The Sights of Binondo, Philippines

Last Christmas, I received one of the best presents a traveler can get from my friend Mark Go: a custom-made culinary and cultural tour of a place I had never explored before, but he knew quite well: Binondo. I meant to write about this for Christmas last year, but the holidays were not conducive for being productive and were very much so for lazing around, playing Rock Band with my brother, and watching KPop videos on YouTube, so there you are. Thankfully the Chinese New Year has given me another opportune time to share this story. Many, many thanks to Mark for such a sweet and thoughtful gift - he even went around Binondo by himself days before he took us with him so he could do an ocular of the place, a true testament to his being a marketing man! And many thanks to Didith who gamely tagged along - I hope you had as much fun as I did!

This post is one of two parts - I'll do the cultural part of the trip first, and the culinary part on the next one.

The Christmas gift was meant to be a surprise, so Mark merely asked Didith and I to block off a Sunday in December so we could receive our present, which he had alluded to as being a private Amazing Race of sorts. I had a few guesses as to where he was going to take us, but it became pretty clear by the time we approached the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch:

Here's Mark working out the directions to Binondo in the cab on the way there - he was even able to convince the cab driver not to tell Didith and I where we were headed!

To get around Binondo, our chosen mode of transportation was a kalesa, which was loads of fun in itself.

Our first stop was the Binondo Church, a lovely old church at the heart of Binondo, which also provided us momentary shelter from the downpour outside (it was an unusually rainy December day).

The plaza in front of Binondo Church should've been full of pedestrians, but as it was raining pretty hard, it was virtually empty - probably a rare occurrence on what should've been a bustling Sunday afternoon.

The statue of Don Roman Ongpin - businessman, philanthropist, and supporter of the Philippine Revolution. The street where his statue stands is named after him.

Probably my favorite spot of the entire tour - a hidden courtyard in a nondescript residential building where they sold amazing fresh lumpia.

We also visited a somewhat hidden temple in another residential building - you probably wouldn't know it was there just by looking at the place from the outside. We went inside and paid our respects by burning some incense.

We also stopped by a souvenirs and trinkets store where we bought some lucky coins to bring us a little fortune in 2012.

For our last stop, we headed out to Intramuros to visit the Bahay Tsinoy Museum.

The last part of our Binondo adventure will be coming soon, wait for it!

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