Most foreign tourists in the Philippines head out to Boracay or Cebu, but Philippines is much more than a tropical seaside playground. Staying in Manila gave us a peek outside the tourist goggles.
Manila is similar to the cities of India in appearance, with marginally less pollution. The traffic on the main roads, the houses lining the narrow backroads, the street-side markets — take out a pint of litter, add in a few more churches — and there you have it.
Manila is a city of 3 main ethnicities – Spanish, Chinese and Tagalog (the indigenous people). A highly recommended thing to do here is a food tour of Chinatown. It is educational — you hear a lot of the history of the city, and you get to visit the original Chinese part of it — and utterly delicious.
Another recommended activity is the walking tour of Intramuros, the old walled Spanish city. But the fates dictated that, for us, what happened just before that tour was even more memorable. We were strolling in Rizal Park, when the skies opened up. A torrential downpour, with the streets starting to flood in a matter of minutes. After years, I was suddenly reminded why I used to love the monsoons.We fled into a nearby cathedral, and found ourselves witnessing a wedding, a traditional Catholic Filipino wedding, where the happy couple were instructed to let the rain remind them to be loyal and faithful to each other forever.
When in Manila, you can get around on public transportation. However, you will need to hire a car to make the day trip out to the Taal volcano, which is really pretty cool — a volcanic cone with a crater lake rising within a crater lake.
Overall, the two reasons to linger in Manila is the food, and the people. Whether it is fish curry and rice, or barbecue chicken, or green mango smoothie, or peanuts with garlic and red chillies, there is plenty here to keep your mouth and stomach content. And the people are uniformly pleasant. If you venture outside the tourist areas, it will be hard to communicate in English. But people are nice enough that they will still try their best to understand and help you.
Verdict: Worth a visit!