If you've had enough of the gentle side of Asia, the folded hands and the slow bowing, then head to Manila Philippines. This loud, brash, colorful city has a lust for life evident in a population of 12 million in constant motion. Manila travel can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned travelers, due to the heat, noise, and irrationally laid out streets. Tourists usually opt to exit immediately to other destinations like Boracay or the Banaue rice terraces. But Manila vacations can be rewarding if you have patience and a sense of humor; explore its hidden gems and you may find yourself strangely addicted.
The crown jewel of Manila attractions is Intramuros, the stately fortress city Spain built in the 16th century. Literally meaning "within walls", Intramuros was erected on top of an early Muslim settlement, and grew in power as it was a key stop on Spain's galleon route. Its walls fell only during WWII, as Manila Philippines was the second most devastated city after the war. But prior to its downfall, Intramuros was known for its elegant European-style architecture and parks, earning Manila the name "Paris of the East".
We can still glimpse echoes of its former glory in some of the buildings. San Agustin Church is one of the most venerable Manila attractions, being the oldest church in the city, and home to eccentric Catholic curios and tombs of prominent families in Manila Philippines. Casa Manila, a charming mansion fronting the church, displays the ostentatious lifestyle of 18th century bourgeoisie. Fort Santiago, at the mouth of the Pasig River, is the complex's military center, whose rooms and dungeons witnessed a lurid past. Jose Rizal, a writer, revolutionary, and the country's national hero, is honored with a beautifully curated shrine here.
Nearly next door is the Rizal Park, a refreshing 60 hectare respite from the chaos of Manila travel. In a city choked with high rises and telephone wires, being able to wander among fountains, ornamental gardens, and various monuments with a cross-section of Manila's population is a rare pleasure. The main points of interest include the Rizal monument, marking the place where the hero was executed, and the excellent National Museum, with exhibits on Philippine pre-history and a seventeenth-century sunken galleon.
Or try the more unconventional of Manila vacations. Among the lesser-known but fascinating Manila attractions are three cemeteries, by no means scary or gruesome, but havens of peace in the crowded city. A must-see is the Chinese Cemetery, where ostentatious tombs have chandeliers, swimming pools, toilets, and air-conditioning. The Paco Park is a quaint circular park bounded by century-old stonewalls. This was Spanish Manila's old municipal cemetery, and now one of the most romantic walks in the city. The Filipino American Cemetery, favored by birdwatchers, is rows upon rows of white crosses, an elegant tribute to the fallen of WWII.
Manila vacations are incomplete without shopping. Two of the largest malls in the world are here, as well as noisy, aromatic markets filled with local color. Try Greenbelt, Mall of Asia, Megamall, and Rockwell for air-conditioned browsing, or attempt to haggle in the lively street markets of Quiapo and Divisoria. Then retreat from the pressures of Manila travel in one of the city's fine bars and restaurants. Manila is a city for going out; there is bound to be clubbing, karaoke, and art events going on somewhere at any hour. Kick back with a cocktail at the posh bars in Makati or The Fort; take in the bohemian vibe of Malate; and find some alternative entertainment at Cubao Exchange.