My paradise: A historical look at Manila

by Master Sgt. Brendan C. Vargas
AFN Misawa

Most people arrive in the Philippines and use Manila as a transit point to head on to the world famous beaches the country is known for.

However, to skip out on visiting Manila, means you lose the chance to get a good introduction to what makes the Philippines tick. You will also miss out on getting a history lesson into one of Asia’s most interesting places; having been a former Spanish then U.S. colony before independence followed by Japanese occupation and eventual liberation during World War II.

After arriving in Ninoy Aquino International Airport, instead of heading for the glitz and upmarket streets of Makati or The Fort, head out to Roxas Boulevard and travel up the road to Intramuros for a look at old Manila and the impressive Spanish-era architecture that remains.

On arriving in Intramuros, make your first stop Fort Santiago, where you can learn about Dr. Jose Rizal, who was a driving force behind Philippine independence. Rizal was a Freemason and author who wrote many books that infuriated the Spanish and ultimately led to his arrest and execution.  It was Fort Santiago where he was jailed and executed. You can walk his final trail by following the footsteps you’ll notice on the grounds of the fort.
 
There are plenty of exhibitions in Fort Santiago that will give you good information on Rizal and Philippine Independence without overwhelming you.

After Fort Santiago, you can make your way over to the Manila Cathedral to see one of the largest Catholic Churches in Asia. At the same time, it’s worth learning the history the cathedral and many of the other buildings in old Manila. During the end of Japanese occupation in World War II, much of the city was completely destroyed when the allies liberated it.
 
The square next to Manila Cathedral is a great place to hire a “calesa,” which are the horse and buggy carts you see waiting for passengers. A good price to agree on for an hour of touring should be no more than 300 Pesos. The drivers will give you a full tour of Intramuros while explaining all of the important parts of the area. Stops worth taking include the Casa Espana and the different access points of the wall.

After your time in Intramuros is done, head back down Roxas to the Manila Hotel, the most historic hotel in Manila. It was here where Gen. Douglas MacArthur lived after he returned to the Philippines, and his suite has been maintained and is available to visit. It’s a good hotel to spend a few nights, or at the very least, have a cup of coffee in the lobby, as the Manila Hotel maintains high standards that complements its historical landmark status.

Within walking distance of the Manila Hotel is Rizal Park, or Luneta, where you can see the point from where all distances in the Philippines are measured from - kilometer zero. Plus it’s a nice green spot in the middle of the hectic city.

Further on down Roxas is the Aristocrat, a well-known and favorite restaurant of Filipinos celebrating its 80th year in business. Its barbeque chicken with java rice and sauce is fabulous, and there’s always time to try it because the restaurant stays open 24 hours. The Reyes family ensures that Lola Asiang’s recipes are followed to this day in order to serve some of the best meals in Manila. You can get a good taste for all kinds of Filipino classics while people watching in the large dining area. Oh, and make sure you save room for dessert because the Hot Tsokolate and flan should not be missed.

So while the hustle and bustle of historic Manila is definitely not the tranquil climes of the white sandy beaches the Philippines is well known for, taking the time to spend a few days there is well worth it.

• Why I like working for AFN:  What I like best about AFN is being part of a historic organization which has been a part of the military community overseas for over 70 years in one form or another.  We’ve provided the news and entertainment to keep service members and their families connected, as well as give our local friends outside the gates the chance to hear American music and connect to the USA.

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