First settled by the Spanish during the 16th century, Manila Chinatown in Binondo is one of the world’s older Chinatowns. It centers on Ongpin Street, where stores offer mooncakes, incense, paper money, herbal medicines, and tasty dumplings. Buddhist temples and towering gates add extra color to the Chinese area of Binondo.
There’s no charge to visit Manila Chinatown, or, indeed, Binondo, the district in which it sits. It’s easy enough to wander around on foot—Chinatown is a pleasant walk from Intramuros—or pick up one of the horse-drawn carriages known as kalesa.
If you’re pressed for time or would like to take a deeper dive, you may prefer a Binondo tour. Some old Manila tours and Manila history tours make time to stop in Binondo, as the district, although developing rapidly, is one of Manila’s oldest.
Things to Know Before You Go
- If you’re craving Chinese food while in Manila, Manila Chinatown is the place to head.
- Be sure to clarify price and currency when arranging a kalesa ride. Holding up peso notes or typing the numerals into your phone will help avoid finding your peso fare meant dollars, or that “10” actually meant “10,000.”
- Binondo Church dates back to the 16th century, when the Spaniards forced the Chinese to convert to Catholicism.
- The paper money you see in stores is for burning as an offering to ancestors during the Hungry Ghost Festival, each July or August.
How to Get There
Manila Chinatown is conveniently central and a satisfying walk from other historical areas such as Intramuros. Escolta River Ferry is the best water-bus stop if you’re riding the Pasig River Ferry; if traveling by train, connect to Carriedo Station on Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1. Ask taxi drivers to drop you at the Filipino–Chinese Friendship Arch.
When to Get There
As with Chinatowns the world over, Manila Chinatown comes alive during the big annual festivals: Lunar New Year around January or February and Mid-Autumn Festival around late September or early October. Try and avoid traveling to Chinatown during rush hour (roughly 7am–9am and 5pm–9pm), when Manila’s already hectic traffic is at its worst.
Binondo: An Ancient Chinatown
Often described as the world’s oldest Chinatown, Binondo was founded in 1594 by Spanish colonists across the river from their main settlement at Intramuros. Immigrants, mainly Hokkien people from Fujian, flooded in. For centuries the area was Manila’s business capital, with Escolta Street the city’s answer to Broadway, although today Makati holds that role.