Manila could almost be thought of as one of the adolescents of Southeast Asia’s capitals. On the surface, it’s a little dirty and disorganized, but under that rough exterior you’ll find a city that’s really just misunderstood. When you look past the pollution, the at-times-quaint public transit and the sweltering temperatures, you’ll realize Manila is a city rich in history with a healthy dose of glitz and glam, and quite possibly, the friendliest people on Earth. Here then, are five things to discover about Manila.
The Rizal monument in Manila. Photo courtesy Benson K.
Rizal Park is one of the largest public parks in Asia and a central landmark of Metro Manila. The park is most famous for being the execution site of Philippine hero Jose Rizal, executed by the Spanish army at the onset of the Philippine Revolution. Today, the 58-hectare park serves a huge urban leisure space, frequented each day by people jogging, walking, relaxing and eating in the park’s many well-paved paths and open grass areas (and don’t be surprised to hear a bit of Celine Dion blasting from the park speakers!). It’s also littered with enough gardens, statues and monuments to keep the casual tourist occupied for an entire day, the most famous of them being the towering Rizal monument. If you’re still around in the evening, the adjacent Manila Bay is also
Walk along the old streets of Intramuros. Photo courtesy Caryl E.
Intramuros is Manila’s oldest district, dating back to when the Spanish Empire settled the area as its strategic centre in Asia during the late 16th century. It’s called the “walled city” and since their initial construction in the 1500’s, its massive defensive walls have survived and played a part in numerous conflicts (including the Second World War), and are now protected as an important heritage site in the country’s history. Today, Intramuros is one of the most visited spots in Manila and one can easily spend an entire day soaking up the history through the tasteful street art, historic churches, colonial houses, and a handful of small museums. Take a walking or bike tour here; each pocket of the area has its own story and a good guide should be able to share these with you.
The World’s First Chinatown
Shop around the markets in Binondo to get a taste for Chinatown. Photo courtesy Krista G.
In 1594, the Spanish settled the district of Binondo – a settlement for the many Chinese immigrants that had been arriving in the Philippines. It would soon flourish as both a cultural and commercial centre, and become recognized as the world’s first Chinatown. Despite a large exodus of businesses to surrounding districts in later years, Binondo is still lively and vibrant today and is a beautifully unique and historic spot to spend an afternoon eating, shopping and snapping photos.
Shop ‘til you drop
The SM Aura Premier mall in Manila. Photo courtesy Roberto V.
People that live in Manila enjoy some of the best shopping anywhere. Of the ten largest shopping malls in the world, three of them can be found within Metro Manila, and there’s a good number of smaller boutique ones as well. (“Smaller” is a relative term here; they’re all huge!) Whether you visit the enormous SM Mega Mall in Ortigas, the super spacious Mall of Asia by the waterfront or the trendy shops of Greenbelt, you can be sure that you will never be shopped out in this city. To sweeten the deal a little, you’ll find the air-conditioning is a welcome break from the Manila heat, they all have free wifi, the prices are highly competitive, and all the shop assistants speak English.
Take a Jeepney Ride
Take a jeepney ride to get close to the locals.
Many visitors cite Manila’s public transit as one of the challenges of the city. Probably the most popular mode of transport are Jeepneys – mini, open-air buses that hold around 20 people. They’re a little difficult to navigate but, if you’re up for it, riding a Jeepney can be a great experience. After you squeeze your way through the door, you’ll grab a seat beside your co-passengers, most of whom will likely be local Philippinos. Then you’ll need to pay. As most people aren’t seated within arm’s length of the driver, it’s customary to hand your fare to the person next to you, and the whole jeep plays pass the parcel with your money until it gets to the driver. He’ll eye you up in his rearview mirror and then send any change back down the line. Most rides cost around 8-10 pesos (20-30 cents), so do make sure you’re carrying small change. When it comes to your destination, bang the roof of the jeep with your fist and the driver will stop to let you off. If you want to be really cool, you can also yell out “para!” which means “stop” in Tagalog. Do note there are no (or very few) official stops, so if you’re not exactly sure where you’re going you might get a little lost. Don’t worry though, it’s all part of the fun of being in Manila.
The city of Makati is one of many to make up Metro Manila.
However you may choose to see Manila, just be sure to see it. Go with an open mind and you’ll have an incredibe experience meeting some of the warmest people in the world. So step off the beaten path, explore some unknown parts of the city and you’ll be in for an adventure you’ll remember forever.
G Adventures runs a number of departures to the Philippines encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.