Manila

Manila Cathedral by CC user philippine_church_music on Flickr

Introduction

Being the capital of the Philippines and the cultural and business centre of the entire country, it is no surprise that Manila is home to over 20 million people, all here to take part of the best performing region in the Filipino economy.  However, with all these people habituating in such a small space, Manila has developed a well-deserved reputation for being overcrowded, congested, polluted, and full of poverty.

In the past 30 years, corrupt governments have stymied economic progress in this eternally optimistic nation. Recently though, with the recent administration finally taking concrete steps to clean things up, the fortunes of this place are finally starting to take a turn for the better.   The Philippines is now rapidly developing, as there is plenty of evidence of this new wealth in many places, with multiple glass and steel skyscrapers shooting up into the sky in the business centre of Makati, new massive call centres using the excellent native English speaking skills of the locals opening, and many expatriated Filipinos returning home after many years of earning a living abroad.

There are many points of interest for the traveler in Manila, with many notable historical landmarks and culturally important sites, excellent shopping that ranks among the best in Southeast Asia, and a sizzling nightlife that will have you dancing with fun loving Pinoys in the streets of Malate until the sun comes up!

San Agustin Church, Intramuros by CC user shankaronline on Flickr

Cultural Experiences

Many hotels and hostels are situated in the central districts of Ermita and Malate, so we will begin our tour by discussing points of interest close by these areas.  Before you get to Intramuros, the seminal cultural highlight of Manila, you come across Jose Rizal Park.  This magnificent green oasis in the midst of the urban jungle of urban Manila is an excellent way to start your day, as it features majestic fountains, gardens designed in the Chinese, Japanese and Filipino tradition, and Ocean Park, the Philippine’s largest aquarium.

Some of the most notable churches in the Philippines are located here.  Once within the Spanish-inspired walled city of Intramuros, make your way first to San Agustin Church, a Roman Catholic Church that is over 400 years old, by virtue of being the only original church left standing after the ravages of World War II.

Not quite as old as San Agustin, but grander in scale is Manila Cathedral. Razed seven different times during its 442 year run by fire, earthquakes, and war, the current church has stood since 1958, and is the home of the Catholic archdiocese of Manila.  Inside there are several sculptures of saints and other luminaries from the past, expertly crafted by Italian artists. Outside of Intramuros, you’ll find the oldest church in Manila in Binondo, its Chinatown (one of the largest in the world). Binondo Church, built in 1596, is the centre of worship for Chinese-Filipinos, and contains an idol of the Christ that was found in a well by a deaf mute.  Apart from this bit of trivia, the now fervent faith of many of these worshippers was largely forced upon their descendants by Spanish authorities.  When they didn’t convert on demand and instead revolted, it precipitated a massacre that cost the lives of 24,000 Chinese.

Makati: Market! Market! by CC user verzo on Flickr

Markets And Malls

Manilans love to shop, so if you wish to engage in a bit of retail therapy, then you have definitely come to the right city!  The SM Mall of Asia, located in the southern reaches of Metro Manila currently ranks as the 11th largest mall in the world, and has a plethora of attractions to keep you entertained in between shopping binges.  When you have finished shopping to your heart’s content, learn something at the science centre, take in an incredible view of the vast cityscape of Manila from the top of the Ferris Wheel in the amusement park, or show the local Filipinos how it’s done on the skating rink at the centre of the complex.

Paco Market in working class neighbourhood of Paco, used to be a bustling dry good market, but it had fallen into disrepair and it was the primary cause of  pollution in the nearby creek, spawning the pictures which have associated Manila with excessive pollution over the years.  Recently, it has been completely refurbished; the structural beams have been shored up, natural lighting has been added, the creek has been completely cleaned up, and has re-opened for business as of the writing of this article.  It now includes space for cultural performances, cooked-to-order Filipino food, as well as stalls selling handicrafts and other items that would be of interest to tourists.

Finally, if you desire fresh tropical fruits grown locally in the Philippines, make your way to San Andres Fruit Market.  Here, the vendors sell all manner of tropical fruits, including bananas, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, and the smelly, spiky but delightfully creamy treat, durian.  Stock up for your journeys to the outer provinces with these nutritious fruits before you leave!

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