If you think a cemetery tour is macabre, don’t. Ivan Man Dy, who reintroduces Manila’s older districts, explains why, and talks of lotsa interesting things to learn about the city that never sleeps.

Meet Ivan. He’s the guy that “turned” Manila’s old districts (Intramuros, Binondo, and the area around Malacañang) into a big, open-air museum. Photo by Andrew Del Rosario

I worked in a museum in Intramuros for 10 years. I basically took the experience of being in a museum and turned it into a tour of Manila. I’m born, raised, and still live in Manila, and have enjoyed the city’s history ever since. I’ve also done volunteer cultural heritage work since forever.

We created different thematic tours that told the history of the city. There are city tours for Manila, but they’re a bit generic. All they do is they tell you “this is the place, here’s when it was built, and here’s who built it.” None of them explored the different facets of Manila’s history.

They’ve also done this: disguised a wedding proposal… as a tour of Binondo.

Manila is more than just Intramuros. There’s Binondo, which is very close to my heart (because I grew up there) and Quiapo na hindi nadi-discuss (never talked about). For me, Old Manila Walks is a way of explaining the significance of these neighborhoods and its buildings to the public. We wanted to tell the narratives behind these districts so people would understand their value and the reason why we want to preserve their structures.

We’re in old Manila, hence the name. We do tours in Intramuros and Chinatown, and “walks” are lakad lang. We’re not telling the history of the Philippines; we’re focusing on the history of the City of Manila itself. You’ll notice in our tours that we do not talk about Dr. Jose Rizal or Andrew Bonifacio. My hope is that when they (people who join our tours) leave, they understand a bit more of the history of the city.

Binondo Trip
A typical day in Binondo. Photo by Krista Garcia

Manila’s old districts are similar yet they are different. Take Binondo. It has marks of Spanish colonial history, but there are Chinese elements to the district. That story is part of Manila’s history—one that’s not taught in school. It’s why people are not aware of the history and heritage of these districts. For us, it’s [the thematic tours] one way of telling the narrative of these places based on the communities that live there.

One of the more unique places that Ivan Man Dy takes people to: the Manila Chinese Cemetery. Photo by Wayne Grazio from flickr.

I like doing all the tours. The Chinese Cemetery tour is more of a quiet tour that tells history through architecture. I love architecture. The Chinoy (Chinese-Filipino) element in the tour is basically immigrant history.

Ivan leads a group of Chinese tourists through a tour of The Walled City. Photo by Andrew Del Rosario

Our Intramuros tour is a primer of sorts, because if you come to Manila, this is your first stop. It’s like a general history of Manila. Binondo is different because it has a mix of Chinese immigrant history. Our San Miguel – Malacañang Tour, on the other hand, talks more about political history.

I like the old neighborhoods. If I want peace and quiet, I go to the walls of Intramuros. Fort Santiago has been renovated and now looks good at night. I like the modern stuff, too.

Manila is great, but it’s a hard place to like, especially when you look at transportation.

– Ivan Man Dy on the city of Manila

Santa Ana district is quite interesting, even if no one has done a tour of it. They have a church and several old houses. Quiapo is another place that people should consider visiting. There’s already a tour for Quiapo that includes the San Sebastian Church, the only church in the country made of steel. Quiapo has a different flavor compared to other districts. It has a mix of religion because of the Black Nazarene, the traditional Tagalog culture, and a touch of Mindanao from the Muslim Quarter.

I’ve been to a lot of provinces in the country, and I like these places in particular: Bacolod. I have friends there and I like the city’s architecture; Dumaguete, and Laguna, especially the towns that look like quaint villages. I like cold place like Tagaytay and Baguio. I’m also very familiar with the Ilocos Region because I’ve been there many times for work.

I like walking in big cities around the world. Cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Bangkok, Singapore, Saigon, Georgetown in Penang, and Kuala Lumpur pique my interest. I like European cities like Vienna. I think people like them because they’re walkable, have their culture intact, and have a rich heritage that’s better preserved compared to ours. Manila is great, but it’s a hard place to like, especially when you look at transportation.

That’s not Ivan, but it is one of the things he likes doing everywhere he goes—even in Batanes. Photo by Ferdz Decena

Batanes is beautiful. I’ve been there four times and I like going back for its serenity and the beauty of the place. When I was in Batanes, I liked our stay at Fundacion Pacita. I guess you can say I also like rustic landscapes because when I go abroad, I often join tours that go to the countryside. I’m not much of a beach person; I prefer mountain scenery, freshwater, and cold places.

That said, I loved it when we stayed at Club Paradise in Coron. I’ve also stayed at Sulyap Gallery Café, Boutique Hotels, and Restaurant in San Pablo, Laguna.

These five things never leave my travel case:

  • Contact lenses and glasses
  • Mobile phone
  • Wallet
  • Small umbrella. I use them rain or shine, and I don’t like wearing hats.
  • Snacks like small packs of peanuts. I’m the type of person who might skip a meal because I’m absorbed in seeing the city.

Who is Ivan Man Dy?

A true blue Manilan, Ivan is the man behind Old Manila Walks and has over two decades of experience working in the cultural field, which includes being a heritage activist, museum docent, school instructor, features writer, television personality, researcher, expert speaker, tour operator and book author. He has a master’s degree from the University of Santo Tomas, and has received the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan award from the municipal government of Manila.