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From being the kingdom of fearless warriors to the birthplace of the country’s revolutionary to the modern time’s face of lawlessness and poverty, Tondo, Manila is full of great stories to tell. This multi-faceted district has come a long way to become one of Manila’s, if not by the country, prominent places.
Tondo’s history dates back even before the Spanish colonization with the ancient Indianized Kingdom in the 10th century and was the capital of the Luzon Empire. It is revered as being more than a thousand years old as mentioned in the country’s earliest historical record, the Laguna Copperplate Inscription. It witnessed how the mighty Rajah Sulayman fought back against the Spaniards and some hundred years later, gave birth to the Katipunan and its founder, Andres Bonifacio, and brain, Emilio Jacinto.
Currently, this densely populated district is notoriously known for its gang crime, slums, and dumpsites as well as for its busy yet vibrant commercial and industrial status hosting some of the largest establishments and ports locally. Some references are also attributed to Tondo in the pop culture with local movies like Iyo Ang Tondo Kanya Ang Cavite in 1986, Tribu in 2007, and Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story in 2011 and a novel entitled Ang Tundo Man May Langit Din by Andres Cristobal Cruz in 1986.
There are two train lines that serve commuters to Tondo area. The first one is the Philippine National Railways’ (PNR) operated Commuter Express (Commex) or SRTS Orange Line. This Metro Manila’s regional passenger train has its main station in Tutuban. The other one is the Manila Light Rail Transit 1 or commonly known as LRT 1 or Yellow Line having the R. Papa and the Abad Santos stations access to Tondo area.
Being the largest area among Manila’s districts,Tondo can be reached through several jeepney routes. Coming from the north side, ride a jeep with signages like North Harbor, Blumentritt, Ilaya, Dagupan and Abad Santos while from the south side, take a jeep going to Pritil, Divisoria, Blumentritt, Monumento, Malinta, and Malanday.
Jeepneys are the primary mode of transportation to get around Tondo as there are many routes available to choose from. A minimum fare of P7.00 is charged for the first four kilometers. Tricycle or auto rickshaw, Padyak or bicycle rickshaw, and Kuliglig or motorized pedicabs are other options to go around town. But for a more adventurous ride, try the Trolleys or rail skates that run along the railways of PNR or the P1.00 boat ride across Pasig River from Delpan to Baseco.
Not much of a pleasant nor an ideal sightseeing place to go to, but Smokey Mountain, one of the biggest slums in Tondo, attracts both local and foreign tourist to discover more about this 50-meter high garbage mountain with more than two million tons of rubbish and the poor community thriving in the area.
One of the most visited churches in the Philippines is the Santo Niño de Tondo Church also known as Tondo Church. It’s unique and noticeable architectural design features twin domed bell towers on each side and one small domed bell tower on its roof in addition to its well-crafted arches and columns. This Roman Catholic church houses an image of the Infant Jesus that came from Acapulco, Mexico since 1572.
Another historical site on the list is Plaza Moraga. It is named in commemoration of the Augustinian parish priest of Sta. Ana, Fernando de Morga, who persuaded King Philip to reconsider the plan to leave the Philippines free.
Join in the miraculous Lakbayaw Festival or Santo Niño de Tondo celebrated every third Sunday of January. This annual commemoration is one the most awaited and biggest event in Manila with the most number of participants in any Santo Niño celebrations in the country. The different images of the Child Jesus are featured in the processions which are held twice a day, one in the morning and the other just before sunset where it passes through the major streets of Tondo. Street dancing is one of the must-see in the event. Other highlights of the merriment include fireworks; photo exhibits; beauty pageants; and a showcase of local crafts and produce.
Shop in the gold mine of wholesale and retail centers, Divisoria Market. It is the premier go-to place for the cheapest goods across the country and the most visited flea market of Manila with a variety of commodities available including raw materials, fruits and vegetables, and custom-made and RTW products.
Experience Slum Tour, a fairly new local tour around the area near Smokey Mountain guided by The Smokey Tours tour leaders. Choose among the available tours such as Bicycle Tour, Slum Tour, Cemetery Tour, and Market Tour. Its aim is to raise awareness about social issues and empowers underprivileged communities in Metro Manila.
Hugot Cafe is a dessert and coffee cafe at Hermosa Street with so much “feels” with its “hugot lines”. It serves hugot-inspired dishes that go straight to your heart like Broken, eight piece churros with caramel dip; Loner, a waffle with ice cream, Paasa, a mocha flavored milkshake; and Two-Timer, a double dutch flavored shake. Customers are encouraged to shout out their feelings on its #HugotWall and budding performers such as singers and spoken words artists can have their gig on the cafe.
Aling Consuelo Original Halo-Halo has been around in Ugbo since 1960s. Its famous Halo-Halo bestseller is made up of personalized ingredients from the Leche Flan to the Ube and Monggo. It offers a free cup of treat for every 10 cups availed.
Mang Rado’s Lechon at Simon Street offers a taste of its famous lechon for less than a hundred bucks. Its Tumbong Soup also shares the limelight of fame in this carinderia.
Nights are livelier for bargain hunters at Tutuban Night Market. Located at the old Tutuban railway station along CM Recto Avenue, one can haggle for shoes, bags, garments, accessories, and home furnishing at bargain prices from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Tondo also has a share of KTV pubs and bars such as John Art KTV, a second-class restaurant in Juan Luna Street where one can belt a tune la Frank Sinatra in their own way, SosimuSarap Bar and Restaurant in Matiisin Street that serves Filipino finger foods and operates from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., AMJA Bar House in Asuncion Street with low-priced beers for an overtime with buddies, and 81 ‘Cafe which offers a cheaper Starbucks-like frappe fitting for midnight snacks with friends plus a bonus photo booth for added fun.
Tondo is primarily a residential and industrial district but a few accommodations are available for transient stay. Located on the third floor of the Prime Block Building, Orion Hotel is conveniently accessible to Tutuban Center and Divisoria area. Inns are an alternative such as Charmaines Lodging Inn in Abad Santos Avenue and Manuel Chua Pension Inn in Recto Avenue.
Stay vigilant and dress simply when shopping in Divisoria. It’s better to be safe than sorry as there are a lot of pickpockets roaming around the area.
Come early in Divisoria as sellers give bueno mano or big discounts to the first customer of the day. Don’t forget to bring a shopping bag too.
Ride the PNR train and experience the cityscape tour in a different light.