Travel

The National Museum of Natural History

The Natural History Museum opened to great public fanfare on May 18, International Museum Day. Three of the five floors are open to the public, as of this post. Despite this, it took Instagram by storm (8,000+ pictures and rapidly growing) and boasts blockbuster queues every single day.

What was it like? Keep reading! If you would like to skip ahead to details of my coordinate, click here.

Warning: Salt ahead! I’m half joking, but to set up context for this post, there will be a bit of sarcasm strewn here and there because of improper museum etiquette displayed by some guests. This is not reflective of all visitors nor is it meant to deter people from going, but by keeping a ‘look, don’t touch’ mentality we can help prolong the life and quality of the exhibits.

The museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays (closed on Mondays).

  • OPEN 8:00am to 5:00pm

We went on a weekday afternoon, but I would recommend that you get there early! The queue can get very long, and you will probably not have enough time to thoroughly enjoy the exhibits if you arrive late.

Since you’ll be spending some time in line (unless you have a senior citizen or PWD in your group) bring an umbrella, a fan, and water to keep yourself hydrated! However, note that food is not allowed inside the building: bags will be deposited at the baggage counter.

I suggest bringing a small pochette or wristlet to help you carry just the basics: your wallet, phone, and mini camera (if applicable).

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Despite the fanfare, the National Museum of Natural History is not the first of its kind in the Philippines. The Bureau of Science, erected in 1901, housed the government laboratories and exhibits of rocks, fossils, and all sorts of flora and fauna.

Sadly, it was completely destroyed in the Battle of Manila (1945). The collections showcased in the new museum were rebuilt over the decades. The building that we know as the Natural History museum today is the renovated former Department of Tourism office.

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Upon entry through the main doors, the baggage counter will be on your left. There are also restrooms further down the left corridor.

The first display you will see is the replica of Lolong in the middle of the floor. While it is a replica, there are multiple signs warning people not to touch it.

We opted to go down the stairs and start from the lower ground floor. The first display features the national bird, the monkey-eating eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi)

Specimens of petrified wood and mollusk shells line the corridor. I was surprised to see that despite their age, these were not under glass- and horrified that people were touching and prodding them, ignoring the multiple Do Not Touch signs on each.

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‘Baby, don’t hurt me no mooore~’

That piece of wood is older than all your family tree put together! What is wrong with people?

A small alcove holds paintings of flowers and a portrait of Eduardo Quisumbing, a noted biologist.

Most people take the stairs (from which you will get a fabulous view of the courtyard, and the majestic Tree of Life elevator structure) We were in a bit of a hurry however, so we took the elevator to the third floor.

The third floor features a large exhibit on mangroves. Most of the glass displays around the trees featured birds.

Aside from the birds, there were several other curiosities such as an enormous crab (is this variety edible??) and a long-tailed macaque.

There were some cheeky little surprises hidden in the mangrove branches.

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This little guy didn’t have a card giving info on his species, but I imagine it’s the usual fruit bat you hear chittering at sundown, and not the transforms-by-midnight kind.

The right-hand section of the gallery has large pictures of the mangrove and information about conservation projects. There were also a couple of large displays featuring seeds from native trees, and pull-out drawers where you could examine dried leaves.

There were also the usual Do Not Lean signs everywhere. And people leaning on them anyway. (-‸ლ)

The rest of the space was devoted to marine life. A hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate) seems to swim through space, and there was a diorama depicting hatching baby turtles that was a very popular photo spot.

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This center display held crustaceans and mollusks. I dubbed it the most delicious display out of everything we had seen so far…

… but I paid especially close attention to the display beside it. All this stuff is not for eating! The dark-fingered crab (Zosiumus aeneus) pictured above is the most poisonous crab in existence, and its poison is lethal.

The estuary stonefish (Synanceia horrida; gee I wonder why its species name is ‘horrid’) is a venomous fish that hangs around reef bottoms, disguised as a rock, before it ambushes its prey.  Sounds like some people I know. But long story short, don’t eat it.

Along the walls are dioramas of various marine environments, only I can’t think of any place that has that much delicious marine life in one spot. The dark-fingered crab is a sobering reminder that one should not just eat things you find crawling around the beach, but I still like my seafood.

That’s it for this floor!

Time was running short, so we decided to go back to the main level in search of Lolong’s bones, the highlight of the museum’s collection. The first door off to the left of the entrance leads to a little film screening area, with a clip about the country’s flora and fauna. The underwater scenes were particularly fascinating.

It’s a nice spot to relax, especially with the air-conditioning.

Right behind the screen is an enormous wall display featuring photos of our friendly sea cow! (Dugong dugon, or simply dugong)

There were lots of pictures in this area, as well as video screens. Most of them featured animals such as Philippine eagle, and the adorable flying lemur (Cynocephalus volans aka colugo).

There is a small activity area in a corner behind one of the screens, but I couldn’t take pictures of the spot as there were children there, and they seemed to be having lots of fun!

Further down the corridor is another hall, and this is where they hung Lolong.

Lolong’s skeleton hovers midway between the ceiling and the floor. Before I went to the museum, this seemed like a weird way to display it. Crocodiles don’t fly, why suspend it in the air like that?

But it all made sense after going to see it myself.

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If they put the skeleton at ground level, people absolutely would touch it. Hell, probably sit on it #ForTheGram, and reduce it to powder.

Thus would end the legend of Lolong.

So it hangs in the air, like a bizarre chandelier.

Lolong is in the Ayala Reception Hall, along with several impressively large  mollusks, and the recently unearthed bones of a rhino found in Kalinga.

It should be said that this hall has beautiful natural light, streaming in from the windows. So, lots of people were taking their #ootds here. Expect to be photobombed by the crowd, however.

Mission Lolong accomplished, we headed off to the other gallery on this floor. The general theme revolved around the methods of collecting and displaying artifacts, and the naturalists who contributed to our history.

The table featured terrariums and a fishbowl containing what appeared to be snails and some plantlife. The little info card was fascinating, but again- people kept touching the things in the fishbowl, probably to see if the things are real.

Right beside the terrariums is a collection of butterflies in a wooden frame.

The cabinet displays were fun to look at. I actually have very similar cabinets in my bedroom, though they don’t contain fish…

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Here is a picture of one of the activity areas in the museum. Here is where you are supposed to touch and interact with the display. I only took a quick snap as there wasn’t time to try it out myself, but the glass panels contain dried leaf samples for you to trace, with the help of the light.

There were a few displays in the center of the room: of note was this spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippinensis) and deer (Cervus mariannus). I didn’t know we even had pelicans here; they’re all but gone now.

The other wall was devoted to a series of panels with information on notable figures in history: in this case, botanists and pharmacologists. One corner has a mockup of a typical pharmacologist’s tools in the olden days.

That was all we had time for, unfortunately! A recorded message played over the speakers, reminding guests of the 5pm closing time. It’s a shame that we weren’t able to visit the marine life exhibit (as seen here) it looks absolutely fascinating.

But then, that’s just another reason to visit the museum again. Especially on June 19, when all the galleries are opened to the public in celebration of Jose Rizal’s birthday.


Coordinate breakdown:

Since the museum showcases plant and animal life as well as fungi, I wore a coordinate incorporating animal motifs and a warm color palette.

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  • JSK – Bodyline l529
  • lace cardigan – offbrand
  • underskirt – offbrand
  • feathered fascinator – Landmark Department Store
  • shoes – Lord & Taylor Design Lab
  • mini cat purse – ahcahcum muchacha

 

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