Manila, Manila.

I have an odd relationship with the City of Manila. As a child, I viewed it as a big, scary yet fascinating world, so different from my quiet space of Quezon City.

My earliest memory of Manila was that of me, my mother, my grandparents and probably some titas taking a trip via the LRT. I recall screaming bloody murder when we were getting on the train. For some reason, it scared me. Yet once the train started to move, I was fascinated and I was excited to take my next trip.

Over the years, I’d see Manila through the window of the car whenever we visit my grandparents at their home in San Andres.

I lived in Manila for nearly five years, in that same house. In that time, I’ve learned how to commute around Manila. I still felt scared of it sometimes, but I felt more fascinated with it. Manila was a friend that I unwittingly grew fond of, and despite our many disagreements, had many a good time together.

About a week ago, my cousin Miel sent a message on Facebook saying “Let’s organize a Binondo trip!” We had always planned to do this, more so when Miel’s mom, Tita Ruth, went on the Binondo walk with Ivan Dy. Finally, with no concrete plan other than to go to Binondo, my family (composed of my brother Nunik, my cousin Miel and her brother Lee, my titos Rodel and Ruben, and my tita Rose) went.

History Lesson
Our first stop was the Museum of the Filipino People, formerly the Finance building at the Agrifina Circle of Rizal Park. As it was a Sunday, we didn’t expect much people. While we were ready to shell out the entrance fee (P70 for the MFP, P100 for the National Museum and P150 for the pass to both), we were informed that it was free on Sundays. That was good news, which meant more for our budget towards lunch.

We went around the first and second floors. Though there was a guide at the entrance, we just sort of walked around. There were plenty of hallways and stairways you can get lost in. Taking photographs is not allowed, although there were some people who just can’t seem to follow instructions.

The first floor had an exhibit of pre-colonial artifacts, as well as an exhibit by artist Rachy Cuna titled “Dream Cuna” (on show til March 28). A storeroom filled with various pieces is not open to public, but you can view it through the glass doors and windows.

The second floor had several galleries of the treasures of the San Diego Galleon. Here you will find exhibits of porcelain plates, jars, jewelry, cutlery, even remains of their food (hazelnuts anyone?). Many of these artifacts are in excellent condition.

Hunger pangs overtook us (none had breakfast), so we skipped the rest of the floors to eat. I was looking forward to seeing the Telling Modern Time: The Life and Art of Botong Francisco Coching, but I’m not really sure if it’s still there or it was just a poster they haven’t removed.

We high-tailed it to Binondo, and to President’s Tea House.

The oldest Chinatown in the world
Established sometime during the 15th century, Manila’s Chinatown is said to be the oldest in the world, already thriving long before the Spanish arrived at the Philippine shores. During the American occupation, Binondo became the center of commerce, with Escolta being the main starting ground of many banks, department stores and restaurants.

The President Restaurant is a popular eating place in Binondo. Located along Ongpin St., it’s hard not to miss this building with an imposing gold and red design (recently renovated). Often, it’ll be crowded and much luck to you if you arrive around lunch. It is named as such because past presidents of the Philippines have dined there.

The President’s Tea House is a smaller and cheaper (they say) alternative. It’s located just a few steps from President Restaurant, across a pay parking lot. our table was on the second floor, as there were seven of us and it was the only place that was big enough to accomodate us.

We ordered yang chow fried rice, soy chicken and mixed vegetables. The large order is good for six to eight people, but that would depend on your appetites. As we were planning to go around and taste other food, it was enough for us.

We walked around Ongpin. Tito Del immediately took us to Dong Bei. It’s a small restaurant just a little off Ongpin. It’s famous for it’s freshly made dumplings and handmade noodles (known as “handiwork noodles”). We had two orders of the mixed dumplings, one of the shrimp, and two orders of shao long pao. The last one is really interesting to eat, as it’s a dumpling with soup inside. You bite a piece of the wrapper off, then sip the soup. Careful, it’s really hot.

After Dong Bei, we walked further along Ongpin. Somehow, our plans didn’t push through as we didn’t really get to eat any other food. We passed by Eng Bee Tin to buy some goodies (I got mochi and fortune cookies). A little bit ahead we came across Salazar Bakery, where my titos and tita went on a shopping spree. On our way out, Miel’s mom asked us to buy some dumplings for her, so we went back to Dong Bei.

Our next stop was Quiapo. This was familiar ground for me, as I used to work nearby and often went around just to look. It was also where I got my camera and got lost in several times. Thankfully, I always ended up back in Plaza Miranda.

Quiapo was crowded, it being a Sunday and all. We pushed our way through the crowd, stopping at one of the few open camera shops. Miel bought some film and we ogled at the vintage film cameras that were on sale.

Quiapo, of course, is not just known for the church where St. Nazarene is located, but also for the great bargains you can find around it. It’s definitely not for the weak-hearted, but if you want a great adventure in the middle of the city, Quiapo is where you’ll find it. I don’t know if I should recommend you visit there, but if you do make it out in one piece, then congratulations.

It’s the perfect blend of old and new, of traditions, religion and the occult. It baffles and amuses me all at once.

As I mentioned, it’s home to great bargains. Around the church are various stalls selling all sorts of things you can imagine. That Sunday, there were several vendors selling fresh produce, almost as cheap as it was in Baguio. But that wasn’t what we were after.

Crossing the underpass, we went to the DVD haven. I won’t go into detail, nor will I go into the piracy thing, but let’s just say that it tot
ally amazes me, both in a good and not so good way.

It also makes me laugh.

After getting what we wanted, we decided to go around Intramuros. Earlier on it was agreed that we won’t go around much today, to save up for the next trip. My uncle and my aunt were frequent visitors of Manila during their childhood, as my grandfather had an office in Escolta. Back in the day, it was the place to be, before Makati.

We saw an area inside Intramuros that had several graffiti works.

I love the old atmosphere of Intramuros. Definitely worth a trip back just to explore it.

It started to rain while we were there, but it wasn’t that strong so we managed to get some pictures. We found an empty stretch of road with sculptures of the Philippine presidents. Guess which one was damaged?

I understand how people feel, but I feel bad for the artist. I hate to see my work destroyed, even if the subject isn’t someone/something everyone likes.

Our last stop of the day was the area near the PICC. The sky was dim, and while we were standing by the (wharf? Dock? Quay?) it started to drizzle. We ended up having snacks at Icebergs, and trying to do a silly thing that Nunik wanted us to try.

We didn’t have dinner, but decided to head on home. Plans for another trip back is underway, this time with better planning as to where to go and what to eat. 🙂


  1. About the LRT story, that reminds me of something. When I was a child, I always try my best to convince my parents that we take LRT for a change but to no avail. You are quite lucky compare to me because you experienced that as a child. Anyway, now that I grown, I have so many chance to ride one. I like to hear more stories that take us back in time.

  2. I think nowadays a lot of people take the LRT for granted. I do like riding it and looking at the old buildings it goes past. I hope those buildings can be preserved.

  3. KAAAATT, I was reminded of this post when Thet and I were touring Manila a few days ago… the Botong exhibit is still there! Thet and I plan to tour again soon, let's all go! (-:

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