I often get asked “WHY do you live in Manila?”. I get it- as a foreigner there’s a perception in others’ eyes that I have the resources to live anywhere I’d like. Taking into account Manila’s pollution, traffic, and corruption, it’s a fair question.

The truth is, I love Manila. I love her history, her quirky, eclectic food scene, her people with their quick smiles and fascinating stories. I love discovering the hidden gems that you’d miss unless you spent time hanging out with the locals and allowing yourself to slip into their world.

My love for Manila in recent years has been stoked by my self-proclaimed “history and culture nerd” friends, Dustin and Noni. Dustin owns Manila For A Day, a no-bullshit tour company that he started after growing tired of telling a “sanitized” version of the Philippines’ history as a government employed tour guide for foreign VIPs. Dustin is the reason I can show up many of my local friends when it comes to history knowledge- I’ve been on multiple tours with Dustin and he’s been the only person I know who could explain the origin of certain elements of Filipino culture to me. Noni is a Manila For A Day guide- or “cultural navigator” and the creator of Manila For A Day’s newest offering, “Colors of Manila”. Colors of Manila brings travelers and locals alike through one of my very favorite areas of Manila- Quiapo.

Quiapo streets. Don’t laugh at my tourist hat unless you’re also lily-white and can burn painfully in 5 minutes.

Quiapo is home to the world’s oldest Chinatown. Once, it was old Manila’s central business district and “downtown” area. Today, it’s still a bustling hub for commerce, but you’ll see streets full of roadside vendors instead of men in suits with briefcases. Everywhere you turn, there’s vibrant color, chaos, and an explosion of life.

There’s also a beautiful cross-section of diversity in Quiapo. Here, one of Manila’s few mosques exists just beside an iconic old Catholic church. You’ll meet hijab-wearing women selling halal food, vendors selling prayer candles, and fortune tellers offering up a dose of mysticism.

Sampling as many different fruits as possible.

You could stroll through this area on your own, taking in all the sensory stimuli and exploring- but if you want to take a deep dive into the neighborhood, go with Noni or Dustin.

Piles of fresh gulay brought into the city to sell from provincial farms.

Noni and me buying suman- rice cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves.

Quiapo church

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