The city that just sprawls on and on into the distance, On first impressions Manila looks disappointing to the new traveller. The traffic and the chaos of the bad planning, has made Manila a very polluted city. But, what can you find if you dig a little deeper into this old city.
Allow my list of 10 best things to do in Manila help you discover its trails and turns and unmask its enigmatic yet vibrant identity.
1. Enlist in a walking tour of Intramuros
This historic walled city was once the core of the Spanish and American governments during their colonial reign in the Philippines. After getting ruined during World War II, efforts to rehabilitate the area began in the 1950s. You may simply walk around the area or ride a horse-drawn kalesa to explore this oldest district of Manila; but enlisting in a walking tour with a professional guide can save you time and give you a better perspective of the history and culture of the city.
2. Pay homage to our national hero at Rizal Park
This iconic park, also known as Luneta, has been the site of many public executions during the Spanish era, including those of the three Filipino priests collectively known as Gomburza—Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora—and the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. Hence, it is where the Rizal Monument was erected. Across historic shrine is the marble marker designated as the country’s Kilometer Zero.
3. Master your haggling skills in the street markets
Yes, Manila has too many malls to choose from and they’re all air-conditioned; but the real shopping adventure is in haggling in the street markets of Divisoria, Quiapo, and Baclaran. They are crowded and the weather could be extremely humid; but the experience is rewarding once you’ve found (and most likely, you will) very cheap items that match your quirks.
4. Discover your singing prowess in a ‘videoke’ bar
To say that we Filipinos love to sing is an understatement. We often (if not all the time) take our singing so seriously that you might think we are going through a tough time or you may reward us with a sarcastic slow clap. So if a local hands you the mic, take it because you would most likely not get another chance!
5. Catch the sunset while cruising Manila Bay
The sunset at Manila Bay is one of the most common tourist attractions in Manila throughout the years. Whether or not you are a hopeless romantic, the experience becomes more memorable while enjoying a set dinner on a cruise ship or renting your own yacht.
6. Ride the jeepney (dyipni)
You see buses and trains in many places around the globe; but only in the Philippines will you see and experience riding a dyipni. Say “bayad po” to pass your fare until it reaches the driver or his assistant, and “para” when you’re about to alight.
7. Embark on a Binondo food trip
Manila has attracted many foreign traders even before the Spanish conquistadors took over the city and later granted an area, called Binondo, to the Chinese merchants. There you will find the oldest Chinatown in the world and an array of restaurants that serve affordable, mouth-watering dishes and dim sum. Walking tours are also available to help you go around the area more conveniently.
8. Appreciate art by visiting old Catholic churches
Philippines is the fifth largest Catholic country in the world and there are a number of old churches found in Manila. Their architecture, murals, and different ornaments are great displays of different artistic styles. Some of the most popular ones are the Quiapo Church, Baclaran Church, San Sebastian Church, San Agustin Church, and the Manila Cathedral.
9. Chomp down exotic street food like balut and isaw
Aside from the infamous balut (one-day old chick), different types of street food are available to whet (or challenge) your pallet: ‘isaw’ (pork or chicken intestines), ‘betamax’ (pork blood), ‘adidas’ (chicken feet), ‘helmet’ (chicken head), and the list goes on. You have to be careful where to buy them though. For a great isaw experience, check out Mang Larry’s which is found across the International Center in the UP Diliman Campus.
10. Immerse and experience ‘True Manila’
Travelling is more fulfilling when it becomes an enlightening experience. The True Manila tour gives you that chance by allowing you to get a glimpse of the life of many local families who live in the slums of the metro, the side of Manila that is often unheard of. Read and colour books with street kids, play a betting game of basketball with the locals, and possibly make a difference in one way or another.