Manila is a thriving metropolis located on an island nation just 500 miles off the coast of mainland Asia. Accessible, yet remote; modern, yet ancient; Manila has many tales to tell. Here’s a taste of this fabulous travel destination.
Exploring the Philippines: Manila
Over 7,000 islands make up the Philippine archipelago, each with its own charm. The largest of these islands, Luzon, is home to the capitol city: Manila. Located about 500 miles from mainland Asia, Manila is an accessible travel destination bustling with culture, shopping, industry, and nightlife.
The city itself is a massive metropolis made up of buildings new and old. Here you’ll see the duality of the Philippines: modern, yet cultural; busy, yet laid back; innovative, yet traditional. As Manila struggles to define itself, it has become its own unique city, filled with friendly people who understand perseverance.
History buffs and tourists alike should place the walled city of Intramuros at the top of their itineraries. This historic stop features a Spanish fortress, the old Manila Cathedral, San Augustin Church and Museum, shops, restaurants, and park grounds within its walls. Founded in 1571, Intramuros was the home of the ruling Spanish classes. Massive in its scope, Intramuros was surrounded by a wall encircling about 158 acres, complete with drawbridges and fortified with bastions. Over the centuries, Intramuros suffered through invasions by Chinese pirates and was occupied by various forces including the Japanese, British, and Americans. The mighty city of Intramuros eventually fell after severe bombing by US forces during the Battle of Manila. By the end of World War II, over 150,000 Filipinos had been killed and most of the buildings destroyed.
Manila’s Chinatown is another popular tourist destination. Plan on spending several hours exploring the streets, shops, tea houses, and neighborhoods of this enchanting district. For those who want a taste of Chinatown, but don’t want to spend the entire day immersed in it, plan a ten to fifteen walk down its main street, Ongpin Street.
The Cultural Centre of the Philippines offers a glimpse of the excesses of the Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos era. Here too, you will see the duality of the Philippines with opulent buildings built during a time of extreme poverty. Many of the buildings have fared well over the decades while others are succumbing to the elements. The development’s namesake building, the Cultural Centre of the Philippines is a grand building housing an art gallery, museums, and theatres.
Plan a stop at the National Museum of the Filipino People where you’ll learn about the rich history of the Philippines starting some 26,000 years ago. The ancient skullcap of Tabon Man, the earliest known inhabitant of the Philippines, is on display here. Tabon Man is thought to have lived in the Philippines in 24,000 BC. Another highlight found at the National Museum is a collection of treasure from a sunken ship, the San Diego. The San Diego was a Spanish galleon that sank in the waters off of the island of Luzon in 1600.
In addition to being the home to a Spanish walled city, Chinatown, the Cultural Centre of the Philippines, and dozens of historic buildings, churches, and museums, Manila also features the home of the nation’s president: Malacañan Palace. Because of political unrest, this grand building is often closed to the public. While it may not be possible to step inside, the building itself is a sight to behold, if even from afar.
The Coconut Palace offers an interesting glimpse into the heyday of Imelda Marcos. The first lady ordered the palace, which would showcase the island’s materials and crafts, built to impress Pope John Paul II. Unimpressed by the excessive ($37 million) cost of the palace in a land where the people desperately needed services, the pope chose not to visit after all, leaving Imelda Marcos with an empty, albeit grand, palace made up largely of coconut materials. Today, tours of the palace are available as are rentals for weddings and parties.
Manila is a shopper’s paradise with shopping centers galore. Plan a day of shopping at the Ayala Center where you’ll find designer clothing at a fraction of the cost of stores found in the U.S., Japan, and Europe. The Ayala Center is a huge complex of malls, hotels, shops, and buildings. If crafts and souvenirs are more your style, head over to Balikbayan Handicrafts where you’ll find authentic Filipino figurines and crafts.
Nightlife is happening in Manila with bars, restaurants, discos, and karaoke lounges among the more popular activities. The Malate district, Jupiter Street and Greenbelt in Makati, Libis and Tomas Morato in Quezon City, and Taguig’s Jaipur at the Fort, Pier One, and Embassy Bar are all active hot spots when the sun goes down in Manila.
As the capitol of the Philippines, Manila is a large city with a rich history. Like many cities, Manila has several tales to tell. Plan a visit to Luzon and spend a few days uncovering the story of Manila.
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