Manila: First stop in the Philippines
Our world traveling is nearing an end and we are wrapping up our Asian tour with a 25 day visit to the Philippines. We arrived in Manila on January 2, 2015 ready to explore the land of Vlad's ancestors. Our first stop was the capital Manila, a bustling metropolis with traffic filled streets and the sky hazy with pollution (things we grew accustomed to while visiting cities in South East Asia).
On our first day in Manila we spent some time at travel agencies sorting out details for the rest of our stay in the Philippines. In Asia some things are just handled better in person than online. For that reason, travel agencies are very popular amongst locals and tourists alike. After booking our flight to visit Boracay, we had a free afternoon to venture out to the world famous Mall of Asia, which is exactly what the name suggests. The mall is the third largest in the world. Aside from some local shops we came across plenty of foreign brands such the Gap, Mango, MAC, Cotton On, Esprit, Inglot etc. I noticed that many brands we have back in the States were actually more expensive in the Philippines, which is very unfortunate because Filipinos make a lot less money than us. Aside from the shops, there were also lots of places to eat, a few movie theaters, spas, a big playground for kids and a full size ice rink! That's right! Ice skating in tropical Manila is possible.
The following days we visited the National Museum of the Filipino People, the historic district Intramuros (aka Spanish Manila), where we walked around Fort Santiago, and visited the Rizal Shrine. We also attended a mass at the beautiful Manila Cathedral and visited the San Agustin Church & Monastery and even came across the Polish Consulate! One day we visited Rizal Park, a 60 hectare urban park where we watched locals have picnics, kids play games, and vendors sell coconut juice. This is the same park where a 12 year old Vlad asked his dad to bring him to when he visited Manila for the first time with his family. His main goal was to see the monument of Jose Rizal.
Rizal Park is named after young Filipino national hero Jose Rizal who was a writer (amongst other professions such as multi-linguistic eye doctor, world traveler, an artist, and a lottery winner) that was accused of inciting a revolution against the Spaniards and was subsequently executed in 1896 at the age of 35. In case you are wondering what Spain had to do with the Philippines, here's a little recap of the history. In the early 16th century, a Spanish expedition led by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan set out to convert the Philippine archipelago to catholicism. Shortly after his arrival, the Philippines became a Spanish colony. By the 18th century, the Filipino people started getting fed up with the Spaniards' occupation and decided to take advantage of the weaker state Spain found itself after the Seven Year War. Jose Rizal's writing inspired the revolution which was backed by the US who was already at war with Spain over Cuba. And so after defeating the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, the Philippines finally declared its independence on June 12, 1898. Or so they thought... The Americans had other plans and decided to make the Philippines its own colony. That did not go over so well with the locals and the US faced a lot of opposition and subsequently agreed to transition the power to the local hands. Unfortunately, yet again, FIlipinos had bad luck as during the transition time, the Japanese invaded the islands. The Americans defeated Japanese army in February 1945 but not before Manila was destroyed and leveled. The once world renown "Pearl of the Orient" admired for successfully combining Asian and European worlds was virtually wiped out. Isn't it crazy how the war affected people all over the world? The Philippines finally gained their independence from the US on July 4, 1946 and in the following years faced their own internal problems of corruption in the government.
After knowing the history of this country one can begin to understand the nation and the people of the Philippines. Only then the Spanish names, cuisine that mixes Asian and Spanish ingredients, their devotion to Catholicism, English as a second language and fascination with US pop culture will make sense. This, among many other things, make people of the Philippines so unique and much different than their neighbors.
While Manila may not be one of the most beautiful cities (although we hear it used to be), it's was still important for us to visit it. The only way to begin to understand a country is to see not only its most beautiful and touristy sites (like Boracay and Palawan which we visited later) but also the places where every day life happens. This, in our opinion, is how you get a taste of the true flavor of a country.
Geography: The Philippines is situated in the western Pacific Ocean in Southeast Asia. It consists of 7,107 islands that are categorized broadly under three main geographical divisions: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Population: With 100 million in the Philippines it's the 12th most populated country in the world; 1.7 million people call Manila home.
Demographics: 28.1% Tagalog, 13.1% Cebuano, 9% Ilocano, 7.6% Bisaya, 7.5% Ilonggo, 6% Bicolano, 3.4% Waray, 25.3% others
Currency: Philippine Pose where 1 USD = 44 PHP (at the time of our visit)
Official Languages: Filipino (standardized Tagalog) and English are the official languages of the country. There are 19 regional languages but overall there's about 171 total native languages.
Religion: More than 90% of the population is Christian and out of that 80% is Catholic; about 4.6% follows Islam.
Best Known for: Interesting history of Spanish colonization; 7,107 beautiful islands, some uninhabited, others serve as tropical tourist destinations (Palawan, Boracay etc); great diving destinations; national hero Jose Rizal; boxer Manny Pacquiao; Imelda Marcos & her shoe collection; jeepneys; halo-halo dessert; lechon (roasted pig); balut; large malls (including Mall of Asia in Manila); sabong (cock fighting).
What We Noticed: Friendly people; English widely spoken; mall culture; armed security guards at stores; meat dominated cuisine; religious items displayed widely.
Interesting Facts: Balut is a filipino delicacy. It is a developing duck embryo that is boiled and often sold by vendors on the street. We heard the vendors call out "baluuuuut" in the evenings.
Flying again - Singapore to Manila.
Jeepneys are the most popular means of transportation in Manila and are one of the first things we noticed. Jeepneys are made from US military jeeps left over after World War II. Jeepneys are known for crowded seating and are usually heavily decorated with symbols of Filipino art, pop culture and even religious references. Each jeepney is unique. Walking the streets of Manila we sometimes saw roosters or chickens. This rooster was most likely used for cock fighting. Sometimes instead of roosters we saw kittens... ...or cute puppies.
Jolibee, the Filipino fast food restaurant, was always packed. Ice skating rink at the Mall of Asia.
Christmas decorations where still on display when we got to Manila on January 2nd.
Rice exhibit at the National Museum of the Filipino People.
Learning about the history of the country. Beautiful gowns worn by female dignitaries. Lapu Lapu statue (or the Statue of the Sentinel of Freedom) in Rizal Park.
Lapu Lapu is a national hero who was the first one to resist Spanish colonization in the 16th century. People gathering and having fun at the Rizal Park. Rizal statue.
National Cathedral. When we first entered the cathedral we caught a glimpse of a local wedding.
Aside from Jeepneys, tricycles are another popular mode of transportation. Believe it or not but Vlad fit in this tiny box with me. When we got out of a cab in front of the historical Intramuros area I noticed a familiar white and red flag. Turns out it was the Polish Consulate. What a surprise! Too bad we were not able to get in.
View of the entire building.
Got a t-shirt from this cute souvenir chain store.
First look inside the historical Intramuros. Fort Santiago - a citadel first built by a Spanish conquistador for the newly established city of Manila.
Inside Fort Santiago. S Statue of Jose Rizal. San Agustin Monastery & Church.
The San Agustin Church is mirrored after some of the beautiful churches built by the Augustinians in Mexico. The interior has magnificent trompe l'oeil murals covering the walls and the ceiling, paintings that look three dimensional. View from the church choir. A wedding was happening while we were there. Typical filipino breakfast - longanisa sausage with a side of rice and egg.
San Miguel beer is a national favorite and quickly became ours too.
Join us next as we visit the white beaches of Boracay!
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