The opening of this iconic Binondo-Intramuros bridge will connect the best of the old worlds that Manila has to offer. Not to mention also that as we are operating at the lowest Quarantine Level there is, this means there will be looser restrictions when it comes to going out and traveling about, which makes the Binondo-Intramuros bridge a definite go-to place this coming Holy week. The bridge connects the two iconic places through Solana Street and Riverside Drive in the Intramuros side, with Binondo at Rentas Street or Plaza del Conde Street and Muelle dela Industria. Opening up this gateway and connecting Intramuros and Binondo means there is a welcome immersion of cultures from the Spanish influences and that of the Chinese.
Opening of Binondo-Intramuros Bridge
The bridge is under the Build, Build, Build project of the Duterte Administration, a project from the grant of Chinese-based China Road and Bridge Corporation. It is a 680-meter, 4-lane linear bridge which can soon be used for driving, biking, or walking through, as described by the department. The department said that the workers, which nearly half are Chinese, are already doing finishing touches to the bridge, making the most anticipated opening close to becoming a reality. As this bridge opens, we open new doorways to exploring and enjoying the richness of the olden Chinese era and Spanish culture as still evidently seen through the streets of Binondo and Intramuros, respectively.
This will also mean there will be shorter time to travel through these places, as we have grown to know and accept the difficult Manila traffic with the small thoroughfares. This will then give us more time to do what we really come there to do, and not just to sit in the car in the center of rush-hour traffic. Imagine being able to walk through Intramuros and explore what remains to be in the famous Walled City, walk along the walls, people-watch and enjoy a slowed-down day, then in just a few meters be in the center of the hustle and bustle of Binondo, and experience the rich Chinese influence there is in what can arguably be the city’s center of commerce.
As the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge is eyed to open, what doors are we really talking about the opening?
This now means we can frolic through the streets of Intramuros, walk through the different museums and exhibits that it has to offer, not to mention how picturesque the cobblestone sidewalks are, and we can enjoy every minute of it without a rush.
1. Intramuros Walled City
Let’s start by getting on a bamboo bike and doing a tour of the famous Walled City. The place is chock-full of places to go to so you can enjoy the culture and history. There’s the Manila Cathedral, one of the best manifestations of history and culture combined. What started out to be a place of religious gathering made out of straw and wood is now one of the most sought-after wedding destinations (yep, it seems like a wedding happens there every single day!), an architectural masterpiece, and just overall a sight to see.
2. San Agustin Church
Moving on to another icon of religious structure, we go next to the San Agustin Church. This ethereal structure was completed as a stone building in 1907, and has turned out to be one of the most historical buildings in Manila. It is also home to the San Agustin Church Museum, just located beside the church. With enormous paintings gracing the hallways, which show the journey and images of the saints, you will surely feel nostalgic and immersed in the history and culture. This will welcome you to the gardens, the library which is one of the most beautiful libraries I personally have seen, and the Antecoro in the church sanctuary, which shows the Augustinian friars’ penchant and love for music. Further in the chambers is a columbarium, which houses not only Augustinian friars, but also selected women and men in history. Check this museum and Church tour and be in awe of this walk-through of history and culture.
3. Casa Manila
Speaking of history and culture, Casa Manila is the best place to go to next. This is a mock-up, or a reproduction of a 19th-century mansion, designed to look and feel as it looked and felt as the opulent and ‘nakaririwasa’ Filipinos in the 19th century. It is a museum filled with collections of significant pieces of history, including several valuable antique pieces of furniture from Europe in the far west, and China in the east. As it is a depiction of how the rich lived in the 19th century, we can clearly see that real estate has been a luxury more than a privilege even in the early days. You may want to take a good look around to see the many Instagrammable corners and take a photo to suit your curated feed’s needs.
4. Barbara’s Heritage Restaurant
If you’re hungry, you can head on to Barbara’s Heritage restaurant and dine with classic, home-style Filipino-Spanish dishes. More than the exquisite dining which is best-shared family-style, dining in Barbara’s Heritage is a unique experience since they also have cultural performers that elevate the whole feel of the restaurant. You can also hold events and celebrations in their function rooms and behold the cultural performances from their resident dance troupe.
5. Silahis Center
Before you go over the bridge, warm yourself up by shopping at Silahis Center, the main showroom of Silahis Arts and Artifacts. They showcase and promote the wonderful heritage of the Philippine Culture as shown in various expressions of art. They have handcrafted goods from recreational pieces to small home furniture, paintings, and decorative ornaments. They have an extensive display with three floors of artifacts that you can also buy as souvenirs. As they contribute to spreading awareness and appreciation for the Filipino Culture, they also provide a livelihood to the handcrafters with the indigenous decorative items and ornaments they sell.
Convenience brought by the newly opened bridge
And as the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge opens, traveling to Binondo through Intramuros will be a breeze; then you can continue your tour of these two iconic landmarks.
Crossing the bridge to Binondo, you can start by heading into the belly of the beast: shopping! Head on over to Lucky China Town mall with a wide array of shops from high-end to bargain finds, 168 Mall for the latest in tiangge shopping, as well as out in Carvajal and Ongpin Streets. Divisoria also is just around the bend so you could definitely spoil the inner shopaholic in you, and satisfy all your heart’s desire, though your pocket may not be as happy as your heart is.
You may want to take a short breather and take a calm walk through the old streets of Escolta and through the newly-renovated Jones Bridge. Here you’ll have a picturesque view of Manila’s grandeur and charm. You’ll also see some restaurants and coffee shops where you can wine, dine and chill while enjoying the sights and sounds of old Manila; house and lots that not only have lived through time but have been more beautiful over the years. The restoration of the Jones’ Bridge look with the neoclassical designs of the lamp posts give it a modern rustic vibe, perfect for Instagram pictures and Pinterest vision boards. You’ll for sure want to take more than just one photo and fill your phone with scenic shots on this walk.
To continue your serene tour through Binondo, you can visit a few religious places, like the Seng Guan Temple, just five minutes away from the Lucky China Town Mall. It’s a Buddhist temple with a beautiful façade. And while this Buddhist landmark is a sight to see, Quiapo Church, Binondo Church, and Sta Cruz church, which are true-blue Manila landmarks are just around the corner. It may get crowded at times, but since the pandemic has begun, the church authorities have done crowd-controlling measures to make sure they don’t violate safety protocols and make the place the serene sanctuary that they are.
As a Filipino, you cannot go explore somewhere and not take a bite (or more) of what the local eateries have to offer. The ever-famous Binondo food crawl is a foodie’s absolute dream. With more than a handful of Chinese eateries and restaurants sprawled all over the great Binondo area, you’ll surely be able to fill up your stomach’s capacity with good and authentic Chinese food. More importantly, as this is basically a whole trip on its own, you get to sample not only delicacies from one restaurant, literally from a whole lot of them, along with the history of not only the food but also how it is woven into the fabric of Chinese history.
With the Binondo-Intramuros’ opening, this gives us a whole new world to explore and see Manila’s first two communities in a different light. What used to be two separate entities and communities can now be jumped into as one trip to fill up your entire day, stretching even to the night since these places both get more beautiful after the sunsets.
You can continue your exploration after sunset with the sight of the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch(es). Originally just after Jones’ Bridge is the Arch of Filipino-Chinese Friendship, which features Tagalog, Chinese and English text, this arch was known to be the gateway to Binondo. In 2015 though, another arch filled with purely Chinese text was built as part of the modernization of Binondo’s old buildings and adjacent structures. Some buildings have been converted from private corporate spaces to house and lots, condominiums, and similar living spaces. This is known to be the largest Chinatown arch in the world, given that the Chinese have really spread out their influence and reach worldwide. This has been a point of controversy, however, as there are two arches that symbolize the same thing, the new one seems to rather be a symbol of Chinese ‘presence’ in the area, as it is built with Chinese funding, rather than a symbol of friendship.
Cap off your trip through the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge back in Intramuros by heading over to the Lights and Sounds Museum, which is an ode to our history, as this aims to take us to retrace the footsteps of our National Hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal. This guided tour mainly operates using lights and sound effects to add details and drama as they theatrically portray Jose Rizal’s life to the day of his execution, ironically, in the same place it actually happened, for the appreciation of the modern audience. They also have art exhibits on display and an event center where you can hold special celebrations in.
While on your way out, take a few slow steps to admire the beauty of the Aduana Building, which used to hold government offices that were of significant impact to our ancestors. Now, its ruins are a tourist destination, as people admire the architecture and design of the building. It definitely is awe-striking to see how what used to be an important part of our history now is a beautiful but barren structure.
As you drive or walk away from the journey that the day has brought you, it is important that you take with you whatever learning or appreciation you have picked up along the way. As diverse and as different Intramuros and Binondo are, the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge opening sets a sentimental chord by connecting not only two physical places but also two interconnected cultures, embedded in the fabric of the Filipino culture, flowing through our veins. Needless to say, the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge set to open is not only a physical connecting, or a physical opening, but a welcoming and embracing that however we may have our differences, our unique traits, and attributes, we are all still bound by our togetherness as a Filipino people—spiritual and emotional.