Beyond Manila,  Davao City

The Urban Roamer’s Guide to Davao City (first of a Davao City series)

So much has been said about Davao City, most especially about its colorful mayor and his policies that has made the city safe and admired. But, wonderful as those achievements may be, there are other facets of Davao that tend to be overlooked. More than just a city being run by a strong-willed mayor, Davao City offers some surprises of its own which has contributed to the city’s unique character.

The Urban Roamer was fortunate to discover some of these bits in a trip recently to this wonderful. And since this time happens to be 78th anniversary of the founding of Davao City, this is an opportunity for a new little series to begin, this time going beyond Metro Manila to take you to the sights, sounds, and stories of the city where “life is here,” the City of Davao.


If there’s a primary lesson I came to learn about Davao City, it would be how to commute around the city, especially in the downtown area. That is because many of the thoroughfares there are one-way streets. Especially for those who are used to knowing that jeepneys ply the same thoroughfare to and fro, this may come as a bit of a culture shock and an annoyance. But on the plus side, you get to be more familiar with the urban geography of Davao City.

While we are in the subject of commuting, it is also important to note the taxi culture in the city. A recent viral story made people become aware of the honesty of the taxi drivers there. But how honest are they? They are so honest, they would take the trouble of giving you exact change, down to the last centavo.

It also helps that the taxis in the city have a colorful character…literally. You won’t see much of the usual white and yellow taxis; rather you see taxis in pastel shades of blue, orange, and lime green to name a few. There are also the black taxis which are the premium ones where you can pay for your taxi fare through credit card.


There are a few artists whose works have helped define the city, and Davao City has such an artist in the person of Kublai Millan. You can never miss his art the moment you land at the airport or whether you stroll around People’s Park, which by itself is a must-see destination in the city.

If you can’t get enough of Kublai Millan’s art, then check out Ponce Suites which is actually owned by his family. (on his mother’s side I believe) Even if you are not staying in this hotel, the wide array of artwork is worth the visit, especially for art-lovers who wish to check out the art scene Davao has to offer.


Davao City is a center of education in Mindanao with the presence of some notable educational institutions, a reputation boosted years ago when University of the Philippines Mindanao was established in the city in 1995. However, you won’t get to find its campus in the city proper. UP Mindanao’s campus is located up in the city’s Mintal district, which is about an hour’s drive up from the city proper.

Being a fairly new campus, don’t expect to see much in the campus apart from its main building, the students center, a mini-mosque, and of course the Oblation. You can say that UP Mindanao right now has a “provincial feel” to it. But the wide green space leaves room for future growth, so it will be interesting to see what UP Mindanao would be like in the future as it seeks to become a center of learning and research in the region as other UP campuses have become.


If you think the only Chinatown in the Philippines is the one in Binondo in Manila, there is actually a Chinatown in Davao too. But don’t expect to see rows of Chinese restaurants, lucky charms, and drug stores here as Davao’s Chinatown is more “industrial” in character. What you’ll see here are rows of retail space and warehouses of various goods, which makes sense considering the inclination for trade among the Filipino-Chinese community. It is no coincidence that this area is considered to be a center of commerce in the city.

Davao City Chinatown also claims to be the largest Chinatown in the world as it occupies almost 44 hectares in land area. Somewhat fitting considering that Davao City itself is considered the largest city in terms of land area.


Given that Filipinos have grown to be quite fond of shopping malls, Davao City has developed quite a shopping environment despite it being introduced only recently. How the city’s shopping landscape can be seen along one of its main thoroughfares, JP Laurel Avenue, which has become now the city’s de facto main shopping street thanks to the presence along this stretch of road, Davao’s 4 biggest malls: Gaisano’s GMall, Victoria Plaza, (the city’s first shopping mall) Ayala’s Abreeza Mall, and SM Lanang. (not to be confused with SM City Davao located in the city’s Matina district in the south)

The Gaisano group’s G-Mall of Davao, the leading shopping mall in the city
The Abreeza Mall and the Ayala managed hotel Seda on the right
SM Lanang is SM’s second mall in the city, catering more to the bit high-end crowd. As such, this is the only SM mall that does not have a foodcourt. Seriously.


What do Davao’s denizens do after work? Apparently, many of them attend one of those zumba parties being held almost nightly. At some part of the city at a given night, there is a zumba party happening and many join the fun. If there would be a title at stake for being “the zumba capital of the Philippines, Davao City is a strong contender.

zumba party at Matina Town Square, the city’s “party place” where many bars are located


To be continued…

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