Manila - Sightseeing
Manila is a fashionista’s paradise, where authentic designer and brand-name clothes can be bought at a fraction of Western prices. Air-conditioned shopping malls abound, among them the cruciform Glorietta Mall in the vast Ayala Center, featuring hundreds of mid-priced stores and areas devoted exclusively to electronics and art. Also at Ayala can be found the gloriously traditional Landmark Department Store.
Heading north towards the river, the upmarket shops of the Power Plant Mall rub shoulders with theatres, restaurants, offices and condos, as do those of Greenbelts 1, 2, 3 and 4, where Gucci and other designer stores reside. The Gateway Mall in Cubao conveniently connects the LRT 1 and 2 lines with its chic outlets.
Bordering Quezon City, Pasig and Mandaluyong to the east lies the Ortigas Center, the second-largest commercial nucleus of Manila, with four malls: The Podium, Robinsons Galleria, La Plaza Mall and the enormous SM Megamall.
Formerly an open-air assortment of discount shoe vendors, the Marikina Shoe Expo is a single-decker assemblage of arty shops and galleries teetering between funky and kitsch. Footwear still features among the merchandise, along with books and retro 1950s and 1960s décor.
If keeping costs down is a higher priority than authenticity, Divisoria Market offers a plethora of cheap designer fakes. Ilalim ng Tulay, under Quezon Bridge, is the place to go for touristy souvenirs. NeoComputer.Net is recommended for anyone who finds themself in need of computing services, including printing and disk-burning.
For artifacts lovingly crafted by hand, try Balkibayan Handicrafts, with its glazed coconut dishes and decorative balls. If you want to support local artists, go to M H del Pilar Street in Ermita, where you may find a gem amid the proliferation of puppy portraits and city sunsets.
Everything from antiques to CDs can be found on the stalls at Greenhills Shopping Center. For a traditional street market experience, meander around the apothecary and amulet stalls in the Quiapo Church area, but be aware that claims regarding the panacean powers of various herbal and folk remedies are likely to be exaggerated. Just north of here, along Andalucia Street by the City Jail, the Central Market will rivet anyone interested in military uniforms, knives and hardware.
Whether you’re a culture vulture or prefer to take your ease outdoors, you’ll find plenty to delight you in Manila. Green open spaces, views across the bay, heritage, sport and quirky curiosities – this capital has them in abundance.
If you like open-air theatre, bayside restaurants, planetariums and tai chi, Rizal Park (aka Luneta) is the place to go. You can stroll through 60 hectares of woods and lawns, admiring the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, the tropical Orchidarium and various memorials to Filipino heroes. Chief among these is the Rizal Monument, containing the remains of Filipino freedom-fighter Dr José Rizal, after whom the park is named.
San Sebastian Church
For curiosity value, it’s hard to beat this unusual church at the top of Hidalgo Street. A fusion of medieval splendour and modern practicality, its Gothic spires are constructed from prefabricated steel to the design of Gustav Eiffel (of Parisian tower fame), whose remit was to create a building capable of withstanding fires and earthquakes. The only all-steel church in Asia, its interior is bathed in coloured light streaming through the stained-glass windows.
Built at a cost of US$37 million to showcase the nation’s raw materials and crafts, Imelda Marcos’s octagonal Coconut Place was sadly boycotted on a papal visit when the Pontiff declared it too ostentatious. Worth a visit to witness the versatility of the humble coconut and admire the butterfly garden.
Intramuros (Spanish for ‘within the walls’) was the old walled Spanish settlement and remains the historic heart of Manila. Encircled by nearly 5km of massive stone walls, it contains a wealth of fascinating ruins, museums and buildings. These include Manila Cathedral and San Agustin, the oldest church in the Philippines, which miraculously survived the devastating bombing that flattened Intramuros at the end of World War Two. The open-air Memore Manila shows before-and-after photos of the Battle for Manila, which saw 150,000 Filipinos killed in the Japanese-American crossfire.
Manila Ocean Park
Opened in 2008, this state-of-the-art marine wildlife centre offers visitors the opportunity to walk through a 25-metre underwater acrylic tunnel. With 8,000 sq metres of oceanarium, its aquatic inhabitants have plenty of room to display their glories.
Plaza San Luis
The full glories of Filipino-Hispanic architecture can be experienced in Plaza San Luis commercial complex, where five houses – Casa Manila, Casa Urdaneta, Casa Blanca, Los Hidalgos and El Hogar Filipino – stand sentinel. Casa Manila houses a museum.
Binondo is one of the world’s largest Chinatowns, an Aladdin’s cave of ingenious Chinese curios and appetising cuisine. A ten-minute walk along the full length of its main thoroughfare, Ongpin Street, provides a good flavour of the area’s diversity. Favoured by Americans, Chinatown was badly bombed during World War Two, but the sixteenth-century octagonal bell-tower of Bindondo Church still stands at the northern end of Paredes Street.
Filipinos are passionate about their basketball, and the Astrodome is a regular venue for professional league games. Fixtures can be checked at both Cuneta Astrodome and Araneta Coliseum.