This portion of my trip was the most disappointing of my travels though I am not prepared to blame the cities. In Manilla, I simply chose the wrong location in the country to visit. Besides a few interesting historical sites from the Spanish occupation, there is very little in the city to see. I have since been told by a number of locals and frequent visitors that there are absolutely beautiful beaches, mountains, villages and resorts outside of the capital city and on the country’s other islands.
But don’t get me wrong – the old city in Manilla is interesting. I stayed in a hotel located in the old Intramuros (the original walled city the Spaniards built when they first colonized the Islands). Within walking distance, I visited the beautiful St. Augustine Basilica, the not so beautiful Manilla Cathedral, Museum of St Augustine, Fort Santiago, San Agustin Museum, San Diego gardens, Baluarte de San Diego, and did a walk by of General McCarthar’s Command Post during battle for the Islands during World War II.
By far, the St. Augustine Basilica and Museum was the highlight of my time in Manilla. The 500-year-old Basilica is beautiful and the museum dedicated to Spanish exploration, colonization, and trade routes between Europe – Asia – Mexico was fascinating. I easily spent half a day wandering thru the ancient hallways and cloisters admiring the artwork, studying the exhibits and reading the many written descriptions about life thru the ages.
After my long visit to the Basilica and Museum – I let myself be talked into a guided horse-drawn Kalesa tour. My tour guide had to be the world’s largest Phillopeno standing well over 6 feet and easily weighing over 300 pounds. I felt sorry for the poor old horse pulling our wagon with our combined weight of over 500 pounds. My guide was extremely knowledgeable as well as entertaining and I enjoyed the leisurely clop, clop, clop of the horse’s hooves on the cobblestone as my guide clued me in on how wicked the Spanish were during their hundreds of years of occupation, how exploitive the British were during their brief seven-year occupation, how cruel the Japanese were during their WWII occupation and how wonderful the American occupation pre WWII was. Of course, I can’t help but wonder if the descriptions change depending on the tourist.
Regardless, I enjoyed my exploration of Fort Santiago and was particularly amused by the little museum in the old armory. The only items on display in the entire museum were lego sets. Someone had reproduced every historical site in the Intramuros with legos. My son, Ryan, would have loved this – he spends thousands of dollars a year on his lego hobby!
I enjoyed a wonderful couple of meals at the historical Barbara’s Restaurant. The restaurant is in the heart of the Intramuros and the interior of the restaurant is beautiful retaining all the old world charm of its colonial linage. Adorned in rich old woods and ornately gilded mirrors and fixture the place if a feast for the eyes. The staff is also appropriately dressed in period outfits and the trio of wandering troubadours play a mix of traditional local songs and modern pop and rock requests as they drift from table to table. Oh, and the food is very good. I recommend this place 100%!
The only other point I would like to make about the old historical district of Manilla is the odd mixture of transportation options. I have already mentioned the Kalesa wagon, you can also take the ubiquitous Tuk Tuk that you find all over Asia, and strangest of all – you can cram into one of the many Jeepneys cruising the cobblestone streets and lanes of the Intramuros.
The Jeepney is an odd-looking hybrid of a vehicle. The vehicle looks like the bastard result of a one night stand between a jeep and an Airstream travel trailer. Someone, obviously, after way too many shots of whiskey, bottles of beer or bongs of weed got the idea of cutting the back end off a jeep and adding a 10foot section of benches over the rear wheels, covering the back of the extended jeep in sheet metal, cutting out windows and covering it all in shinny chrome. And, just like that, Manilla had a cross between a taxi and a bus!
Hong Kong & Macau (China)
My next stop was Hong Kong and unfortunately, it rained the entire time I spent in both Hong Kong and Macau. Many of the things I had planned to do here got washed out with the weather. The highlight of my time here was a day visiting the old city on Macau. I hopped on a turbo ferry for the hour ride over to Macau Island then bypassed all the glitzy casinos (I’ve seen the same ones in Las Vegas too many times) and headed straight for the old colonial Macau.
While in the old city, I enjoyed wandering thru the small streets and lanes lined with centuries-old buildings remodeled to house café’s, trendy clothing stores, jewelry stores, and other assorted tourist traps on my way to the Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Macau Museum, the Mount Fortress, St. Dominic’s Church, the Lou Kau Mansion, and St. Augustine’s Church.
I have attached plenty of photos of the day so I will let them speak for themselves. I had hoped to take the Peak Tram to the top of Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island once I returned and then walk the trails at the top until sunset but no such luck. It was pouring rain when the ferry docked so I caught a taxi back to the hotel and missed Victoria Peak. The rain also ruined my plans to visit the Po Lin Monastery, the Stanley Market and Stanley Beach.
I did manage to make it down to the SoHo District for a nice Turkish Dinner and drinks at a pub catering to British Expats. There I met a couple of Brits at the bar who are currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand but working in Hong Kong selling German real estate to rich Chinese. Guess it really is a global economy.
The older guy was too drunk to make a lot of sense but the younger one helped me understand the basics of the Cricket match on the television and surprisingly knew a good bit about American politics and blues music. There was a third Brit who drifted in and out of the conversation that constantly lifted his shirt to expose his huge beer belly and demand I punch him in the gut as hard as I could. I obviously declined the repeated invitations to test his metal. And that was how my Hong Kong misadventure in the monsoon went. So on to Taiwan.