Officially Divisoria doesn’t exist. That is because Divisoria (“dividing lines”) were zones assigned by the Spanish colonial authorities to act as gaps to prevent fires from one district spreading into another. This particular Divisoria went on to become a popular commercial district due to its proximity to Manila’s harbor and train station. Today it is one of the most popular shopping destinations not only for people in Metro Manila but the entire country as well.
2pm. Shopping in Divisoria is now easier with De La Chambre Hotel (667-669 De la Chambre St, Binondo, Manila; +63 2 3546666). Now you no longer need to worry about where to leave your bags or how to be there early (some Divisoria sellers are known to give discounts to the first customer of the day. This is known as bueno mano). Located behind Lucky Chinatown mall, rates start at PHP800 for the mini room. Tip: Hook up with three other shopping buddies and get a suite for only PHP4,000.
The shopping scene in Divisoria today is dominated by two malls: 168 and 999. Both get their names from sound-alike number phrases in Chinese: “168” means “one road to success”, while “999” means “higher and higher”. Both malls are massive. The 168 stretches from Sta Elena Street over to a third of Soler Street while the 999 Mall goes all the way from Felipe II Street CM Recto Avenue.
The two malls attract shoppers from all over the country with their car parks, well-lit corridors, air conditioning, and wide array of merchandise. Some of the more popular items you can find here include garments, footwear, fashion jewelry, electronics, home décor, toys, stationeries, bags, luggage and made-to-order clothes.
They are also popular because they have bank branches and ATMs, which are very important since most transaction are in cash. Both malls also have food courts, fastfood chains and even game arcades. The food court at the new wing of the 168 Mall (Soler Street side) even features a simulator ride (Big World 5D ride, PHP100 per person)!
Both malls seem to offer nearly everything, but don’t miss out the bigger Divisoria shopping experience.
You can start by checking out Sta Elena Street. From Tiong Se Academy (708 Sta Elena St), walk past the throng of shoppers and street vendors to Juan Luna Street, towards what used to be Divisoria Mall (it burned down in May 2013).
On the corner of Sta Elena and Tabora is an eight-story building known as the Bodega Sales Center. Take the dingy escalator at the entrance to the second floor where you’ll be greeted by the widest selection of toys and novelty items in the area. It is crammed with stalls after stalls of toy wholesalers and retailers. Sure it’s hot and crowded, but with China-made Lego-like block sets below PHP1,000 and 12-inch Marvel action figures for PHP350, you can surely overlook its grottiness.
If you have time, try and take the freight elevator to the eight floor, and ask the workers or the security guard to show you the stairs to the Taoist temple on the rooftop. It’s dedicated to the god of war and literature, Guan Gong, though among his devotees in the Philippines he is sometimes refer to as Santiago or St. James. Like his Catholic Church namesake, he is sometimes depicted astride a horse (his horse has an altar of his own as well). Photography is not allowed inside the temple, but you can take photos of the skyline view of the area from the rooftop.
The first street that you passed through, Juan Luna Street, is also a great place to explore. Most of the shops here sell to garments and undergarments at wholesale prices, but there are also those that sell retail items, like Bon Bon Enterprise (571-573 Juan Luna St, Binondo, Manila; +63 2 242-1995), known for its wide selections of bags, particularly the Hawk and Sky Traveller brands. It also sells motorcycle helmets (from PHP1600) and riding jackets from Germany (PHP4500 less 20%).
The street that runs parallel to Sta Elena is M de los Santos. It is well known for wholesalers that specialize in dried seafood, sweets and candies as well as for packaging material. If you are looking for large quantities of gift boxes or wrappers, try Golden Era (623 M De Los Santos St, Binondo, Manila; +63 2 2411394). For only PHP70, you can buy 25 sheets of wrappers of the same design.
The street that runs parallel to Juan Luna is (from the fire station onward) is Ylaya Street. This street is mostly dominated by street vendors selling textile and curtain material. Behind the stalls is the Yangco Market. Originally it was a traditional dry goods market specializing in garments and textile. But over the years different building owners subdivided the market. The sellers have found a way to connect one building to another by forming passageways or pasilio. Today it is a huge maze that offers almost anything related to textile and sewing. You can also find stalls specializing in Filipiniana wear.
This is also where Divisoria’s made-to-order garment industry seem to have started.
The street that runs parallel to Ylaya is Tabora Street. There is so much on offer here! You can find stalls selling costumes, party decors, kitchen wear, home décor, baskets and souvenir for special events. The shops behind the stalls specialize in sewing needs and bridal wear. If you are a hobbyist, homemaker or decorator, check out Morning Glory (829 – 833 Tabora Street, Binondo, Manila; +63 2 2449101). It is a bit difficult to find as it’s entrance is obscured by two kitchenware stalls. But once you find it, you will keep coming back for its selection of ribbons, buttons and other craft materials.
6pm. After a whole afternoon of shopping, it is a good idea to come back to the hotel and freshen up. You can then head on to the Lucky Chinatown Mall (Reina Regente Street, Binondo, Manila; +63 2 5768139) for a foot massage (business journalist and Coconuts Manila reader Stella Arnaldo swears by Beijing Foot Spa; 3/L Lucky Chinatown Mall) and then dinner. If you are still up for it, you can even catch a movie before calling it a day.
8am. While the hotel has a 24-hour coffee bar, it doesn’t have a coffee shop, nor does it offer room service. This might change when the proposed KTV on the second floor opens. But for now you can either head to a fastfood restaurant across the street, the convenience store around the corner or walk over to Binondo for a dimsum breakfast.
Before you begin your shopping, use the morning to explore Tondo. While it is not on the top of any must-visit lists to Manila, Tondo still holds an important place in our nation’s history as well as being home to many of our country’s freedom fighters and artists.
You can begin by going inside the 168 Mall and exiting from the new wing at Soler Street. From there, walk down to the corner where KP Tower stands (there’s a McDonald’s on the ground floor). This is CM Recto Avenue and from here you need to walk up past four street corners. Stop when you reach the fifth corner (El Cano Street). Here you will find a monument that commemorates the founding of the Katipunan in 1896. This is supposed to have been the site of the house where Andres Bonifacio and others met to organize the group in a bid to overthrow the Spanish colonizers.
From there walk back from CM Recto Avenue to Ylaya Street and turn left toward the side of the Ylaya Commercial Center. At the corner of Ylaya and Rajah Matanda (across from the BDO branch) is where you will find another monument to Philippine independence; this one celebrates the founding of the La Liga Filipina. Organized by Jose Rizal in 1892, it was meant to bring both Spaniards and Filipinos together in an effort to instill political reform within the colony.
Go back to Ylaya and continue walking down till you reach the church and plaza near the end of the street This is the Sto Niño de Tondo, or Tondo Church, the spiritual nexus of the district. It receives the most number of visitors on the third week of January when it honors the Christ Child in a colorful feast. The shoreline in the area must have been shorter back then as the church is built on elevated ground to prevent seawater from flooding it. As for the plaza in front of the church, it was originally called Plaza Leon XIII until it was rededicated to Amado V. Hernandez, poet and labor leader. He is best known for his criticism of social injustice in the Philippines.
From Plaza Hernandez, make your way down Juan Nolasco Street to the front of another Tondo landmark, Mary Johnston Hospital (1221 J Nolasco St, Tondo, Manila). Across it is Plaza Morga, named after Spanish governor general Antonio de Morga, and best known for its Macario Sakay monument. Born in Tondo, Sakay was an actor till he became a lieutenant general in the Katipunan. He fought first against the Spaniards and later the Americans. He continued the struggle even after President Emilio Aguinaldo was captured by the Americans in 1901. He himself was captured and executed in 1907.
But Sakay’s monument is not the only interesting site at this plaza. People in the area gather here to play “gateball”. This seems to be Tondo’s answer to croquet, where players use a club and mallets to try and hit balls through the small wicket embedded in the ground.
Just around the corner from Plaza Morga is Tondo’s best known plaza, Plaza Moriones, also named after a Spanish Governor general, Domingo Moriones. This plaza is best known as the site where the Communist Party of the Philippines was founded, though you won’t any plaques memorializing that event. Instead, there’s Ed Castrillo’s Sigaw ng Tondo,\ sculpture, which is dedicated to the heroes of Tondo.
Two of these Tondo heroes are Domingo Tuazon, the first president of the La Liga Filipina, and Honorio Lopez, a veteran of the Philippine Revolution who later became a writer and wrote the Dimasalang Kalendaryong Tagalog, or the Tagalog version of the almanac.
From Plaza Moriones, walk down Moriones Street and past Juan Luna Street. Continue your stroll across the bridge. A few steps away you will walk right into Tutuban Shopping Complex. The area used to be Manila’s main train terminal and depot, it still functions as such; the office is now inside a small blue building at the back of the complex. From here you can take a one-hour train ride to as far as Alabang for only PHP16. The passenger waiting area features relics from the old days.
11am. Time for lunch. You can grab a bite to eat from the fastfood chains within Tutuban and stay on to browse at what is on offer there. You can also make an extra effort and walk to 168 Mall via Roman Street. The mall has three food courts, but go to the one on the oldest part of the mall where the Jollibee counter is located.
Try and look for Tai Kai Kuat near the entrance to the rest room (Stall I1 168 Mall food court; +63 2 2475556). This seems to be very popular with the tenants of the malls as evidenced by the long queue at lunch time. It specializes in home-style Chinese dishes such as stewed pork with tofu and boiled eggs, stir fried veggies and steamed fish. You can try any two dishes from the daily selection for only PHP70, with rice.
Another standout at this food court is Chariya’s Thai Kitchen (Stall M 168 Mall food court; +63 2 2578719). It offers cook-to-order authentic Thai specialties such as pad thai (PHP90), catfish salad (PHP100) and chicken red curry (PHP130). Also worth giving a try is Sumo Fruito (Stall F 168 Mall food court; +63 2 9945377) as its cook-to-order beef hofan (PHP120) is quite tasty. It also offers a variety of dimsum at PHP60 per order.
1pm. You can spend the rest of the afternoon continuing your shopping at either 168, Tutuban or 999. But if you’re looking for bridal wear or made-to-order clothes, check the second floor of the 11/88 Mall just next to Lucky Chinatown along Reina Regente St. Many of the designers and dressmakers here used to have shops inside Tutuban before it caught fire. Aside from bridal wear, they also make cocktail dresses and men’s tailoring.
7pm. By now most of the shops in the two malls are closing. Fret not, you can continue your night of shopping. The action has shifted to the stalls along CM Recto Avenue and Tutuban Shopping complex. But if you’ve had enough, take a break inside Lucky Chinatown or grab dinner a hop, skip and jump away in Binondo.
If you have energy left in you and you’d like to explore more of Tondo, then drive over to The Hideout (3/F Salazar Building, 1911 Marcos Rd corner Herbosa St, Tondo, Manila; +63 910 4161943) and listen to live music from alternative bands and underground rockers.