More often than not, travelers treat busy Manila as a transit point on the way to the calm of the Philippines’ beautiful islands and inviting beach resorts. Yet for those who decide to spend some time in the most densely populated city in the world, there is plenty that will take you by surprise. Manila’s chaos is characteristic of any developing world city – the traffic, the urban sprawl, the hectic action – it is all there. Getting past these minor obstacles will be easier with a Manila guide, who will show you the way to a rewarding and memorable Manila experience.
1. Start with Intramuros – Walk along the thick Spanish defensive walls of Intramuros, from where the district gets its name, to get a feel of the grandeur of this erstwhile colonial capital. Now protected, this wall is mostly what remains from the Spanish colonial era of Manila, since the city was more or less flattened in 1945 during the Battle of Manila. There are also a few more structures that remain, but those are mostly in ruins, leaving this wall as a very prominent piece of surviving history.
2. Stop for a bite at Museum Café, famous as ‘M’. A curiously interesting place, one section of the eatery stocks furniture and artwork for sale. But it is much more than a gallery/eatery, come sundown and the place and its gardens transform into an outdoor party. Music by local and international DJs converts the all white interior into quite the place to catch a cocktail or two. Thursday and Friday nights will find expats and travelers spending time here.
3. The Halo Halo – If you could distill an entire culture into one beverage, it has to be the Halo Halo. This drink cum dessert, with a name that translates as ‘jumble-jumble’, is a refreshing concoction of shaved ice and evaporated milk, mixed up with any combination of sweetened beans, candied fruit, nata de coco, Filipino crème caramel, purple yam concentrate and jelly, among other ingredients. If there was ever a drink that could make your taste buds think, then this is the one!
4. Marikina Shoes Museum – It’s only fitting that the shoe capital of the Philippines should be home to a Shoe Museum. The museum showcases shoes of famous people including a pair of shoes from each president of the Philippines. There are shoes of celebrities, ambassadors, political figures and also traditional footwear from several countries. The bulk of shoes on display were contributed by former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos, 749 pairs to be exact! People have always been fascinated by the controversial former First Lady’s passion for footwear, making the trip here very interesting.
5. Visit Rizal Park in the evening for a quintessential Manila experience – Rizal Park transforms into a hub of activity in the evenings, weekends and holidays being especially crowded. Families show up here to picnic, relax, pose for photo ops and generally spend time. The main draw though is the spectacular water fountain display which when accompanied by colored water and coordinated music can be quite a sight.
All of the above can actually be covered in a day, but Manila has much more. Spend some more time in this busy city and you will discover many more hidden gems of history and culture lost in the humdrum of a metropolis.