Traveller 10: Ten things to see in Manila to help you get to know the Philippines

INTRAMUROS

First-time visitors to Manila are surprised to find a European walled city in the heart of the Filipino capital. Originally built by 16th-century Spaniards who declared Manila the capital of the colony they named after King Phillip II, it was largely destroyed during World War II. But Intramuros – "within the walls" – was designed to repel foreign invaders and has been painstakingly restored. When you visit Intramuros, where there are also good shopping and eating options, make sure you see San Agustin, the oldest church in the Philippines and the only UNESCO World Heritage listed site inside the walled area. See intramuros.gov.ph

AYALA'S DIORAMA

The six-storey, privately funded Ayala Museum was opened in 2004 and is revered by Filipinos for its amazing collection of pre-Spanish gold artefacts, ceramics and textiles, items that show how developed the native culture was before European intervention. But if you only have an hour, use 50 minutes to study the 60 handcrafted dioramas that explain the country's history, from multiple invasions to modern independence and democracy. Save the last 10 minutes to watch the film about how President Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown by the "people power" revolution of 1986. See ayalamuseum.org

MANILA CATHEDRAL

Back in the heart of Intramuros, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is the mother church of the Philippines, and the eighth to be built on the same site. The first, made of wood in 1571, was destroyed by fire. The second and third fell victim to earthquakes. The fourth was razed in a typhoon. Five and six fell to more earthquakes, while number seven was destroyed in the Battle of Manila in 1945. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis have held mass here. Venture inside during mass to appreciate how Catholicism is so interwoven with Filipinos' lives. See manilacathedral.com.ph

JOSE RIZAL MUSEUM

Dr Jose Protasio Rizal Mercado y Realonda​ was the great Filipino nationalist executed by the Spanish on December 30, 1896. Poet, novelist, artist, sculptor, linguist, physician, journalist and inveterate ladies man, Rizal was one of the outstanding polymaths of the 19th century. This museum – at Fort Santiago, part of Intramuros overlooking the Pasic River – is fascinating and just metres away from where Rizal was imprisoned before being sentenced to death on trumped up charges of rebellion and sedition. Legend has it that a second firing squad of Spaniards lined up to shoot any of the Filipino members of the first firing squad who failed to fire. See nhcp.gov.ph/museums/rizal-shrine-fort-santiago/

MANILA HOTEL

Rizal's death was in vain. Two years later, the US invaded the Philippines as part of the Spanish-American war (which was fought over Mexico). An elegant reminder of this is the Manila Hotel, opened in 1912 and the first luxury hotel in the archipelago. Its most famous resident was General Douglas MacArthur who occupied, with family and staff, the entire top floor from 1935 to 1941, when the Japanese began bombing the US military base as soon as they'd finished with Pearl Harbour. Ask the concierge about the hotel's fascinating heritage room, or simply take afternoon tea in the elegant lobby or a cocktail in the Tap Room. See manila-hotel.com.ph

US CEMETERY

MacArthur famously vowed "I shall return" when he landed in Adelaide after his hasty exit from Manila. And return he did in 1945, but not without cost. This cemetery, containing 17,000 bodies which were identified of the 36,000 US servicemen and Filipino "Scouts" who died in this theatre of war, is the largest outside the US. It manages not only to be spiritual, beautiful and multicultural, but highly informative. Reserve some time to study the names of the 36,000 on the monumental walls, then study the mosaic maps that explain the Philippines' central position in World War II on a heroic scale. See abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/pacific/manila-american-cemetery

MAKATI MALLS

If Filipinos love church, they love shopping malls even more (it may have as much to do with the airconditioning as the bargain prices). The high rise city of Makati is the country's financial centre, with most of the country's major banks and corporations based here, along with the trading floor of the Philippine Stock Exchange, many embassies and international hotels. Unsurprisingly, Makati is the richest city in the Philippines, though only half of the million people who work in Makati can afford to live here. The good news, from a tourist perspective, is that Makati is safe and you can stroll to most of the places of interest on a series of elevated walkways which conveniently link most of the malls. See makati.gov.ph

BONIFACIO GLOBAL CITY

Makati has a rival. "BGC", or "the Fort" as it's popularly known, is named after Andres Bonifacio, a guerrilla leader executed by the Spanish after the so-called Philippine revolution in 1897. Built on part of what used to be Fort McKinley, the US army base wiped out by the Japanese in 1941, BGC is the future of the Philippines. Probably the best way to learn about what is essentially a high rise business district with a lively street art section is to take a guided 90-minute bike ride with Bambike Ecotours . See bgc.com.ph/; bambike.com/ecotours

SALCEDO FOOD MARKET

Every Saturday, Filipinos head to Jaime Velasquez Park in the heart of Makati for "wet and dry food" from all corners of the world. Locals rush to stalls selling exotic – Mexican, Italian and Spanish – cuisine, while tourists will opt for genuine Filipino street food. Our lunch consisted of grilled fish wrapped in banana leaves, barbecued pork belly and several types of kebab, all washed down with lashings of home-made ginger beer. Sadly, our Filipino hosts persuaded us to try a local delicacy. Warning: do not order the grilled chicken intestines unless you have a strong stomach. See salcedomarket.org/

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DESSERT MUSEUM

Opened last year, this oddity of a "museum" says much about Filipino culture. It's multi-coloured, flippant and fun, provided you're prepared to let loose your inner child; actually, it's more of a children's adventure playground. There are eight themed rooms, each dedicated to a particular candy. Take the "marshmallow room". Did you know the marshmallow capital of the world is Ligonier, Indiana? Or that the "candy cane" was invented in Germany in the 1670s when a choirmaster came up with the idea to keep noisy children quiet during church services? See thedessertmuseum.com

Steve Meacham was a guest of Brisbane Airport Corporation, Fairmont Makati, Manila, and Philippine Airlines.

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