13th-14th February, 2015
Manila has a bad reputation among the capitals of South East Asia: crime levels are high, it is surrounded by shanty towns, the streets are dirty, the traffic is almost constantly congested, the air quality is poor, and some say it gives even Bangkok a run for its money for seediness.
It is the sort of place which I usually avoid, but I was going to have to pass through there on my way to the Ifugao Rice Terraces from Donsol anyway, and making that journey all in one go would have meant spending a full 24 four hours on buses.
It was Manila’s rich abundance of museums which eventually swayed the decision for me and my three travel companions – Chloe, James and Pedro.
Rizal Park seemed like a good place to begin our cultural experience of Manila. It was just a short walk from our hotel and contained many mini-attractions. After a quick stroll through the central gardens we passed Rizal Monument – where the national hero’s remains are kept under guard by armed sentries.
We then went to the nearby Site of Rizal’s Execution, where a collection of bronze statues recreate and immortalise the moment he was executed by the Spanish colonials:
Even the National Gallery of Art had a room dedicated to exhibiting portraits and sculptures of José Rizal:
And, when we visited Fort Santiago, we discovered it was the location where Rizal was imprisoned before he was executed and, thus, part of it had been converted into a shrine and museum about his life and works – of which, we were given a complimentary guided tour.
By the end of our first afternoon in Manila, we were feeling like we had learned quite a lot about the national hero of the Philippines, and he sounded like a very admirable man. There was much more to Manila than José Rizal, though. Such as the National Museum of the Filipino People which, through its four floors, houses various displays on natural history, indigenous tribes, sculpture, art, and had a large collection of artefacts excavated from the wreckage of the San Diego; a Spanish ship with sank offshore in the 16th century.
Casa Manila – a reconstruction of a Spanish colonial house, filled with many original antiques – was also a refreshing break from Manila’s noisy downtown, and it was near to the Cathedral and San Agustin Church, both of which were worth the time they took to have a quick browse.
By the end of my two days spent wandering around its sights, although I still couldn’t call myself a fan of Manila, I did start to appreciate that it had some interesting and pleasant sights to see if you can bear passing through its more unsightly spots to reach them.
To finish off our time there James, Chloe, Pedro, and myself had a wander around Manila’s vibrant Chinatown, where we stocked up on lots of tea and even found a decent vegetarian restaurant, before we catch a taxi to the bus station to catch a sleeper heading north.
More photos from Manila can be found on my Flickr page.