In my last post I talked about all the ways in which Kelsey and I are not tourists, but let’s not forget that we are still visitors in a foreign country and in a major metropolitan city! In our time here, these are some of the fun sightseeing and touristy things we’ve done on our freetime and during cultural exposure trips with Ms. Mae and others:
Intramuros: The Historic Walled City
Intramuros was the old Spanish settlement from colonial days, and there are many historical things to see there, such as Fort Santiago, St. Agustin Church and The Church of Manila, and the Rizal Shrine. Although Intramuros is a tourist hotspot, complete with calesa rides (horse-drawn carriages) and guards whose uniform is reminiscent of the colonial era, Intramuros is also a living part of Manila where people reside and go to school. Even the historic churches still hold masses and weddings – they are far from museums. But speaking of museums, we went to a great one in Intramuros: The Bahay Tsinoy, or “House of the Filipino-Chinese,” which catalogued the history of Chinese influence and immigration into the Philippines in a very visually appealing way.
The Manila Zoo
I really like visiting zoos, and although we were told by the locals that the zoo isn’t very nice, Kelsey and I really enjoyed it. It was styled as a botanical garden amongst the animal exhibits, so I thought it was a very pretty place.
Manila Ocean Park
I’ve been to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, but I prefer the Manila Ocean Park here. (Not to mention it’s cheaper). The package that we bought, which was the equivalent of about $12, included a sea lion show, access to the Jellyfish exhibit, the Oceanarium (complete with a tunnel through the aquarium), a sting ray and shark encounter, and a behind-the-scenes look at the breeding tanks, labs, and aquarium equipment.
Rizal Park, aka “Luneta”
I think this is Manila’s largest green space, and there’s a lot to see and do here. We saw the “Dancing Fountain,” the statue of Jose Rizal, the revolutionary and national hero, where his remains are entombed, the Chinese and Japanese gardens, and the Orchidarium/Butterfly Pavilion. We were also lucky enough to visit on a Sunday afternoon when there was a free concert being held at the open-air amphitheater, which showcased Filipino music, dance, and dress from various periods of its history and multiple regions. We saw different indigenous tribal dances and dress, the Islamically-influenced southern regions, the Spanish era, and much more – even contemporary dances set to a modern pop song about the Philippines during which one of the dancers ran across the stage trailing a giant Philippine flag behind him.
Roxas Blvd and Manila Bay
This scenic walk is not too far from where we’re staying.
Malls: The National Pastime!
We’ve had the occasion to visit quite a few malls, of which the Philippines has many. It is the “unofficial” national pastime: really, anywhere you can get out of the heat and into shade and air conditioning, they flock to it here (and understandably so).
We’ve seen the huge and hectic SM Mall of Asia, or “MOA” (only the third biggest mall in the Philippines!), Robinson’s Place (where we’ve gone several times for the restaurants), and our favorites: Glorietta and Greenbelt in Makati (they’re connected). Glorietta has everything MOA offers (except the view, theme park, and ice-skating rink), but it’s less crowded and laid out in a way that’s easier to understand. Plus, it’s connected to Greenbelt, which is a very aesthetically pleasing place (it has a koi pond park and carabao statues you can play on!). Even though Greenbelt is very high-end and full of stores above the price range Kelsey and I are comfortable with, it’s nice to walk around, and it’s home to one of our favorite restaurants here – the beautiful and charming Mary Grace that has the best “Lemon Santi” dessert I’ve ever had.
Tour of Laguna Province
We also got the chance to take a day trip to a province to the south of Manila with some of the St. Scho faculty. We got to see Los Banos, a town famous for its Buko Pies (the coconut version of its American apple inspiration) and its volcanic hotsprings. It’s also the home of UPLB – the University of the Philippines Los Banos campus, right next to where our IWU friends are doing their internship at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). We also went through Liliw, the footwear capital of the Philippines, Pila (an archeological hotspot for Chinese white clay pottery shards that have caused historians to reevaluate their estimates of when trade with China began here), and Paete, known for its paper mache handicrafts and excellent woodcarvings. During our tour through the province we got to see many old churches and a town fiesta celebration. My favorite church was the one in Paete which was all lit up for the Fiesta of St. James the Apostle and which had two fascinating portraits of St. Christopher.
Before we leave, Ms. Mae has also promised to take us to Binondo here in Manila (the world’s first and oldest Chinatown) for a food tour, the National Museum in Rizal Park, and the famous Bamboo Organ in Las Pinas City where she lives.