, brimming with entertainment options for every kind of traveler. They've got everything from The Lion King to Fifth Avenue– level shopping to a shooting range to gaming. The resort-style waterfront pool deck includes submerged loungers and private plunges—the better to soak up the, ahem, Solaire. solaireresort.com; doubles from P6,762.

 

 

 

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Braving the sapot, or spider web, is the first challenge at Masungi. Charlie Cooper.
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