Secrets From Old Manila
The roads are narrow, two- or three -lane affairs where traffic is bad all day, all year round (but most especially during Christmas and before classes start in June).
The air is laden with vehicle exhaust and smoke from various street food vendors and local eateries along the streets. Of course, let’s not forget the ever-present grime and dirt that covers every building, house and vehicle in the area.
But don’t let me put you off….
Not So Ugly After All
Old Manila may have its bad attributes, but it certainly has its own peculiar charms as well.
This is where you can find the harmonious blending of Chinese, Spanish and Filipino cultures—every corner seems to speak of the past, to reveal the glory days of when the area was still the cultural, religious, political and commercial hub of the country.
Churches, museums, universities, schools, ancestral homes, shopping malls, government offices, places of worship and parks are all found in this small but very important area.
The modern times have caught up with Manila and transformed it into a place where tall buildings and criss-crossing train lines have become part of the cityscape. However, some places have retained their colonial character, their history and their quaintness.
If you’re brave enough to want to experience the simple beauty of the old quarter, block off an entire day for your walking tour of the old Manila. A few hours are not enough to see every curiosity and sight that the place has to offer.
Take Me Down To Old Manila
Old Manila (or simply Maynila) is a city separate from what is called Metro Manila or the National Capital Region, a group of 17 cities that collectively form the country’s political and business capital.
It is usually best not to bring a car lest you get stuck in the downtown traffic. A safe parking space is also hard to come by.
Moreover, most of the places you want to go to can be reached on foot or on a padyak (bicycle with attached sidecar, some which are motorized) or on a horse-drawn kalesa.
Yes, horse-drawn carriages are still used as a mode of transportation in this part of the metro, which tells you that certain things have not changed at all despite the passage of many, many years.
Be sure to wear comfortable clothes and shoes for the long walk. Take a bag that you can keep close to your body all the time. Old Manila is notorious for pickpockets and snatchers so you have to be alert even as you snap photos of the amazing sights you see.
First Tourist Stop
One of the most popular stops for local and foreign tourists alike in old Manila are the old churches that are spread throughout the area.
Quaipo Church, San Sebastian Church and the Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz in Chinatown are just three of the most frequently-visited places of worship that you can include in your itinerary.
Across the Pasig River, in the walled fort of Intramuros, you will also find the grandiose Manila Cathedral and the San Agustin Church.
There are also a couple of Buddhist temples and Muslim mosques in the area, although they are generally not as popular with the tourist crowd. Some are not open to the public altogether.
Weekends are usually the best time for a visit so that you won’t have to navigate the streets along with hundreds of students that study in the so-called University Belt, where at least five different universities make their home.
The Quaipo Church is possibly one of the most well-known and well-loved churches in the entire Philippines. It houses the Black Nazarene, so named because it was the only thing that was saved from the rubble of the church when it was bombed during World War II.
Every January 9, thousands of penitents from all over the country flock to Quaipo for the procession of the life-sized Black Nazarene that winds its way through some of the more historical streets in the area.
Devotees fight and push their way to earn a spot on long rope that draws the carriage upon which the Black Nazarene sits. Certainly a sight to see on your visit to Manila, even for the non-religious traveler.
Next we take you to Chinatown in Old Manila.