I was a little too trigger happy when exploring Intramuros. Camera-wise of course. This was the first thing I knew I wanted to do when returning to the Philippines. I had returned to Manila every couple of years since I was a baby. I lived in Makati when I was 2. Returned again in 1999 for an extended stay. Again in 2007 for a summer (when I was not interested in traveling whatsoever). In 2011 for my Abuelita’s 100th birthday celebration. And then in 2014 for close to 3 months. Even recently made a trip back for a wedding which was super bitin (short). I don’t even know if I can put into words how much my trip in 2014 changed me. Leading up to that trip I was so excited. I wanted to learn more about my culture. Experience the foreignness of another country which midway didn’t feel so foreign anymore. Typing this now my heart is overflowing with how much I miss it. The land and the people felt authentic. I miss the road trips against the green jungle and the mountains, rivers, humble people.
It’s hard to understand the root of this all if you spend all your time in the city. However if you do find yourself in the Manila madness, as I mentioned before, Intramuros is a must. For a lot of travelers unfamiliar with the Philippines, it’s hard to imagine these old Spanish era towns exist. A lot are unaware of the ties Filipino history has with Spain. And so on this tour around Intramuros I learned a lot about my culture. Most of my friends being Latina they didn’t understand why a lot of Tagalog words were Spanish (but spelt very different like cuento vs. kwento). The Spanish had conquered both our countries. In fact, Mexico was able to gain their independence from Spain 88 years before the Philippines was able to. When my mom was growing up, Spanish was still taught in schools and was her first language. Of course it’s different for all Filipinos. WARNING: ANOTHER PICTURE HEAVY POST.
As I mentioned in Part I, after paying a small fee at the gate you will be greeted by the gardens in Plaza Moriones before crossing the bridge to the main gate.
Back to where I left off, standing at the gate of Fort Santiago. This was once a defense fortress for the Spanish, Americans as well as the Japanese during the war. The main gate pictured below is a replica of what once stood before being destroyed during the war.
After crossing the gate is where you will be able to explore the Rizal Shrine museum, the old prison cells of the fortress and a rather colorful yet chaotic view of the Binondo. Here is where Jose Rizal was imprisoned and executed. You can find his final footsteps on the ground in bronze. Turn left to enter the museum which is included in the entrance fee.
I took very few pictures inside, but it is filled with everything Jose Rizal related. His life was so interesting. Our guide even let us in on a little conspiracy about whether or not Jose Rizal fathered Hitler. He had lots of girlfriends in different countries, spoke many different languages and he was shorter than me. I only know this thanks to the life-size cutout of him. The museum is spread out on two floors. The exit is on the 2nd where you follow a path to a full view of the Binondo and the colorful buildings.
And then me, snapping away in a hat my mom insisted on buying from a street vendor before entering Fort Santiago. The Binondo is considered the worlds oldest Chinatown. We continued along this path with our guide to a lower level.
After making our way past the historic dungeons and old prison cells we’re back on ground level. You can see where Jose Rizal was once imprisoned (and how short he was again). From here the embedded footsteps on the ground show his final walk to his execution.
My mom and I walked out under the main gate again and took pictures of the Philippine flag with the top of the Manila Cathedral in the background. The sun was going down, and there were a lot more tourists wandering Intramuros. I was absolutely exhausted by this time – due more to the fact I was hungover from the wild night before. We toured Intramuros on a Thursday and started way early. The drive from our home in Makati to Intramuros took about an hour thanks to traffic.
Our tour guide was great! Having spent most of the day sharing his knowledge of Intramuros. We parted ways at the entrance of Fort Santiago. My mom and I had a cheap, late lunch at Chowking before walking back to Plaza de Roma. Pictured below is Palacio del Gobernador (Governor’s Palace) which is the huge building to the right of us walking toward the Manila Cathedral.
We walked down the street we took earlier with the kalesa to view things we didn’t stop for, such as the statue pictured above. It’s a memorial dedicated to all the fallen innocent victims of the war. We continued along which of course didn’t seem far on a kalesa but it was a bit of a walk.
We made it back to our favorite stop. Casa Manila. Wishing I had paid and explored the museum. At least we had the different courtyards to wander around and take pictures in. Pictured above is another transportation option if you want to get around Intramuros other than by foot (it’s big, so walking the whole thing isn’t something I recommend). It’s a tricycle which you find all over the Philippines. It can only fit 1-2 passengers – just to be safe. We sat down at a small cafe by the White Knight Hotel and pondered grabbing desserts (I wonder why we didn’t). From the Casa Manila courtyard we entered The Papier Tole Shop filled to the brim with a lot of original paper art work. Two were in the store creating more masterpieces while we shopped around. It was a little dusty and small. I love notebooks and so I decided on buying two of them here. There were these “secret books” which looked like a regular huge novels but inside, pages were hollowed out to hide – I don’t know, anything. The type of books you see in movies where the main character is most likely hiding a gun in a thick dictionary. I want one of these. Yes, still! I believe it was about 200-400 pesos.
Our driver met us across the street inside the parking lot of San Agustin Church. He took us around the corner to Baluarte de San Diego. I know I told myself earlier that day I would go back but by the time we were done touring I just about had it for the day. The sun was setting and my feet were aching despite my comfy shoes. From pictures I’ve seen online, this is still something I want to see.
In the future I can see myself taking my kids around here. Especially on a kalesa, they would love it. Why didn’t I? I was unsure of the heat and the crowds. Another thing I would do different is eat somewhere other than the standard Chowking. I want to try Barbara’s, next to my favorite courtyards. Exploring Intramuros is definitely something you can do in one day. And it helps to have someone guide you along the different buildings and interesting history.