Manila, through the eyes of a visitor

On a busy weekday in Binondo, site of the world’s oldest Chinatown in the heart of Manila, I sat pensive in a Chinese restaurant as I observed the world that thrived around me. There were traders doing business, cars honking and slowly moving, people hastily walking from one place to another.  (READ: 7 delicious Binondo food discoveries)

CHINESE CONNECTION. Symbols of Chinese culture are evident in Binondo, the worldu00e2u0080u0099s oldest Chinatown.

Photo by Louie Lapat

That picture of Binondo is what I have in mind to describe Metro Manila as a whole: vivacious, chaotic, always moving. 

There’s something about Manila. Though it's often tagged as a chaotic urban hub, its charm is magnetic. There was an uproar then among metro dwellers when Dan Brown’s Inferno described this city of roughly 12 million people as being the “gates of hell.” 

Despite its flaws, one can still embrace Manila as it offers a myriad of sights and sounds that is unparalleled by any other city in the country.

Reasons are plenty why I keep coming back to Manila, but every time I set foot here, it seems there are always new flavors adding to its tight menu. First-timers to the city would always have on their to-go list the usual items on everybody’s itineraries: a visit to Luneta, going around Intramuros, riding that crowded train, watching the sun as it sets over Manila Bay. And yes, even shopping in Greenhills, Tutuban or Divisoria. 

TRAIN TO TUTUBAN. Forget the LRT and the MRT. For once, try these trains of the Philippine National Railways that ply the Alabang-Tutuban route.

Photo by Louie Lapat

I will always remember how my school paper adviser told our group 12 years ago that not doing any of these will render one’s trip to Manila incomplete.  

Walking in the walled district of Intramuros, for instance, pushes you back in time. You reimagine Manila in its glory days, perhaps a striking contrast to the noise beyond the district’s lonely wall. 

A replica of Michaelangelou00e2u0080u0099s u00e2u0080u009cPietau00e2u0080u009d is displayed at Manila Cathedral, located inside the district of Intramuros in Manila.

Photo by Louie Lapat

In Luneta, friends would often refer to it as Bagumbayan, its name during the Spanish era, and wonder where exactly Jose Rizal was executed. Even along the highway famed for its horrific traffic, the EDSA Shrine often provokes a sense of patriotism for it has become a symbol of two revolutions that changed the course of our nation’s history. Having been to most of Metro Manila’s historic sites, I cannot help but wonder if people living here actually realize that theirs is living museum, where each one forms part of the fabric that weaves our collective story as a nation. 

GLORY DAYS. The Rizal Monument is perhaps Manilau00e2u0080u0099s famous landmark, photographed here before the rise of a photobombing building.

Photo by Louie Lapat

For a city that hosts a handful of museums though, I often wonder why there are just a very few people visiting Manila’s galleries that tell our country’s story.

Taken in Ayala Museum in Makati City.

Photo by Louie Lapat

It’s a good thing that the administration of the National Museum lifted the collection of entrance fees to their buildings, which I hope will increase the number of people wanting to soak up with history and culture.

FROM THE PAST. A cover of a burial jar displayed at the National Museum of the Filipino People.

Photo by Louie Lapat

What I like about Manila is how it has become a mixture of old and new, how it values its sense of history yet it continues to evolve as a modern urban hub. It is also notable how it thrives with art, something that unconsciously ignites creative imagination among many.  

Though often overshadowed by stories on crime, Manila’s charm comes from its people. People here showcase the best of the Filipino identity: always ready to give a warm and genuine smile and always ready to show you the way if you are lost.

The Manila Ocean Park is also a must-visit for young and old alike.

Photo by Louie Lapat

Of course, Manila has its usual downsides, like many great cities in the world. Poverty is evident, traffic is sickening, searing heat is unforgiving. But one will always have reasons to love Manila and the tiny details that make up the anatomy of this beautiful metropolis. Like me, people will truly develop a deep connection to the big city, warts and all.

The country’s capital might not be suitable for the faint-hearted, but you will discover that as in many other highly-urbanized cities, Manila is a world of its own. You just have to go out and explore it, and embrace this beautiful chaos. –