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Manila, Philippines

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Did You Know … ?

  • Imelda Marcos once served as governor of Metro Manila.
  • Manila Bay was the site of the decisive battle that helped the U.S. gain control of the Philippines in 1898.
  • Metro Manila encompasses 17 cities and municipalities, including the capital.
  • The Philippine legislature meet outside Manila.
  • Las Pinas City on Manila Bay is home to the world’s only bamboo organ.

Haven for shopaholics

Metro Manila is a very large metropolis (population: around 12 million) with a small and badly battered walled city center called Intramuros.

Manila was the site of an Asian trading center, which predated the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. The Spanish built Intramuros in 1571, and key surviving attractions there are San Agustin Church, described as the oldest stone church in the Philippines; the Manila Cathedral, noted for its stone carvings and stained-glass windows, and Fort Santiago, site of dungeons and torture chambers. Part of Intramuros’ old stone walls and some old houses have survived, too, despite major damage during World War II.

The fort was the seat of power for the Spanish colonial authorities and passed to the American authorities after the U.S. won the 1898 Spanish-American War.

But when it comes to Manila’s history, the city is better known to North Americans for its World War II connections. Corregidor Island, site of hard-fought battles, is 30 miles west of the capital at the entrance to Manila Bay. Tourists visit preserved ruins of the battle site, including the barracks, bombed buildings and huge artillery guns.

When the mind moves from the past to the present, Ermita and Malate are prime touristic districts. Ermita is noted for its art and antiques galleries, its curio and souvenir shops; Malate — the former red light district! — is the toned-down home to cafes, music lounges and theaters.

But the city has something else, a thriving mall culture — just the place for the shopaholic tourist, especially given that foreign currency goes so far here. The multilevel malls cover entire city blocks and appear in every neighborhood.

Filipinos and visitors alike can shop, dine, walk, even attend Mass in air-conditioned comfort. Besides, the malls have their own nighttime bar scene and occasionally stage live shows on weekends. The more adventurous can shop in the flea markets but there are risks of getting bad goods or being pickpocketed.

In fact, crime — ranging from pickpocketing and credit/ATM card fraud to kidnapping — is a significant problem. Public transportation should be avoided.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Make a night of it in a selection of local bars, discos and nightclubs.
  • Get out of town for time on a mountain bike. There are numerous trails in San Mateo, just to the east of Metro Manila, and Santa Rosa, just south of the capital.
  • Make time for rock climbing in the Montalban mountains to the east of Manila.
  • Sample local dishes. How about these? Kare-kare (a stew with peanut sauce and ground toasted rice) and halo-halo (a drink of beans, fruit bits, milk, cream and sugar). Also, try a Jollibee hamburger.
  • Dive at Subic Bay, known for wreck sites. It is three hours’ drive from Manila.
  • Bet on the horses and see them run at Santa Ana Racing Park.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Spend quality time in the cafes and music lounges of the Malate district.
  • Attend a game of sipa, a traditional competition played with a small wicker ball, at Rizal Court.
  • Hunt for bargains in the local flea markets which have names like 168 Mall, Divisoria or Greenhills. You can bargain for the best deals, but you will want to keep a sharp eye out for shoddy goods.
  • Take a cruise around Manila Bay.
  • Put Corregidor Island on your itinerary. Join an organized tour of the World War II site, and see, among other things, the Malinta Tunnel, which U.S. troops carved out of the solid rock in a mountain and used as a hideout.
  • Explore what has survived of the original walled city, which is called Intramuros. See San Agustin Church, the Manila Cathedral and Fort Santiago.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Watch the sunset over Manila Bay.
  • Have a massage in one of the city’s many health spas.
  • Shop for pearls and hand-made jewelry; look for embroidered blouses and dresses. Or for something less traditional, look for fabrics made from pineapple or banana fibers.
  • Schedule a trip to be in the city for Holy Week festivities.
  • Pay your respects at the Manila American Memorial Cemetery, which is a memorial park at Fort Bonifacio honoring U.S. and Filipino soldiers who died in World War II.
  • See the historic sites in a calesa (horse-drawn carriage).

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Philippine Department of Tourism at www.experiencephilippines.org