Manila in the Philippines, while sprawling, does not have a terrible amount to justify a long stay, especially when the great outdoors beckons. However, there are two guided walking tours I would absolutely recommend for a day well spent learning in lovely areas. Here they are:
Old Manila Walks
Don’t eat for several hours before joining a food tour of Binondo, or Chinatown, operated by Old Manila Walks. The tour requires a reservation, although it’s possible to show up and hope for a spot. The tour takes 3.5 hours, as visitors get taken to family-run eateries that serve up heavenly dishes in a bare-bones space. The tour leader will also give a bit of history of the area, which is the second-oldest Chinatown in the world, founded at the end of the 16th century. Today, it’s a great mix of Filipino, Spanish and Chinese touches, and the tour group members meet in front of Chinatown’s Catholic Church.
This tour winds throughout alleys and narrow roads lined with food stalls and jeepneys. Some places have aircon, some don’t, but either way you’re guaranteed a delicious bite. Selections include spring rolls, meat buns, dumplings, savory pancakes and much more. You can also let the tour operators know about any dietary restrictions, which is a nice touch.
You might – okay, you will – feel uncomfortably full at the end, but to stay comfortable otherwise, wear sturdy, proven shoes and breathable clothes, and bring a fan. And don’t forget your camera!
The second is the Intramuros Tour led by local outspoken political activist and history buff Carlos Celdrán. He’s billed as “The man who is trying to change the way you look at Manila, one step at a time,” and he may very well achieve this goal. It’s not just a walking tour – it’s performance art done by with an intensity and passion that will make you laugh and probably make you tear up, and it will definitely leave you disappointed with any future walking tours. He takes tourists from Pre-Hispanic Manila through “300 years in the convent and 50 years in Hollywood” to Manila today, which never fully recovered from World War II.
Carlos does not skimp. He greets you by singing the Filipino national anthem, changes clothes to reflect the time period he’s talking about, and he wears his heart on his sleeve while talking about his beloved home, all with trademark Filipino wit. He also does a ton of work with local LGBT and many other organizations, and has taken his performances abroad, so it’s no wonder why he’s quite the local celebrity.
The tour lasts about three hours, so the same dressing rules as the Binondo tour apply, although with all the new knowledge stuffed in your brain, your head might feel more tired than your feet!
Manila – have you been and how long have you stayed?