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Manila Travel Guide

The capital of the Philippines is as different to the delicate white flower after which it was named as you can get. A sprawling metropolis, covering nearly 250,000sq miles and home to approximately 10million people, it is almost the antithesis of the rest of this laid back often breathtakingly beautiful archipelago country. That's not to say Manila doesn't have its charm. A cultural melting pot where East meets West, where Spanish colonial churches stand side by side with Oriental mosques, where horse drawn carriages vie for road space with jeepneys (makeshift minibuses/taxis) and homes with no running water or electricity stand in the shadow of steel and glass uber-towers. The largest city in Southeast Asia, Manila is not for the feint hearted, its relentless bustle and notorious nightlife are both enthralling and draining, but if it's action you're looking for prepare yourself to be spoilt rotten.

Amongst the modern day razzmatazz there are plenty of enclaves reflecting the City's rich and diverse history. The oldest district is Chinatown, which actually predates the city itself, dating back to the 12th century when it was a thriving trade and business centre. Here the streets are lined with superb restaurants and intriguing herbalist shops; there are imposing Catholic and Buddhist mausoleums, Dragon temples and colourful markets.

The oldest section of the city proper is Intramuros; an old walled city built by Spanish colonialists in the early 16th century, then destroyed by fire and rebuilt by Chinese invaders before the century was out. The Spanish influence is still very much in evidence in the architecture; of particular note are its churches - Manila Cathedral with its wonderful Italian statuary and impressive bronze doors and San Augustin Church, which is the oldest building in the country.

Those looking for a little greenbelt should head to the lovely Rizal Park, named after the national hero Jose Rizal, who was incarcerated and executed in the nearby Fort Santiago; it is filled with verdant open spaces and well-manicured gardens. Manila's museums include the metropolitan, home to pre-colonial gold and pottery from the Philippine Treasury, National, which contains artefacts from the San Diego shipwreck and Malacanang Palace, official residence of the Filipino Presidents, now a peoples museum.

Manila really comes alive after sundown and has arguably the best nightlife in Asia. Sophisticated, wild and often raunchy, it is a hedonists dream come true. Countless bars, clubs and pubs pump music out well into the early hours. Packed restaurants sell mouth-watering and unfeasibly inexpensive delicacies from the corners of the earth. You can watch world class theatre, opera and classical music, dance to traditional Filipino music, swirl uncontrollably around sweaty techno clubs, drink yourself senseless with the locals or indulge in a plethora of distinctly seedy activities. Virtually anything you want you can get for a price - and the prices are almost all uniformly low.

Manila may look, at first glance, like a city with no heart. Poverty and greed are widespread and many parts of the city are grubby and uninviting. But this is the Philippines and the Filipinos pride themselves on their good nature, politeness and hospitality. Nowhere else will you find Asians so open and friendly towards Westerners. Even if you spend just a day or two it is worth making the effort, and after you can simply flit off to some distant white sand beach, relax, recover and imagine it was all one big, fun filled crazy dream.

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Manila Travel Guide, Attractions and Highlights
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