The Strategic Retreat

Manila North Cemetery: A Town in a Graveyard, Part 1

Laundry and tombs

I’ve done and seen some pretty cool stuff over the past year. Which is in stark contrast to what I’m currently doing; watching SHIELD and digesting a double-double. One of the most interesting things I saw was the North Cemetery. It’s both a functioning cemetery and a village of a few thousand, in the middle of Manila.

Cemetery Road

The North Cemetery is located at an area I like to call the “Cemetery District”. I don’t know what others call it but there are 3 big cemeteries all bunched together, taking up a pretty large chunk of space in densely populated Manila. I assume that poverty, population density and 100s of acres being used for no real purpose have combined to create the conditions where living in a mausoleum sounds like a good idea. The most touristy of these cemeteries is the Old Chinese Cemetery. Here you can take a guided tour, learn about some history and see some amazingly large and decadent tombs. We didn’t do that. We had an extra day after failing to complete the Bataan Death March and were in the mood for something a bit grittier.


Colm had heard about a place where people live in and amongst the tombs so we set out to find it, as any men of adventure and foolhardy would. Hobbled by our previous days of attempting to be men, as they existed in the 1940s, we were at a bit of a disadvantage. Matt could barely walk due to injury and I was still weak from dehydration, sun exposure and a general softness that comes from being a man as they exist in our present time. Colm seemed none the worse for wear but the past 2 days had convinced me that he is some sort of super hero, impervious to pain, general discomfort or ill temperament; so he doesn’t count.

After dragging our blistered feet and aching legs on a walk, an MRT trip, another walk and a tricycle ride we finally managed to find our way to the front gates. It was at this point we were told we were not allowed in. Despite us living in Singapore the guard somehow managed to realize that not only were we not Filipino but not Asian at all and thusly had no business in this cemetery. He was not wrong. But that doesn’t mean keep me from wandering amongst your dead.


The guard had given a pretty firm “No” but that wasn’t enough to stop Colm or Matt. It was enough to stop me; as I didn’t yet understand the ways of Asia, white privilege, persistence or bribery. All of this would come to me later, but this was early on in my travels. In the end it only took about 10,000 pesos (around $20) in bribe money and a little persistence and we were cleared to roam the graveyard. We even managed to get a local, Poi Poi, to show us around. Worth every peso.

About Jeff

Jeff was born in the back of a War Game Store on the day the first Star Trek movie came out, to a computer programmer mother and a father who wrote the story for Dragon's Lair. Jeff has an MBA, a CSM, and a penchant for sticking his nose where it doesn't belong.