Tourists typically give Manila a wide berth, or else use the smoggy, chaotic Philippine capital as a mere layover en route to one of the country's coastal resorts. More fool them. If you take time to explore it, Manila pays rich dividends. One of the best ways to get to know the city is through the half-day walking tours given by the garrulous Carlos Celdran, which are booked through the Peninsula Academy, a cultural program of the Peninsula hotel, tel: (63-2) 887 2888.
Decked out in an appropriate costume—he'll wear Spanish-colonial garb for a walk around the old quarter of Intramuros, but don lurid bell bottoms for a tour of the 1970s Cultural Center of the Philippines—Celdran offers up rich narratives that are by turns gossipy (his account of Imelda Marcos' rise and fall is hilarious) and compelling (the description of a bombed-out Manila, at the end of World War II, is unforgettable). They're also filled with the kind of insight that only a native raconteur can provide—Celdran is Manila-born, and with his Spanish, Chinese and American ancestry, represents all the city's cultural components. "I can't change the way Manila looks," Celdran admits. "But I can change the way you look at Manila." Private tours begin from about $65.