The Philippines. Manila, land of 7,000 islands.

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Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is a densely populated bayside city on the island of Luzon that mixes Spanish colonial architecture, Filipino tradition, and modern skyscrapers. The archipelago consists of mover 7,000 islands of which only 2,000 of them inhabited.

The walled city of Intramuros (its name literally means a city within the walls) has recently undergone a regeneration period. Built by the Spanish in 1521 on land between Manila Bay and the Pasig River, it was the heart of Manila during Spanish colonial times, with two moats, and numerous cannons. The fortified walls were designed to ward off foreign invaders and protect them from natural and manmade disasters.

Intramuros are best explored by bicycle, preferably made of bamboo. Bambikes are handmade by workers employed by Gawad Kalinga, a community-based development organization working to bring an end to poverty. Within Intramuros, Fort Santiago houses the Rizal Shrine, named after national hero José Rizal, who was imprisoned and executed here in 1896. There’s a theatre called Dulaang Rajah Soliman for cultural and art performances and a white cross in the manicured gardens in honour of Filipino freedom fighters.

The Baroque San Agustin Church is the oldest in the Philippines and the first point of worship for visiting popes. It has undergone fire, typhoons, and earthquake damage over the years, but always manages to rise up again.

A vivacious and underrated city, Manila has an improved economy that has helped grow a middle class and subsequently has given rise to over a hundred shopping malls, some of such phenomenal scale that they come complete with modern gyms, medical clinics, and even churches.

The historic Binondo neighbourhood is the oldest Chinatown in the world and is home to some of the most expensive real estate in the Philippines. A thriving Asian megacity with skyscrapers rising into the hazy sky away from the expansive shanty towns that surround the city, as well as outstanding sightseeing, there are edgy galleries, speakeasy bars, artisan food markets and a collective of nomadic travel writers and bloggers who’ve set up temporary home here, almost with the express purpose of singing the city’s praise.

One of Asia’s most underrated cities, it certainly is also one of its coolest.

He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination. — Jose Rizal

** This post forms part of my 100x Magical Places series which offers an introduction to my favourite destinations.

** Pics sourced.

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