Binondo - Manila's Chinatown

Posted May 2017

 

It seems like most major cities have their own Chinatown, and Manila is no exception. In fact, Binondo is touted as the world's oldest Chinatown. Chinese traders pre-dated the Spanish in the Philippines, but Binondo's founding is considered the late 1500's when the Spanish colonizers condensed the disperse Chinese population into a smaller strategic place just across the Pasig River from Intramuros (well within cannon range in case of an uprising).

 

Binondo has a very colorful history. The Chinese Revolution during the 1600's, British occupation during the late 1700's, and World War II all had a profound effect on this neighborhood. Prior to World War II, Binondo was the financial center of Manila which housed several international financial institutions. When the war ended, these businesses left Binondo behind and migrated to the newly developed Makati area.

 

Today, Binondo has transformed into a tourist destination, best known for its delicious food and great shopping opportunities. The Binondo Church (above, right) sits inconspicuously, fronting the Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz. The original structure incurred damage throughout it's history until it was largely destroyed by American bombing during World War II. It was rebuilt over thirty years to its current state and remains a staple of the community.

Filipinos love their malls (ever heard of the Mall of Asia?). Visitors to the Manila area may even begin to think the whole place is one giant mall, but Binondo offers a different type of shopping experience from the typical big brand stores, food courts, and air conditioning. Of course, shoppers can find the typical Chinese trinkets, imitation brand merchandise, and produce like dried fish that can found in every Chinatown worldwide, but stores here also offer pretty much everything else from electronics to office supplies to furniture at reasonable prices.

 

Eating is part of the Filipino culture, and like many foreigners, I can't keep up! Binondo offers plenty of opportunities for foodies. Several different tours have been organized and operate here, sampling all the secret food spots the community has to offer. It's not hard to make your our food tour with a little reasearch and time on your hands to wonder along Ongpin Street and its side alleys. Street vendors offer up tasty treats like dried fish and roasted chestnuts, Eng Bee Tin (and other bakeries) have delicious pastries like hopia, and dozens of restaurants serve up delicious Chinese fare for any budget like fish ball soup.