Travelogue Manila: National Museum Of Natural History

This goes to both locals and visitors to Manila: If you haven’t been to the National Museum of Natural History at Rizal Park, then you should.

Why? Well, it’s awesome!

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Originally built in a neoclassical style in the 1940s as the Agriculture and Commerce Building, the structure was destroyed during World War II, and subsequently rebuilt to house the Department of Tourism. They eventually moved out in 2015, as per an agreement to convert some of the heritage buildings in the area to form a museum complex, and so here we are. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend paying a visit to other attractions nearby, namely the National Art Gallery and the National Museum of Anthropology.

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The hype has been massive since the museum opened in May, and lines are still long, even on a weekday. While waiting, admire the beautiful architecture of the entrance hall, with its neoclassical arches and honeycombed ceiling. Large bags and backpacks have to be deposited at the security counter before entry.

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Emerge into the cavernous main hall, with the DNA Tree Of Life at its epicenter. Towering six storeys high, the double helix steel structure houses an elevator and spreads out into a distinctive ‘canopy’ of ‘leaves’ and ‘branches’.

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Alternatively, visitors can walk up each floor via ramps on one side of the hall.

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The hall is also decorated with giant tapestries of animals endemic to the Philippines, such as the Philippine eagle, the tarsier and the Philippine cattle.

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Even if you’re not a history/natural history buff, the architecture alone is worth coming for. Explore the spacious hallways lit with warm, yellow light, and marvel at the exquisitely patterned marble flooring, beautiful wainscoting and steel-wrought windows and railings.

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The Ayala Hall is where visitors will find the skeleton of Lolong, certified by the Guinness World Records as the largest crocodile in captivity. Measuring a behemoth 6.17 metres and weighing over a tonne, the croc was estimated to be about 50 years old when it was captured in 2011. It succumbed to pneumonia and cardiac arrest just two years later.

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A replica of Lolong near the main entrance.

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Divided according to ‘themes’, there are loads of things to see and do in the museum. We explored a hall dedicated to the documentation of botany and entomology, where there were butterfly and insect specimens on display, as well as elaborate scientific drawings hanging from the walls that would not have looked out of place at a fine art gallery!

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Get hands on at this fun section where you can sketch your own tree/plant

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Excuse the sweaty hair/face; the air conditioning wasn’t strong and we just came from commuting lol.

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The Dr Jose Rizal foyer, beautiful in its simplicity.

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More attempts at hipster photo fails.

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There was a section dedicated to the Nilad mangrove; recreating the area around Manila and its rich biodiversity pre-Hispanic rule through taxidermied wildlife exhibits.

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Moving on, another area showcased the rich biodiversity of the Philippine seas, complete with giant replicas of marine life dangling from the ceiling and a mini submarine.

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There are a total of six floors in the building; although during our visit only four were open. I strongly suggest coming on a weekday to avoid the crowds, and allocate at least half a day to really immerse yourself into the exhibits, all of which are nicely done and catalogued.

Entrance as of July 2018 is free.

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY MANILA

Teodoro F. Valencia Circle, Ermita, Manila, 1000 Metro Manila, Philippines

Opening hours: 10AM – 5PM, closed Mondays

Los Angeles Natural History Museum

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A must-visit while you are in Los Angeles is the Natural History Museum at Exposition Park – the largest of its kind on the American west coast, with over 35mil specimens and artifacts.

We took a bus from our hostel near The Grove. On the way to our destination, we passed by a couple of affluent neighbourhoods and the famous University of Southern California campus. This was a far cry from the more gritty, ghetto-ish pockets in downtown LA.

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Walking through Jesse Brewer Jr Park, a well-kept neighbourhood green space with sparse trees.

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The museum’s back entrance looked impressive, with a couple of dinosaurs (LA loves dinos – I’ve seen them at almost every museum!) and large leafy plants lining the avenue. We got in with our discounted GoLA tickets. If you want to skip the long waiting line for tickets, you should try the back door.

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Greeted by bones of  what looked like a Mosasaur.

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The museum is divided into two floors. Allocate at least half a day to explore everything. 🙂  The first section we popped into was the geological gallery where they have all sorts of natural stones and minerals on display.

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The room is dark to protect the minerals and precious gemstones from overexposure.

 

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The boom in California is due to the gold rush, so no museum would be complete without a section detailing its history.

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We also went into a safe room where they had all sorts of beautiful gemstones on display. There were stones that reflected the light in dancing rays; ones shaped into ovals, globes or squares; shiny and opaque gems, and others that were solid with a matte-like texture. Some exuded an aura of unearthly loveliness. It makes one wonder about the power of the earth and its amazing creations.

Moving on to more bimbotic topics, we were looking for our birthstones – mine is sapphire, and E’s is peridot.

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Having had our fill of stones, we moved on to livelier things – the Age of Mammals Hall. The spacious place houses lifelike exhibits of animals from all over the world.

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The detailing on the animal exhibits was amazing. I wonder if they were stuffed? You could even see folds and creases on the animals’ hides.. if these were purely man made, then the craftsmanship is superb. The background paintings were also done well together with 3D props such as grass and trees.

In Malaysia, our animal exhibits are often dead-looking, with glassy bead eyes and are very obviously fake.

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I was very impressed with the quality of museums in LA. Many Southeast Asian countries do not invest in museum upkeep. We don’t get donors to keep the place running, resulting in their sorry state. Sometimes I find myself wishing that Malaysians would be more appreciative of art and our own history, instead of spending all our free time shopping and chasing the capitalist dream and material comforts.  There is so much to be learnt from the past, for a better future.

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The main hall has two large dinos – a T-rex and a triceratops. It reminded me of the movie The Night at the Museum. There are no dinosaurs in the South East Asian region, so our museums often feature cultural exhibits instead.

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The modern section of the museum details the history of Los Angeles in more recent times, such as how it was founded and the boom of the Hollywood industry. There was also a small scale model of the entire city, so E and I tried to locate streets that we have driven through and other familiar buildings.

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All over the museum were interactive touch screen boards. They didn’t only tell information, but encouraged visitors to participate. For example, the above board had us matching the different species of prehistoric animals and plants to the correct era. It would be fun for families with children and as a tool to teach kids.

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More dinosaurs

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A hall designed with Greek statues and European architecture.

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A ‘play’ room where visitors get to interact with various exhibits, like a made-to-scale polar bear with dirty white fur, faux fossil samples, and even deer antlers. Have fun taking quirky pictures! 🙂

We also dropped by a new building called the Nature Lab, which explores urban wildlife in Southern California. Samples of plants, animals and earth/minerals are kept in glass displays, some of which are available to smell, touch and feel.

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We went out the front door. If you don’t like lining up for tickets, you should try going through the back door. For this attraction, we used the GoLA card as well for 15-20% off our tix.

The LA Natural History Museum is an informative, interactive and lots of fun with many exhibits within its two floors. This is what I think about when one mentions a world-class museum – not drab and static stuff packed with info boards written in tiny letters. Worth the visit!

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90007
Phone: (213) 763-DINO

Open daily from 9.30am – 5pm

Tickets (Adults) 12$! Cheap and worth the price.