by - 4:23 AM

Binondo, Manila, Philippines
Statistically, the Chinese holds the largest number of 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 blood.  In the Philippines, we cannot deny the fact that most of our successful entrepreneurs and businessmen are of Chinese blood lineage.  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 Chinese 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 has 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 China, I will first take you to the various Chinatowns of Southeast Asia, a proof that the Chinese culture and heritage is taking its place and significance 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 definitely available, although I end up not 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.  Just a simple reminder, if you are not used to eating street foods, don't try them in this place as it may be a hindrance to your exploration of the country.

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 having been amazed at its structural design, we took a lot of pictures once again. 


From the said street, expectedly another temple is a site to behold 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 then.  We arrived at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia early morning and check in for hotels starts 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 their 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.  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 once again, the said hotel passed our standards, lowered down to fit our budget of course.  At that time, we therefore concluded, we are not fully-pledged backpackers like any European adventurers.  Sanitation is still important for us, which cannot be bargained for a low-priced rate.  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 some work schedule conflicts I wasn't able to do it.  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.

Honestly, I do not commute through jeepneys here in Metro Manila and that is, for safety and convenience purposes.  But for a new experience, I did it when we had our tour of Binondo.  Taking a cab would be a hassle I suppose due to the narrow alleys and busy sidewalks of Binondo.  After that experience, included in my list as one of the cheapest tours would be the Binondo tour.  Binondo takes its pride of the best chinese cuisine, which most Filipinos promote.  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.  But trust me, they are not authentic in my opinion.  I've been to mainland china and it tastes differently.  Binondo food is still of great taste! (at least on my taste)  We have quick snack in Tacloban City but I think it closed its operations already, it was one of my favorites during my younger years.

Aside from the best chinese restaurants, fruit stands and distributors of the best hopia in the Philippines are also a part of the Binondo character.  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 on the start of the Binondo tour, as it is situated at the center of this busy commercial area.

the Binondo church

interiors of the Binondo church

These are only some of the Chinatowns of Southeast Asia.  If you have something to share on your chinatown experience please do so by posting a comment here.

Xie xie.

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