WHEE! WHEE! WHEE!
MY LIST OF MANILA'S MUST SEES
Aka. If you are in Manila for a few days, Check these things out:
Intramuros is MANILA. No trip to the Philippine capital is complete without visiting the site where the city all began. Formerly a 15th century bamboo fortress belonging to a certain Sultan Sulayman, Intramuros grew into an ecclesiastical enclave of seven Roman Catholic Cathedrals before being pummeled to the ground by the US Army at the end of World War II. In 1979, the walls were restored thanks to the efforts of Intramuros Administration and oldest part of our megalopolis has regained much of it’s medieval European flavor with the added benefits of fine dining and better shopping. Places to visit: Fort Santiago and the Jose Rizal Shrine, Casa Manila, Bahay Tsinoy (Museum of the Chinese), The ruins of St. Ignatius, and The San Agustin Church and Museum. Places to eat: Ilustrado Restaurant, and shop: Silahis Handicrafts, Trade Winds Bookstore, and Galeria delas Islas Art Gallery. Google them. Log onto Intramuros Administration website HERE.
2. The Cultural Center of the Philippines
Built in 1969, only three years after New York’s Metropolitan Opera House and five years before the completion of the Sydney Opera House, the CCP’s floating travertine marble volume is perhaps the most iconic representation of our city’s rich trove of 1960’s brutalist architecture. Although monumental may be from the outside, the CCP’s curvaceous interiors possess a grace and elegance rare to structures built during an era more known for it’s forbidding concrete chunkiness. And if visiting it’s many exhibitions and ogling at their elegant lobby may be enough for some, I recommend catching an opera, a dance performance, or a philharmonic concert if you want to truly complete the experience. Most coveted spot: Partierre Room 25, Former private box of First Lady Imelda Marcos. Companies to watch: Ballet Philippines, Philippine Philharmonic, Tanghalang Pilipino, Philippine Madrigal Singers, and The Bayanihan Dance Company. Log onto CCP site HERE
3. The National Museum, Luneta Park, and Paco Park
Although many folks forget that there is anything behind the Jose Rizal monument, the Luneta Park is still a cornucopia of cultural sites and local flavor. Nearest to the water, You could hit the Museum of Manila and the Manila Hotel for a glimpse (albeit a shabby one) of our pre-WWII grandeur before trotting past the Rizal Monument itself and into pocket gardens dedicated to China, Japan, Jose Rizal’s execution, and the Philippine Arts which flank the monument. Further up towards Taft Avenue, visit the stunning, newly restored, professionally run, and immaculately clean National Museum of the Filipino People where you can see the treasures of the San Diego Galleon and gaze up at the awe-inspiring Spolarium by National Artist for Painting Juan Luna. Once you are all done, have a halo-halo at Barbara’s at the Orchidarium by Agrifina Circle. Sundays are especially interesting as the place is packed with locals watching movie stuntmen rehearse or listening to a free concert by the bandstand. If you are still up to it, walk up towards the Instituto Cervantes Spanish Cultural Center next to the Casino Espanol, before hanging a left to the 400 year old former cemetery, Paco Park. Wear practical shoes and dress light of course. Log onto National Museum site HERE.
4. American Memorial Cemetery
The American Memorial Cemetery is nestled smack in the middle of burgeoning Fort Bonifacio Global City. This serene setting is the largest memorial to American war dead in the world and the greenest and most breathtaking of settings in Manila’s Central Business District. The cemetery memorializes members of the US Military who gave their lives in battles fought in New Guinea and the Philippines at the close of World War II in the Pacific. Over 17,202 carved marble headstones sit amid 615,000 square meters of obsessively manicured gardens full of tropical plants and trees. It is both haunting and majestic. And although jogging and picnicking is obviously forbidden, just wandering under the trees and along it’s hemispherical walls of Trani Limestone carved with the names of 36,282 individuals who rest in unmarked graves is an experience not be missed. It’s a perfect place for reflecting upon the majesty of the human spirit and the senselessness of war. It’s open every day from 9:00am till 5:00pm except on Christmas Day and New Years
5. Corregidor Island
This 9 square kilometer tadpole shaped island by the mouth of Manila Bay and inbetween the provinces of Bataan and Cavite is the closest respite from the craziness that is Metro Manila. Less than an hour away by air conditioned ferry from Manila, the island is a historical monument, adventure playground and nature reserve rolled into one. Once a Spanish customs inspection area where all the ships that passed would have their papers corrected, hence the name Corregidor for “corrector”. It was renamed Fort Mills by the Americans and became a US military installation before being blitzed into oblivion at the close of World War II. Since 1994, the Corregidor Foundation has cleaned up the island and turned it into a national shrine and protected nature reserve. It is now one of the most popular tourist attractions of the country. You could check into the charming Spanish style Corregidor Inn for an overnight stay, or take a day trip to hike through their secondary growth jungles and wander about the ruins. The juxtaposition of ruins and overgrown jungle foliage are reminiscent of Angkor Wat or Delphi except that you aren’t looking at the remains of the Khmer or Greek empire, but that of the American one. Call suncruises or log onto their website HERE for more details.
Located smack center of Metro Manila, Cubao is accesible from all points of the city by all forms of transportation. Built in the late 1950’s in the literal backyard of magnate Amado Araneta’s home. All cab drivers know where it is, every EDSA bus passes there, but it’s the MRT or LRT2 lines that you must use if you want to get there fast and in airconditioned denial of the road below. Once there, visit Farmer’s Market, the city’s largest and cleanest open air “palengke” and wander through aisles upon aisles of local produce, food and flowers. For shopping options, uber-luxe Gateway caters to higher end while Farmer’s Plaza caters to those looking for more affordable options. And after dining in one of the restaurants ringing the Araneta Coliseum (Manila’s answer to Madison Square Garden), be sure to visit Cubao Expo, a small 70’s strip mall that boasts a funky mix of wholesale retail shoe stores, vintage shops, bookstores, art galleries, and a really cool indie movie house. Be sure to pass by expo at around sunset time. The fun begins when the sun goes down.
4. Binondo Church and Chinatown
One of the city’s oldest districts and a chockful of Chinese flavor. It’s dirty, cramped, and enthralling all at once. Start off at the 200 year old Binondo Church, with it’s antique fountains fronting it and their converted pagoda belfry. From there, visit the Po Heng Lumpia Shop in the lobby of the art deco Uy Bin Tin visit Carvajal street, the market street of Chinatown.
5. Chinese Cemetery
Built on land formerly owned by the Dominican order of the Catholic Church, The Manila Chinese Cemetery finds it’s beginnings in the 19th century as a resting place for Chinese who were denied burial in Catholic cemeteries or could not afford to send their remains back to China. But with the onset of communist rule and the closing of China, the Chinese Cemetery has become host to not only those of simple means but also the cognoscenti and elites of the Philippine Chinese community. Apparently, the cemetery itself is the only one of it’s kind in the world. Since it’s tradition to hold vigil by the grave of a relative, elaborate mausoleums (complete with bathrooms and kitchens) were built to ward off the harsh Philippine sun. And not only is the place relevant for it’s socio-political history but for it’s architecture as well. From its plain niches, elaborate art deco and art nouveau structures, to minimalist mid-20th century modernism, the cemetery in itself is a lesson in Philippine architectural history. And aside from the mausoleums, other sites of interest include the Chong Hock Tong Temple – the city’s oldest, Liat See Tong (Martyrs Hall) which honor of the Chinese community leaders who were executed by the Japanese during World War II, and the Carlos Palanca (Tan Quien Sien) Memorial. The Chinese Cemetery is accessible by LRT (get off at the Doroteo Jose stop and walk twenty minutes to the entrance at Felix Huertas) or by cab. For a few hundred pesos, you could hire a guide at their management office to take you around the mausoleums or log onto www.oldmanilawalks.com a couple of weeks ahead to reserve a spot on Ivan Man Dy’s famous monthly tours.
9. Quiapo Church
Truly the heart and soul of the city. Makati and Ortigas Center will show you what the Philippines wants to be but Quiapo will always show you what Manila is all about. It’s a daily fiesta at the Quiapo Church and Plaza Miranda fronting it. Crazy, noisy, colorful, and full of hawkers, fortune tellers, and devout believers of the Catholic faith, it’s a circus from the 14th century with cellphones. Once there, you can visit the Candle vendors and snake oil salesmen at the Herbalist Market on Evangelista Street, check out the shopping options on Carriedo, or root though all the traditional handicrafts on sale underneath the Quezon Bridge (Ilalim ng Tulay). If you are up to it, you could also drop by the Bahay Nakpil Bautista on Barbosa (A. Bautista) Street on the other side of Quezon Boulevard. It’s a beautiful century old bahay na bato done in the Viennese Jugendstijl Art Deco style and a museum to the history of Quiapo and the Katipunan. Come by cab, by the LRT train line (stop at Carriedo), or by Ferry (Pasig River Ferry stop: Quiapo). And onc you are done, be sure to climb up the back of the Quiapo Church (Halik sa Itaas) and touch the foot of the black Nazarene, an ebony image of Jesus on his way to Calvary. It will give you luck and assure that you will find your way back to Quiapo again.
10. Club Mwah and Hobbit House
Drag Queens and Dwarves, a strange but interesting mix and a perfect recipe for a good night out in Manila. Hobbit House, located on Arquiza Street corner MH del Pilar in Ermita, is an institution in Manila’s music scene. Opened in 1977 by an Irishman/JRR Tolkien aficionado named Jim Turner, it was originally located at at the corner of Remedios Street and A. Mabini before moving to their current digs further north. And true to it’s namesake, the place has always been run and managed by little people. But beyond the novelty of being served beer knee-side by the charming liliputian waitstaff, Hobbit House is also home to the city’s best musicians and amazing food. Philippine Folk legend Freddie Aguilar plays there on Mondays. Be sure not to miss that. Meanwhile, halfway across town on Boni Avenue in Mandaluyong, lies the best little drag extravaganza you could find this side of the South China Sea. Part Las Vegas Sideshow, part Broadway musical, and part jeepney, Club Mwah has raised the bar in Manila when it comes to strombotic displays of well, gayness. And despite it’s offbeat location, the place is a rather classy number. With animal prints everywhere, chandeliers, gilded mirrors, and a”psychedelic” dance floor, this diva number definitely not a dive. The show: a mix of showstoppers, power ballads, and torch songs. The crowd: a mix of Manila’s perfumed set, movie stars, expats, tourists, transvestites, and those who love them. Only open from Wednesdays to Saturdays. Log onto Club Mwah site HERE.
Thanks a million Janie for the feature in Inq.net HERE.
And a big shout out to Janine for featuring me in 24/7 (above)
And to Michael Shapiro (above, with us in Intramuros) of Hanahou Magazine for the mention in his article on Hawaiian Airlines inflight magazine (Yes, Hawaiian Airlines now flies to Manila). Read the article HERE. Truth be told, the original pre-edited article Mike sent me was darker, nuanced and well, more interesting. But it's an inflight magazine. What can you do?
And finally, thank you thank you to Miss Sandra Scott of TravelLady magazine for her lovely words about Manila (below) and for sending the nice story (below).