Most planned-travel itineraries read Bangkok- Hong Kong- Tokyo; the Philippines are off the mainline of Pacific touring, but Manila is only two and a quarter hours from Hong Kong by air, a pleasant two nights and a day on an American President liner. The old Manila Hotel is an "I shall return" period piece, part and parcel of the World War II nostalgia that hangs over the city. One of Manila's principal sightseeing destinations is the shell-scarred cave on Corregidor. And if you ever wondered what became of the wartime big band, it is here, holding forth in a dozen spectacular nightclubs along Roxas Boulevard, playing Artie Shaw one minute, cha-cha-cha the next. There are bevies of hostesses—in wartime they were called B-girls—available for dancing and conversation for $2.50 an hour. There is, moreover, a disarming notice at the entrance to all Philippine drinking places: "Please check your firearms at the door."
The most interesting nightspot in town is the Sky Room, atop the jai alai fronton. Your waiter places your bets. Food in the Philippines is a mixture of Spanish and Igorot. One specialty is suckling pig, stuffed with tamarind leaves and roasted on a spit. Another is lapu-lapu escabeche, a fried fish with sweet and sour sauce. Native San Miguel beer is a perfect accompaniment.
But the real lure of traveling to the Philippines lies in the immediate future. For with proper development, the Philippines could surpass even Hawaii as a sportsman's paradise. Already there are excellent golf courses in Manila and in Baguio, a mountain resort. In the rice fields outside Manila there is a tremendous variety of fowl and game: snipe, dove, duck and partridge, all with liberal limits and seasons. Wild pigs are everywhere. The crocodile and the cimarron, a wild bull, are special quarry. In the waters around the 7,000 islands there are wahoo, yellowfin tuna, barracuda, sail-fish, marlin and dolphin. The only thing lacking is a charter-boat fleet. The Manila Yacht Club, not yet abused by floods of tourist requests, is very cooperative about taking visitors out.
One new development could set an example for future investors: the Davao Insular Hotel, on the island of Mindanao, has beaches, golf, tennis, snorkeling, water skiing, sailing and two charter fishing boats. It is the best-equipped resort in the Philippines for handling the visitor who would rather come to the islands for their superb sport than for wartime memories.
It is not easy to fit Pnompenh, capital of Cambodia, into the schedule of an Oriental trip. Only a few flights a week go to Pnompenh from Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore. It is even more difficult to plan a trip up to Siem Reap, the site of the ruins of Angkor—a lone DC-3 flies there. However, the extra effort is definitely worthwhile if the current political situation does not interfere with visas. Pnompenh looks like a town in the south of France, but one that has experienced an Oriental mutation. Stay at the Royal, which has a swimming pool, air conditioning—and the hardest hotel bed you ever slept on. Eat at Bar Jean, a true bistro. But the real reason for coming to Cambodia is to visit Angkor and see the Khmertemples, which were a bandoned to the jungle 500 years ago. Be sure to allow enough time to study the ruins. One night is not enough—two are. Do not miss Angkor Thom, with its giant human faces, as well as Angkor Wat. Ta Prohm is left as it was found, its tumbling stones held together by the entwining roots of banyan trees. While at Angkor, stay at the Auberge des Temples. It has just been enlarged from 40 to 75 rooms to house the cast of Lord Jim, which will be filmed there this winter.
Twenty-two airlines fly into Bangkok, third most popular city for Oriental tourists (after Tokyo and Hong Kong). A visitor's first reaction is likely to be, "Why did I bother?" The streets are an unbelievable jam, and the humidity could be squeezed out of the air with your bare fist. However, once ensconced in the air-conditioned comfort of the Erawan, with its pool, its good bar, its fine restaurants (La Cave is one of the best European-style restaurants east of Suez), things look up considerably. And once you view the temple and palace complexes, the dusty road you traveled from the airport seems almost like the yellow brick road to Oz. The shopping is first-rate. Not only is there Jim Thompson's, with his world-famous Thai silk—at $4 per yard or so, about one-quarter Stateside prices—but now a new establishment called Design Thai. For this unusual store Jacqueline Ayer, an American, has used Thompson's beautiful silks and designed blouses, dresses, skirts, coats and suits to American taste and sizes. Shifts are $30, sleeveless blouses $12, a three-piece Thai silk suit, $70.
Shoppers with a taste for the Oriental can find bronze Buddha heads, torsos and hands, gold-leaf carvings of temple angels, elephant howdahs that turn into love seats and early Thai porcelain bowls and plates.
Thai food is so hot that most tourists are afraid to try it. At the Salinee, the use of the prik-kee-noo, the Thai chili, is modified for the foreign palate. The prix fixe menu—$6 for dinner for two with drinks—includes satay (small pieces of chicken dipped in coconut and grilled on bamboo shoots), kang kai (curried chicken and coconut served in a coconut shell), mee krob (fried rice noodles), fried prawns, and a frozen dessert of coconut milk, egg and sugar. There is much talk at cocktail parties in Thailand about tiger shooting, but it would take a visitor at least six weeks to get a gun permit—or his own gun out of customs—even if permits to shoot tiger were being given at the time. A tourist would have no difficulty getting a guest card to the Bangkok Sports Club (see page 78). The Gulf of Siam is rumored to be filled with game fish, but there is no boat equipped to take one out. You can, however, skin-dive around the reefs at Pataya, two hours south of Bangkok.