Admittedly a novice when it comes to travel in the Philippines, Tom has had the local's-eye view as his tour guides have all been family.
The Shrine of Manuel L. Quezon
Manuel L. Quezon—officially the second president of the Philippines but recognized as the first independent president of the island nation—had an absolutely incredible list of accomplishments in his life. I could bore you with a hundred facts about him, but let me tell you about his memorial instead.
Suffice it to say that this memorial is also his mausoleum. He passed away during WWII while in exile in the United States, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full honors, and was finally dug up and returned to the Philippines aboard the USS Princeton (an aircraft carrier) after the war.
I recommend reading up on President Quezon before visiting the Philippines. He is very highly regarded, which explains why a province and the first capital of the Philippines were named after him. Speak well of him, Jose Rizal, and Lapu Lapu and you'll make friends fast.
Possibly the most pride-inspiring feature of "the Circle," as the locals call it, is the World Peace Bell, donated by Japan. The tradition began in Japan after WWII with the casting of a new temple bell that was dubbed "Bell of Banzai for Absolute Peace," and since then, bells have been awarded to several United Nations member countries. What makes the bells special is that they are all cast from coins donated to the World Peace Bell Association.
The more you learn about President Quezon, the more sense it makes that peace is the primary theme of this park. He championed the women's rights movement long before it became fashionable in the West, stood up for and welcomed dispossessed European Jews when most of the world ignored their plight, and brought legitimacy to the Philippine Government.
The Peace Wall is covered with a mural that changes on occasion. Not far from that stands the Peace Monument.
Be ready for one thing: it's very hard to keep buildings, memorials, and shrines stain-free in the tropics. The best way to see the shrine is at night, when colored lights illuminate the three pillars of the monument. The Liwasang Aurora Fountain stands beside the shrine, but it wasn't working when I was there.
The Circle features four museums:
- The QCX or Quezon City Experience (constructed after our last visit, so please tell me all about it!)
- The Quezon Heritage House (a reconstruction of the house in which President Quezon raised his family)
- Museo ni Manuel L. Quezon (the actual mausoleum under the monument)
- Presidential Car Museum (12 vehicles that transported 13 presidents)
And if you get hungry, there are six restaurants from which to choose:
- The Coconut House, serving standard Filipino fare
- Serye, also serving standard Filipino fare
- Steak to One (one guess what they serve)
- Kamameshi House for Japanese cuisine
- Bacolod Chicken Inasal for those who like their chicken grilled
- Max's, which is world famous (among Filipinos at least) for their fried chicken
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There are also playgrounds for free fun with the kids and even a small amusement park called the Circle of Fun. One can spend an entire day here without getting bored or spending much. And if that isn't enough, use the pedestrian underpass to Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center across Elliptical Road.
Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center
The Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center is named after Benigno Simeon "Ninoy" Aquino Jr.—thorn in the side of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, husband to the Philippines' first female president and all-around swell lady, Corazon “Cory” Aquino (the 11th president of the Philippines), and the father of Benigno Aquino III (the 15th president of the Philippines).
It was the assassination of Ninoy upon his return to the Philippines from self-exile that propelled his wife—who had no previous political aspirations of her own—into office.
The Wildlife Center
The Wildlife Center is a rehab facility where animals can either recover and return to the wild or spend the rest of their lives in the safety of a cage if they are unable to survive in the wild. Normally, you go to a zoo to see animals from far-off lands, but seeing as this is a rehab center, most of the animals you will see are indigenous to the Philippines.
The enclosures are dingy (it’s impossible to keep anything outdoors clean in the tropics) but reasonably large. They keep the animals within chainlink fences, unfortunately making photography problematic. Some of the wildlife you can expect to see includes, but is not limited to:
- Eagles (white-bellied sea eagles, Philippine serpent eagle, changeable hawk eagle and the now famous Philippine eagle, formerly called the “monkey-eating” eagle for some unfathomable reason, arguably the largest living eagle on earth.)
- Owls, parrots and a wide variety of other birds including a honey buzzard and the ubiquitous hornbills
- Butterflies in the Butterfly House (which was closed when we went, so no photos.)
- Tiger (no, not indigenous, thank God.)
- Additional birds
- Reptiles (plenty of big snakes, crocodiles and my personal favorite, the tree monitor lizard.)
- Philippine deer (which are pretty tiny)
- More birds (you’ll have your fill of avians by the end of the day)
Ninoy Aquino Parks
The Ninoy Aquino Parks are primarily a collection of botanical gardens. The variety of flowering plants is staggering, and some parts of the land remain semi-wild jungle. A sizeable lagoon (about 700 feet across, at most) occupies about a quarter of the park and contains two small, beautifully landscaped islands joined to each other and to land by wooden bridges.
Features of the Park
The park’s secondary function is as staging grounds for weddings, parties, and other occasions that require a roof over your guests' heads, because this is the tropics and it rains all the time. The covered facilities include:
- Open-air Amphitheater (can accommodate up to 600 guests and is perfect for meetings, stage performances, and large parties)
- Fishing Village overhanging the lagoon (a recreation of Mindanao fishing villages that is perfect for weddings, accommodating up to 150 guests)
- Tea House (appropriate for smaller meetings and workshops; can accommodate up to 50 guests)
- 5 Picnic Sheds (the name says it all; each can accommodate about 10 people)
Fees and Rental Rates
While Quezon Memorial Circle is free to all that visit, this is not true of Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center. One fee gets you into both, however, and it's a nominal fee at best. (All rates in U.S. Dollars are changeable depending on the exchange rate.)
- Adults = 30 PHP (about 55 cents USD)
- Students = 15 PHP (about 30 cents USD)
- Foreigners = 100 PHP (about $1.90 USD)
- Senior citizens, children under 7 and persons with disabilities = FREE ($0 USD)
Rental of the roofed facilities at present are:
- Fishing Village = 2,500 PHP (about $47 USD)
- Amphitheater = 1,350 PHP (about $25 USD)
- Tea House 500 PHP (about $9.40 USD)
- Picnic Shed 500 PHP
Note: These prices were current as of August 2018.
Dinner at Trellis
Trellis is an open-air restaurant, which means no air conditioning (but plenty of fans). Consider this before deciding to eat here if you are sensitive to heat and it’s a hot day, which is incredibly common in Metro Manila. The covered patios are large and separated by artificial ponds and creeks lined with bamboo and other tropical plants. It has a distinctively artificial look about it but is pleasant nonetheless. Along with terrific food, the décor is very relaxing and comfortable.
This is my favorite restaurant in Metro Manila. The house specialty is sisig, and they do it right. For it to be authentic sisig, the meat has to come from a pig’s roasted head (the same ingredient in virtually all liver sausage, so stop wincing), diced and combined with diced hot red and green peppers. It’s served on a sizzling platter that cooks the veggies as you sit staring at it with awe, trying not to salivate excessively.
The second time I ate here, I was sick with a sinus infection and the staff was incredibly sympathetic. They brought me a big bowl of sinigang (sour tamarind soup and my second favorite Filipino dish) filled with giant prawns and kept the bowl full the whole time, and we were there for quite a while.
Other dishes that I've sampled here (each one delicious) include but are not limited to:
- Buffalo wings appetizer
- Fried chicken
- Crispy Pata (a whole pork leg boiled in seasonings, then deep fried until very crunchy outside and juicy inside)
- Miki Bihon (pork, cabbage and carrots in two types of noodles)
- Liempo (grilled marinated pork belly)
- Pinaputok na Tilapia (oven-baked tilapia stuffed with herbs and diced veggies)
- Some vegetable dish, who remembers.
How to Find Trellis
At only five blocks away from Quezon Memorial Circle, Trellis is the perfect choice for dinner. The parking lot consists of four slips, so I don’t recommend driving if it can be avoided. I also warn all to avoid walking to the restaurant from Quezon Memorial Circle as the traffic circle surrounding the memorial park has not one controlled intersection: crossing Elliptical Road on foot is essentially suicidal. Hail or find a trike to reach the restaurant alive; it’s a two-minute ride that’ll cost less than a buck.