Granted, when your spouse walks in after having spent a thousand bucks and says, “I saved $2,000!” you didn’t really “save” money. But look, if you’re going golfing, to the movies, and out for a nice meal anyway, you could actually save money by holding back for a few weeks and then doing all those things on a single weekend in Manila — and you’ll be getting a memorable trip abroad rather than a typical weekend. Oh, and in case you’re new to Korea and aren’t familiar with the upcoming local weather patterns, it’s going to get cold here in a few months — really cold. In Manila, it stays warm, like lay-out-by-the-swimming-pool-and-get-a-nice-tan-while-sipping-on-drinks-with-umbrellas warm.
While most Southeast Asian destinations are too far for weekend trips, Manila is one that you can solidly do in a few days. For starters, the flight time is reasonable, with less than 4 hours in the air heading straight south. You can catch an evening flight after work on Friday and arrive in time to hit a club or grab a nightcap at the hotel bar before bed — and it’ll be a drink you can afford!
The other aspect that makes Manila an attractive weekend jaunt is that there are massive and affordable luxury resorts just a short (and cheap) taxi ride from the airport. In recent years there has been a boom in resort complex construction spurred on by the thriving gaming industry. These beautiful destinations give you a varied selection of comprehensive resorts where you can spend the entire weekend. You’ll have access to great accommodation, top-notch casinos, entertainment, movies, shopping, dining, nightlife, spas, and health clubs — all within the air-conditioned comfort of the resort. Venture a short walk outside and your hotel will have a beautiful, uncrowded outdoor swimming pool to enjoy with a nice bar that will deliver meals and drinks. And we’re going introduce you to a casino resort where a round of golf is just a short walk away. Welcome to Resorts Worldand the Marriott Manila Hotel. (Full disclosure: the Marriott Manila comped a portion of our investigatory stay in their hotel. All the price comparisons we’ve provided here are absolutely true at the time of this writing.)
Play by Play, Dollar by Dollar
We’re allotting only $250 for your airline tickets, meaning we’re taking a budget flight overnight and arriving on Saturday morning. To get your vacation and hotel stay started a little early, when you arrive in the am, tell them your flight arrived early and that you’d like to leave your bags at the bell desk and head to the pool, which you can visit as early as 6 am. Grab one of the towels provided and lay back for a nice nap to catch up on some much needed z’s. When the pool bar opens at 10 o’clock, you and your traveling partner can get started early with 4 ice cold San Miguels, and it’ll only set you back W20,000 (770 pesos). Not bad for poolside service at a 5-star hotel. At an outdoor hotel pool in Seoul that we contacted, four domestic beers would cost you W48,000.
Time for lunch. You’re famished. You want to hit the decadent hotel lunch buffet early and stuff yourself when they open. Try that in Seoul at the S Hotel buffet restaurant and you’re in for W96,000 per person. Choose the Marriott Cafe in Manila and their buffet, loaded with tons of fresh, local seafood and you’ll be paying W50,000 (1,980 pesos). Did I mention that the Marriott Cafe is currently the overall #1 restaurant in Metro Manila on TripAdvisor.com? This is one mean buffet folks. What better place to relax and indulge until check-in at 2 pm.
What to do with your afternoon? Catch a movie! Hollywood’s best is playing (often in 3D) with no captions, or worse yet, dubbing, which can be crucial if you have kids and you want to take them to the movie theater. For those of you who don’t know, kids aren’t good at reading yet, so all the top children’s movies are dubbed domestically for Korean children. Not so good if you happen to have English-speaking children whose Korean level is even lower than their reading ability. Inside the Resorts World Complex, they have the Newport Ultra Cinemas, where you can catch the hottest new movies in luxury recliners, with private boxes and unlimited popcorn included for only W13,200 (520 pesos). Drinks are also included and there’s a “private butler” (read: waiter) who will take your order for other items as well. Similar upscale theaters are almost twice the price in Seoul; popcorn not included.
It’s dinner time, and your better half has decided that s/he wants a steak. Let’s refer to TripAdvisor again and look for the top specialty steak house in Manila. There you go, #11. What do you know? It’s in your hotel! Take the elevator down to the first floor and head on over to Cru Steakhouse inside the Manila Marriott and go for the gusto with Course Menu Set B, a 4-course meal, for W120,000 (4,740 pesos). This set starts out with salmon tartar and a crab cake followed by a wild mushroom veloute. The main event is a 250-gram rib eye steak served with asparagus, spicy potatoes, and forest mushroom sauce. Finally comes white chocolate cheesecake and mango ice cream, all topped off with Davao goat cheese and a glass of sherry. I didn’t mention the amuse-bouche and the sherbert, but they’re in there. Do the same with Trip Advisor for Seoul and you get to #18, which happens to be another hotel steakhouse. There they also have a lovely top-of-the-line set menu for W150,000 but it only offers 150-gram tenderloin cuts rather than a 250-gram rib eye. It’s a bit apples and oranges, but let’s be conservative and add W30,000 to the price of the meal in Seoul, considering that the steak in Manila is superior. The estimate ends up at W180,000 per person for a comparable meal.
Many will head to bed after that kind of a day, but for those of you who enjoy nightlife, expect to pay 20 – 40% less for your bottle of liquor at a typical nightclub than you would here in Seoul.
Rise and shine sleepyhead! Time to hit the golf course — just a brief trek away. If you were in Seoul, you’d be out of luck, as there’s no such thing as a golf course in Seoul. This means you’re going to have to add transportation costs and time. Let’s assume that you have a car with insurance paid already, so your only cost will be half a tank of gas for W30,000. Many courses won’t take you without a membership. S Country Club will, but it’ll cost you W220,000 on the weekend to golf there — and that’s only the beginning. Then you have to pay W80,000 for cart rental, and then there’s a required W120,000 for a caddie, but at least you can split those costs with your cart partner. When it’s all said and done, you’re out W640,000 for two people to play 18 holes. In the case of a visit to Resorts World, a cab fare of about W3,500 (150 pesos) should get you to Villamore Golf Course in under 10 minutes, where you’ll be golfing for W70,000 (W2,800 pesos weekends, 2,000 weekdays) for 18 holes. Get a 2-seater cart for an extra W20,000 (800 pesos) and your caddie will cost you W15,000 (600 pesos). All together that comes to just under W100,000 per person to hit the links.
Man you’ve hit the wall now. The flight, busy day yesterday, and now early morning golf — you’re crashing hard. Time for some serious relaxation. A trip to the spa! Get back to the hotel and walk down a flight of stairs to get to Quan Spa across from the pool. There you can get yourself a 1.5-hour “Deep Renewal” massage for W92,000 (3,600 pesos). The comparable “Stress Relieve Intensive Treatment,” a 90-minute massage, at Seoul’s S spa in L Hotel will set you back W230,000. At those prices, can a massage really relieve stress?
You don’t have a ton of time before you have to check out and head on back to the airport. You’ve got to squeeze in one last delicious meal. Hit Passion, the specialty dim sum restaurant inside Resorts World. The massive all-you-can-eat lunch buffet offers every kind of dim sum under the sun. The mainstays are offered in the buffet, but you can also order a variety of options steamed up fresh and it’s an incredible deal at only W28,000 (1080 pesos) per person. As unlimited dim sum does not exist in Seoul, we’ve come to another glitch in our comparison, but if you were to go glutton at a typical dim sum restaurant, plates of 3 or 4 dumplings run W7,000 – W10,000, and you’d easily consume 6 a piece. Average W8,500 x 6 equals W51,000 per person.
Where does that put us? Staying in Seoul you would have spent W1,902,000 – and you would have had to run all over town doing it, making for a tiring weekend. Do it all at Resorts World and it comes out to W1,596,400 and you’ve spent the night at a 5-star hotel and enjoyed the weekend in a foreign country. You’re probably a little worse for wear from that flight on Sunday night, but that’s a total savings of W305,600. You’ll still be smiling at the office on Monday.