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Amazing Chinatown: Lunar New Year Calesa Tour

February 23, 2015       Amazing Philippines
Amazing Chinatown
Lunar New Year 2015

Take a Calesa Tour of Downtown Manila!

Reach your favorite place in downtown Manila and tour the old city
on a Calesa Carriage the afternoon before the Lunar New Year.

On a whim, instead of walking through Ongpin street as most travel bloggers do, we decide to ride around on a calesa for a nominal fee and enjoy one of the best things about downtown Manila-- riding around town in a genuine Filipino horse carriage...and see more than just Chinatown but parts of Intramuros and Escolta as well.

The coming Year of the Wooden Sheep promises plenty of amazing things for everyone.  Whatever Chinese astrological sign they be born under.  To celebrate the wondrous occasion of the Lunar New Year or 2015, we revisit downtown Downtown Manila to enjoy a repast before the Chinese New year, and grab tablea tsokolate gifts for family and friends.

King's Chef, a popular haunt for Chinese food lovers, just off the lucky
lion dance parade performers we met going into Binondo, this side is
still considered the Divisoria side of downtown Manila.

Chinese New Year Lion Dance at the Lucky Chinatown mall sidestreet!

Amidst the Lion Dance by the local temple, there is plenty of colorful
treats in Chinatown for visitors..balloons and masks for kids!

Lunar New Year performers will greet you in the side streets and in
mall performances, most of them temple trained professionals.

As early as a week or two before the new Lunar Year kicks in, Chinatown, as well as neighborhoods with good-sized Filipino-Chinese businesses around Metro Manila, holds special events like Lucky Lion Dance performances or WuShu demonstrations as well as other local festivities: from food sales of gift items like tikoy, to tiangge stalls of lucky Feng Shui charms.

The posh malls in Divisoria greet the Lunar New year's first
customers with plenty of traditional fanfare.

An electronic billboard heralding the coming of the Lunar New Year.

Downtown Manila is a nicer place than you would expect from its grim post-war past, including its portrayal in old movies as a seedy place in the 70s and 80s.  Divisoria is actually a modern and gentrified area that becomes more and more like Hong Kong as local business and real-estate development puts together not only posh shopping malls with the Pinoy favorite, 'Greenhills tiangge' shopping experience, but also hotels and businesses offices for local and foreign investors. 

Downtown Manila is fast becoming a ultra-modern trading center and shipping point for almost all merchandise in the country instead of just a place for bargain shopping.

Downtown Divisoria is now a more modern shopping experience
with ariconditioned malls offering a 'Greenhills tiangge' style
shopping experience in downtown Manila.

The new Lucky Chinatown mall in Divisoria is one of the favorite
 places of value conscious Filipino shoppers.

Binondo Church is always teeming with visitors the day before the
Lunar New
Year kicks in.   Plenty of the Filipino-Chinese families are
also devout Roman Catholics who are thankful for their blessings
and good fortune

From Plaza Binondo, your calesa ride can swing to where you want to enjoy your Chinese New Year   pasalubong shopping and dimsum eats: from Ongpin street, near the Binondo church, for the best of the local Chinese lauriat restaurants and hole-in-the-wall street food kiosks; to the other streets in Chinatown like Benavidez street which has the same vibe as Ongpin, but with less traffic and crowds. 

Our calesa gives us a look-see at the other parts of downtown,
Escolta and Intramuros..
before going back to Benavidez
for Tsokolate Tablea.

A calesa ride costs only P50 pesos, but if you have a heart for both the driver and the horse, you should honor a hardworking man and his animal and pay him better than that.  And we did.  We got to travel all over downtown Manila, threading into Intramuros and passing through Escolta, to see what almost a quarter of Manila looks like. 

Plaza Mexico Ferry Station, on the Pasig river offers ferry rides up and
down the river Pasig.
  You may check for the local ferry schedules here.

As the calesa wheels into Intramuros we get to see the local barges
and ferries traversing the Pasig.  Boat trips look like a nice gig too.

Going to Intramuros, you get to see the tugboats and ferries on the Pasig river plying their trade.  Most of these shambling workhorses still look like they do from 3 decades earlier...and a trip on one looks like a blast...for a future feature on REACH too.  Most of this part of Manila is the quiet government and business district--from the Manila Post Office to the Manila Cathedral, and all of Escolta back to Binondo.

The Manila Post Office building, on the right side of the street as you
move away from Plaza Sta Cruz on your calesa and go into  the
Intramuros part of Manila.

The Palacio Del Gobernador, to the right side off the Manila Cathedral.

The Manila Cathedral front entrance looks amazing !

Our calesa comes to a full stop in front of the doors of the Manila
Cathedral...a place in the Kingdom of the Lord reserved for you may
look even as blessed as this...or better!
  (Preferably with gargoyles)

Calesa carriage trips over at Intramuros also cover the Downtown
side of Manila.

Passing through Escolta in the calesa carriage, we are greeted by
old world buildings in the Art Deco motif
, a reminder of old world,
pre-war Manila at its prime.

Escolta is still heralded as THE business district of downtown Manila.

Most of the celebrations take place in the Chinatown part of
downtown Manila and Escolta and Intramuros are rather
quiet during the Lunar New Year.

In the late afternoon, Escolta may look rather gloomy but if you could
set up shop anywhere in Manila, this is still the best place for your
local business address.

Our calesa wheels back into Plaza Sta Cruz from Escolta and
Intramuros, approaching the church.

The traffic of both pedestrians and vehicles forces the Manila
authorities to close off vehicle traffic into Ongpin street, the
main artery of Chinatown, so we visit Benavidez street instead.

Back in Binondo, we find Ongpin crowded with visitors looking for pasalubong and charms, and also closed off to vehicle traffic, so we advise our calesa driver to mosey on down to Benavidez street where we remember the La Resurreccion Chocolate shop relocating just last year or so. From its old haunts in Ongpin. Then we look at the local mami shops there for a nice and hearty snack to finish the trip.

Our horse carriage passes by a soon to open posh restaurant,
Wong Kee, The Hong Kong Kitchen.  Many food places are
opening in Chinatown because of the favorable location.

Back in Binondo. the calesa passes by a much sought after gift shop...
Gift City is like a Daiso shop that also sells authentic Hello Kitty

You can also get to Benavidez street via Tricycle but it costs
around P50 from Plaza Binondo.

Aside from the food shops and gift shops, there are street hawkers
selling good produce for a fair price...still use your wits and haggle
if you know the local prices so you don't get gouged.

Benavidez street like the other Chinatown streets is rather narrow
but has plenty of noodle shops, dimsum rest
os, as well as
traditional Chinese gift shops, your visit is worth the trouble.

Ongpin is closed to traffic on the day before the Lunar New Year so
we end our trip on Benavidez Street to pick up the best gift for
the 2015 Lunar New Year of the Wooden Sheep:  tablea tsokolate
from the shop, La Resurreccion Chocolate!

The sign on the door of the shop exclaims what treasures to expect
inside:  tablea pure chocolate!
  Boxes of them for pasalubong!

The new store front after they moved from Ongpin to Benavidez
street still in Chinatown
:  La Resurreccion Chocolate shop.

No Lunar New Year celebrations would be complete without tsokolate tablea from The La Resureccion Fabrica De Chocolate, which has transferred its location from Ongpin to Benavidez Street.  It is a special and magical place, like the wand and broom sellers in Diagon Alley except they sell something even more magical and even sexy—we mean intoxicating.

A sampling of a tablea roll box order, each roll costing Php 75 for
the special unsweetened tsokolate

La Resureccion Chocolate offers some of the best, world class, pure tsokolate tablea, packed in rolls.  A family business run for several generations already yet still thriving because of the quality product they maintain.

Choose your poison—in this case, your tsokolate adiksyon—we prefer the special unsweetened at P75, but also available is sweetened pure chocolate at P80.   A tablea is deadliest as a frothy, hot drink with hot pandesal or any of those artisan breads.  Your hit comes as you savor its bittersweet goodness and frothy smoothness, even without milk.  Mmmm.  Jeon HyoSung is love--our own testimony that chocolate, like Alicia Silverstone herself claims IS better than sex.

Stocks of their special tablea tsokolate, good for hot chocolate drink
and for champorado, waiting for the Lunar New year visitors who get
plenty to celebrate good luck for the next season

Next stop is the trip ender, a hearty meal at any of the Chinese Noodle Shops hanging around the place, and we chose Masuki!  This shop has outlets in SM Megamall in Mandaluyong and in Quezon City too. 

Sample order of Masuki's beef and siomai mami and one beef asado pao

Masuki Mami Restaurant makes the best mami soups, oversized siomai,  and siopao favorites. Enjoy the sinful delights or meat-filled asado pao with itlog na pula (all good siopao should have itlog na pula or it ain't siopao), and relish the beef and siomai mami soup special for just under P300 (as of 2015) for both meals.  Next time you get a hankering for pao or mami, head over to Benavidez street for a taste of the real thing.

The filling inside the pao is pure beef cooked asado style. 
House specialties of Masuki Mami and Siopao house

After a short tour of Downtown Manila and a pass-thru of Intramuros and Escolta, we see that the Lunar New Year is still  the best time for an amazing visit to Chinatown and even away from Ongpin, Chinatown still offers the best of pasalubong and traditional goodies you look for on Chinese New Year.  Have the best time dining and enjoying the local food places after your fun calesa ride.  Something to remember for the next Lunar New Year too!


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