With its heady concoction of traffic, sky rise, prevalent poverty and extensive urban sprawl Manila is a tricky balance of chic and trash, and for this reason often remains a place untraveled.
As the Philippine capital, it has influences from Malay, Spanish, American, Chinese and Arabic cultures. If you are willing to remove the blinkers and move beyond clouded assumptions, you will discover a Manila rich in history and with vitality to spark even the most seasoned traveller.
First you will need to find some accommodation in Manila, preferably in the historic Spanish Quarter in Malate. A nifty spot to launch your discovery tour of this eclectic city.
Second, you need to set off in the right direction; so here are the top 5 attractions in Manila with a mix to suit all tastes.
1) Intramuros – literally translates to “within the walls”, and so this walled city is the historical centre of Manila. The enormous stone citadel was founded by the Spanish 1571, and was the seat of government when the Philippines were part of the Spanish Realm. It has withstood natural disasters and wars with solid determination. While you are there, be sure to also visit the San Augustin Church. Due to the size and time taken to really appreciate visiting the oldest district, it is advisable to go in the morning to avoid the sweltering heat
(photo credit: Michael Cruz)
(photo credit: smh.com.au)
Greenbelt is not just any shopping mall, it is a super-sized mall with a maze of 5 buildings and beautiful grounds of trees, grass, flowers, water and walkways. If you are looking for some air-conditioned comfort and some retail therapy, then you will find it in the Makati area. Also a fantastic place for restaurants, cafes and bars – try Spicy fingers or Club Cuba.
If you have time, just outside the Greenbelt shopping mall is the Ayala Museum which houses a collection of 400 year old gold jewellery from before and during Spanish times. Do not miss the diorama display capturing the culture and history of the Philippines.
The salsedo and legspi markets near Greenbelt are also quite good but the operating dates vary, so best to ask around. If pearls and wholesale jewellery markets are your cup of tea, then Greenhills is the place.
After soaking up enough of the Spanish history of Manila, between Santa Cruz and Binondo you will find the bustling community of Chinatown. After centuries of suppression by the Spanish, Chinatown is full of life and a walk down the main street Ongpin st is essential. Mooncakes can be found a plenty here – these sweet treats were used to disguise messages during the war against the Mongols.
4) Rizal Park
Originally named “Luneta”, this park was the site of José Rizal’s execution in 1896 by the Spanish authorities, and in the 1950s the name was changed in his honour. With its sprawling open lawns and ornamental gardens it is a fantastic place to stretch out and escape the chaos of the city. If you are there on a Sunday you can relax to a free Concert in the park at 5.30pm.
5) Fort Santiago
Built at the turn of the 17th century, this fortress stands guard to the entrance of the Pasig River. Visit the Rizal Shrine within the Fort to view various memorabilia. Rizal spent his last night in one of the barracks at the end of the fort, and you can see brass footprints set into the pavement to mark the last steps of this hero before his execution in Rizal Park.
For the traveller, there are many attractions worth seeing during the day – but a word of warning if you want to explore the night scene; It helps to know someone as many good bars and clubs are hidden.