Discover Manila’s old neighbourhoods with a new travel App
‘When we saw the space, we wanted to be here, only then we thought of a business that would fit here’ says Nikkorlai Tapan of the small start-up Manila Who. Manila Who is one of the young creatives who’s rented a lofty unit with original art deco features in the First United Building, one of the turn-of-the-century architectural gems along the once so prestigious Escolta Street in old Manila.
This was a year ago, now the entire 5th floor of the building is occupied by architects, artists, photographers, fashion designers, game makers and other creatives. The massive ground floor space has been cleverly redesigned and is now home to a pop-up retail space HUB: Make Lab curated by 98B COLLABoratory for locally produced artisanal products, a craft beer cafe Fred’s Revolución, farm to cup coffee shop The Den, and a co-working space First Coworking Community, a hostel is in the making.
The hip youngsters give new elán to this almost forgotten street and what’s more, Escolta is at the heart of Binondo, one of the oldest Chinatowns in the world. But it’s not the typical, picturesque version dotted with incense shrouded temples. Manila’s Chinatown is a busy, bold and bright non-nonsense type of place, incredibly popular among locals for its cheap eats, shopping and a unique Filipino-Chinese commercial hub.
This is what prompted the Hong Kong based team of iDiscover to come to town. These fervent city explorers have a knack for picking those old authentic neighborhoods that deserve a little bit of extra attention. iDiscover works with locals to put their hood on the map. Quite literally, iDiscover’s beautifully illustrated maps are a collection of local’s favorite places. The App&Map is the new way to explore, support and give back to Manila’s oldest neighborhoods.
iDiscover spent a week in Escolta with the folks from Heritage Conservation Society, Old Manila Walks, and Tralulu. Ready on to discover the highlights and how you can follow in their footsteps through Manila’s historical hoods.
In Escolta, there is the old Capitol Theatre where Warner Brothers showed their films, the only reminder of Escolta’s entertainment kingdom. Another beauty is El Hogar, a stunning neo-classical beaux arts building with a love story. Built in 1914, it was a wedding gift by Antonio Melian to his wife Margarita Zobel de Ayala, you can still find their initials on the staircase! Not to be missed is old fashioned ice cream parlor Big Scoop, where you can treat yourself to an original Peach Melba Delight or Monggo Con Yelo.
Venturing into Chinatown the Tsinoy spirit is alive and thriving on the corner of every street: candles, lanterns, joss sticks, Chinese supermarkets and dumpling shops. Not a temple in sight, but tucked away in a narrow alley behind the monumental Binondo church is a small shrine with crucifix and incense burners, one of these wonderful unique Chinese Filipino fusions. Nearby New Po Heng Lumpia House, is a small Tsinoy café in a quiet courtyard of a former Art Deco style department store. Here fresh vegetables and fried rice noodles are rolled in wraps with an extra layer of seaweed and chopped peanuts to give it a subtly sweet taste. The secret recipe of this ultimate comfort food creation allegedly dates back to the 1500’s.
Another surprise, next to the ever busy Dong Bei dumplings is SunTeck Chocolate, a chocolate factory that has been in Manila since the 1930’s. Their chocolate tablets only come in two versions; sweetened or unsweetened and are incredibly popular among locals to make hot chocolate porridge. We hear it’s especially good with a sprinkle of crispy bacon!
Strolling around the Binondo streets is fun and, even better, it’s the best way to contribute to the revival of Old Manila. Some of the crumbling beauties are at risk of demolition. But by visiting, we can show investors and developers that Manila’s heritage is worth keeping.
iDiscover Binondo App&Map available in both iTunes and Google Play. What’s more, the iDiscover team is also walking the streets of Intramuros, Quiapo and Poblacion, as always on the lookout for old secrets in new finds in Manila’s Barangay.
Check out iDiscover for a selection of honest and authentic neighborhood guides in Hong Kong, Macau, Yangon, Jakarta, and Bali. All guides come in a handy explorers kit with a beautiful illustrated map and a GPS App. The best thing about it? It is all for free. But don’t simply take our word for it. Download the app from iTunes or Google Play, and find out for yourself!