Unlike all the other great cities that define the Asian cultural landscape, in the Filipino capital Manila, situated on the island of Luzon, you will simply not find the usual assortment of pagodas, temples and ancient monuments.

Prior to the arrival of the Spanish in 1571, the pre-existing indigenous civil infrastructure was largely fashioned from natural materials and has long since decayed.


The original walled city was the only enduring indigenous creation, dismantled and refashioned by the Spanish into what is now the main heritage area of Manila, the walled enclosure of Intramuros, once the focal point of colonial governance.

Despite the utter destruction wrought upon the city during the Second World War, it is still possible to encounter the evocative ghost of the soul of the great pre-war city once described as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, a seemingly unlucky moniker, which was also once used to describe Phnom Penh in Cambodia, another Asian gem severely damaged by warfare.

The historic walled battlements still remain and can be walked upon to get an interesting overview of Intramuros, the entire circuit some 4.5 kilometres in length. Along the outer edge of the walls, the Intramuros golf course picturesquely encircles the old city as a reminder of the original moat and provides the beautiful setting for a unique round.

At the northwestern end of the walled enclosure, Fort Santiago is the greeting sentinel, close to the Pasig River. Within its ramparts, lingers the memory of Jose Rizal, in the shape of the Rizal Shrine, paying homage to the national independence hero, who was imprisoned here prior to his execution.

Within Intramuros, the only wholly intact structure to survive the 1945 battle of Manila is the San Augustine Church, dating back to 1587, one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, and still an active place of worship with an interesting ornate interior. The other great church in the old city is Manila Cathedral, a 1950’s reconstruction of the war-destroyed original.

Casa Manila was built by Imelda Marcos as a homage to Late Spanish colonial style and provides a view of how the upper classes lived in the colonial heyday and features authentic furniture and art from the period.

Directly south of Intramuros, Rizal Park is the site of Rizal’s execution, where a series of bronzes recount and commemorate the event. On the west side of the park, the Rizal Monument houses his remains.

At the eastern edge of the park a novel pond contains a lifelike relief map of the Philippines. The adjacent National Museum of the Filipino People takes the visitor on a journey from prehistory, through the various indigenous ethnic groups and their artistic endeavours, to the Spanish era, while the National Gallery of Art houses the nation’s art treasures.

West of the park, the Quirino Grandstand is the site where Filipino Presidents take their oath of office, beyond which Manila Bay spreads out before you, site of Manila Ocean Park and the dock area.

To the south of Ocean Park, the Baywalk along Roxas Boulevard is renowned for its peaceful sunsets, while a little way inland lies the modern shopping mall of Robinson's Place, and a touch further south, the restaurants, bars and tourist hotels of Remedios Circle. At the end of the Baywalk, you’ll find Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden, Star City Amusement Park and the City of Dreams Casino Complex.

To the northeast of old historic Intramuros, across the Pasig River, lies the Plaza Santa Cruz and Carriedo Fountain, beyond which the Arch of Goodwill leads into the fascinating world of Chinatown, while to the east of the gate, the market stalls of Carriedo Street and Plaza Miranda are a bustling area of interest.

In the sprawling mass of greater Manila, the Marinka Shoe Museum may tempt the curious to visit the infamous shoe collection of Imelda Marcos, brimming with a mere quarter of the lady's famous fetish.

On the southern outskirts of the city, the US Cemetery and Memorial is dedicated to the sacrifice of US soldiers in the Philippines during the Second World War.