The capital of the Philippines, Manila is that classic steaming Asian metropolis, with more people packed
in per square mile than any other city on earth, yet an openness and friendliness of the people
that's hardly found anywhere else. Systematically destroyed and rebuilt many times throughout its
turbulent history, Manila is now looking forward as it spruces itself up and welcomes you to visit.
I was quite surprised at how well developed and westernised Manila was, with freeways and a skyline
We stayed for two nights at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza, on the shores of Manila
Bay, an eighties construction with one of the best pools in the city, and great views across the water.
The historic centre of Intramuros was nearby, and the modern trendy districts of Green Belt and
The Manila skyline as seen from the airport, which is conveniently located just to the south of the
city centre. That said, Manila has a number of centres, with very strict city limits to each. Manila
proper has a population of around 1.6 million, whereas the whole metro area extending through Quezon
City is more like 12 million.
Manila is highly urbanised, and as a result there are very few resort-style hotels, the Sofitel Philippine
Plaza being one exception. This was the view from our hotel room across the lagoon pool to Manila
The Cathedral of Manila is in the historic centre of Intramuros, and like the city itself it has had
its fair share of being rebuilt. The current incarnation dates from the 1950s, and stands on pleasant
Also on Plaza Roma is the somewhat more austere Palacio del Gobernador, its name a reminder of the Philippines'
At the northern tip of Intramuros is Fort Santiago, established by the conquistadors at the beginning
of Spanish colonial ambitions in the Philippines. Indeed the country itself was named by the Spaniards
in honour of King Philip II of Spain. Today the fort serves as a museum.
We travelled around Intramuros on a traditional calesa, the Philippine horse and cart.
Much of Fort Santiago now stands in ruins amongst the encroaching jungle. Interesting to explore, if
on a small scale.
This old building still bears the scars of past battles, with bullet holes peppering the walls. The only
other place I have seen old bullet holes in buildings is in
At the end of the 19th century, discontent with Spanish rule was strong, and Jose Rizal was one of the
leading opponents. He was imprisoned in Fort Santiago prior to his execution, and the path he walked
on that day in 1896 is now marked by gold footsteps. He is the national hero of the Philippines.
In Rizal Park on the site of Jose Rizal's execution there is a diorama depicting the last stages of
his life in the hands of the Spaniards. Less than two years later the Philippines gained independence
from Spain during the Spanish-American
war, only to be rapidly colonised by the Americans for nearly 50 further years.
Intramuros still has large and mostly intact city walls, bigger than those of
but not quite on the same scale as
The old city is fringed with parkland.
Rizal Monument is one of the symbols of the Philippines, to the extent that it appears on car number
plates. It was completed in 1913 and also serves as his final resting place.
Nearby is La Madre Filipina, a striking statue which I've been unable to find a satisfactory explanation
for. Presumably the mother represents the country herself, and the grieving man all the sorrow
and trouble that she has endured.
A traditional Filipino home in Rizal Park - just for the tourists really.
Busts of various historical figures of the Philippines. Whereas in
the statues may be adorned
with traffic cones, one of these chaps has already had a pudding bowl placed on his bonce.
Lapu Lapu is the name of the figure represented in the Sentinel of Freedom. He was one of the first
Filipino natives to resist colonial rule, and lead the local forces in the battle of Mactan which resulted
in the death of the Portuguese explorer Magellan.
The Jeepney is certainly one of the most well known symbols of the Philippines, originally based on
Jeeps left over by the Americans after the war, they are heavily recycled, modified and often colourfully
decorated. They follow regular routes like buses and you just have to jump on the back and pay
your 8 pesos.
Another icon of the Philippines, Jollibee is one of my favourites, with that cheerful bee logo and tasty
fast food, Filipino style.
Back at the hotel, the view across Manila Bay as the sun went down was spectacular, and highlighted
distant islands that I hadn't been able to see during the day.
The Sofitel Philippine Plaza was an excellent choice of accommodation, only around £60 per night for
five stars in the heart of Manila.
Parts of Manila and the surrounding metro districts have recently been well spruced up, with Bonifacio
High Street no exception, a collection of modern shopping and dining outlets.
Makati City hosts some of metro Manila's most stylish bars and restaurants, along with the Green Belt