Manila, the booming capital of a fascinating country. The most densely populated city in the world, it holds pieces of the puzzle of a storied past. American, Spanish and Filipino influences abound. In many ways this is the country that most feels like home in Asia for Americans, probably due to the very obvious American influences.
Along with copious amount of pollution, there is a gritty undertone in areas of the city, combined with stunning snapshots of fading beauty, such as the colonial churches in Intramuros.
Filipino and English are both used in everyday and official capacities, with Spanish widely spoken among older generations. Ferdinand Magellan originally claimed the islands for Spain in 1521. He was killed by locals in the Battle of Mactan. Expeditions were continually sent out by the Spanish. The city of Manila was claimed by Miguel de Legaspi for Spain in 1570. The Spanish brought Roman Catholicism to Manila, founding many churches, convents, and schools. This influence is obvious to the present day. And the Philippines is the only country in the region where Christianity is the major faith.
Spain held onto the Philippines until 1898, when the Spanish-American war ensued. The Americans had agreed to assist the Filipinos in ending Spanish rule. This was accomplished, though Philippine independence was not formally recognized until 1946. American influence showed mostly in English being taught and in a strong emphasis on educating the locals. The city is a mixture of these influences.
Makati is a very central and popular location for travelers. This is the business and also the nightlife center. Major sights to see in the city include the Manila Cathedral, the Manila Zoo, the wet markets, shopping malls, Pasig River Ferry, Roxas Boulevard Baywalk, Rizal Park, Nayong Pilipino, Intramuros, Fort Bonifacio, Malacanang Palace, San Agustin Church, Chinatown, Fort Santiago, the National Museum and the Coconut Palace (a Marcos scheme).
There are, as obvious by the previous list, so many things to do and see in Manila. Unlike many capital cities in this area of the world, one will actually want to linger and spend some time in Manila. Intramuros is the most obvious tourist attraction, due to its unique historical value. The old walled city dates from the Spanish colonial period and is well worth a half day wandering the cobbled streets and exploring the forts and churches.
Visitors can explore both old and modern sights, from San Agustin Church to Makati’s skyscrapers and shopping malls. Wander the local wet markets for fresh produce, or dine in a world class restaurant. Rizal Park is excellent for wandering, going for a run or people watching.
History buffs will have a field day in the Philippines, beginning with a day trip out to Corregidor Island. An island at the mouth of Manila Bay, this was the scene of a famous battle between allied and Japanese forces. Fierce fighting ensued for several months, finally ending in Japanese victory. The Japanese marched 4,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war through Manila to the jail at Fort Santiago. Many other were sent to Japanese prison camps or to the Japanese home islands as slave labor. Eventually the Americans retook the corridor nearing the war’s end.
Evidence of all of these influences permeate throughout the Phillipines. This surprising destination became the author’s favorite country in Asia without even trying.