The bustling Philippines capital

The capital of the Philippines is a sprawling, densely populated megacity with a medieval walled town, Intramuros, at its heart. Packed with historic forts, interesting museums and churches, and cobblestone streets, it is one of Manila’s top attractions.

While the Spanish once lived in Intramuros, the Chinese set up their homes in ‘Extramuros’ north of the river. Founded in 1594, it is the world’s oldest Chinatown and today it is still one of the grittiest, most characterful parts of this multicultural city. Other spots worth exploring include Forbes Park (nicknamed ‘Millionaire’s Row’) and the hip Poblacion neighbourhood.

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What to see and do in Manila

The best (and most fun) way to get around is to hop on a jeepney with the locals. The former US military jeeps, leftover from WWII, are painted bright colors and list their stops on the side. Head to Intramuros, then swap four wheels for two: rent a handmade bamboo bicycle from Bambike (the company also does guided cycling tours) and get pedaling.

The most important sights to tick off your list include Fort Santiago which encompasses the Rizal Shrine and museum where national hero and political leader Jose Rizal was incarcerated in the 19th-century; San Agustin church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest church in the Philippines (do not be put off by the plain exterior; inside there is an ornate, trompe l’oeil ceiling and quirky details such as a gilded pineapple under the pulpit) and the Casa Manila Museum, a reproduction of a Spanish colonial house that offers an insight into what life was like for the wealthy in the 19th-century.
If you are feeling peckish, grab a bite to eat in Chinatown.

New Po Heng Lumpia House does excellent Lumpiang Sariwa, a classic Filipino version of a spring roll that comes freshly-wrapped and bursting with carrots, cabbage, shrimps, tofu, peanuts, rice noodles, seaweed and pork. For delicate Shaomai Cantonese-style dumplings go to Dong Bei (what the restaurant lacks in atmosphere the food more than makes up for in taste). Then finish with dessert of mango sago (like a mango soup with floating tiny tapioca balls added for texture) or lemon-coloured ‘siopao’ (steamed buns) filled with egg custard at the President’s Tea House restaurant.

Walk off lunch with a stroll round Rizal Park, one of the largest urban green spaces in Asia and for a culture fix, the National Museum of the Philippines is nearby. Famous as the site where nationalist Jose Rizal was executed – there is a monument in commemoration – the vast park is also a popular meeting place for Filipinos at weekends.

End the day at Resort Worlds entertainment complex which encompasses a cinema, casino, bars and restaurants, or in Poblacion, the former red-light district in the backstreets of the Makati financial zone, where chic shops and speakeasy-style bars attract a cool crowd (try The Curator, a coffee shop by day and cocktail bar by night). A refreshing reward after a day spent discovering the best of this buzzing city.

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