The capital of The Philippines is chaotic, congested and confusing. At first glance it can seem like one sprawling urban mass, gridlocked and polluted, but look a little deeper and there is a fascinating and diverse culture, historic colonial landmarks and a vibrant nightlife to explore.
Manila is made up of 16 territorial districts that, with one exception, were all original towns. It therefore lacks a definable centre which can make it disorientating for visitors expecting a traditional city layout. It is best explored one area at a time to fully soak up the atmosphere that each has to offer and to think of it as a collection of towns rather than one homogenous city. Whilst buildings and monuments of its colonial past remain, visitors should be aware that Manila was the second most devastated city in the world (after Warsaw) during the Second World War and was subject to a massive re-building programme.
The walled city district of Intramuros offers the best taste of Manila’s past history, whilst Binondo, the world’s oldest Chinatown, has vibrant street markets, quaint Chinese shop-houses and is home to the best authentic Chinese cuisine in the city. The modern day centre of commercial life is the Makati area, which is packed with shopping malls, upmarket restaurants and fashionable nightclubs.For a respite from the frenetic pace of Manila’s crowded streets do as the locals do and head to the historic Rizal Park in Intramuros to unwind and watch the world go by. The 58 hectare park is a favourite spot for weekend picnics and dawn t’ai chi and houses the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, the National Museum, The National Library, The National Planetarium and Manila Ocean Park.