Travel to Manila
If you really want to get under the skin of Intramuros you should take the opportunity to experience one of Carlos Celdran’s famous tours. More of a theatrical performance than a walking tour, Carlos will sing, shout, laugh and cry and he takes visitors on a three hour trip through the history of Intramuros, Manila and the Philippines.
Expect a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, a taste of the Filipino speciality ‘halo halo’ (and learn why this mishmash of a dessert really is the Philippines in a glass) and along the way learn a lot about this fascinating country.
I would say without hesitation that the tour is one of the best I’ve ever taken. The cost is 1100 pesos (approximately £17) per person.
Named after the Philippine national hero Jose Rizal, the park becomes a hive of activity in the early evening, especially at weekends or during holiday times. Families descend on Rizal Park to sit on the grass and eat and drink; many bring their own picnics but there are also countless stalls selling every conceivable variety of unhealthy food.
The big draw is the display of water wizardry in the central fountains, with jets of multi-coloured water swinging and swishing in time to a medley of upbeat music.
Kids and adults alike stand by the edge of the water, posing for photos and enjoying the spectacle while tucking into their hot dogs and sweets.
As one of very few foreigners around we were treated to shy smiles, laughter and the occasional photo request. As I mentioned, many people don’t make it beyond the airport and as a result of that you will be something of a novelty here.
The long promenade outside the enormous Mall of Asia is another popular place to hang out, especially around sunset when it seems everyone in Manila takes their seats to watch the sun bid farewell across the wide expanse of Manila Bay.
It’s a prime spot for people-watching, but also a good choice to bag an unusual and very fresh dinner.
Head to the wet market on the seafront and make your choice from the bewildering selection of seafood on offer (some of it will still be moving). Once you’ve made your purchases, simply take them to one of the restaurants nearby and they will use your ingredients to prepare a delicious seafood dish of your choice.
If you haven’t shopped till you drop at the Mall of Asia, take a trip to Makati City for more wall to wall shopping malls. Shoppers will love it – we wandered by accident into the first floor of a department store where I could see nothing but women’s shoes as far as the eye could see.
I was once again thankful that my wife is not a shoe collector and travels only with her hiking boots and sandals. But if shoes are your thing, you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven here.
For a less modern and sparkly vision of Manila (and let’s face it, most of the city isn’t made up of shopping malls) take a jeepney ride to Quiapo, a busy no-nonsense neighbourhood famous for what goes on around its church, the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene.
While the church itself is worth a look, it is the market immediately outside that will draw your attention. Here, a line of women sell potions, herbs and amulets to protect you from dark forces, while in the surrounding streets dozens of stalls sell every type of counterfeit you can think of.