Manila Itinerary: 2 Days Exploring the Culture and History of Manila

by Feb 9, 2020Itinerary, Philippines

In this Manila itinerary post, I’m going to share with you my 2-day itinerary for Manila. I’ll show you what I did for 2 days, where I stayed, and what tours I took. If you’re interested in learning how to get around Manila, you can read about my experience and tips for getting around this city.

Here’s the sad truth about Manila: lots of foreign travelers who visit the city come away with a negative impression of it. I can understand how they feel.

  • The traffic is abysmal—endless traffic jams, dishonest taxi drivers, Grabs that you can never hail, and a confusing public transportation system.
  • There aren’t many beautiful historical buildings nor are there lots of fun neighborhoods to seamlessly wander around in.
  • Manila has lots of malls and if you’re not into them, well, the city can be quite disappointing.

BUT…

I think if you know something about the history and culture of the Philippines, AND if you take a walking tour (you can find some affordable ones) of different parts of Manila, you’ll really enjoy and appreciate it. I took 4 tours around Manila that I’ll tell you about in my itinerary. None of them were more than US$20. On the tours, you’ll find out lots of fascinating and tragic stories about this city that was once called “the Paris of the East.” I also highly recommend reading the book, In Our Image, by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Stanley Karnow to give you a deeper understanding of this fascinating city.

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MANILA BASICS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

To understand what you’re seeing and what I’m talking about, it’s a good idea to get an overall understanding of the geography and history of the city.  

map of Metropolitan Manila

Geography

Metropolitan Manila is made up of 16 cities. The most important of these 16 is the city of Manila itself. As of 2018, it’s the most densely populated city in the world. The city of Manila encompasses the following areas:

  • Intramuros– the oldest part of Manila; it was where the Spanish first settled when they colonized the Philippines; you’ll be doing most of your sightseeing here
  • Ermita and Malate –  older and grittier area; some hotels and hostels here
  • Binondo and Santa Cruz – Chinatown; you can go on a great food tour here

Along with the city of Manila, other important cities or areas for tourists are the following:

  • Pasay – the airport and bus station are located here
  • Makati – business center; has some great hotels and hostels; great restaurants and bars; safer than other parts of the city
  • Bonifacio Global City (BGC) – it’s actually not a city, but part of Taguig City; it’s newer and safer than other parts; lots of shopping malls
map of the Philippines

History of Manila

If there is one word that best sums up the history of Manila for me, it’s tragic. Here is a city that was once known as the “Paris of the East.” It was settled by Filipinos, Chinese, Spaniards, Americans, and even the British and Japanese for a short time. Knowing this, I imagined Manila to be a city with cobblestoned streets lined with charming Spanish-style buildings like in Latin America mixed with colorful Chinese shophouses like in Singapore and Malaysia amid the background of towering modern skyscrapers like in Hong Kong.

Yet, this is not the case. Except for a few churches and a few reproductions, it’s hard to find Manila’s Spanish heritage and the Chinese shophouses look like they were built by the communist party. So, what happened to Manila for so many of the remnants of its past to be no more? To get your answer, you need to look at its tragic history.

Spain Comes to the Philippines

When the Spaniards arrived in Manila in 1571 looking for a capital for their colony, they found a port filled with Chinese traders and ruled by Muslim tribes. Because none of the tribes could work together to resist the Spanish, Spain quickly subdued them all.

Spain’s main aim in the Philippines was to promote Christianity. The real rulers of the country were not the military or the governor, but the Catholic church. The church basically held power over all of the Philippines outside of Manila.

Fearing their loss of power in the Philippines, they vehemently opposed any kind of reforms that would give the Filipinos any kind of power or even equality.  Little progress and few reforms occurred during the 300-year rule by the Spanish clergy so that the Philippines of 1571 was little different from that of 1898.

Revolution Comes to the Philippines

But starting in the late 1800s, the elite of Filipino society, wealthy mestizos (Filipinos with Spanish or Chinese blood), went overseas to study and began having ideas of independence from Spain. In 1896, a revolution was launched that lasted for 18 months. The violence ended with a peace treaty between Spain and the revolutionaries (KKK-see the section on City Hall). Spain promised to reform and the leaders of the revolutionary group agreed to go into exile.

Plaza de Roma in Manila

The United States comes to the Philippines

Spain ruled the Philippines until the United States defeated it in the Spanish-American War in 1898. After some haggling over what was to become of the Philippines, the United States bought the Philippines for $20 million ($4 billion in today’s currency).

The Filipino Reaction

As was typical at that time, no one bothered to ask the Filipinos what they wanted. The Filipinos expressed their opinion by putting their new colonial masters through a war that lasted until 1902. Of course, the ones who suffered the most from the war were the Filipinos. The war cost the lives of 200,000 Filipino civilians, 20,000 Filipino soldiers, and 4,000 American soldiers. Read “In Our Image” on the history of the Philippines to learn more about this war that few Americans know about.

Museum of Natural History in Rizal Park in Manila

United States’ influence on Manila

The Americans ruled over the Philippines from 1899 to 1946 (minus 1941-1945 when Japan ruled). The first American governor of the Philippines, Howard Taft (future U.S. president), hired a famous American artist to design Manila in the image of an American city. This is why you’ll find a few neoclassical buildings with their Greek columns like the Museum of Anthropology and the Museum of Fine Arts. You can also thank the Americans for the oddly placed golf course inside the old city walls. Of course, no one’s stopping the Filipinos from removing it.

World War II’s Impact on Manila

But much of what the Spaniards, Americans, and Chinese constructed in Manila doesn’t exist today. That’s because of World War II. The Japanese occupied the Philippines as they did with every other country in Southeast and East Asia. But the bloodiest battles took place in the Philippines with Manila being Japan’s last stand in the country.  In order to defeat the Japanese, the Americans completely destroyed the city. This destruction included 60 city blocks. Only two structures in Intramuros that existed before the war still stand today: San Augustin’s church and a post office.

Along with the loss of historic structures, 100,00 Filipinos in Manila lost their lives. Compare that to the number of people who died in Hiroshima (70,000) and Nagasaki (30,000) and further compare it to the number of Japanese (5,000) and Americans (1,000) who lost their lives in Manila and you can see how devastating World War II was for the Philippines. Yet, western nations rarely remember the toll the war took on the Filipinos.

Manila skyline at night

Philippine Independence

In 1946 the Philippines received independence from the United States. You would have expected this loyal ally and former colony of the United States to have gotten a substantial amount of financial support to rebuild. Compared to what Japan received ($) and what Europe received, the Philippines received $ in aid. You can read more about this travesty in Karnow’s book, In Our Image. It’s an eye-opening and fascinating read about the history of the Philippines.

Independence hasn’t helped the Philippines prosper as much as it should have. They’ve been run by the same corrupt elite families who haven’t done much for the common Filipino. And the United States hasn’t helped much as they continually back these corrupt leaders all out of fear of communism.

DAY 1 Morning

On my first day in Manila, I joined 2 tours. I thought that it would make my travels around Manila more meaningful. At the time, I didn’t know much about Philippine history, and a tour guide could explain what I was looking at.

Through my hotel, Lub d Philippines Makati, in the morning, I joined a walking tour of the old part of the city, Intramuros, and in the afternoon, I went on a food tour of Binondo.

I paid 2,080 pesos (US$41) for both tours.  The morning tour had 3 people and the afternoon tour had just me!

You can avoid some of the hassles of getting around Manila, with one of these guided tours: 

  • Tralulu – it’s a company that connects you with independent local guides. The problem is that their website is insecure. I myself don’t dare visit it, so I’m not even going to post it here. I found them through my hotel, Lub d Philippines, which I highly recommend. It has both dorm rooms and private rooms.
  • Intramuros Bambike Tour – This is a highly rated tour of Intramuros by bamboo bike.
  • Walls of this Content: An Interactive Intramuros Tour – This is through Old Manila Walks. Unfortunately, they only have private tours, so it can get pretty pricey for solo travelers. BUT the tour is supposed to be excellent and from what I hear the main guide has a Ph.D. in Philippine history.
  • The Big Binondo Food Walk – This is another private tour you can take with Old Manila Walks.
  • Old Manila Full Day Tour – This tour is with Fat Girls Day Out. It takes you from the old part of the city to the shopping malls of Manila.
  • Poblacion Walking Tour - You can get this fabulous tour through Z Hostel in Makati - It's a walking tour of the bars, restaurants, galleries, and "Red Light District" of the Poblacion neighborhood of Makati.

Intramuros – Old Spanish City

Start your Manila itinerary with a visit to the oldest and most interesting part of the city, Intramuros. Intramuros means “city within the walls.” Today the walls are still there (well, some of the original pre-World War II walls are still there; much of it was rebuilt).

As mentioned earlier, Intramuros was where the Spaniards first settled when coming to Manila. It was also from here where they administered the Philippines. But because of World War II, many of the Spanish-looking buildings are reconstructions. The only two original buildings are San Augustin’s Church and a post office.

Getting to Intramuros:

GRAB: it might cost you around 300 to 400 pesos to get to Intramuros from Makati. 

TAXI: Negotiate 300 to 400 pesos to get to Intramuros. 

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: This was how my tour guide got us to Intramuros (it’s also how I returned on my own). In order to understand these instructions, you’ll need to read my “Getting Around Manila” post.

  1. Jeepney: We got on a Jeepney at the Petron Station on Buendia Avenue where it intersects with Makati Avenue. Ask the driver if he’s going to Gil Puyat Station (that’s the Light Rail Station). The ride cost me 9 pesos.
  2. Light Rail: Then we took a Light Rail Train (LRT) to Central station, which was 5 stops away. You want to get on a train that is going to Roosevelt, which is the train’s last stop. It cost me 20 pesos.

Stop 1: City Hall

COST: free | OPEN: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps

My guide, Dennis, took us to City Hall. Its clock tower is a major landmark in Manila. And it was conveniently located along our route from the LRT station to Intramuros.

Dennis was highly enthusiastic about Manila’s current mayor, Francisco Domagoso, a 40-something progressive who’s trying to create more green spaces for the people of Manila. On our way to City hall, we walked by a new park that had once been a market.

The most interesting thing about City Hall was the mural that encircled the room. You can find a similar one inside the Museum of Fine Arts. The mural tells the revolutionary history of the Philippines.

I was struck by how much the government in the Philippines likes to promote its revolutionary past. Along with the mural, the large central park in Manila also honors revolutionary heroes of the Philippines (day 2 of my Manila itinerary).

There were a few interesting things on the mural that stood out for me. The letters “KKK” struck me as odd. In the United States, KKK stands for the Klu Klux Klan, but for Filipinos, the KKK stands for Katipunan. Led by General Emilio Aguinaldo, the KKK was a secret revolutionary group that was planning to overthrow Spain. Before they were ready to launch it, the Spanish found out and forced them to flee and launch their revolution prematurely. The KKK and the Spanish fought for over 18 months until a peace treaty was signed forcing Aguinaldo into exile in Hong Kong.

The other part of the mural that grabbed my attention was over the main door of the assembly room. There are 3 people dressed in black robes and covered in white hoods. There’s also something around their neck. These three were Spanish priests who were found guilty of being revolutionaries. There was no proof that they were. Their only “crime” was that they advocated for the ordination of Filipinos as Catholic priests. Under Spanish rule, only Spaniards could be priests as the Spanish friars believed that Filipinos weren’t intelligent enough to become priests. In 1872, 40,000 Spaniards and Filipinos gathered in Luneta Park (Rizal Park) to watch the 3 priests being slowly strangled to death by a large iron screw.

Stop 2: The Walls and Entrance of Intramuros

After the City Hall, we headed over to one of several Intramuros entrances.

The entrance used to be an actual gate, but when the Americans took over in 1898, they turned it into an archway.

Most of the original wall was destroyed at the end of World War II and rebuilt in the 1970s when the Marcos regime renovated Intramuros.

See if you can find the bullet holes in the walls–remnants of World War II.

Stop 3:  San Augustin Church

COST: free | OPEN: only for mass | LOCATION: Google Maps

Our next most important stop was the oldest building in Manila—San Augustin Church. Built in 1607, this church is the oldest building in the Philippines.

Spain’s main aim in the Philippines was to promote Christianity. The real rulers of the country became not the military or the governor, but the Catholic church. The church basically held power over all of the Philippines outside of Manila.

The church had total control over their communities: the police, the courts, the schools, taxes, and public health. They could ban anything that they found to be subversive, and they could send to prison anyone they wanted to without trial.

Fearing their loss of power in the Philippines, they vehemently opposed any kind of reforms that would give the Filipinos any kind of power or even equality. This included the one mentioned earlier about Filipinos becoming Catholic priests. They basically kept the Philippines the same for 300 years. No progress or reforms occurred during the 300-year rule by the Spanish clergy.

You can only enter it to attend mass on weekends. But a wedding was going on when I was there a second time, so I did get to take a photo of the interior from the outside. My tour guide said that wealthy Filipinos like to have their weddings at the church.

There’s also a San Augustin museum, but it was closed for renovation when I was there.

Stop 4: Casa Manila

COST: 75 pesos (US$1.50) OPEN: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps

Across the street from the church is Casa Manila. This tourist sight was my favorite place to visit in Intramuros. When I was on my tour, we only got to see the outside. But I came back the next day to tour the inside.

Imelda Marcos, the wife of Philippine’s former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, (she owned 3,000 pairs of shoes) did one good thing and that was to renovate the old Spanish buildings in Intramuros. Before her project, Intramuros was in an awful condition. My guide referred to it as a “garbage dump.” Casa Manila was one of her pet projects. The building that you see now is a reconstruction, but the furniture and artwork are originals.

Stop 5: Museo de Intramuros

COST: free OPEN: 8:00/9:00 am – 5:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps

The next stop on my Manila itinerary was a visit to one of Manila’s newest museums, Museo de Intramuros.

Museo de Intramuros displays the religious art created by Filipino artists and craftsmen over the centuries.

Stop 6: Manila Cathedral

COST: free | LOCATION: Google Maps

The other important structure in Intramuros is Manila Cathedral. Originally built in 1581, the church that stands now is the eighth version.

Manila Cathedral was destroyed again and again by earthquakes and the seventh one in 1945 in the Battle of Manila. The present one was built in 1958.

DAY 1 AFTERNOON

After Intramuros, my tour guide and I took a jeepney across the river to Binondo. This was the food tour part of my tour.

Stop 7: Binondo Chinatown

Binondo is considered Manila’s Chinatown. This area is where you’ll find Chinese businesses, shops, and restaurants. Surprisingly, I didn’t see any Buddhist temple like I would normally see in other Chinatowns around the world.

When the Spaniards first settled in Manila, there were a few Chinese already living there. Spain forced the Chinese to live across the river from Intramuros in the area of Binondo. “Binondo” literally means “hilly terrain.” I guess it must have been a hilly area back then. Not anymore. It’s flat as the rest of Manila.

a covered sidewalk in Binondo Manila

Spain and the Chinese Community of Manila

The Spaniards needed the Chinese for their trade and banking as Spanish priests and officials were forbidden from dealing with money. Yet they feared and looked down upon the Chinese. The Spanish authorities passed discriminatory laws to keep the Chinese in their place. They were forced to live in ghettos, deported for no reason, and taxed at a higher rate. Eventually, the Spanish allowed them to buy land in the provinces but only after converting to Christianity or marrying a Filipino.

Chinese Community in the Philippines Today

Today the Chinese in the Philippines are probably the most integrated Chinese community in all of Southeast Asia. If you go to Malaysia and Indonesia, the Chinese are a separate distinct community with lots of financial clout but very little political power. However, in the Philippines, the Chinese are not just the backbone of the business community (7 out of 10 of the wealthiest Filipinos have Chinese ancestry), but many of the most politically powerful are Chinese like. And you’ll find that many of the Philippine’s most famous revolutionary heroes like Jose Rizal and a Emilio Aguinaldo are of Chinese ancestry.

They are becoming more and more integrated. My guide said that when the older generations of Chinese-Filipinos get together, they usually speak the Chinese dialect of Hokkien. But the younger generation generally uses Filipino or English. He also said generally Chinese-Filipinos see themselves first as Filipinos. I asked the same questions to my Chinese-Malaysian guides in Penang, and they both said that they identified themselves first as Chinese and second Malaysian.

That being said, when it comes to marriage, Chinese-Filipinos still marry other Chinese-Filipinos.

To be honest, I didn’t find Manila’s Chinatown to be very interesting. It’s not like the ones in other countries in Southeast Asia where you can see some beautiful shophouse architecture and ornate and colorful Buddhist temples.

Still Binondo is different from other areas of the city. You’ll see lots of signs in Chinese and you’ll find covered sidewalks like those in Singapore and George Town. The shelter makes for a much more pleasant walking experience.

Stop 8: New Po Heng Lumpia House – Lumpia (Spring Rolls)

OPEN: 7:00 am – 7:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps

We visited Carvajal Street (Umbrella Street), a narrow covered lane filled with fruit and vegetable sellers and small restaurants.

We ate at New Po Heng restaurant for some Lumpia, which is a Chinese-Filipino version of the spring roll. The only other place I’veprovince of Fujian, but it’s much sweeter. It’s NOTHING like any spring roll you have ever probably tried before. It’s not like the deep fried spring rolls that you get in Chinese restaurants in the West nor is it like the ones you get in Vietnamese restaurants.

Inside the wrap you’ll find chopped up carrots and cabbage plus tofu, rice with seaweed and peanuts and sugar. It looks more like a burrito than a typical spring roll but the outside wrap is not a tortilla. You can squirt some hot sauce or sweet sauce on it. Eat very carefully or else the roll will fall apart. It was the best thing I ever ate in the Philippines. It’s sweet, salty, and spicy all in one bite. 

Stop 9: Ying Ying Tea House – Dim Sum

OPEN: 7:00 am – 2:00 am | LOCATION: Google Maps

The next stop on your food tour is very popular but basic and plain-looking Ying Ying Tea Houes. You can order Chinese dishes or dim sum.

We had dim sum: Sio Mai, a Japanese sio mai, a dumpling made of tofu skin filled with pork and radish cake. All very delicious.

Stop 10: Fireman’s Eatery – dessert

OPEN:  | LOCATION: Google Maps

The last stop is at another institution (very popular) restaurant in Binondos called Fire Man’s Café. My guide said that the place is so popular that on weekends the line to get a table goes into the street Here we had two different kinds of lava bao (‘bao’ means ‘bread’ in Chinese).

Both were sweet and delicious. But you had to eat them very carefully so that the custard doesn’t make a mess all over.

100% of the profits from the Fire Man’s Café goes to support the fire fighters of Chinatown. Because the buildings in Chinatown are so close together, it’s easy for one fire in one building to jump to another building. The Chinese in Chinatown didn’t trust the Manila municipal government to protect their homes and businesses, so the Chinese financed their fire fighting brigades themselves. The fire trucks of that are financed by the Chinese are purple.

Stop 11: Binondo Church

COST: free | OPEN: 8;45 am – 5:15 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps 

We actually stopped at Binondo Church before our last food stop. The church was built here by the Spanish as a reminder to the Chinese that if they wanted to stay, they needed to convert to Catholicism.

DAY 2 Afternoon

Today’s a museum and a cemetery day! It’s not every day that you spend sightseeing at a cemetery, but the Chinese cemetery in Manila is quite special.

Stop 1: Rizal Park

COST: free | OPEN: 5:00 am – 9:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps

The first stop on day 2 of my Manila Itinerary is a visit to Rizal Park (it used to be called Luneta Park). Located next to Intramuros, the park is a large open rectangular shaped area of green grass and lots of revolutionary statues.  The park is famous for being the site of the execution of several revolutionaries during Spanish rule including Jose Rizal and the 3 priests who were strangled to death.

My suggestion is to just walk from one end of the park (the Rizal statue) to the opposite end (Anthropology Museum). I made a few stops at the Rizal Museum (empty and closed) and the Chinese Garden (meh).

Getting to Rizal Park from Makati: I took a taxi from my hotel in Makati to Rizal Park. After negotiating with the taxi driver’s original price of 500, another traveler and I got him down to 300 pesos. We took the taxi on a Saturday morning when the streets weren’t like a parking lot.

Rizal Park – Rizal Statue: The park is named after Jose Rizal, the Philippines ’ most famous revolutionary hero. His statue sits at the western edge of the park.

Jose Rizal was the son of a wealthy family. He didn’t actually want independence for the Philippines. What he only wanted was the same rights that the Spanish had be also given equally to the Filipinos. Rizal was a polymath. He was an ophthalmologist, writer, painter, sculptor, poet, playwright, and activist. He wrote two novels about the plight of Filipinos under the Spanish (Touch Me Not and The Subversive).

Jose Rizal statue in Rizal Park in Manila

Rizal was executed for leading an uprising against the Spanish. Ironically, he had nothing to do with it. He was executed by a firing squad in the same park that bears his name. For the Spanish, they created a martyr, becoming an inspiration for many other revolutionaries. To the left of the statue is the site of the execution of Jose Rizal.

Stop 2: Manila Anthropology Museum

COST: free | OPEN: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; closed Mondays | LOCATION: Google Maps

At the opposite end of the park is the Anthropology Museum. You can’t miss it as it’s in a huge white neoclassical building. It reminds me of the buildings in Washington DC.

Museum of Anthropology in Manila

For those like me who are fascinated by archaeology and history, the first floor is a joy to explore. It’s very informative with clear and thorough descriptions of the displays. You can learn about the earliest inhabitants of the Philippines.

  • You’ll learn about the 2 competing migration theories of the Philippines.
  • How and why pottery evolved from earthenware to ceramics.
  • The role of the Philippines in the ivory trade.
  • There is also a very comprehensive exhibit on the sinking of the San Diego. What was fascinating was seeing how water and time impacted metal versus ceramics.

There isn’t much to see after the first floor except for the exhibits on rice cultivation.

I wish there was better signage navigating people to the different galleries.  

DAY 2 AFTERNOON

The afternoon of my Manila itinerary was spent revisiting Casa Manila and then heading out to the Chinese cemetery.

Lunch: I had lunch at a not very memorable local restaurant next to McDonald’s and right inside the city gate. It wasn’t filled with tourists; just local workers. But the food wasn’t so great. There are some more interesting cafes near Casa Manila.

Stop 3: Casa Manila

On Day 1 of my Manila itinerary, we didn’t go inside Casa Manila, so today I made a huge detour to see the interior. It was an excellent decision because it was my favorite place in Manila.

interior of Casa Manila

It’s fun walking through this opulent house. So much detail has been put into it that if you just close your ears to the traffic noise outside, you can imagine yourself back in the 1700s or 1800s Spanish Manila.

A few interesting things to notice:

  • What the Spanish used to keep their dining room cool
  • The bamboo murals on the walls and the ornate blueish green decorations on the ceiling

Stop 4: Chinese Cemetery

COST: free | OPEN: 9:00 am – 3:00 pm | LOCATION: Google Maps

My guidebook raved about the uniqueness of the Chinese cemetery so I just had to see it. This is where Chinese-Filipinos are buried (Filipinos can be buried here as long as they are married to a Chinese person) here. I’ve never seen a cemetery like this one.

The Chinese cemetery is the second oldest cemetery in the Philippines. During Spanish colonial times, Spain wouldn’t allow the Chinese to be buried in their Catholic cemeteries so the Chinese set up their own.

Getting to the Chinese Cemetery: Take the LTR north to Roosevelt and get off at the Abad Santos station (20 pesos). Then walk for 8 minutes to the South Gate of the cemetery or take a pedicab for 30 pesos.

tomb at Chinese cemetery in Manila

The mausoleums house the remains of the husband and wife. A few times you’ll see a son or a daughter buried along with the parents.

Chinese cemetery in Manila
Chinese cemetery in Manila

It’s like you’re walking around a little town with its streets lined with little houses. You’ve got the rich part of town and then there’s the cramped poor part of town.

a mausoleum in the Chinese cemetery of Manila that looks like a Chinese temple

Pay attention to which tombs are Catholic and which ones are Buddhist. Sometimes you’ll see that the wife is Catholic and the husband Buddhist. You can tell by the red cross on the Catholic’s tomb and nothing on the Buddhist’s tomb.

Some things to notice:

  • Why is there a bathroom in the tombs? When the family comes to worship, they need somewhere to go to the bathroom. My guide said that some families come every Sunday to tend to their loved one’s grave.
  • Some families come every Sunday, but all families come twice a year—All Saints day on November 1 and the Chinese festival of Qingming (the grave sweeping festival) in April.
  • The family has to pay for the cemetery every 25 years in order to be able to maintain the tomb. If they don’t pay, then they can’t paint or cut the grass or maintain the tomb. The body stays there, though. Pay attention to the ones that don’t look maintained.
  • There are also apartments that are much cheaper. These are quite close together.
  • Sometimes the tomb is not squarely in the center of the room, but off to the side. This is if the wife dies before the husband.

Do you need a tour?

I think it’s a good idea to have a guide show you around the cemetery and explain things to you. You can also join a tour of the cemetery through Klook. Their tour is at over 2 hours.

I did a tour. Standing at the entrance were a couple of old guys waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting tourist. And I fell for it thinking that I’d learn something. At first, he wanted 1,000 pesos for 1 hour. I thought that was really expensive considering I paid 2,080 for an all-day tour the day before. I bargained him down to 700 (US$14). He said that Chinese families hire him to take care of their ancestors’ tombs.

Day 2 Evening

Make sure to end your tour of the cemetery no later than 3:00 pm so you can get to your last evening’s activity.

Stop 5: Poblacion Walking Tour

COST: free for Z Hostel guests: if not staying at the hostel, you might be able to sneak on the tour | TIME: 4:30 pm daily | LOCATION: Google Maps

In the evening, I joined the 4:30 p.m. Poblazion Walking Tour through Z Hostel in Makati. This is a fabulous and affordable tour of the bars, restaurants, galleries, night markets, and the “red light district” of Poblacion (a neighborhood of Makati). Just show up in the lobby of Z Hostel a few minutes before 4:30.

Manila skyline at sunset

We had an enthusiastic and earnest tour guide, Gio, who tried really hard to show us Poblacion. He took us to some interesting bars and cafes.

  • Agimat Foraging Bar – a cool bar that makes flaming drinks.
  • Joe’s Brew – we got to sample some craft beer
  • Dr. Wine – it has a rooftop bar with a 360-degree panoramic view of Manila. We got free shots of some kind of alcohol.
  • Julyan Coffee Spot – a coffee shop owned and run by people who are deaf
  • Kondwi – gallery, coffee shop, and bar
  • Night market – usually the tour visits a night market, but because our tour was on a Sunday, we didn’t go
  • San Pedro Makati church – a beautiful old church

Where to stay on your Manila Itinerary

Lud d Philippines Makati (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) I stayed at the Lub d Philippines Makati. It’s got both private rooms and comfortable dorm rooms.

My favorite part of Lub d Philippines was the fast internet. They also had a good coworking space where you could hang out in during the day and at night. They also have washers and dryers for guests to use.

The dorm rooms are safe and comfortable. The photo above is exactly how they look. There’s also a space to store and lock up your luggage and valuables.

The only negatives about this place are the showers (not so clean) and the staff (not so customer-service oriented).

3 Travel Essentials for Manila

Best Walking Shoes for Asia

These Brook’s Adrenaline GTS 18 shoes are what I've worn all through Asia. I have plantar fasciitis and bunions so I need good stability shoes that come in wide sizes. I probably did over 20,000 steps a day in Asia, and with these shoes, I had no trouble with my feet.

Best Backpack for Asia

I love my Kelty Redwing 40L travel backpack. It opens from both and top and front and can be used as a carryon. I think it also has better support than the Osprey Fairview 40. And it's usually cheaper than the Fairview.

Keeping Your Money Secure


I wear a money belt when I’m out and about. It’s not the most comfortable and sexiest thing to have on. But I’d rather be safe than sorry.

So that’s it: my itinerary of Manila of 2 days. I think if you know a bit about the history and culture of Manila, you’ll appreciate the city a lot more than if you just tour on your own. First, get the book from Jon Karnow, In Our Image—a readable and fascinating book on the history of the Philippines. It’s from a western perspective, however. But the book is pretty critical of both the Spanish and the Americans. Lots of eye-opening info about the United States’ role in the history of the Philippines. Second, join a tour with a guide that can give you some background information of what your seeing.

My favorite places in Manila were Casa Manila, the Intramuros tour, and the Poblacion tour.

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old buildings and churches in Manila
old church and Manila skyline at night

More Info on the Philippines:

2 Comments

  1. I very enjoy your informative descriptions so well accompanied by beautiful photos. Manila is definitely on my bucket list. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Thank you!

      Reply

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About the Bamboo Traveler

Julie Krolak

Hi! I’m Julie, the Bamboo Traveler!  This blog is devoted to helping the inquisitive traveler explore Asia’s history and culture. On this site, you’ll find itineraries to help you plan your trip, reviews to help you make more informed decisions, lots of history and cultural information to help make your travels more meaningful, and book recommendations to help you understand a place more deeply.

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