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Visit Manila, a living and breathing contradiction at the heart of the Philippines

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Manila, the coastal capital of the Philippines, is technically sixteen cities and one municipality covering a grand total of 636 square kilometres overall.

Like several Asian capitals, it is a concoction of frenzy and simplicity in a crafty intersection between extreme poverty and extreme luxury.

As a result, it’s a high-speed, 24 hours a day location, and cultural heritage is blended seamlessly as Filipino, Spanish, Chinese and American cultures mix up. In fact, although Manila actually bears little resemblance to the rest of the country, it is obviously iconic nonetheless.

Although the city is very vast and has a wide range of opportunities to offer, it can be said that the most notable key sights can be covered in a few days overall.

Visit Intramuros for a flavour of the ancient, ancestral Manila city. Being the old Spanish heart of the country, established in the 1570s and still of monumental importance, Intramuros is a small area and fort constituting of a city within a city bordered by ruined stone walls and overgrown weeds and greeneries. Visit the dungeons and learn the stories of the Filipino soldiers for a sense of historical value in the capital; It is the place where the occupying Japanese Imperial Army made their last stand against American soldiers and Filipino guerilla.

Go from history and into the future as you visit the Makati district: what once was a malarial swampland got renovated and revamped to grow into the country’s number one business and financial district, full to the brim with the fanciest of hotels, international restaurants of the highest standards, expensive condos and malls and shopping locations.

Yes, Manila is indeed well known for its shopping scene, especially luxury wise. The biggest mall, in fact, is in this area and it’s called Glorieta (it has five side halls). Filipinos tend to visit malls for the shopping just as much as they do to seek refuge from the scorching heat.

Aside from condos and hotels and business buildings, Manila is far from a classically architectural city, since very much of the original infrastructure was bombed in the second world war, and anything still standing was basically torn down to build shopping malls and condos. 

Resembling Makati, but with more of a blend between natural and shiny, is Manila Bay, the Philippines’ capital harbour. Historically attributed as the gateway for socio-economic development, now it’s where you go to hit the streets and party hard, looking out on the Chinese sea in the typical, enchanting summer night ways.

The waterfront boasts several enticing attractions, from Manila Ocean World to several intriguing museums. Plus, the small restaurants and bars are buzzing here, and the hotels offer a luxurious view of the ocean for the most elegant of experiences.

Although the bay is said to be past its peak by now, there have been renovations leading towards a more eco-friendly city scope in the past couple of years. Back in 2015 the Philippines was the world’s third highest producer of plastic maritime waste but, after Typhoon Ondoy, the government passed laws banning plastic shopping bags in order to make a move in the direction of a greener city.

After visiting Intramuros, Makati and Manila Bay and seeing the three main areas of the touristy Manila, there’s a possibility you might be interested in venturing to the original downtown Manila. A local would advise taking a sneak peek at Rizal Avenue, Recto Avenue and Escolta Street, constituting of a rather rough neighbourhood left to decay in fascinatingly natural ways; get ready to seek out bargains on the black market and get a feel of the underrated real and gritty Manila.

This contrast between the areas of Manila is in fact incredibly telling of the reality of the Manileno lifestyle. Overall Manila is a conglomerate of shanty towns which then sprout into shiny glorious skyscrapers with rarely any urbanistic pattern overall. The population mixes between complete opposing points of the spectrum. On one side, extreme poverty, young children lying asleep on the street on the scorching pavement piled one atop of the other whilst prostitutes make their way round corners. On the other side, there are enormous shopping malls stuffed with wealthy, fashionable, trendy, iPhone bearing businessmen and women.

Overall, the city’s complete contrast and generous intrinsic soul is great for creative souls and curious minds. Manila might as well be one of the most underrated Asian capitals.

Sofia travelled to the Philippines with a direct flight from Heathrow to Manila with Philippine Airlines. She was hosted by the Philippines Tourism Board and travelled through the north of the archipelago. As it says on the websiteit's more fun in the Philippines!

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