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Manila is the capital of the Philippines and the nation's center of education, business, and transportation. Metro Manila is the most populous metropolitan region composing the city of Manila and surrounding cities like Makati, Mandaluyong, Muntinlupa, Parañaque, Pasay, Pasig, Quezon City and Taguig.
Manila has a reputation as a congested, polluted concrete jungle, and is often overlooked as a mere stopover for travellers aiming to reach other Philippine provinces or islands.
Manila is distributed into 16 territorial districts, which are all original towns except one, the Port Area District. Each district is distinguished through its history, culture and cuisine.
The eight districts of the City of Manila (not to be confused with Metro Manila) north of the Pasig River are:
Tondo The densest, poorest, dangerous, and undeveloped part of Manila
Binondo The world's oldest Chinatown thriving before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1571 and the city's original center for business, finance, and wholesale, as well as retail trade ranging from jewelry to aromatic essences. It's famous for its authentic Chinese, mostly Hong Kong cuisine and quaint interesting Chinese shop-houses. Its church is a fascinating fusion of Spanish Baroque & Chinese styles as shown in its pagoda bell tower.
San Nicolás shares Divisoria Market (see Tondo) with other co-district is the hub for the adventurous shoppers that may venture for cheap and wholesale bargains.
Santa Cruz is on the edge of Chinatown, which is the district of usual frenzied mix of commercial and residential premises.
Quiapo — Home to Plaza Miranda, Manila's original answer to Trafalgar Square, and most especially to the Black Nazarene.
Sampaloc — the word for tamarind, this University Belt district, an easily identifiable nerve center of the country's major institutions of learning and a hotbed of diploma mills.
San Miguel — still part of the University Belt hosting some spillover colleges and universities outside of Sampaloc district, it’s where the Malacañán Palace is located, the official executive seat and residence of the sitting Philippine President as well as museum.
Santa Mesa — from the Spanish term holy table, this working class district is not so holy anymore as it hosts most of the city's short time love hotels and motels; marks the first shot of the Filipino-American War.
Port Area — the country's chief seaport consisting of North and South Ports, where wharehouses are arrayed elbow to elbow along docking and refueling stations for all ships, ferries, and cruise liners, and where one can witness the dramatic sunset of Manila Bay.
The Philippines has only six official entry points by sea, and all are all the way down south. (Namely Bongao and Turtle Islands in Tawi Tawi, Taganac and Balabac in Palawan, and Batunganding and Tibanban, Davao del Sur. These serve sea voyages from Malaysia or Indonesia, its only close neighbors.)
The most reasonable and practical way to reach Manila is by air.
Ninoy Aquino International Airport
The Philippines´ primary international airport and generally regarded as the worst airport in Asia, especially for transferring passengers. Terminals 1, 2, 3, 4, are not internally-connected, and require an actual drive through the crowded city streets in taxis or jeepneys. Allow lots of time for connection. Better yet, book your flights on 1 reservation so you are "protected" with continuity.
Terminal 1 is used for most international flights. It is in poor condition.
Terminal 2 is used exclusively by Philippine Airlines.
Terminal 3 is used by domestic carriers like Cebu Pacific and now includes several international airlines.
Terminal 4 is used by budget carriers like Cebu Pacific and AirAsia, and includes several international airlines.
The terminal fee for domestic flights originating from Manila is now included into the ticket price, and is not charged at the airport anymore. The PHP500 terminal fee for international departures is now also included in the ticket price.
There are buses outside the arrival area heading to downtown Makati City and Quezón City via EDSA or Efipanio de Los Santos Ave.
Manila is the hub of the Philippine ferry network, and ferries to most major cities will stop at the Manila South Harbor, the city's main passenger seaport. Several companies operate ferries to Manila from points throughout the Philippines, and cruise ships occasionally stop in Manila throughout the year. Around the capital are numerous attractions for people desiring a quick daytrip away from the hustle and bustle of this mega-metropolis.
Although there are more than 170 indigenous languages in daily use, the most widely understood and, alongside English, one of two official languages, the language of Manila is Filipino and it is commonly spoken in many homes.
English is also widely spoken in Manila as well. English is the language of the government and the preferred choice for formal written communications, be it in school or business.
Spanish used to be the official language of the Philippines and gradually became the language of the old time generations.
Baywalk - South of the Luneta is the renovated Baywalk a linear park adjacent to Manila Bay. Restaurants formerly on the actual baywalk have been moved inwards to allow a clear view of Manila's legendary sunsets.
Bonifacio Shrine - A shrine in honour of Andrés Bonifacio who was one of the Filipinos who struggled and fought for freedom for the country against the Spanish forces.
Chinatown - Manila has one of the largest Chinatowns in the world, where one can find exotic Chinese goods and delicious cuisine. The area, however, is dirty and polluted, plus getting there can be a hassle given heavy traffic.
Coconut Palace - a residence commissioned and built along the waterfront by First Lady Imelda Marcos for Pope John Paul II's visit in 1981.
Intramuros - At the northern end of the Bay lies the remnants of the old walled Spanish settlement of Manila, Intramuros (Spanish for 'within the walls'). Intramuros contains some of the city's most interesting museums, ruins, and churches including the Manila Cathedral, the most important church in the country.
Mabini Shrine - Apolinario Mabini's former home. Mabini was a Lawyer and fought for Philippine Independence. During the American Occupation, this home became the first intellectual headquarters of the First Philippine Republic.
Malacañán Palace - Manila is the host of the official residence of the president of the Philippines. While heading your way here, you will see wonderful places. People can roam the garden afterwards.
Manila Hotel - Just outside Intramuros and on the edge of Manila Bay is the beautiful and historic Manila Hotel, a legacy of the American colonial era and the place where General Douglas MacArthur made his home before World War II.
Plaza San Luis - A commercial complex consisting five house; Casa Manila, Casa Urdaneta, Casa Blanca, Los Hidalgos and El Hogar Filipino. Plaza San Luis showcases Filipino-Hispanic Architecture. Other than Souvenir shops there is a museum in Casa Manila.
Manila Metropolitan Theater - The Manila Metropolitan Theatre or MET is an art deco building designed by the Filipino architect Juan M. de Guzman Arellano, and inaugurated on 10 December 1931, with a capacity of 1670. The theatre is located on Padre Burgos Avenue, near the Manila Central Post Office. Renovated under the auspices of Imelda Marcos, it now falls back under the management of neglect and decadence.
Manila Central Post Office - Designed by Filipino architect Juan Marcos de Guzman Arellano, located in a very prominent visual and commanding spot of the first Civic Centre in Manila and could have been perfect location for a Senate building, the Post Office building was built in neoclassical architecture in 1926.
Nature and Wildlife
Manila Ocean Park is a much better maintained marine wildlife facility which was recently opened in 2008 and is located behind the Quirino Grandstand at Rizal Park.
Arroceros Forest Park Situated in the heart of downtown Manila, Arroceros Forest Park is a 2.2-hectare piece of land behind the old art deco Metropolitan Theatre. Arroceros got its name, which means “rice dealers,” from the rice trade along the Pasig riverbank during the early colonial period.
Spanish Colonial Churches
Baroque colonial churches where once proud showcases of the past especially before World War II but the wanton destruction of the Japanese and the equally guilty American soldiers during the Battle of Manila in 1945 dissolved all that except for a handful remaining. Lack of maintenance, vandalism, theft, and no proper awareness, guidance, or education by administering priests and architects who undertook renovation blunders (multiplied more incidents in the provinces) complicated the already pathetic state of remaining churches.
San Agustín Church
Santa Ana Church
Santa Cruz Church
San Nicolás Church
Basilica of San Sebastián - The only all steel church of the Asia, the Spanish were tired of building the church over and over again after fires and earthquakes, they finally decided to build the cathedral in solid steel. The materials were ordered from Europe while the architect is Gustav Eiffel; the architect of the Eiffel tower in France. Its Gothic architecture might make you think you're somewhere in the middle of Europe.
Beyond the City of Manila
Parish Church of St. Joseph - See the Las Piñas Bamboo organ here.
St. Peter & Paul Church of Makati
Guadalupe Nuevo Church
San Felipe Neri Church of Mandaluyong
Santuario de Santo Cristo Church of San Juan
San Bartolomé Church of Malabón
What to do
Intramuros Tour - visit the Walled City starting from Fort Santiago. Inside is the Rizal Shrine, honoring the country's National Hero, Jose Rizal - polymath, doctor, engineer, scientist, artist, linguist, propagandist, and most of all, an avid traveler who was incarcerated in exactly that same cell before he was executed, now transformed into his shrine.
Rizal Park Tour - Designed by Daniel Burnham, this park is the Philippines' answer to Paris' Jardin des Tuileries or Washington Mall. Gaze at Rizal Monument, a must stopping point for Heads of State visits, the Japanese & Chinese Gardens, the National Museum, the Planetarium, the Ocean Park, the Museo Pambata, as well as the Quirino Grandstand, the oath-taking stand for Presidential inaugurations.
Downtown Manila Tour - This self-guided tour starts at Bahay Nakpil on Bautista St. in Quiapo, on a turn-of-the-century house, then to Plaza Miranda, now teeming with vendors of religious and herbal merchandizes.
Malate & Ermita Tour - Cover this area starting from Plaza Rajah Sulayman and Malate Church, a quiant baroque church, then meander in any direction along Adriatico, Mabini, Del Pilar Sts., and Roxas Blvd. Make sure to stop at San Andres Market.
Electric Chariots Tour of Intramuros - tour in style, meaning in segway rented from White Knight Hotel, Intramuros.
Fiestas & Festivals
New Year Welcoming Festival, not a recommended place to be where Manila is converted into a war zone with unbearable noise, blanket haze, and stray bullets fired from unknown sources.
Chinese New Year Welcoming Festival, Chinatown, Binondo District
Oblation Run, University of the Philippines Campus, Diliman District, Quezon City not in Manila although it may have its own version.
Feast of the Black Nazarene and Caroza Parade, Quiapo District, Manila, January 9
Fiesta del Santo Niño, Tondo District, Manila, 3rd Sunday of January
EDSA People's Power Revolution Comemmoration, not in the City of Manila
Manila Summer Sea Sports Festival, March along Roxas Boulevard
Holy Week or Semana Santa, Catholic Churches throughout Metropolitan Manila
Santacruzan Festival, the famous one hosted by Manila Hotel
Flores de Mayo
Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, not in the City of Manila
Philippine Independence Day Celebration at the Luneta
La Naval Fluvial Parade at the Pasig River
All Souls & Saints Day Celebration, Cemeteries throughout Metropolitan Manila
Marián Festival in Intramuros
Misa De Gallo held in all churches.
Christmas Day held in all Christian homes
Metro Manila Film Festival along Roxas Boulevard
Pageant of the Three Kings held in all churches
Bota De Flores, Ermita District, Manila