With all her splendor and history, if you have never explored Manila before, you might have a hard time exploring her now, right? Good point. But it took me, what, less than 6 months to fall in love with her, all while doing these intentional activities. So yes, I’m going all out on you and giving you 11 ways to appreciate Manila (more) based on my personal experiences.
I will admit, being in a relationship with Jec brought a lot of opportunities for me. Him being a person of connection, I met a lot of people through him. I’m an introvert in nature so it’s obvious that I don’t have a lot of friends or acquaintances. It’s fortunate that we are complete opposites.
Also being a former Heritage Conservation Society Youth advocate (now Heritage Conservation Society), he encouraged me to explore his world and have more appreciation for Manila. He introduced me things, places, and people, and I can never be more grateful. Because of my curiosity, I was able to drag him places and teach me facts and cool trivia about her.
My curiosity led me to do blog posts and, eventually, vlogs. Over the times that I shared my growing love for Manila, friends would come to me and commend me for sharing stuff with them. Some would wish they were as well-versed (as him).
I was never really a huge heritage advocate, although I’ve always loved nature. But getting all this feedback from my friends made me wonder: How are they so interested? Does it mean to say they have never experienced Manila before? So take this one as an appreciation blog post for Manila.
My goal here is simple: for you to appreciate her more. 🙂
1) VISIT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM
You don’t have to be an art connoisseur to do this. Anyone can visit the National Museum. On Jec and I’s second date, he brought me to NM and there I caught myself crying in the Lumad section. Why? Because the Philippines is too darn beautiful to be ignored. She really is. She’s so pure, I don’t understand why people want to sabotage her.
Here’s a piece of good news, National Museum has free admissions now. *throws confetti* It used to have an admission fee, but as they removed it, more people have been coming to the museum. If you’re doing a study on the museum or something that concerns it, you can pull out this “free admission” card anytime and use it to your advantage.
The National Museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays, from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Admission is FREE.
There are loads more museums you can visit, some of which are open to the public on very special occasions like Manila Day.
So far, I’ve already visited National Museum of the Philippines (where you will find Juan Luna’s Spoliarium), National Planetarium, *National Museum of Anthropology (formerly known as Museum of the Filipino People), Calvo Museum, and Destileria Limtuaco Museum (a must-see for wine lovers!), and Rizal Museum to name a few.
As of this writing, the National Museum of Natural History is still in the works. Articles say it should be opened in mid-2017. Let’s see how that goes.
* I’m about to work on a blog content re: Destileria Limtuaco Museum. Wish me luck!
2) WALK THE STRETCH OF ROXAS BOULEVARD AND WATCH THE SUN SET
This is one of my favorite things to do when I have the time. And I also believe it’s one of the most underrated yet simplest things you can do to appreciate Manila more. It’s simple, although it’s not necessarily easy, what with Manila’s heat.
Jec and I both appreciate sunsets (that’s our major similarity). In fact, it’s one of the things we did on our first date. Call it cheesy but my idea of a perfect date is to have a nice meal, talk, and watch the sunset. He delivered all that on our first date. If you want more cheese, you can read more about it here.
If you’re a walker, you’ll enjoy this activity. If you want more challenge, go ahead and walk to Paseo Palisoc Circle, a treasure trove Jec introduced me, too. Just let go of your worries, enjoy the moment, and bask in her glory. It doesn’t take long before you fall in love with nature (again).
Bring water, face towel, your handy camera, and lots of patience. Be sure to look up the weather for the day before going. You don’t want to be welcomed by gloomy skies when you get there! Take lots of photos while you’re at it. If you feel you haven’t spent enough time yet it’s already dark, don’t worry, she’s always there waiting for you. 🙂
3) FEAST ON MANILA’S STREET FOOD
This is something I don’t need to force you with. I’m sure you would volunteer on a whim. LOL. Street food, street food everywhere! Whether you just got off the train or are waiting for a jeepney, there should be a street food vendor near you.
I’m talking about the favorite of the masses: taho, isaw (chicken or pig intestine), chicharong bulaklak (deep-fried ruffled fat), betamax (salted solidified pork or chicken blood), fishballs, dirty ice cream (ice cream sold in the streets), gulaman (gelatin drink), balot (duck embryo) – the works!
Since we’re at it already, here are my top picks: isaw baboy, tenga, chicharong bulaklak, and dirty ice cream in bread. It’s my Kryptonite, to be honest.
Foodcrawls are trending right now (and I don’t see it being laos anytime soon because, really, who doesn’t like food). You can do your own food trip with your friends and taste the various cuisines Manila has to offer. Take your pick: Is it going to be Binondo, Ermita, Adriatico, or all of the above?
Here are some dishes I personally enjoyed:
– Ying Ying’s Radish Cake (PHP 70.00)
– Ying Ying’s Lechon Kawali Asado Rice (PHP 130.00)
– Erra’s Ramen (PHP 70-100)
4) JOIN HERITAGE TOURS
Familiar with Carlos Celdran? Then you already know what I’m talking about. If you just “like” the right Facebook pages, you would be overwhelmed with the number of heritage tours you can attend in a year. You can’t know all of Manila’s heritage and history in one sitting, but you can exert conscious effort every now and then.
The secret here is consistency and exposure. Strive to learn something new when you get the opportunity. If you don’t have the time to sit down and do Google searches for hours, you might as well take the day off and join heritage tours. Anyway, it’s much more fascinating to see things before your eyes and not just in front of the screen.
Here are some suggestions:
If you want to take it further, join groups that will help you explore Manila and her history with the help of credible and knowledgeable members. Here’s a good start:
5) LEARN THE HISTORY OF OLD MANILA
Boring, you might think. I once was there, too. I thought the same thing. I was never good at history when I was still studying. What made me think I would be any better now? But I was wrong. As I became more fascinated with Manila’s present state, the more I wanted to know what it was before.
So that’s what I did.
Little by little, I tried to gain knowledge about her by sticking with fellow Manila lovers, by bombarding Jec with a ton of questions, and, sometimes, by doing the research myself.
It’s especially fascinating to learn about Old Manila… back when it was literally old but now seemingly forgotten. I’ll give you some exciting facts right now.
Did you know that back in the day, Jones Bridge was a beauty? You know, that bridge you cross from Intramuros to Binondo? Back then, it had 4 majestic statues as its pillars. The La Madre Filipina. Then it was badly damaged during WWII. It was reconstructed in 1945 but never retained its majestic design. Right now, one of those statues can be found in Rizal Park. Try to look around and find it.
Here’s another one: Back when it was still up and functional, Manila Grand Opera House was a venue for various cultural events that helped shape the history of Philippine theater. It was damaged by fire in 1943. A movie theater then, a hotel and casino complex today.
There are loads more you can learn by doing quick Google searches. But I’ll save them for you to find out. 😉
Hint: I want you to do it yourself.
6) TAKE PICTURES OF THE OLD BUILDINGS
Following #5, you can also take pictures of the old buildings in Manila while you’re at it. This would be particularly fascinating for you if you’re a) a history geek, b) an arts degree holder, c) an architecture student/architect, d) a random person venturing Manila.
It’s easy to pass by these buildings if you don’t know their history. But because I encourage you to explore Manila, I’m going to point out some interesting buildings you might enjoy:
- El Hogar: a building born out of a love story
- Capitol Theater: a used-to-be first-class theater for the Alta Sociedad
- Calvo Building: what was once one of the stops in Manila’s tramway system
- First United Building: once one of the busiest establishments along Escolta, Manila
- Regina Building: the famous “white building” in Escolta
- Ides O’Racca: a pre-war building in San Nicolas that was saved from being demolished
Unleash your inner photographer and post your pictures online for everyone to see. Tag notable accounts that focus on heritage and Manila. Use common and unique hashtags to further your exposure!
7) GO ON A NIGHT TOUR INSIDE FORT SANTIAGO
In case you’re not yet aware, you can already take a tour at Fort Santiago at night! You can stay there as late as 9 pm although dungeons can only be entered until 6 am as it tends to be too dark in there. The same rates apply, PHP 50 for children and PHP 75 for adults.
If you haven’t been there before or it’s been a long time for you, here’s a heads up: Fort Santiago has been remodeled recently, so now there are no more stone statues on the sides. Instead of a garden-like park, you’ll find the facade of Fort Santiago cemented and completely flat, complete with a huge water fountain at the center and a few benches on the sides. As usual, there are also the shops on the sideline selling local goods and souvenir items.
Here’s a tip: When you take a night tour in Fort Santiago, stand beside the fountain and turn around to face the Manila Cathedral. It lights up at night and shows this really beautiful view.
8) ATTEND WORKSHOPS BY HERITAGE GROUPS
Heritage groups in Manila often hold workshops together with special tours during street events. They usually hold these workshops outdoors so you would also be able to appreciate your surroundings and really take in how Manila looks. If not outdoors, they do them inside old buildings to really get a feel of the place.
During the last Escolta Block Party I attended, they held a lot of different workshops inside First United Building itself.
Some held workshops about coffee, some about the history of the place, and some about subjects that are irrelevant but still interesting like.. cats.
9) STROLL IN RIZAL PARK
This should be the most basic thing you can do in Manila. Even on weekdays, there are people going to Rizal Park just because. You’d mostly see cleaners and vendors but there are also foreigners here and there. I didn’t know there was a map of the Philippines at the farther end of the park. It was fascinating to see actually. At night, all the lights turn on and it’s just the most calming scene you’ll see alongside kids playing, families bonding, and photographers roaming around.
During the day, feel free to take pictures of Rizal’s monument. Just make sure to find a good angle so the Philippine Cultural Photobomber (ehem, Torre De Manila, ehem) won’t get in the picture, okay?
10) JOIN STREET PARTIES
I’m not a party person, but when I attended my first ever Escolta Block Party, I went home ecstatic! Well, okay, I was tired and stinky majority of the time, but it was a blast just seeing even all those high-ranking individuals dancing in the street. You’ll see entrepreneurs, artists, performers, and all kinds of various people chugging down beer and dancing on the dance floor. Okay, fine, on the road.
But overall, you’ll feel nothing but really good, energetic vibes. It’s the only street party I know that goes from 12 am to 12 mn. But actually, you can go earlier to look at goods if local products are your thing. Every few months that the Escolta Block Party is held, local entrepreneurs set up their booths and sell their local, often handmade goods in the streets. Come evening, the street party begins. There’s also the MMDA Band that plays different renditions for the party-goers. This is around 3 pm or so. This one’s truly a must-see! They’re all so talented and they typically play trending songs at the moment, so it’s really fun to watch.
Related: Escolta Fashion: Hipsters
11) VISIT ANCESTRAL HOMES
When I had my first Traslacion experience, it was also Quiapo Day, so ancestral homes opened their homes and accommodated guests inside. Apparently, it was a special day because these ancestral homes are not open to the public on any other day. I, together with Jec and the rest of his co-members and friends at the heritage conservation society, got to enter 4 ancestral homes: Bahay Nakpil-Bautista, Burke Apartment, Padilla House, Itturalde Ancestral Home/Casa Consulado. It was majestic to see all those heritage houses still up and running.
You might find the staircase familiar. It’s because I actually drew that one before!
You can view more photos of these ancestral homes here: My First Traslacion Experience |#Traslacion2017
12) ATTEND A FEAST
Lastly, attend a Manila Feast. It being the major one and most looked forward to (by devotees), Jec and I witnessed this year’s Traslacion, and it was the most mind-blowing event I ever saw in my life.
I’ll save the juicy bits for your reading. Here’s a blow-by-blow account of what happened that day: Traslacion 2017: The Beginning. The gist: We were out for 18+ hours, met heritage experts, visited 4 ancestral homes, took lots of photos, and walked amidst the sweaty devotees.
If you know someone from the inside, take advantage. We got a really good view from the National Museum’s balcony so we were able to take good photos and videos without having to be crushed in the crowd. We were alongside media personnel and professional photographers so it really felt like a privilege on my part especially since I was seeing it all happen before my eyes for the very first time.
This is something I can tell you, it’s far different from what you see on TV. As in, far different. It’s more majestic, more real, more personal. I was also lucky to have borrowed my brother’s 50mm lens so I was able to shoot photos of even really far subjects.
A lengthy list, I know. But those are the things I actually did which made me fall in love with Manila. I was one of those people who didn’t even know where National Museum is before, but now I can’t stop talking about Manila!
So if you’re willing, give a few of these actionable steps a try. And let me know how they worked (or not) for you!
What are the things you’ve done so far to show your appreciation for Manila?
Comment down below!