You'll notice that the New Year's celebrations are especially noticeable in places like Binondo, the Philippine version of Chinatown. If you happen to visit the place this weekend, be sure to:
Ride a calesa.
The best way to get around Binondo is via calesa (horse-drawn carriage). Although there are jeepneys that drive within the area, Binondo's narrow and crowded streets make it hard for most vehicles to pass through. Also, the slower speed of the calesa makes it easier to appreciate the sights and sounds of the Philippines' Chinatown.
To ride a calesa, all you have to do is approach a calesa driver, ask him to take you somewhere (and for what rate), and you're good to go. Some drivers charge a flat rate, while others charge per hour. Be sure to "tip" him for extra service!
Enter the Seng Guan temple.
Along Narra Street, on the way to Tutuban Mall, lies the Buddhist Seng Guan Temple. Also known as the "Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas," Seng Guan is considered a major cultural center by the local Filipino-Chinese community.
Seng Guan might look plain and gray from the outside, but inside, it's breathtakingly beautiful. Between the countless golden Buddhas lining the interiors, and the architecture patterned after the Mahayana style, you don't want to leave without taking a photo or two.
Have your fortune told at the Kuang Kong temple.
Although Kuang Kong is smaller and less impressive than Seng Guan, it's still an interesting place to visit. Situated at the top floor of a building along Kipuja Street, Kuang Kong is easily recognizable by the large, black urn of ashes, plus an altar dedicated to the temple's eponymous god, in front of the temple.
At the altar, you can find red wooden half moons, which can be used to tell your fortune. All you have to do is take a couple of these half moons, plus a pair of lighted incense sticks, and think of a question that's answerable by "Yes" or "No." Then, swirl the half moons over the incense sticks so they'll catch the smoke, and throw them to the floor. If the moons show the same face, the answer is "Yes." Otherwise, it's a "No."
Aside from fortune-telling, you can also have a prosperous year ahead by offering incense sticks to Kuang Kong (the Chinese god of war and wealth), or praying in front of red candles outside the temple.
See the Santo Cristo de Longos.
As a mostly-Catholic country, the Philippines is full of images of Jesus Christ, and Binondo is no different. The Santo Cristo de Longos, in particular, has a strange legend attached to it.
According to the legend, a deaf-mute Chinese was pulling a pail of water out of a well in Longos, when he saw a blackened figure of a crucified Christ in the pail. Shortly afterwards, he regained his ability to speak, and began to shout about his discovery.
Eventually, word about the image spread. The local parish priest decided to fit the image to a cross, and ship it to the Capilla de San Gabriel. There, the image stayed, until the chapel was destroyed in an earthquake in 1863. Miraculously, the image survived, and was transferred to Binondo Church, where it remains to this day.
Pray inside the Binondo Church.
The Santo Cristo de Longos isn't the only wonder you can see in Binondo Church (pictured above). Also known as the "Minor Basilica of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz," the Binondo Church has been renovated many times throughout the years.
The church fronts the Plaza San Lorenzo Ruiz, and is the go-to place of worship for Filipino-Chinese Catholics. Some masses are held in English and Filipino, while others are held in Mandarin and Hokkien to cater to the local Chinese community.
Like many churches in the Philippines, the Binondo Church is more impressive inside than out. The interiors are covered with religious images, which lend an air of majesty alongside the high ceilings, gentle arches, and warm atmosphere. Of the church's original structure, only the stone walls and octagonal belfry remain.
Browse exotic eats at the Arranque Market.
Ten to fifteen minutes away from the Binondo Church is the Arranque Wet Market. There, you can find unusual food stuffs like frogs, eels, octopi, sea cucumbers, and even fish lips. The market's obviously more Chinese than Filipino, but if you're up for a culinary adventure, this hidden gem at the corner of Recto and Soler Streets won't disappoint.
Celebrate the Chinese New Year.
Of course, a New Year's trip to Binondo won't be complete without the festivities. You can watch lion and dragon dances on the streets, eat tikoy (glutinous rice cake) for good luck, or receive ang pao (red envelopes with money) for a prosperous year ahead. Most importantly, remember to enjoy yourself, stay safe, and gong xi fa chai!