16 Ways To Have a Thrilla In Manila

By Mark Wiens 55 Comments


I spent 2 enjoyable months in Manila doing things like volunteering in Payatas, jogging through chaotic side streets, eating peculiar fried and boiled edible items, and making ultra spontaneous decisions. 

Though Manila is not the cleanest or nicest looking city in Asia, it has a unique atmospheric buzz and presents amazing opportunities of adventure and submersion.  Here is a list of 16 things to do in Manila that will always be a Thrilla.

1. Spanish Old Town (Intramuros)

The colonial Spanish walled in area of Intramuros is an interesting place to walk around and explore. Churches and schools built with complete Spanish influence make it hard to believe you are still on an Asian island.

Horse drawn carriages with guides are available for small fees (probably around $3) to take you around and show you the main and important sites. However, the thick surrounding walls make Intramuros a friendly walking environment as rowdy traffic roars outside. Visiting this area is one of the top things to do in Manila.

spanish intramuros manila church
Intramuros Manila

2. Binondo: The World’s First Chinatown

Strolling through various Chinatown’s around the world from Yaowarat in Bangkok to Chinatown in Buenos Aires, is always a delicious culinary expedition.

The world’s first Chinatown also known as Binondo in Manila is no different. It’s an exquisite place to stimulate your senses. Walking the cluttered streets are particularly interesting with hundreds of people going about business, napping, and chowing down great things.

binondo chinatown manila
Binondo Chinatown Manila

Eating Recommendations:

  • Ho-Land Bakery: purchase a few Chinese Filipino baked treats
  • Dong Bei Dumpling: Serves incredible dumplings and fresh noodle soups
  • Wai Ying Fastfood: Stunner dim sum and other Chinese foods
  • Many Restaurants: the notorious Soup Number 5: Discover the aphrodisiac soup that remains mysterious (see for yourself)

3. Get in Touch with GK

Gawad Kalinga known as GK, is an organization that provides homes for the poorest of the poor with aim to create sustainable villages with safe environments. GK has numerous volunteering opportunities, or just opportunities to visit some of the development sites around Manila and chat with some amazing folks.

You can get in touch with Gawad Kalinga on their website, it’s one of the best things to do in Manila!

gawad kalinga GK manila
Helping with GK in Manila

4. Quiapo Church and Market

In and around the Quiapo Church in Manila, is a wonderful place to see Manila’s finest trinquets and a chance to scan a storm of bizzare inhabitants. On Friday, the area is buzzing with people lighting candles, fortune tellers contemplating lives, and vendors trying to sell junky items.

Walking around the church and under the highway is the sprawling Quiapo Market where infinite shopping options are to be discovered.

quiapo church manila philippines
Quiapo Church Manila
quiapo market manila philippines
Quiapo Market Manila

5. Manila Bay Waterfront

A decent place to see the sunset over Manila Bay or to let the kids run around, is directly outside the avoidable Mall of Asia. The huge crowds may be discouraging, but the sunset and ice cream carts with their tunes are always worth it.

There are lots of good hotels around Manila Bay like Hotel H2O Manila among many others.

manila bay mall of asia
View of Manila Bay

6. Seafood Dampa

If you care about attempting to finish buffets (like I do), or are just passionate about the utmost in fresh food from the sea, Manila’s Dampa Seafood extravaganza is a gig you will never want to miss. Seafood Dampa works like this: At the market, purchase kilos and kilos of seafood from the extensive catch selection, walk it over to the next door restaurant, and have them transform everything into a tasty art form of your liking.

Some of the delicious dishes include, cheesy mussels, stir fried prawns, chili crab, and ginger fish. Eating a good seafood dampa is one of my favorite things to do in Manila!

seafood dampa manila philippines
Seafood Dampa Feast

Recommendation: There are a number of Dampa Seafood markets but the greatest one I went to was in Pasay City near Manila Bay called Seaside Dampa.
Location: Diosdado Macapagal Blvd., Pasay City, near Manila Bay and close to Mall of Asia

7. Filipino Karaoke

It is without doubt that most Filipino’s love to sing and it seems that all of them can sing quite well. The widely popular karaoke booths are outfitted with high tech sound systems and there’s nothing like a little evening sing-off with a crowd of friendly Filipino’s.  In fact, Karaoke makes one to believe that singing is not actually all that difficult and can act to really boost the self esteem.

8. Jog Through Manila

Though jogging in Manila sometimes feels like you are smoking a pack of cigarettes, it is a greatly beneficial experience. The observations you will make from the side neighborhoods and side streets while breezing through at an unobtrusive speed will surely enrich your life. Jogging is one of the more rewarding things to do in Manila!

9. Jolly Jeep

If you find yourself in the highly business oriented and yuppie community of Makati City, pay a rewarding visit to a Jolly Jeep.  Jolly Jeep’s are the street food stalls in Makati City that resemble parked jeeps and serve greasy Filipino foods from plastic bag wrapped bowls.  Filipino specialties like bicol express, pork adobo, and pork carbona are sure bets.

10. Hang Out in Payatas

If you want to see a pig being slaughtered and squealing on the side of the road or see homemade pushcarts and motorcycle devices that should never work, hang out in Payatas. The cities largest dump is located here and most of the humans struggle to eek out survival.  Payatas is a real reminder of how we should stop complaining and be thankful for what we have.

Payatas Manila
Butchering a Pig in Payatas Manila

11. Cockpit

A cockfight in Manila, though may be considered brutal by some, is one of the more interesting things to do in Manila. The men in the bleachers shout at the top of their lungs and blurt their gambles for their choice rooster.

The premises then goes silent and the fight begins. The roosters fight till death do them part to cheers and then shrieks of the men who lucked out. Money rolled into tight balls is angrily thrown to collectors from the not so lucky’s. There are various cockpits around Manila to check out and maybe win a few pesos on the fiercest rooster.

cockpit cockfight manila philippines
Cockpit Cockfight Manila Philippines

12. Nightlife

From greasy midgets boxing each other to hard thumping electro mixed nightclubs, Manila is full of a vibrant community of party attenders.  There are also countless neighborhood restaurants serving San Miguel (local beer) and Sisig (fried pig’s face) till the wee wee hours of sunshine.

13. Balut /1 Day Old Fried Chicken

Balut is one of those can’t miss bizarre food opportunities that is rampant throughout Manila and which some love as others despise. Search for a styrofoam chest with “BALUT,” written on the side. Crack the egg, drink the soup, eat the egg white, and feast on the fetus with 5 Steps to Eating Balut. You simply can’t go to Manila without putting a few of these precious eggs into your gastronomic system.

If you are on the go, grab yourself a brightly orange colored, and triple deep fried, One day old fried chicken too!  They are sure to beat out all KFC similar competition. Poke’em with a stick, dip’em in vinaigrette, and crunch them down. 1 day olds are found all over the streets and even sometimes in the Metro stations.

Balut Egg Fetus in Manila
Eating the Balut Egg Fetus

14. Ride Around on a Jeepney

Rustic WWII Jeeps are the most affordable and entertaining transportation system in Manila. The drivers hurl through traffic with jerks and stops, pretending there are no passengers in the back. The greatest part of the adventure is that when sitting in a Jeepney crammed with people, it is impossible to look out the window and determine where you are or where you are going.

Jeepney in Manila
Jeepney in Manila

15. Tagaytay: World’s Smallest Active Volcano

Mt. Taal is located about 2-3 hours away from Manila close to a town called Tagaytay and is considered the world’s smallest active volcano. Upon arrival it is necessary to hop on a boat and cross the lake to the volcano island.

Hiking to the top takes less than 1 hour and the view with the fresh air is marvelous.  I know this is not exactly in Manila, but after the rest of these activities, a decent day trip from Manila with a small to medium sized group and fresh air is a welcome relief.

tagaytay mount taal philippines
Mount Taal Tagaytay Philippines

16. Browse a Local Filipino Market

Pyramids of naked chicken heads, piles of pig snouts, messes of fish, weird bakes goods, colorful coconut deserts, ancient looking candies, bite sized dried fish, rice everything, assorted sausages, and all kinds of tropical fruit and vegetables are to enjoy in a local Manila market.

Market Manila Chicken Heads
Market in Manila with Chicken Heads

Manila is a massive city in the Philippines with all kinds of things to do, see, and experience. If you take the time to visit Manila, you will be embraced by a friendly culture and all kinds of entertainment possibilities! Thanks for checking out this list of things to do in Manila!

Are you looking for a good hotel when you’re in Manila? Click here to see lots of accommodation options.



55 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Reshma

    2 months ago

    Manila was intimidating & chaotic at first, but soon I got used to the city & enjoyed my time. Intramuros & China town were fantastic, and loved the local markets too!

  • JJ

    8 months ago

    Hi Mark, wonderful article. Thanks

  • Sharon Loh

    1 year ago

    Wow Mark. I just got back from Manila and found this. I didn’t know Manila has a Chinatown!!! And yes, I didn’t try the Balut as it’s too…. creepy. Hehe. Maybe next time.

    Oh, I wrote a mini travel guide after going back from Manila. Just in case someone needs it : bit.ly/manilatravelguide 😉 Cheers!

  • izzy

    2 years ago

    Hey Mark! I just have to say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for writing such a fabulous article on the must-dos of Manila. It really helped me write my own summary of the city and I actually planned my itinerary around what I found here. Here’s my take of the city as influenced by you 🙂 Keep on writing!

    http://thenextsomewhere.com/2016/01/29/whereabouts-manila-philippines/

  • Laurence

    2 years ago

    Hi, we’re coming to Manila today! What’s the best (and most accessible for a tourist?) market to see chicken heads and things like that? We’re staying at The Manila Hotel – are they walkable from there?

    Also best Seafood Dampa restaurant -in your opinion?

    Thanks!

  • Brett

    2 years ago

    Hi Mark, if you like fresh tuna you should visit General Santos City or Gensan as the locals call it where they catch huge yellowfin tuna. One of the best dishes I have tried there is kinilaw made with tuna….soooooo good.

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Hey Brett, thank you for the tip, that sounds amazing. I’d love to visit in the future.

  • Ting

    3 years ago

    I will stay near Mall of Asia for 2 days. Please comment on how do I go about the places of interest around it for these 2 days. Please advise. Thanks.

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Hi Ting, great to hear from you, hope you have a nice visit. I think the easiest way to get around is either by taxi or MRT, but you could also try out a jeepney if you’d like. Have a great time.

  • Damien Auksorius

    3 years ago

    Hi my name is damien Auksorius , I found when I was in Manila that the only food I couldn’t stomach was the bulut egg , so many philipinos offered me this egg to try , I tried it only once and wasn’t game to go back for seconds , but great experience anyways

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Hey Damien, great to hear form you. I think that’s great that you were willing to give it a try, even if you didn’t like it, and that’s alright. Glad it was a great experience.

  • Damien peter Auksorius

    3 years ago

    Hi my name is damien peter Auksorius , I’ visited Manila last year and loved the city , we spent all our time at the mall of Asia , so many shops to see and also the food court was excellent also , would recommend to all my friends

  • Damien peter Auksorius

    3 years ago

    Hi my name is damien peter Auksorius , the first thing I do when I arrive to Manila is to go to the mall of Asia , love it

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Good to hear that Damien, thank you for sharing.

  • Chris Ball

    4 years ago

    Great post. Manila often gets a bum wrap in travel circles as one of Asia’s less awesome capitals, but there’s some great stuff to do there. I always love just rolling with the flow in a city. Like you suggested, jump on a jeepney and just see where you end up (within reason!)

    I work for a website (adventurehoney.com) all about making it easy for real travelers to find and book cool things to do. We just expanded to the Philippines. Here’s a few ‘thrilla in Manila’ worthy experiences:

    As mentioned above, you can be on the rim of a highly active volcano just a couple of hours out of the big smoke of Manila: https://www.adventurehoney.com/Experience/best-day-tour-near-manila-climb-taal-volcano-1171

    You missed this one…awesome day trip shooting the rapids just out of Manila:https://www.adventurehoney.com/Experience/day-trip-near-manila-pagsanjan-waterfalls-1297

    Then you got a city tour, but not just any city tour. The guide is an absolute charecter and he shows you the absolute best of the capital: https://www.adventurehoney.com/Experience/manila-tour-best-of-manila-in-a-day-1166

    Happy thrill seeking in Manila!

  • Arty Om

    4 years ago

    Well, yes! Everything! Except balut! That’s just too much!:)

  • Jeremy Madrigal

    4 years ago

    nice. Im moving to my new condo in Mandaluyong , anyone know a good place to go somewhere in my area? Thanks guys in advance..

  • Miguel

    4 years ago

    Manila is definitely a fun and vibrant city. What I’d like to add on this list are the numerous concerts, plays, sports and shopping eventss that are world class. All you need to do is check out websites like http://www.giegz.com to find the latest of these events!

  • damian auksorius

    5 years ago

    hi my names damian auksorius ,i think ill be going to the subic in manilla , you can jet ski and swim with the dolphins too

  • Gawad Kalinga (@GawadKalingaHQ)

    6 years ago

    Mark! Thank you for including GK in your list. A cast of The Music of Andrew Lloyd Weber who are on Asian Tour dropped by your site. He called us up for a GK visit while they’re here. And we got free tickets!!! Yeeey! Haha. But more than that, thank you for sharing your GK stories to everyone! Mabuhay ka.

    Maraming salamat po!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Awesome! Thanks for sharing that story! No problem, it was awesome to be part of GK when I was in the Philippines!

      • markit8dude

        5 years ago

        Hi Mark,

        I too appreciate your post.

        My wife and I live in Borneo and are about to go to Manila, Cebu for holiday next week. You DEFINITELY helped us out regarding some of our Manila must-see/ do items for our itinerary.

        ~Cheers

        Paul

        • Mark Wiens

          5 years ago

          Great to hear that Paul, hope you have an excellent trip to Manila!

  • Maria Rica Santiago

    6 years ago

    OMG I love your article… I was born and raised in Manila and you’re so right the Mania makes Manila… To add to your list I would highly recommend visiting Corregidor it’s just around an hour away from Manila… take the Sun Cruises and enjoy the history this island has to offer… World War II relics are just there for everyone to see. 🙂

  • The Vacacionista

    6 years ago

    This is a great list! Especially the GK item. I’m making a list myself and preparing for a trip and will be going for most of your suggestions 🙂 Thanks!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thanks so much! Glad this can help and have fun while you are in Manila!

  • fitness girl

    7 years ago

    Try to go to manila and im sure you’ll gonna love here..its a lot of fun travelling in different places,like our tourist spots/

  • The Filipino

    7 years ago

    #3 – Get in touch with GK – is the greatest of the list. I’m not a GK member but I really support and applaud their efforts to do good for the country. Thank you so much Mark for this post!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      No problem, glad you enjoyed it. I had a great time with GK while in the Philippines and I met some incredible people and heard many incredible stories. Thanks for taking a looks at this.

  • Angela

    7 years ago

    This is one great post, Mark! I surely have plans going to the Philippines and you made me a checklist where to go! 😀

  • Maybelle

    7 years ago

    Great article, Mark! This captures the best of Manila! I lived in Manila all my life and being away from it for almost 8 months now makes me a bit homesick.

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Maybelle, Manila is a great city, hope you can visit soon!

  • Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap

    7 years ago

    Awesome perspective on a megapolis often maligned or bypassed by tourists visiting the Philippines. Mania makes Manila!

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Thanks Edgar, so right – “Mania makes Manila!”

  • happysole

    7 years ago

    Great list! It’s a wonder that you didn’t freak out with certain quirks of Manila. You are right, the hustle and bustle of the city adds to its charm. Happy travellin’!

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks, yah the quirks and crazy things are surely what makes Manila such an interesting city!

  • Kat

    7 years ago

    Hey Mark, I read somewhere that jogging in India’s worse than Manila. I have to find that though, just to make sure :p

    This is a great list not just for tourists, but also for residents of Manila. Sometimes, you’re so used to the place you forget there’s a lot of really interesting things to do and see. I miss Quiapo, I used to work near there. 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks Kat, I guess the only way to find out is to attempt the jog in India! I also miss Quiapo, from what I saw, I think it is one of the most interesting places to walk around and look at things in Manila.

  • jen laceda

    7 years ago

    Thanks for sharing some good stuff about Manila! I especially miss Binondo and Ongpin, where my grandma used to live – on the corner of Elcano and Jaboneros Streets. I can’t believe I took all of this for granted when I was living there.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Cool Jen, so you must know a lot about Binondo. Ongpin street was really great, I loved hanging out down there and sampling the restaurants, some interesting things!

  • Michelle

    7 years ago

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  • RatesToTravel

    7 years ago

    Wow, really great article, i liked your photo choices very much!

  • flip

    7 years ago

    just to add another one,

    ride the jeepneys… 🙂 it’s a fun experience especialy for tourist