The typical travel route is to start outside before returning to your hometown, but I’m doing the opposite – unintentionally. It just became the first destination booked in my calendar as part of my long-term travel in Southeast Asia. So Baguio (bag-yo) it is!
I played hostess to my colleagues, who formed part of the team I used to handle in my previous job. They wanted to re-visit Baguio so we agreed on the dates. I created the itinerary based on what a local (me) would like to show foreigners in his hometown. Showing the secret nooks of your place, besides the usual tourist spots, allows for better appreciation. It is also preferable if there’s no strict time-controlled itinerary, like those of travel tour packages, in order for your guests to enjoy the spots at their own pace. And since I usually DIY than book travel tour packages, I included these in my considerations.
Since I’ll backpack through SE Asia by December this year, I made it a point to create a weekender budget-friendly trip for them which meant cheap accommodation, commuting within the city (than hiring a car) and reasonably priced eats. This excludes the cost of buying their personal pasalubongs for families and colleagues in Manila.
Why not Baguio, right?
Our small city is a 6 to 7-hour long trip from Manila or Ilocos, a 2-hour drive from Pangasinan or La Union, and a 4-hour travel from Tarlac or Pampanga. It can be reached by bus or car via Marcos Highway, Naguilian Road, Kennon Road and Palispis-Aspiras Highway. There are also available chartered flights from Manila landing in the former Loakan International Airport.
It derived its name from the word bag-iw which is a native word for moss.
Tourists visit the acropolis due to its cool climate year-round. The temperature drops to lower than 10 degrees Celsius on the months of December to March. It is the coldest months of the year where residents usually just stay indoors and enjoy wrapped up in warm jackets or blankets while sipping hot coffee or tea. Summer months start from the end of March to early June followed by the rainy season from mid-June to November.
Baguio is a city meant for walking. Locals usually walk to get to their destination given the short distances. It’s a place where you can relax and unwind from the hustle and bustle of lowland life, where heaven feels close as fog ascends to the skies and blankets the surroundings in the afternoons, where you can stroll breezily on the sidewalks and parks without minding time.
Residents have close-knit families. We are simple and reserved people, usually quiet, preferring to stay home and be with family or friends than spend most of our time on crowded places. But times are changing and we are moderately keeping up brought about by new hang-out joints, media influence and mix of foreigners flocking to Baguio for short-term stays, school or business.
Baguio residents are lucky to stay in a cool place. We have centralized “air conditioning” that lowers our electric bill. Tourists are also not aware but we do have a centralized alarm clock via the city hall clock. The siren sounds at 12NN, 5PM and 6PM daily to inform every one of lunch break, time out from work and Angelus, respectively.
There’s a long and interesting history about the city’s inauguration but I’m reserving it for a separate post.
Day 1: parks, gardens, unique restos and karaoke night!
The ladies arrived at dawn from Manila. We went straight to the rented transient house from the bus terminal to snooze a bit and freshen up.
I decided to go for a jog at 6AM in Burnham Park which is just a few meters away while they’re still asleep. Residents in this quaint city are also mindful of their health so you would see early morning joggers or group exercisers.
It was gloomy and drizzling that morning but it didn’t stop these health-conscious individuals to get their bodies shaking.
You can also chance upon martial arts or sports practices, even special performances like this one.
We had breakfast at the transient house before leaving for our day stroll that started with Burnham Park, of course.
The improved Children’s Park is an enclosed part of the Burnham Park area for kids to play around safely. Bike stalls used to occupy half the perimeter but were later moved to the main biking area to include newer amenities like the slides and playhouses in the mini park.
Families usually visit the park after Sunday masses. Picnicking is a familiar sight around the entire park. Mats are spread on the park grounds while parents lounge and read the local newspaper as the kids run and play around with their playmates. The sight of a group of friends or tourists is also common along with dating couples.
That day greeted us with rain and gloomy weather. The ladies shivered from the cold as it’s different from Manila’s humid atmosphere.
Taho vendors and other retail vendors sell their goods in the area. Since the temperature is colder in the morning, you can buy a cup of taho (Eng.: soy) after your morning exercise or stroll to heat you up. This street food is mainly from finely ground soy beans flavoured with sugar or strawberry syrup and mixed with small pearls (sago). A cup usually sells at Php 15-20/ $ ~0.33-0.45 @ $1 = Php 44.50
The Burnham Lake is an artificial lake created as the centre point of the entire park. Boating is introduced as an added feature where a group can rent a boat for a few minutes to an hour equal to a set fee.
Other spots in Burnham Park are (1) the Athletic Bowl where competitions and school sports fests are being held, (2) skating rink, which is now enclosed, where you can skate by renting a pair of skating shoes from the vendors, and (3) Melvin Jones which is another open ground where programs and fares are conducted.
We rode a taxi from Burnham Park to Botanical Garden. Impending heavy rain loomed as we stepped out and entered the gate.
The garden used to be known as the botanical and zoological garden but was later given other names as mentioned in the caption above. It has also been improved with new amenities and added attractions.
Burnham Park is a wider and more public space that provides a venue for big gatherings. It is also an active place that allows people to use the amenities (bikes, boats, open space for play, playground equipment) for fun while the rest can just opt for a walk around the lake or children’s park. The Botanical Garden is also a wide and public space but is mainly for strolling where you walk around and check the sites like the mini-replicas of sister cities, stores selling native crafts, and the main office selling plants. The entire park is decorated by towering trees and plants. Some who would like a more private picnic or date prefer this garden than Burnham Park.
MINES VIEW PARK
The Mines View Park is one of the most visited parks in the city even if it is a small area.
One must be careful while walking down the stony winding walkway to the observation deck as it gets slippery during the rainy season. Once you’re there, you could catch a panoramic view of the Itogon Mines and the surrounding mountains.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to catch a glimpse of the Mines but luckily, we witnessed this breathtaking view.
The rise in tourists flocking the area paved way for more businessmen to establish their stores in the perimeter. Some of the goods sold are crafts, plants and food. There are also picture-taking booths with horses and the St. Bernard dog put up by their owners. The other common sites are hiring Igorot costumes and throwing coins on wishing wells.
The cold weather entices you to eat food to keep yourself warm. Staple in this area are the yellow corn and dried squid.
After buying souvenirs from the Mines View shops, you can walk a few meters to the Good Shepherd Convent to buy more pasalubongs (Eng: presents) for your families or friends.
GOOD SHEPHERD CONVENT
The convent sustains itself by manufacturing and selling highland products in their wide store. Famous products are ube jams (purple yams), strawberry jams, peanut brittles, fruit preserves and alfajor.
The convent supports student scholars who, in turn, help in manufacturing the products. A percentage of the price for every product sold goes to the students’ scholarship fund.
SM WOOD NYMPH
It took us a while to roam around the various parks and buy pasalubongs, and we also got stranded for a bit in Botanical Garden due to heavy rains. So we went straight to the mall on the hill (Shoe Mart or SM) to have lunch.
Since they wanted to eat warm Korean soup and noodles, I suggested Wood Nymph, the first Korean resto I and my family visited two years ago.
The resto is situated on the right wing of the mall’s second floor. They serve authentic, colorful and delicious Korean food displayed in their English-Korean Menu. A 6-set appetizer is served that includes boiled watercress, kimchi and mung bean sprouts after ordering your main course. My favorite is the boiled marble potato in honey syrup. You can ask for a refill of your fave starter from the crew.
We started ordering from the menu like there’s no tomorrow. There were only few conversations when the appetizers and meals have been served which showed how hungry we were.
The serving sizes and menu prices are reasonable. A pan of bibimbap can serve a group of 4 on average, unless you’re really hungry and want it entirely to yourself.
I can say that the servings, service and tastes were never compromised. It’s worth revisiting over and over again.
Wood Nymph also has a branch in Military Cut-off if you prefer casual and quieter dining experience outside of the mall.
OH MY GULAY!
This is one of the few secret nooks in Baguio that is not known by a majority of tourists. I included this in the itinerary to share with the ladies a new hang-out spot that they can re-visit soon.
Quietly stationed at the topmost floor of the La Azotea Building in Upper Session Road, the Oh My Gulay! resto is an artist’s haven that serves vegetarian food and displays artists’ works. This is being managed by a group of local artists via VOCAS (Victor Oteyza Community Art Space).
That Saturday afternoon was a treat as we witnessed the monthly installation of new artists’ works with cultural performances.
I’m doing a separate post on this one but here’s a view of the place.
CROWN LEGACY FAMILY KTV SINGALONG
We were stuffed with food from our late lunch in Wood Nymph and the community dinner in OMG! so we decided to recharge in the transient house before heading to Spade, one of the newest clubs in town. Unlucky for us, the club is overflowing with a young party crowd.
We instead opted for a chill night in the adjoining Family KTV Singalong Bar with my sister joining us.
The club and the karaoke bar are located in the new Crown Legacy Hotel along Kisad Road. The KTV place is also filled with friends and colleagues belting out to their favorite songs. The ambiance is welcoming with posters of legendary musicians before the ‘90s. The rooms are comfortable with leather seats while Filipino paintings adorn the walls. The difference with other karaoke bars is that there’s a separate Korean songbook besides the English songbook! – influence of K-Pop culture in Baguio.
We selected a package from the menu (really, we have been eating the whole day!) which included pitchers of tequila sunrise and mojito served with plates of Korean pizza, fries and nachos – all for a reasonable price of around Php 330.00/ $ 7.00 per pax . Yum-o!
We lasted eating and singing until 2AM, capping the entire day with a good snooze for the following day’s excursion.
Day 2: CAMP JOHN HAY
The second day is all intended for Camp John Hay treats. It’s to offer them time to unwind and relax with nature before their trip back to Manila. It was a sunny Sunday after the Saturday rain. Glad the weather cooperated to bid the ladies one happy day.
Camp John Hay used to be a fort for American officers who stayed in the hill station from the early 1900s until the early 1990s. I can still remember the coin-operated machines near the playground area when we were younger where chocolates and other sweet treats can be bought using dollar coins. Eventually, management of the park was handed over to Filipinos.
It is a park privately-managed by the CJH Corporation but even if it’s privately-managed, the park welcomes all tourists for a free stroll. The only place with an entrance fee is the amphitheatre, Bell House and Cemetery of Negativism further discussed below.
Few old A-type houses are still preserved in the area, typically with green roofs and borders with white walls. Currently, it houses a techno hub for BPOs, several business establishments and new hotels and cottages.
The upside is it continues to attract crowds due to the fresh air and undisturbed open areas for leisurely strolls, picnics and activities.
We decided to have our brunch here in the Mile Hi Diner. It is the typical 1950s diner with cartoon posters of ladies in fashionable outfits and men showing off their masculinity.
There was even an old coin-slot music machine playing chill music for that Sunday mid-morning and a replica of the marriage certificate of the King himself.
Food is also served like the typical American diner. The meats were superbly tender and the entire plate is delicious. Price ranges from Php 120 – 300/ ~ $3 – 7
The Mile Hi Diner only has one branch located in Tagaytay.
After filling ourselves, we took a quick stroll around the commissary to check out the souvenir items being sold before we hiked towards the CJH Ampitheatre.
For an entrance fee of Php 20.00/ ~ $ 0.50, one can already visit the amphitheatre, the Bell House and the Cemetery of Negativism. It used to have no entrance fee but I guess the fee is for maintenance of the area.
The amphitheatre is an adjoining garden with the Bell House. The place is well-maintained; thus, tourists are welcomed to a kaleidoscope of colors from the entrance.
The garden is being reserved for special occasions especially weddings and birthdays. That Sunday was for a dog show and seminar organized by the humane society.
The vacation house-turned-museum is named in honor of Gen. J. Franklin Bell who transformed CJH into a major military resort.
It was an activity-filled weekend so the ladies were privileged to witness some. There were art exhibits in the house apart from the dog show in the amphitheatre.
The house has several rooms with wide receiving and dining areas. The interiors provide tourists a view of American colonial architecture and lifestyle.
I generally liked the atmosphere in the veranda where you can walk around the house while admiring the site of the Secret Garden (which we didn’t visit anymore given the time) and the Ampitheatre garden.
CEMETERY OF NEGATIVISM
We feel sad when we think of cemeteries. A tomb represents the departing of a once active soul. The Cemetery of Negativism replicates just that. There are several animal tombs in the area but there are really no pets buried.
It’s intended to allow tourists visiting the cemetery realize that negativity should be limited or removed in our lives by not imitating those bad energies represented by epitaphs in the tombs.
I used to fear this place as a kid, thinking that there are real pets buried in the area. My mind ran wild with lost souls lurking in the area. I slowly overcame my fear through the gradual visits in the place when we gather for picnics in CJH.
We left the area feeling light and re-energized.
Since the entire CJH is acres-wide for strolling, we decided to walk down towards the main entrance of the park with hopes of chancing upon a vacant taxi that will bring us to the bus terminal.
We finally flagged a vacant taxi past the Scout Grounds. The ladies were just in time for their afternoon trip to Manila. They took with them all the wonderful memories of the 2-day visit to this mountain city.
Until we meet again, gals!
DIY/ Baguio Travel Tips:
$ 1.00 = Php 44.50
Manila Commute to the Bus Terminal
The group commuted straight from work for the weekend trip. They rode the Metro Rail Transit from Ayala to Araneta Cubao for Php 12.00/ ~ $ 0.30 per person for a one-way ticket. Upon reaching the Cubao Station, they took a tricycle to Victory Liner Cubao for Php 50.00/ ~ $ 1.12 fare for the ride. It saved them around Php 200+/ ~$ 5+ for a taxi ride with tip while deviating from the Friday traffic.
The bus from Manila to Baguio costs around Php 445.00/ ~ $ 10.00 one-way.
Baguio City Stroll
One can go around the city in various ways – either bring your own car (consideration: fuel to fill the tank) or rent a car, van or taxi (that includes a personal driver sometimes even with a guided tour) for the trip. These would cost around Php 1,500 up/ $ 35 up.
For those who are game for adventure, commuting is the best choice. No one gets lost in the small city as you can manage your way around just by asking locals for directions. You can ride a taxi (flag down rate of Php 35.00/ ~$ 0.79 and incremental Php 2.00/ ~$ 0.04 for every kilometre) or jeepney (Php 8.50/ ~$ 19.00). We commuted by riding taxis to the different destinations. Drivers give the exact change upon arrival to your destination.
What to bring:
- Anything for the cool weather like warm jacket or sweater, scarf or shawls, bonnets and gloves
- Umbrella and boots during the rainy season
- Camera for snaps
Where to stay:
There are several accommodations from hotels to hostels, inns, transient houses, dorms, bed and breakfast and the new serviced apartments to fit your budget needs. There are also local Department of Tourism-licensed individuals who offer places to stay as you reach the bus terminal.
You can ask a local or tie up with someone who knows an acquaintance from the city if you prefer a more organic tour of the place. You can also check out sites on the internet and reserve your preferred places in advance.
Other Useful References:
- MRT schedules and fares: http://dotcmrt3.gov.ph/
- Victory Liner site: http://www.victoryliner.com/
- For reservations and inquiries, for the Burnham-Legarda Transient House that we rented, contact: Michael Wong (+63) 9189077995/ Donna Marie Quiwa-Wong (+63) 9192942638
Further readings on the places visited:
Umali Kayo! Come visit Baguio!