I stayed in a 110-year-old hotel with a star-studded clientele that includes Michael Jackson and Bill Clinton. It was a far cry from the glitz and glamour I expected.

·5 min read
Me at the Manila Hotel.
Me at the Manila Hotel.Marielle Descalsota/Insider
  • I booked a one-night stay at The Manila Hotel, the oldest hotel in the Philippines.

  • A grand deluxe suite cost $110, which is less expensive than most luxury hotels in Manila.

  • The hotel's clientele includes world leaders, US presidents, and A-list celebs.

The Manila Hotel in the Philippines' capital city, Manila, is known for its high-profile clientele. It's hosted celebrities like Michael Jackson and world leaders like former US president Bill Clinton.

The Manila Hotel.
The Manila Hotel.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

The hotel opened to the public in July 1912, making it the oldest hotel in the Philippines. It's also one of the most prominent historical landmarks in the country's capital.

The hotel had been the site of many important events in Filipino history. It's where US General Douglas MacArthur commanded his post during Japan's occupation of Manila during World War II. It was also the "second home" of former first lady Imelda Marcos, the wife of late Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

A revolution has even started at the hotel: Late Filipino president Cory Aquino gave her famous 1986 speech in the hotel's heritage room, which sparked the movement that overthrew the Marcos dictatorship in the same year.

In the late 1990s, the hotel's clientele began to include celebrities and royalty. Pop icon Michael Jackson stayed at the hotel in December 1996. Prince Charles made a visit in July 1997. Presidents from all around the world flocked to the hotel too, like late South African leader Nelson Mandela and former US president Bill Clinton.

I was born in Manila and have for years been hearing all about the hotel's celebrated history. I was curious to experience the hotel's star-studded reputation myself, so I booked an overnight stay on a recent trip to the Philippines.

Bellman at The Manila Hotel.
Bellman at The Manila Hotel.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

The hotel is located right beside the Manila Bay, a harbor that serves as the main port of the city.

It took around an hour and a half to get to the hotel from Makati, the city's financial and business center. Traffic was bad — hundreds of cars lined the streets of the capital.

On first impression, the hotel was opulent, with a regal exterior and bell men in uniform.

Like most places in Manila, there were security checks — all bags were screened in a scanner, and I had to pass through a metal detector. My vaccination status was also checked.

In a statement sent to Insider, The Manila Hotel said it is "committed to maintain the elegance of its history while constantly striving to exceed the expectations of its modern clientele."

The hotel added that it is the Philippines' first five-star hotel and that it "offers more than just Filipino hospitality, we offer our rich history and culture."


The lobby had an old-world charm, with wooden ceilings and huge chandeliers.

The lobby at The Manila Hotel.
The lobby at The Manila Hotel.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

Dozens of people were lounging about in the lobby. Staff members were decked out in traditional uniforms, some of which were falling apart — some had been taped and stapled together.

Check-in only took around 10 minutes. I had booked a grand deluxe room for 6,000 Philippine peso ($110), which was discounted to around 4,000 peso because of some card privileges my relatives had.

I took an elevator up to my floor and found the hallway was dim and bare: It looked more like a three-star establishment than a famed luxury hotel.

The grand deluxe room.
The grand deluxe room.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

There are 550 rooms in the hotel. I was given a room on the 14th floor.


The room had simple furnishings. I wouldn't say it was luxurious, but it was comfortable.

Inside the grand deluxe room.
Inside the grand deluxe room.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

There were accents of Filipino design on the bed frame and the countertop. The rooms were renovated in 2008, according to its official website. 

Most of the hotel's high-profile clientele stayed in suites like the MacArthur and the Presidential. These suites can only be reserved by calling the hotel.

My room didn't have a balcony, but it did have a big window with a view of the port.

The view from the room.
The view from the room.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

The hotel also offers a city view for a slightly more expensive rate.

The bathroom was clean and spacious, and had a Japanese toilet.

Bathroom in the grand deluxe room.
Bathroom in the grand deluxe room.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

There was a tiny TV right above the bathtub that I didn't get to test out, but some guests say it's difficult to see the screen because of the awkward angle.

The next morning, my sister and I visited the breakfast buffet. She ended up being turned away for wearing hotel slippers.

In-room dining.
In-room dining.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

The hotel's website explains that "housewear, undershirts, revealing outfits and slippers" are "discouraged."

I wasn't dressed too nicely — I wore a cardigan and leggings — but at least I wore covered shoes.

After my sister retreated to the room, I walked around to check out the buffet. It had a plethora of options from Chinese to Filipino cuisine, which many guests said were delicious.

My sister and I opted for in-room dining. I ordered waffles and an iced mocha coffee. The waffles were hard and weren't too appetizing.

The hotel had a large swimming pool with a central bar, which was surprisingly modern.

The pool at The Manila Hotel.
The pool at The Manila Hotel.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

The pool was perfect for cooling down in tropical weather. The bar struck me as a nice touch, and it gave the hotel a resort-like vibe.

Ultimately, while the hotel has a splendid history, it's just not up to today's luxury standards.

Me at the Manila Hotel.
It wasn't anything special.Marielle Descalsota/Insider

The hotel's amenities were dated and struck me as a far cry from the glitz and glamour of the typical five-star hotel. But the price seemed fair enough for a historic hotel in a prime location.

If you're seeking a modern, high-end experience, The Manila Hotel is probably not a fit. For my part, I doubt I'll return, but it was worth trying it out once — just to see where the world's most famous spend their free time.

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