Welcome to the Philippines
The Republic of the Philippines in the western Pacific consists of 7,107 islands, making it a sun-worshiper's paradise. To the north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan, to the west across the South China Sea is Vietnam, to the southwest across the Sulu Sea the island of Borneo, to the south separated by the Celebes Sea the islands of Indonesia, and to the east the Philippine Sea and Palau.
The Philippines is a stark contrast to mainland Southeast Asia, geographically as well as culturally. The country's overwhelmingly Catholic population, exuberant festivals, Spanish- colonial architecture and centuries-old stone churches are all vestiges of 350 years of Spanish rule. Following the Spanish, the Americans left their mark with mega-malls, fast-food chains and widespread spoken English. Through it all, the country has preserved its unique Filipino identity – warm and welcoming, and irresistibly upbeat.
In addition to being the center of the country's government and commerce, the capital city of Manila is filled with important architectural and cultural landmarks. The city has a population of 1,652,171, but is one of 16 cities that comprise Metro Manila with an overall population estimated at 12 million. Situated on the eastern shore of Manila Bay, it is the most densely populated city in the world.
Known as the 'Pearl of the Orient' because its jewel is revealed only to those who make the effort to look beneath the surface of this chaotic Asian megacity, Manila has suffered more than its share of human and natural disasters, and today skyscrapers rise over the shantytowns and massive malls dot the city. This is a city that has not yet received the attention it deserves and is well worth taking a few days to discover – beyond the fabulous sightseeing, to its heart, which may be found in the hip new art galleries and music clubs around town.