Philippines is an oasis in the heart of Asia. Its here that you will find waterfalls, beautiful beaches, ancient rice terraces, volcanoes and reefs brimming with aquatic life. However, if you only spend time in Manila, you won’t see much of this. What you’ll experience is massive traffic sprawls, congestion and a country that seems to have been frozen in the 1980s while the rest of Asia has motored ahead.
My mother and her family was born in the Philippines and my childhood memories are filled with Decembers in Manila which were warm and balmy. My fondest memories of Philippines are the outgoing people, who are incredibly friendly and seem to really enjoy life. Try out the karaoke bars (where I promise you will find among the best cover bands in the world) and spend some time outside of Manila. Although travel can be risky in the southern islands and in some rural areas, the majority of the Philippines are considered safe for travelers.
The City of Manila (Filipino: Lungsod ng Maynila), or simply Manila, is the capital of the Philippines and one of the municipalities that comprise Metro Manila. The city is located on the eastern shore of Manila Bay on Luzon, the country’s largest island. Manila is the hub of a thriving metropolitan area home to over 10 million people. Manila is the second most populous city proper in the Philippines, with more than 1.5 million inhabitants. Only nearby Quezon City, the country’s former capital, is more populous.
Manila got its name from may nilad, Tagalog for “there is nilad,” in reference to the flowering mangrove plant that grew on the marshy shores of the bay. In the 16th century, Manila (then Maynilad) grew from a Muslim settlement on the banks of the Pasig River into the seat of the colonial government of Spain when it controlled the Philippine Islands for over three centuries from 1565 to 1898. Beginning in 1898, the United States occupied and controlled the city and the Philippine archipelago until 1946. During World War II, much of the city was destroyed. The Metropolitan Manila region was enacted as an independent entity in 1975. Today, the city and the metropolis thrive as an important cultural and economic center. However, overpopulation, traffic congestion, pollution, and crime challenge the city.
It was called Bagumbayan (English: New Town) in Spanish times, and became known later on as Luneta. It is also called Rizal Park, officially called so by 1917 in tribute to the Philippines’s national hero, Dr.Jose Rizal. The body of the hero is said to lie under his memorial statue there, with ceremonial soldiers guarding the site. His poem, “Mi Ultimo Adios” (”My Last Farewell”) is inscribed on the memorial plaque. The name “Luneta” is synonymous to the word lunette; the park was said to have the shape of a half moon in Spanish times, where it was beside a Spanish fort serving as a buffer during rebellions by the locals.
The bronze and granite Rizal monument in Luneta has long been considered as among the most famous sculptural landmarks in the country. It is almost protocol for visiting dignitaries to lay a wreath at the monument. At the Luneta is not merely a statue of the national hero, but also the mausoleum that houses his remains. Both statue and mausoleum are located near the very spot where Rizal was executed.
Nayong Pilipino, or Philippine Village, features the country’s famous landmarks in miniature. Weekends are good days to visit, when the park assumes a barrio fiesta (village festival) atmosphere, complete with traditional games, indigenous music, songs and dances, and craft demonstrations.
The Philippine Villlage is a 45-acre theme park that is a great place to visit to get a quick taste of Philippines and its culture. The display is divided into a number of geographic displays: Ilocos, Cordillera Central, Tagalog, Bicol, Visayas, and Mindanao. Each of these displays contains a typical house or building and a typical landscape of its region. For example, the Visayas display contains a replica of the historical landmark, Magellan’s Cross, Cebu, and Bohol’s famous Chocolate Hills.
In the grounds of Nayong Pilipino you can also visit the Philippine Museum of Ethnology, the Museum ng Buhay Filipina (antiques museum), the Museum of Philippine Dolls, an aquarium, an aviary of Philippine birds, and a garden of Philippine plants.
Beautifully symmetrical Mayon volcano, which rises to 2462 m above the Albay Gulf, is the Philippines’ most active volcano and is located outside of Manila in Southern Luzon. The structurally simple volcano has steep upper slopes averaging 35-40 degrees that are capped by a small summit crater. The historical eruptions of this basaltic-andesitic volcano date back to 1616 and range from strombolian to basaltic plinian, with cyclical activity beginning with basaltic eruptions, followed by longer term andesitic lava flows. Eruptions occur predominately from the central conduit and have also produced lava flows that travel far down the flanks. Mayon’s most violent eruption, in 1814, killed more than 1200 people and devastated several towns.
One of the most interesting aspects of the volcano, aside from its activity, is the Legend of Magayon. Legend says that there once lived a very beautiful native princess who had an uncle named Magayon. He was so possessive of his niece that no man dared to challenge his wrath by courting the favors of the young maiden. One day, however, a brave and virile warrior was so smitten by the princess that he threw all cares to the wind, clambered up through the window of the royal chamber and enticed the girl to elope with him. With Magayon at their heels, the couple prayed to the gods for assistance. Suddenly from out of nowhere, a landslide buried the raging uncle alive. Local folks now claim that it is Magayon’s anger bursting forth in the form of eruptions.
Below is a picture of me and my cousin, Anna Lisa, with Mayon/Magayon in the background.