Metro Manila · Diving deep into the old town - Malate and Chinatown

Binondo Chinatown "/var/ezdemo_site/storage/images/media/manila/images-manila/unnamed-and-untagged/binondo-chinatown2/873983-1-eng-GB/Binondo-Chinatown_zoom_image.jpg" 2000 1015 Binondo Chinatown

The city of Manila - which is located in the Megacity with the same name - has previously been the business district of the Metro region and as such has a lot to offer for Megacitizens - until today. It . Today, our Megacities team visited the Hotspot Chinatown and the Hotdot Malate and presents to you a unique view into the 'old town' - a stark contrast to the glamorous parts of the Megacity such as Makati or The Fort.

It has been years since our team last visited Chinatown. The place which used to be bustling with vendors and lamps with red and golden balloons - even when it is not Chinese New Year or the Mooncake Festival - now just looks like one of those sketchy places in the metro. It partly seemed like a no-man's-land even though there are still a number of establishments in the area. It is also interesting to note that, although it was a Saturday, only very few of these establishments were open. Chinatown does not look as lively as before, probably because the crowds and many of the Chinese vendors have moved to Quiapo near the Quiapo Church. A lot has changed, so it is even more difficult to find the pearls that Chinatown has to offer: vendors selling traditional Chinese ingredients, lotions and accessoires as well as the best Peking ducks in town.

Binondo Church, which is located on the outer portion of Chinatown, is definitely worth visiting! A lot of people come here and pray or just enjoy the architecture and spirit of this building. If you are going to Chinatown, reserve some of your time to see the Church. Across Chinatown is a newly opened mall which had its soft opening in August of last year. All Chinese restaurants seem to be there and they no longer look like the usual Chinese restaurant with traditional oriental interiors - they all resemble a modern Chinese look.

Whenever you travel within Manila, be prepared to haggle - not only in the Chinese shops. Getting around via cab, pedicab or whatever other mode of transportation the place has to offer can be a pain. Conductors always try to charge more, arguing about traffic and similar things. To be really up for it, just take this already into account, pack some one-hundred Peso bills extra and don't let your experience get spoiled by the little things that happen to all Megacitizens. It is also never wrong to bring a map - or even better a smartphone with GPS. The streets and signs in Manila can be very confusing at times.

++ Update November 4, 2015 ++

Although Manila’s Chinatown is no longer as vibrant as it was before, many Megacitizens still go to Binondo to visit Chinese restaurants that serve a range of authentic Chinese cuisine. But there is more to see in this place and this includes the Binondo Church built in the year 1596, the Santo Cristo de Longos displayed near the church’s side entrance, Ongpin Street, Buddhist temples Kuang Kong and Seng Guan, and Escolta.

The City of Manila unveiled the world’s largest Chinatown Arch in June 23, 2015 near Jones Bridge. The unveiling was attended by City Mayor Joseph Estrada, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, and a number of officials from the Philippine Chinese Charitable Association and the Guangzhou Foreign Affairs Office.

The Tsinoy community is said to be unhappy about the arch though, sources say. According to Kaisa Foundation founder Tessy Ang-See, what is written on the arch is not representative of the Chinese community in Manila. Ang-See said that the inscription reads as chong guo zhen (China Town) which implies that the area is a Chinese outpost instead of hua ren qu that implies that the area is an ethnic district . Ang-See added, “We have the Jollibee and Starbucks beside the Wai Yung restaurant and President Tea House. Where else can you see hopia that is ube in flavor or chiffon cakes sold side by side Chinese steam buns? Binondo is unique in its  blending and that is what should be celebrated instead.”

Getting Home From Chinatown

The area can be scary for the uninitiated especially when the sun is no longer out and you are itching to go home. As mentioned in our previous visits, getting a cab home is difficult and one would encounter men offering to get you a taxi. Most of the time, the cab driver won’t set the meter and you’d be asked to give a tip to the guy who got you a cab and pay the cab driver an agreed amount. This is prevalent right outside of Chinatown near the church. What you can do to solve this problem is to get on a tricycle and have the driver drop you off at España. You can get a cab home from there.