Binondo, Manila, Philippines
Statistically, the Chinese holds the highest percentage of the world's population.  Their influence and culture has affected and transcend every continent in the world.  Back in my hometown, Tacloban City, I have a lot of friends who are of chinese descent and you'll admire them for their brilliance in the field of mathematics and of course, the hardwork and innovative skills that they possess.  Our downtown area is also dominated by businesses run by families of Chinese lineage.  In the Philippines, we cannot deny the fact that most of our successful entrepreneurs and businessmen are of Chinese blood.  It is from this realization that I am predicting that Mandarin would be a must-learn language in the near future.

Trade and commerce has been the main influence of China in the Philippines.  And I assume, it is applicable anywhere else where there are Chinese dwellers.  As they say, name the merchandise and the Chinese people have it.  Go to department stores, hardwares and even groceries and I assure you there is always something labeled as "Made in China".  

Before I write about my recent trip to Mainland China, I will first take you to the various Chinatowns of Southeast Asia, a proof that the Chinese culture and heritage is taking over a significant role in the world map. 

To date, I have been to seven countries in the Southeast Asia apart from our very own Philippines, and as a budget traveler, I don't spend much on accommodations as I am not there to sleep and wander inside the hotels.  Having said that, it is always a part of my research to look for the Chinatown in every country, as budget accommodations are almost as always situated there. But the thing is, I don't end up staying in Chinatown but only visit it for exploration/wandering purposes.  Being a practical traveler entails acceptance of even the filthy surroundings and letting go of the luxurious type of living in another country, yet low-priced merchandise and wares for personal use and souvenirs is within your reach.  

Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam 

As part of the tour package, we went to the Binhtay Market, which is situated at the Chinatown of HCMC, Vietnam.  As expected, both dry and wet goods and merchandise were on display on this crowded and busy establishment, where bargaining skills was put into test once again.  Since motorcycles are just everywhere in the city, then, caution is necessary when crossing the streets.

After that busy market place, we visited a temple, where intricate architectural design is admirable and picture-worthy as I term it.  This temple is known as Thien Hau Pagoda located at D Nguyen Trai Cholon Ho Chi Minh City.  Although, my friends and I are all Catholics, we prayed at the temple and can't help but notice the intricate interior design. 


From the said street, unexpectedly there sits another temple known as the Sri Mariamman Temple.

Kuala Kumpur, Malaysia

How can I forget this trip?  Finding accommodations was an ordeal and a big challenge for us back then.  We arrived at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia early morning and check-in for hotels start at 12noon and so, we have to stay at the airport terminal for hours until the sun appears and we deem it safe to travel to the downtown area.  From a series of questioning and inquiry from both locals and tourists in the terminal and particularly from the barrista of Starbucks, we were advised to drop by at the Jalan Sultan for cheap yet comfortable accommodations. And so we did.

While walking at this Jalan Sultan, we were able to come across an apartelle, which was managed by a Filipino, which name I'd rather not disclose.  She was kind and jolly by the way.  We thought it was a great deal.  But after a few minutes of inspection, we changed our mind and apologized to the Filipina manager for cancelling our reservations, which she understood.  We were able to see mafia-looking foreigners wandering topless in the corridors of the hotel and the comfort room was a common one too.  Foreigners do stay at the said apartelle, varied nationalities at that, which means that it's tourist friendly.  However, sanitation is a big issue for us.  It was almost 1PM and we still have no place to stay.  Luckily, after a few minutes of walk, we found a budget hotel owned by a Chinese national.  Forgive me for my transient memory as I already forgot the name of the hotel.  After inspection, the said hotel passed our standards, lowered down to fit our budget of course.  At that time, we therefore concluded, we are not full-pledged backpackers like any European adventurers.  Sanitation is still important for us, which cannot be compromised.  

This was the first time we stayed in a chinatown, and luckily, it was a good choice.  Peddlers are everywhere and branded merchandise are laid down on the sidewalks of this street known as the Petaling Street, referred to as the Chinatown of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  The area is also near Puduraya Station, which would be our point of embarkation to Singapore.  Thus, the area is strategically located to cater to all our needs - the restaurants, souvenir shops, the MTRs and accessible transportation to the scenic spots of Kuala Lumpur.   

Binondo, Manila

It is part of my to-do list for 2011, to be able to celebrate Chinese New Year at Binondo, Manila.  However, due to work schedule conflicts, this will not happen anytime soon.  But on a weekend after the Chinese New Year, I received a call from my very good friend Jaja that she will be visiting Manila for the weekend and she intends to visit Binondo as well.  And so, like an answered prayer yet unplanned and unscheduled, we took a tour of Binondo, Manila.

In all honesty, doing the commute through jeepneys is a remote idea for me.  But for a new experience, we did it for the Binondo tour.  Taking a cab would be a hassle I suppose due to the narrow alleys and busy sidewalks of Binondo.  

Binondo takes its pride of the best Chinese cuisine offerings on aligned restaurants and eateries.  Filipino-chinese friends would boast of having tried the authentic chinese cuisine here in Binondo - from the Presidents tea House, the Quick snack, the Waiying, estero and a lot more.  

Taste wise may be different from Mainland China, in my opinion, though still delectable and a must-try.

Binondo Manila houses the best Chinese restaurants, fruit stands and distributors of the best hopia in the Philippines.  What makes Binondo, Manila special is the fusion of both commerce and religion in it.  There are temples also situated in Binondo, not to mention the picturesque Binondo Church which greets everyone at the center of the area. 

the Binondo church

interiors of the Binondo church

As of writing, these are the Chinatowns of Southeast Asia I've visited.  If you have something to share on your chinatown experience please do so by posting a comment here.

Xie xie.

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