Binondo is truly a historic district of Old Manila, serving as the Chinese community since the earliest days of the city.Â This area near the Spanish settlement of Intramuros was a major financial center until Makati took over the role (it was even referred to as â€œThe Wall Street of the Philippinesâ€ at one time).
Since then, members of the Chinese community who made it big have established new residences in the suburbs, but often still maintain stores and offices in Binondo. Today, the world’s first Chinatown retains much of its heritage, and visitors can enjoy a quick immersion of Chinoy culture by walking along these crowded urban streets, a combination of high-end stores, vintage establishments and iconic institutions.
Here are some recommended Binondo activities:
Shop for Sweets in Eng Bee Tin. Eng Bee Tin is a famous Chinese pastry shop that sells red bean paste pastries, glutinous rice cakes, moon cakes and other tempting delights. There are several branches in Binondo and throughout Metro Manila. The owners of Eng Bee Tin paid homage to their Binondo roots by donating a purple fire truck to the local fire department, in reference to their popular purple yam (ube) pastry.
Attend Mass in Binondo Church. Built in 1596, Binondo Church is one of the oldest in the country. Damaged by earthquakes and other forces over the centuries, only the octogonal bell tower remains from the original structure. The church’s patron saint is San Lorenzo Ruiz, who served as an altar boy there in his youth.
Ride a Calesa. These horse-drawn open carriages are celebrated in Filipino art and culture, and many still ply their routes in Binondo. The calesas are painted in bright colors, and you can enjoy the many buildings and major attractions that line the streets.
Indulge in a Panciteria. The quintessential Chinoy meal, pancit, is a rice noodle dish garnished with pork bits, shrimp, vegetables and seasonings. The rest of Binondo is a virtual food tour where spring rolls, dumplings, fried noodles, kiampong, and other dishes grace the menus of fine dining establishments and street carts alike.
Santa Cruz Fountain. The original fountain was destroyed by Allied bombings in World War II, but a functioning replica now stands in its place in front of Santa Cruz Church.
Consult a Traditional Herbalist. These practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine can diagnose patients simply by feeling their wrists and giving them a look over. After they prescribe various herbs, you can proceed to a Chinese drugstore and have your prescription supplied in its original plant form, or in pill form, instead.
The best time to visit Binondo is during a major Chinese holiday such as the Mooncake Festival, when the streets erupt in colorful celebration.Â To get to Binondo, take the LRT-1 commuter train to Carriedo station. Walk from Quiapo Church until you see the iconic Philippine-Chinese Friendship Arch that marks the boundary of Chinatown.