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Manila (December 2015) - 1st in an intermittent series on places we visit in SE Asia

Hi all, Kerry and I are just back in Bangkok after a week in Manila, capital city of the Philippines. Kerry was visiting the office, and I played the tourist (as I hope to do to all the countries in her jurisdiction at some point during our tenure here (Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam at al, you’ve been warned)).

The people we interacted with – primarily the hotel staff and shop/tourist site people – were all very helpful, and English was frequently spoken, usually with an American accent. America annexed the country in the 1800s during the colonial era, after Filipinos expelled the Spanish after 300 years of Spanish rule. The country is very Catholic and apparently Christmas shopping/decorations in the shops kicks off in September. That’s a third of the year spent listening to Silent Night and Jingle Bells

In terms of tourism there wasn’t a whole lot to do – Lonely Planet’s top tips for the Philippines are all out of Manila, where there is lovely beach/bush/snorkeling etc. In the city itself, the top tourist spot is the Intramuros, the old Spanish fortress at the heart of the river docks, which is now a nice rustic shopping and residential zone full of traditional architecture. Close by is Fort Santiago, a Spanish fort/prison which houses a shrine/museum to its most famous prisoner, J P Rizal, artist, writer and advocate for Filipino freedom, and all-round Renaissance Man: he was executed by the Spanish authorities in 1896 on (tenuous) suspicion of inciting rebellion – in fact it was his execution which did most to trigger that insurrection and bring about Spain’s losing of the colony. There's a lesson in there about creating martyrs...

Elsewhere in Intramuros is the San Augustin (Augustinian) Church built in 1607 and Manila Cathedral founded in 1571; only problem is that doing the tourist thing insides the churches is curtailed during masses and even though I was there on a Tuesday, there were masses going all the time. So no photos. Impressive structures though, and they survived the bombing/artillery that devastated much of Manila in 1945.  After Warsaw, Manila was the most devastated city of WW2, according to Wikipedia (who possibly aren’t counting the atom bomb sites). The Churches of course claim their survival as miracles, but they were (1) the best built edifices in the city, and (2) the artillery men weren’t trying to hit them.

The other place I enjoyed was the Ayala Museum, which had a top floor dedicated to gold artefacts from pre-Spanish times, and also included a (History Channel-sourced) documentary on the origins, tribulations and eventual decline of the Gold Standard in coinage – genuinely fascinating.

Outside those there are a few nice malls, and I did intend to get to Chinatown; but unfortunately I picked up some traveller’s bugs that kept me close to home base for the latter couple of days. We did enjoy socializing with the other Kiwis at the embassy. There was a small pub/club area close to our hotel – very coy and low-key compared to Bangkok, but the food and drink was passable and well-priced, and the company was good! Unlike Bangkok where empty tables in a bar often come with their own single female, in Manila unaccompanied females are warned away. There are still plenty of Euro-Filipino couples in the bars though, which the usual age differences one sees in these parts.

Overall I found Manila a little ordinary compared to the other big South East Asia metropolises, but worth 2-3 days for tourists (with apologies to those who know it better than I and love it: feel free to get in touch if you've got tips for places I missed).


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