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When I mentioned I was going to visit the Philippines a few people told to ‘skip Manila’ or spend as little time there as possible. Well I completely disagree with them. I had a brilliant time in Manila and a lot of that was down to Carlos Celdran and his Intramuros walking tour, called “Walk This Way”.
When I was looking at things to do in Manila, travel blogger Alex in Wanderland suggested I try this famous intramuros walking tour. Although Alex hadn’t been able to do the tour herself, she said it was recommended to her and that it was a must-do in Manila. I’m grateful for the tip, because it showed me a whole other side to Manila!
This was without a doubt the best walking tour I have ever done!
Carlos is trying to change the way people look at Manila one tour at a time, and he certainly achieved that.
On a very hot and sunny afternoon I took a taxi from my hotel to Fort Santiago, the meeting point for the tour. A large number of people were gathered there; I would say more than half were Filipino and the rest were foreigners. Clearly word has spread about this tour and it is very popular with both locals and tourists!
The reason the tour is so successful is Carlos himself. Wearing a black top hat and a microphone, he explains the history of Manila in an entertaining, funny and passionate way, occasionally yelling at the top of his lungs “INTRAMUROS!!!!” or “SECULAR!!!!”. If only he had been my history teacher in school, I might have listened! There isn’t actually much walking involved in this tour…it’s more of a theatrical performance and history lesson rolled into one!
Beginning at Fort Santiago, Carlos launched into the tour with the national anthem and a quick explanation of Filipino words. Any inventions introduced by Americans are referred to by their brand names, hence the word for ‘photo’ is ‘kodak’, the word for ‘toothpaste’ is ‘Colgate’ and the word for all kinds of soda is ‘coke’.
I hung on his every word as we sat cross-legged like school children listening to his stories. He walked us through the Spanish and the American colonisation of the Philippines, illustrated with funny remarks and brilliant storytelling. Between each stop on our tour he played music on a portable stereo and changed outfits according to each era…all part of his show.
We then had the option to take a pedicab, horse-drawn carriage or walk to the next stop- the former Ateneo de Manila. I like walking so I opted to walk there, guided Carlos’s ‘mini me’, who was also wearing a black bowl hat. The next part of the tour was quite emotional as Carlos talked about General Douglas MacArthur and the war between the Japanese and the Americans. Before World War II Manila was a thriving city- the Pearl of the Orient- but the battle resulted in the downfall of Manila, the destruction of Intramuros and the death of thousands of civilians. Manila has never really recovered. The way Carlos described the bloodshed made my hairs stand up on end and he explained it with such emotion.
Finally as night fell we visited San Augustin Church-the oldest stone church in the Philippines. To wrap up the tour we were treated to some Halo-Halo, a Filipino shaved ice dessert containing a mixture of all sorts of stuff, including kidney beans, fruits and corn. Carlos explained that Filipinos are like Halo-Halo; a mish-mash of cultural influences.
So before you venture straight to Boracay or Palawan, and before you judge Manila, I suggest you do this tour to see the city from a whole different perspective. Intramuros is a beautiful historic area and I’m really glad I did the tour so I had a much better understanding of the city, and why it is the way it is..
The 3 hour tour costs 1,100 PHP and you can pay when you get there. The entire tour lasts 3 hours. You can see the dates for the Carlos Celdran intramuros tour on his blog, and you can follow him on Facebook.