When was the last time you thoroughly looked at a city? I mean, really looked. With our busy millennial lives today, it’s becoming difficult to appreciate the Metro for what it is—a hotpot of culture and tradition—before we’re harried to the next meeting or the next party. Underneath all the hustle and bustle, the center of Metro Manila hides a cultural personality that welcomes all those who would only stop to look.
Despite being the most densely populated city in the world, Manila is still one of the world’s prime spots for urban tourism and photography. You just need to have the right tools and know the right places. Here’s a quick guide of what you need to bring and remember before you go on a little excursion in Manila:
The right camera. Never leave home without a camera. The most important gear that an urban photographer should bring is his or her camera. Luckily, with today’s technology, anything can be a camera—a DSLR, a mirrorless, a point-and-shoot, or even a smartphone. Whichever you choose to bring, always keep it safe and snug with a phone case or a lengthy camera strap. When it’s secure, have it readily available for those quick moments you just absolutely have to take a photo of. You’ll never know what unbelievable sights you might stumble upon by just walking through busy streets.
My weapon of choice: my Nikon D7200, 18-140mm kit lens. While mirrorless cameras offer portability and almost the same quality, there’s nothing quite like handling a DSLR for real-world situations. The hardy setup offers maximum control over your photos regardless of lighting situation. Taking a variety of lenses can improve your photos, but since you’ll be walking a lot of the time, it’s better to carry just the one lens you’re most comfortable with.
The right car. Manila is a city you can traverse on foot. With a day’s walk ahead of you though, it’ll be lucky if you finish with less than two blisters on your feet. It’s more convenient to go around the city in a car. It’s also a safer alternative than letting all your expensive gear hang loose on straps around you. Choose one that confidently straddles the fine line between luxurious comfort and urban performance.
My weapon of choice: the 2017 Ford Ecosport 1.5L Titanium. With a 110ps/142Nm engine, the urban SUV can power through both bumper-to-bumper traffic and long expressways with ease. The MacPherson struts and semi-independent twist beams butters its way through Binondo’s narrow streets and deep potholes. Further, Ford’s SYNC connectivity feature allows easy and hands-free use of your phone and your music. Oh, and let’s not forget that sweet, sweet trunk space for all your camera gear, luggage, and snacks.
National Museum of the Philippines. Located closely to the iconic bell tower of Manila City Hall, the National Museum houses the country’s greatest collection of national artistry and anthropology including Juan Luna’s Spolarium. The museum is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, 10am to 5pm. Because of the success of their previous “free-admission months,” the National Museum is now permanently free of charge for all visitors.
Binondo. What’s an urban tourism trip without food? Whether it’s making your own dumplings at Dong Bei or sampling Eng Bee Tin’s hopia, Binondo has enough food to feed a whole barangay from breakfast to dinner. The Manila district is home to the Philippine’s most authentic Chinese food. Shop owners operate quaint restaurants around the district’s narrow streets with recipes passed down through generations. After eating, catch a cold can of Wong Lo Kat, a Chinese herbal tea drink, to wash it all down.
Wushu and lion dancing. Bombastic parades of lion costumes aren’t displays exclusive to the Chinese New Year. Wushu is a martial art steeped in centuries of Chinese tradition. Lion dancing is an art form that applies the movements of wushu and transforms them into a beautiful dance of color and costume. Commonly done to ward off evil spirits, the art of lion dancing also portrays stories and myths treasured by Chinese tradition. Throughout Manila, dojos hold classes to teach the ancient self-defense martial art to willing students and participants.
Intramuros at night. In itself, Intramuros is already a hotspot for tourist activity. The “walled city” houses the country’s oldest pieces of history draped in old cobblestone and decommissioned artillery. What most explorers don’t realize is that Intramuros is just as culturally rich at night as it is when the sun is up. Those who do appreciate Intramuros at night often attribute the walled city with ghost walks. Nighttime Intramuros is richer than ghost hunting. Its antique ambiance, highlighted by the guardia civil patrolling the city, makes for an eerie walking experience that will take tourists back to the Spanish Colonial era. (Plus, the Ford Ecosport makes for an amazing subject for photos!)
Rizal Park Hotel. Conclude your daytime trek in the luxurious and newly-renovated Rizal Park Hotel. Initially established in 1911 for American military personnel, the establishment has gone through periods of disrepair and renovation throughout its century of life—first during the bombings of World War II and, recently, a declared state of neglect in 2014. Now, the once exclusive club opens its doors to the public with 110 beautifully designed rooms and interiors.
Manila is so much more than aging relic of the past. Steeped in so much history, the capital of the Philippines is one step away from learning more about the country we call home. Its inner beauty hides between the wafting smells of burning asphalt and scrumptious hopia, below uneven cobblestones and crumbling buildings.