Hot to shop: Manila

It's hot, it's steamy ... just the weather to spend in an airconditioned super-mall that is this shop-mad city's specialty, writes Belinda Jackson.

Staple diet

Manila's department store scene is ruled by SM (short for Shoe Mart), started by a guy selling shoes who is now the country's richest man (11 locations, including SM Mall of Asia, Pasay City). The upmarket district of Makati is a warren of high-end malls - Glorietta, Shangri-La, Landmark, local designer haven Greenbelt 5 and swanky Rustan's, the super-deluxe department store. Malls are open from 10am.

Must-buys

Lovely bags. US fashionistas celebrate Filipino designer Celestina's clutches (G/F, Greenbelt 5, Makati) and get past the hideous shop assistants in Amina Aranaz for a treat (2/F, Greenbelt 5, Makati). Label bag-hags with chopped-up credit cards run to Bagaholic for guaranteed, pre-loved designer bags.

We ogled Coach from $200, Hermes Birkins and Louis Vuitton in limited-edition ostrich leather (Renaissance Hotel mall, Makati). The haggle heaven of Greenhills is a cornucopia of copies, from AAAA knock-offs to spot-'em-a-mile-away fakes (Ortigas Ave, San Juan).

Cheap trick

Pearls. The Philippines seas yield hues of champagne, gold, platinum and olive in round, teardrop, oval and asymmetrical forms. Freshwater pearl studs are just $3 at Greenhills, double that at souvenir extravaganza Kultura (Mall of Asia). Electronic and camera gear here is slightly cheaper than in Australia.

Market madness

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While locals steer you into such aircon malls as posh Market! Market! (The Fort area), lively outdoor markets include Baclaran for low-quality budget sandals, sunnies, cheap toys ... haggling essential (Paranaque). The same stuff appears a little more expensively in 168 Mall (Soler Street, Binondo).

Absolutely the cheapest souvenirs - think fridge magnets, pretty capiz-shell cutlery and lamps and rattan everything - are at Ilalim ng Tulay ("Under the Bridge"), a friendly street market in Quiapo, while Saturday's chic Salcedo Community Market has great food (Salcedo Village, Makati).

Insider trading

Manila is a location for men's shops, too - check out local design incubator Myth, where young gun Joey Samson crafts elegant pants and made-to-measure tailoring, alongside Randy Ortiz's divine leather slides (2/F, Greenbelt 5, Makati). The men's national dress, the elegant barong, is an embroidered long-sleeved button-down shirt made from pineapple or banana fibres, worn over trousers. Shop with Filipino designers in the textile market heaven of Divisoria or buy in the Filipiniana sections of the department stores.

Home help

Filipino home design is ruled by Budji, whose eponymous shop Budji Living stocks bellwether modern tropical designer Kenneth Cobonpue (235 Nicanor Garcia Ave, Bel-Air 11, Makati). Chock to the eyeballs with gorgeous beaded lamp pulls and ceramics, Firma is a home accessories paradise (G/F, Greenbelt 3, Makati). Fledgling eco-pioneer EchoStore sells all-Filipino sustainable home decor, gifts and food, often coming from the country's most poverty-stricken regions (G/F, Serendra Piazza, McKinley Parkway, Bonifacio).

Fash & trash

Fashion doyenne Jean Goulbourn mixes silk and copper for delicious couture Silk Cocoon (G/F Streetside Renaissance Hotel mall, Makati), while Kate Torralba's fashion is pure joy (2/F, Greenbelt 5). The name in sleek evening wear is Rajo Laurel (6013 Villena St, Poblacion, Makati).

Manila is wedding dress heaven, led by designer Inno Sotto (+63 2 521 8195), while Bench is a Giordano lookalike, with a strong environmental bent in its budget organic cotton T-shirts and body products (Mall of Asia).

Local love

Former president Imelda Marcos's 4000-odd shoe collection was an extreme version of a nation's love. SM stocks up-to-the-second styles from as little as $20 but for divinely vertiginous handmade heels from just $100, head to Guapo (which translates appropriately as "handsome", 5/F, Greenbelt 5). Cheap Chinese sandals and bright Havaianas thongs abound in all street markets.

The fine print

Taxis are cheap and most drivers speak English. Philippine Airlines flies Sydney-Manila direct, about 7½ hours, from $1359 a person, twin share, including airfares, transfers, four nights at Sofitel Philippine Plaza, 1300 468 482 or via travel agents. Philippines Tourism, see philippinetourism.com.au.

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