Manila doesn’t have a huge number of tourist attractions.  One of the most famous, if not the most famous, is Intramuros.  It is a citadel built by the Spanish in the late 16th Century, to protect the city from foreign invasions.  It was badly damaged during the Second World War, but restoration work began in the early 1950s.  Today it is a mix of old Spanish-looking streets and buildings, some of which have been turned into museums, and an area where local Filipinos live, work and play.

After almost 11 months in Manila, this was a site which we had still not visited.  We decided to visit today.  We had heard mixed reviews from others who had already been there – some friends who live in Manila and most recently from my dad and sister who ventured there during their short stay in Manila.  So I dug out the Lonely Planet to get some tips.  One of the best tips was to head to Fort Santiago, where they have a visitor centre which gives out good maps of the walled city.

Fort Santiago has been made into a museum.  The grounds are immaculate and the buildings in a good state of repair (other than those which are under restoration at the moment including the Rizal Shrine).  As you wander around the fort, you spot many a horse and carriage (of many different designs).  Whilst the horses are tiny, they are in very good condition (compared to some of the ones we’ve seen in Binondo and at Taal Volcano).  You could walk along part of the elevated wall which gives views of the Pasig river and real Manila on the other side of it.

One of the quirks of Intramuros is that there is a golf course which wraps around it.  I’m no golfer, but I’m led to believe that it’s quite a prestigious course here in Manila.  It was odd walking up to one of the walls and seeing people teeing off below you.  Not a sight I had expected to see!

From Fort Santiago we wandered down General Luna street.  Along this street lies the Manila Cathedral – an impressive looking building, but currently closed for renovation.  Parts of the street are cobbled and there are various restaurants and souvenir shops.  It has a really old feel to it, and you could be in parts of Europe here.  From there we headed down a few side streets, with our final destination of the Bay Leaf hotel in mind.  As you head down the side streets, the feel of Intramuros changes completely.  The streets become full of tricycles (of the push-bike rather than the motorbike variety), local street stalls and, as it was a Sunday, lots of locals enjoying some time with their family and friends.

Today was the day that Manny Pacquiao was fighting Brandon Rios in Macau so as you walked down some of the quieter streets you could hear TV / radio broadcasts of the fight.  Manny is a pretty big deal in the Philippines.  And he won the fight.

We reached our destination of the Bay Leaf Hotel only to find that the roof deck didn’t open until 5pm.  We asked if we could go up for a look anyway.  When we got up there we realised that the bar there WAS closed, but that you could order food and/or drinks from 9 Spoons restaurant and get them delivered to the roof deck.  So that’s just what we did.  It’s a great spot with views all over Manila, including the bay.  It would be a great spot for some sundowners.  We’ll just have to head back.

So I probably would recommend Intramuros for a visit.  I’d start at Fort Santiago and work your way from there – it gives you a base, and you’re not just dropped somewhere in what may feel like a bit of a ghetto to some.

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