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The land of floods and fish—that’s what most people think of when asked about the City of Malabon. However, this city in Metro Manila has more to offer than just those. With several heritage structures and a thriving food scene, Malabon is truly an adventure waiting to be experienced.
The City of Malabon may be a sleepy, quaint town by today’s standards. Yet this part of Metro Manila, which was founded in 1599 as the town of Tambobong, actually played a pivotal role in the creation of the metropolis. After all, its unique geography at the intersection of several rivers—including major ones such as Tullahan and Navotas—made it a top trading port during the Galleon Trade. In fact, it even produced tobacco and sugar in the late 19th century. The Malabon Sugar Company was even one of the pioneer producers of refined sugar in the country.
So while the city may not be a prime business district nowadays, vestiges of its prosperous past still remain. From its many heritage structures to its rich selection of food, travelers will be pleasantly surprised at what Malabon has to offer. After all, it’s definitely not just some backwater city in Metro Manila.
In the rare chance that you’re coming from Navotas, you can simply ride a banca to the Malabon side of the Navotas River. This 15-minute boat ride is only for the adventurous, though, as the route involves a bit of weaving in and out between old, rusty ships.
Malabon is accessible via public transportation. Simply ride a UE-Letre bus on the northbound side of EDSA, as its terminus is at Letre Road in Malabon. Alternatively, you can ride a Gasak-Divisoria jeep from the Divisoria area or the intersection of Recto Avenue and Rizal Avenue (Avenida Rizal); its terminus is at the Ilang-Ilang Intersection in Malabon.
Like most cities in Metro Manila, Malabon has jeepneys and tricycles that can bring you to the area’s popular attractions. However, to see everything that the city has to offer, a fair bit of walking is required. This is especially important if you want to take shortcuts using its many hidden alleys and side streets.
For many locals, the Malabon Zoo is the first thing that comes to mind when talking about tourist attractions in this city. However, this privately-run menagerie is quite small compared to other options in the country. Today, most of the animals here are of the aquatic variety.
With that said, it’s better to check out Malabon’s heritage sites. Start with the San Bartolome Church Complex, which was declared an Important Cultural Property by the National Museum of the Philippines in 2015. This 400-year-old church boasts a grand interior that’s a reminder of the glory days of the town.
You can then stop by the city’s many ancestral homes. One is the Raymundo House, which was built in the 1800s and has a short yet stout adobe gate. Or you can take a peek at the Cayco House, built in the 1920s, located across the Rufina Patis factory. There’s also the landmark Farmacia Borja. Also built in the 1920s following the art noveau style, this charming two-story edifice in front of the Concepcion Church is one of the best maintained in the city.
Cap it all off with a stop at the Cacnio House. While this home was only built 14 years ago by esteemed artist Angel Cacnio, it follows a style inspired by the other ancestral houses in the area. This house also has a gallery that has numerous works of art by the Cacnio clan, from paintings by Angel to sculptures by his son, Michael. And Angel Cacnio’s works are definitely a sight to behold—after all, he is known for designing several Philippine banknotes and coins.
There are also a number of activities to enjoy in Malabon. Travelers can start by booking a tricycle tour from the City Tourism Office. This tour will have you riding a tricycle—the local version of the tuktuk or motor rickshaw—to various tourist attractions in the city. You can also request for tours and cooking demonstrations at the makers of Malabon’s many delicacies, from fish crackers to fish sauce, as well as its kakanin (rice-based sweet treats).
Most locals associate Malabon with its namesake stir-fried noodle dish—Pancit Malabon—which has a rich, yellow sauce made from crab fat. However, that’s not the only thing that you can eat in this city. Travelers can start with a meal at Aling Mely’s Carinderia on A. Bonifacio Street. This eatery is so popular that they’ve catered to several local celebrities. Don’t forget to try out their tapang kabayo (cured horse meat strips), an exotic take on a Filipino favorite; and their trademark beef mechado, which they cook for four hours. Or you can load up at Jamico’s Restaurant, which serves the popular Judy Ann’s Crispy Pata (pork leg, deep fried to crispy perfection).
Then there’s Dolor’s Kakanin, which not only serves up one of the best sapin-sapin (sticky rice cakes) in the metro. They also offer a delicious take on rellenong bangus (stuffed milkfish) plus other sweet treats. And speaking of baked goodies, a stop at the R.B. Gregorio Bread House is a must for a taste of their trademark pianono (a custard-filled cake roll).
Of course, with Malabon being a center of the fish trade, you have to take home some of its fish-based products: fish crackers and patis (fish sauce). Or you can buy Aling Upeng’s Quekiam (kikiam), which is made from ground pork rolled in a bean curd wrapper and fried.
Like the rest of the city, Malabon’s nightlife is quite laid-back. Most bars in the area started as hole-in-the-wall stores that were once just frequented by locals looking for a drink or two. One top choice is Tey’s Dugout, which often has bands playing through the night. Other popular options include Sunrise Stretch Bar and Grill and Eskinita Resto Bar, both located near the riverbanks.
While there are a number of interesting sights and attractions in Malabon, tourist accommodation is almost non-existent in the area (apart from a few seedy motels). It is better to look elsewhere for lodging; staying in either downtown Manila or Quezon City is advised.
Many of Malabon’s ancestral homes are still being used by the families who own them. Hence, if you want to see the insides of these houses, you’ll need to knock on the doors of these houses and ask for permission. For example, to access the Raymundo House, simply ask for Susan at the Jamico’s Restaurant and she’ll grant you access. Otherwise, you’d have to be content with just admiring them from the outside.
Avoid traveling to the area during the rainy season. Due to its topography, Malabon is prone to flooding. So while the locals may be perfectly used to traveling by boat when the waters rise, it may not be exactly convenient for tourists.
Be careful when walking. Many parts of Malabon have still retained its old small-town charm, which means narrow roads without sidewalks. Hence, when walking around, make sure to stay alert for vehicular traffic—whether it’s automobiles or horse-drawn carriages.