- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Visit Manila, Philippines
A curious cocktail of Asia, Europe and America, the capital of the Philippines is fast-paced and frenetic, but far from boring. This is a city where sophistication and spirituality go hand in hand with seediness and consumerism, against a constant backdrop of karaoke and traffic noise.
Metro Manila is difficult to pigeonhole. The Filipino capital is actually a confederation of 17 different cities and municipalities, stretching for miles beside Manila Bay and linked by a bewildering network of train, bus and jeepney routes.
First impressions of this mad metropolis can be daunting. Looming concrete flyovers, snarling bumper-to-bumper traffic, deafening music blasting out of windows and doorways, stifling heat and choking pollution, and extreme wealth juxtaposed with desperate poverty.
Manila is not the easiest place to explore, not least because of the road congestion, but a ride on one of the city’s outrageously decorated jeepneys is a tourist attraction all by itself. And if it all gets too much, buses, flights and ferries connect Manila to every corner of the Philippines.
Things to see in Manila
Ayala Museum is known for its dioramas (3D miniatures) depicting vital points in Philippine history. Ayala’s stock has recently risen with the 4th-floor instillation of several permanent and spectacular exhibitions. The most magnificent is Gold of Ancestors – a glittering assemblage of golden pre-colonial artefacts and treasures, particularly intricately engraved jewellery fashioned by indigenous island tribes. Elsewhere, Embroidered Multiples displays 18th to 19th-century Philippine costumes.
Located around Binondo District, Manila’s Chinatown is a mazy district packed with the city’s Tsinoy heritage and cuisine. The Spanish colonial Governor first donated Binondo’s land to a growing influx of Chinese migrants in 1594. Besides hundreds of crowded food stands and fresh wet markets, the blackened Santa Cruz Church dates back to 1608. Key streets include Ongpin and Escolta.
One of the oldest and most dramatic colonial buildings in the Philippines, Fort Santiago was built to guard the entrance to the Pasig River around 1571. Its most famous prisoner was the national hero, José Rizal, who spent his last days at this site before his execution by the Spanish in 1896. Perhaps the height of architectural grandeur is the 1589 gate decorated by motifs of St James, the Slayer of Moors. The Japanese used Fort Santiago as their final redoubt against American forces and the fort was correspondingly damaged.
This superb aquarium is the must-see attraction of the new Manila Ocean Park’s mall. Visitors are taken on a journey through a range of fishy habitats from freshwater tanks to oceanic exhibits featuring rays, sharks and iridescent reef fish. Don’t miss the 25m (82ft) underwater tunnel or the illuminated exhibition of ‘dancing’ jellyfish.
San Agustin Church and Museum
Stunning baroque church dating from 1587 making this one of the oldest in the Philippines. It miraculously survived the wartime devastation and is now the standout highlight of Intramuros in Manila. Trompe l’oeil murals decorate its interior and a small museum in an attached monastery contains some exquisite ecclesiastical artefacts such as altarpieces and screens. Don’t miss Father Blanco’s garden.