Most countries have their own Chinese communities, though it is in the Philippines that you will find the oldest Chinatown in the world. Manila’s Chinatown is called Binondo –derived from the Tagalog word ‘binondoc’ which means ‘mountainous’ as it is set on a hilly landscape. Founded by the Spanish Governor Luis Perez Dasmarinas in 1594, the site was originally meant for Chinese immigrants who converted to Catholicism.
The location attracted many newcomers, and that's why not only ‘Sangleys’ (people with pure Chinese ancestry) have concentrated here; others such Spanish, American and Japanese make up this community. Because of its importance in the country's economy, Binondo has highest real estate value in the entire Philippines.
One of the must-visit sites in Chinatown is Binondo Church, an ancient Catholic place of worship. This church is also known as Quiapo Church or the Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz, dedicated to the first Filipino saint.
However, Christianity is not the only religion that is represented here, in fact there are also two famous Buddhist temples; namely the Seng Guan Temple which is usually full packed with people burning incense and offering fruits and food and the Kuang Kong Temple, which is the most popular as people go there to have a little glimpse of their fortune or to obtain simple answers to their questions.
The ritual is easy: quietly formulate questions that can only be answered by ‘yes’ or ‘no, take two wooden discs and let them drop on the floor. If the same two halves face up, wishes and requests can be granted but if they don't then it’s the other way around.
The Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch that can be seen downtown solidifies a special relationship and serves a bold reminder of the history between the two races.
The Manila Chinatown experience is not complete without visiting Escolta, a street that is considered the shopping hotspot of Manila where many luxurious brands were once showcased in the old art-style buildings. Presently Binondo is considered to be the centre of commerce, finance and trade for all types of businesses.
The Divisoria shopping mall is a landmark in the area and is a hub where suppliers, consumers and bargain hunters get to exchange goods. Escolta and Ongpin may be famous for its gold and jewelry, however it can't be denied that the area’s Chinese food is an attraction here. If one wants to adventure into exotic food such freshwater turtles, Peking duck, century eggs and other food that is normally hard to find, restaurants and food stands in the area are always open to serve you.
Hiring a calesa (horse drawn carriage) is one of the best ways to explore the beauty and charm of Binondo.
- Location: Located across the Pasig River from Intramuros, Third District of Metro Manila.
- How to get there: From NAIA 1-2-3 loop, take a train from the terminal near McDonalds, walk to the MRT Edsa Station and get off at the LRT-Carriedo Station.