It would be awesome to freely move around the city again and see its parks and landmarks. But while many of our public hangouts remain inaccessible because of Covid, and being on GCQ means we still can’t bring our folks and kids to the usual pasyalans, a couple of new interactive virtual tours should provide a temporary alternative to actual roaming around.
The virtual tours are a project of the Tourism Promotions Board, an agency attached to the Department of Tourism. They are accessible through the DOT’s Travel Philippines app and features a 360 degree tour of select NCR destinations. It's a visual experience crafted and curated by noted Manila tour guide Ivan Man Dy (he also wrote the elegant, concise text and voice-overs) who says the app feature will make us see “Metro Manila as you’ve never seen it before.”
Two virtual tours are on offer: an Old Manila and a Modern Manila. The first opens at the Agrifina Circle located at the eastern end of Rizal Park. Click a tag near one of the two gorgeous buildings that watch over the circle—say the National Museum of Natural History—and the visitor will be given entrance to the structure’s elegant halls.
Meanwhile, at the National Museum of Fine Arts, clicking a tag takes us inside the Hall of Masters where Juan Luna’s "Spoliarium" takes pride of place, and the Senate Hall where Botong Francisco’s epic mural of the history of the city envelops practically the entire room.
Clicking on the “Locations” button reveals more places to explore: Manila Cathedral, Binondo Church, Rizal Park, Escolta, Paco Park and Fort Santiago. This last one takes the guest inside Plaza de Armas where a book-holding Rizal statue stands at the center, inviting the visitor to drop by the Rizal Shrine where various memorabilia are on display. This room also offers a peek at the National Hero’s former prison cell where he wrote the “Mi Ultimo Adios.”
The Modern Manila Tour surprisingly enough begins with Bonifacio Global Center in Taguig. “Is there anything more modern in Manila than BGC?” says Man Dy who also included other iconic spots in the metro, like the brutalist masterpiece Philippine International Convention Center in Manila (step inside its marble lobby and gawk at the 3,130 chrome-plated drop lights that bring the space to life), and the Quezon Shrine which houses the remains of the former Philippine President Manuel Quezon and his wife Aurora.
Man Dy likens working on the project to “writing an (honest) NCR guidebook and doing an actual tour of the metro.” He curated the whole thing from the perspective of a local who ventures into different parts of the city for different purposes. “Like me, as a Manila resident, I drive to UP Diliman as a 'tourist' bec of the greenery, academic feels and Mang Larry’s isaw,” offers the Old Manila Walks tour guide. He also made sure the tours are not only focused on sightseeing but in giving a little taste of Manila life.
Man Dy and the team from Digiscript Inc. shot the places during the lockdown, hence the tour also offers a rare glimpse of the metropolis without its people (the always busy Plaza Miranda, though, is an exception), allowing the viewer to focus on the architecture, the nooks and crannies of a park previously unknown to us, the many little details we miss out on when we’re seeing a location IRL.
“Actually being a practitioner guide for 15 years, I initially had my doubts with virtual tours,” says Man Dy. “But doing this, it made me realize that with the right technology, it’s actually also 'experiential' (in a very visual way) as you see the city in a different light.”
The drone shots offer a perspective rarely available to the everyday local and common tourist, adds Man Dy, and the tour gives access to spaces not usually open to the public, like the PICC. Of course, he is aware there is no replacing real travel—but while we wait for that moment when we can physically be in these places again, we can look at this virtual exploring as, as per Man Dy, “another medium of ‘seeing’ the city.”
[Screengrabs from DOT’s Travel Philippines app]