Baguio City in Two Days: Or, How to Wear a Jacket

I’ve always been fascinated with cities. I do so believe that they are the new lifeline of the world, and a country’s performance heavily relies on the efficient management of these cities.

And that would be the last of my nerdy stuff about cities for this blogpost. Haha. I’m just so overwhelmed by the many times this city I went to last weekend was better than Metro Manila.

Baguio City — The Summer Capital

The city is called Baguio City, the summer capital of the Philippines, being situated at around 1,540 m above sea level. However, one does not simply be called a “summer capital” just because it’s colder up there and people go there during the summer, although that explains what a “summer capital” actually is.

When the Americans came to the Philippines, they thought the¬†de facto capital, Manila, was too hot at summer. So, they¬†searched out for a site where they can transfer in the summer months and serve as an R&R station for the US military as well. They ended up with¬†Kafagway, a local village in Benguet, the center of which was Bagyiw (Ibaloi, “moss”), which the Spanish respelled into Baguio. Only partly settled by the Spaniards, they declared it as the site for the new mountain retreat as well as an administrative capital of the entire Philippines during the summer months. To plan out the new city, they commissioned Daniel H. Burnham, already famous for the city planning of Chicago and San Francisco in the US and Manila in the Philippines. The new Benguet Road, constructed as an alternative to Naguilian Road (the only access road at the time), was constructed by a combined effort of Filipinos and other laborers under Col. Lyman W. Kennon of the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Baguio City received its charter in 1909 as the summer capital of the Philippines, and from then on everyone in the American insular government — from the Governor-General to even the lowest clerk — moves¬†en masse to Baguio to escape Manila’s unbearable summer ¬†heat. Even the American teachers were given space in the city. This practice stopped on the advent of air conditioning, around the time of Governor-General Francis B. Harrison.

Even today, the national government still maintains offices in Baguio City. The president still has an official residence in Baguio, and the Supreme Court still conducts summer sessions in the city.

Indeed, being a “summer capital” is more political than leisurely.

…and that will be the last of heavy history in this post. I’ll try to be less in-depth in the next paragraphs.

The Journey

I went to Baguio on January 21, 2017. I was so excited, and I’ve been talking about the journey even weeks before. I was with my girlfriend, Kara, my housemates Angela, Lean, and Clarissa, and the latter’s boyfriend Jeric. It’s funny because it will not really be my first time in Baguio — in fact, it will be my¬†SEVENTH time, yet I’m the one so giddy about it. I had to prepare a two-day itinerary for them, since I was more familiar in the place than anyone else in our group.

We planned to ride a Victory Liner bus to Baguio, so at 1:00 AM¬†we called for a cab and headed to the station in Cubao. However, it was so surprising to know that tickets¬†HAVE TO BE RESERVED days ahead! It was different before, since this didn’t have to happen when I went there when I was a kid… Or maybe I just didn’t know what mom was doing all those times and she might’ve bought a ticket weeks ahead (thanks, mom).

So natural resort was to try another bus line. Long story short, we ended up taking one of those vans waiting outside one of the terminals. It was much pricier (they charge¬†Php 600 compared to Victory Liner’s¬†Php 445, but we were in a hurry and would even pay for a helicopter to get there). The van left at around 3:00 AM.

We had an AirBnB reservation on Saturday morning, and the ETA we said was around 7:00 AM. We were, therefore, racing against time. Luckily for us, the driver took Kennon Road, the older, more dangerous (due to many hairpin turns), yet a much shorter road than what the buses use (the newer Aspiras-Palispis/Marcos Highway). Our trip was cut from the usual 6 hours by bus to that of a 4-5hour ride only. The view was nice, anyway, seeing the unusually golden sun shining on the mountaintops.

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Golden mountaintops in Kennon Road (c) @klanezurbano

Day 1: Atop the Mountains

We arrived at the Victory Liner terminal in Baguio City at around 7:45 AM. Before checking into our room, we first made sure we would be able to go home the next day. We bought tickets going back to Cubao. Then we tried hailing a cab to go to our place. There were six of us in this trip, but cabs in Baguio are only allowed a maximum of four (4) people, so we split the group into two. For the purposes of this blogpost, Group 1 includes me, Kara, and Lean, and Group 2 is Clarissa, Angela, and Jeric. This scheme will be our grouping for the rest of our Baguio trip.

We are headed for¬†290B Kennon Road in¬†Barangay Camp 7. The taxi flag-down rate (booking fee) is¬†Php 35, which is lower compared to Manila’s¬†Php 40. The trip from the Victory Liner terminal to our place took around 10-15 minutes. Then we took 30 minutes to rest and recharge our phones, and we were on the road again. It is in a private road at the back of Jaime Ongpin Foundation. If coming from Baguio City proper, It’s just a few meters past¬†Camp 7’s barangay hall.

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The view of Kennon Road from outside the apartment

The apartment has a lot of space in it. It has two floors, with two rooms, and beds for everyone. The shower has a heater (although it wasn’t¬†enough to heat up the water to boiling level, it was warm enough so that we can bear taking a bath with it. There was also a kitchen, complete with all the basics. Plus, there’s a cute dog outside! Check out their accommodation at their AirBnB posting.

We were debating as to whether to use Grab to book a trip, or just hail a taxi or a jeep along Kennon Road.¬†Few minutes into trying to book using Grab, we gave up, concluding¬†that it’s considerably harder to use Grab¬†there than in Manila. So we hailed a cab to get to our first¬†stop, but we let¬†Group 2 take it. Little did we know, for our Group 1, is a suprise waiting…

…A jeepney! Our group only paid¬†Php 10 to get to our next destination, and you can only guess what¬†Group 2 paid.

University of the Philippines Baguio

All of us are¬†iskos and¬†iskas, having graduated with a degree in computer science from the University of the Philippines System (5 of us, including me, are from UP Los Ba√Īos; the other one is from UP Manila). So we believe that it’s just fitting and proper to visit the campus in Baguio.

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In front of the University of the Philippines Baguio

From the rotunda in front of¬†Baguio General Hospital, go to¬†Governor Pack Road, then go right to¬†U.P. Drive (Google Maps says it’s¬†Governor Center¬†Road). The¬†University of the Philippines Baguio, UP’s standard-bearer in the north, is on the left-side, opposite¬†Baguio Convention Center. As with any U.P. Campus, it is open to the public. One can freely take a picture of/with the Oblation, and go around the campus. Having come from a large (the largest in the Philippines) U.P. Campus, I find it small, but it’s challenging to stroll around since there are a lot of stairs and other elevations inside.

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The Oblation, from the back
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Inang Laya, UP Baguio’s other symbolic statue (much like¬†Pegaraw in UPLB)

We had our breakfast at the UPB Student Canteen, where a breathtaking view of the city lies. Also, the prices were so student-friendly. Eating there was pretty much like eating at UPLB back in our student days — only much colder.

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The university hymn, UP Naming Mahal, stylized. This one and the Oblation reminded me that I am in UP!
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I think this is the College of Science, but please do correct me if I’m wrong.

We strolled some more and took a photo with the Oblation before leaving.

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U.P. Fight!

Sunshine Park

Right beside U.P. Baguio is Sunshine Park. It’s not really a huge park, but there’s a stage in it and children were practicing a traditional dance¬†when we were there. Such a refreshing sight to see in the midst of a bustling city.

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The stage at Sunshine Park, with people practicing a traditional dance.

Burnham Park

Next stop is the famous Burnham Park, named after the urban planner, Daniel H. Burnham. It is Baguio’s central park.

From Sunshine park, we just walked on Harrison Road, then entered the park through Lake Drive. We can take a jeepney but it would not be worth it, since Burnham Park was within sight from Sunshine Park.

Burnham Park is basically like Manila’s Rizal Park, but, probably because of the cooler climate, it seems that it has more visitors in daytime. Rizal Park’s visitors are usually there in the late afternoon or at the evening.

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See? Basically cold Luneta.
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Some random selfie I shot at Burnham

We then tried what Burnham Park is famous for: Burnham Lake!

For¬†Php 150 per boat, one can go around Burnham Lake for 30 minutes. We split again in two groups, and for the first 10 or so minutes, Lean and I had the paddles (or oars?) in our hands, and every single move had to be coordinated! It was hard at first but it went well later on. Later on, Kara¬†alone took the oars and happily paddled along — she had been wanting to do it for a while now!

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We were able to get good pictures of Baguio’s City Hall from the lake — the city hall is aligned on the same axis as that of Burnham Park, and is elevated. It really looks majestic.

On group 2, Jeric had the paddles at first, then Clarissa and Angela. I think Kara did better than them. Just kidding (not)!

After 30 minutes, we had to get back to the docks and prepare for our next destination.

Philippine Military Academy

From Burnham Park, we took a jeepney that says¬†PMA-Kias on¬†Perfecto Street in Burnham Park, just beside¬†Igorot Park. It will take you to the country’s military school — the Philippine Military Academy — inside Fort del Pilar, named after the young general and hero of the Tirad Pass, General Gregorio S. del Pilar.

The fare is¬†Php 18.00, and there’s an environmental fee of Php 20.00, which is not so much a price to pay considering it’s for maintenance.¬†It took us¬†straight to the academic core–the most photographed parts–of the military facility. The downside of¬†this is that we missed the display of old tanks and other cavalry vehicles in front of the military base.

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Once inside, we took a picture of Melchor Hall, the mountain sceneries, and a replica of a ship’s bow and a movable AA-gun. There were also display of former air assets, which delighted me the most!

The military academy only has limited access, however; some parts are off-limits to visitors and other civilians in general. The parade ground, particularly, is off-limits; I saw a visitor get scolded by a military officer for crossing the rope fences around the parade grounds. Since it is a military facility, I believe it’s better to behave oneself when inside their campus.

One can, however, go to the famous grandstand where the President sits when he’s in the academy, and take a picture (or just appreciate) the view only commonly seen on TV.

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Courage. Integrity. Loyalty. (c) @klanezurbano

There’s also a tree house right beside the off-limits area. It gives a more commanding view of the mountains and the city of Baguio.

When we’ve had enough, we rested on the canteen beside Melchor Hall, and I was able to buy a PMA shirt for¬†Php 250. There was also a jacket for¬†Php 550, but because of budget constraints, I had to forego buying it, which was sad. ūüė¶

Camp John Hay

From PMA, there’s a jeepney waiting to fill up to go back to the city. It it passes by our next destination,¬†Camp John Hay. A former hill station of the United States Army (the only hill station in Asia in fact), it was primarily an R&R (rest and recreation) place for American soldiers stationed in the Philippines, allowing them to somewhat reminisce the feeling of living in a real American town back home.

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The jeepney fare from PMA to Camp John Hay (CJH) was¬†Php 10.00. However, with what bad luck we could possibly have, most of us slept along the journey. We woke up only to find out that we’re around 50 meters past CJH (and the driver did not wake us up). So we had to walk back through the not-so-pedestrian-friendly Loakan Road.¬†When we thought the worst part was over, the nearest gate was a steep driveway near John Hay Convention Center, and we had to walk uphill. Pssh.

We ate at the¬†Brothers’ Burger¬†joint insidee Camp John Hay’s AyalaLand TechnoHub, primarily office spaces occupied by BPO companies. Perhaps this is one of the least “Baguio-esque” things we’ve ever done in the City of Pines.

Camp John Hay, however, is not complete without a visit to the historic core. Since it was an uphill road, we decided to take a cab to get there. The entrance fee is around Php 60.

The historic core is primarily the center of the old R&R facility of the United States Army. There’s an amphitheater, old houses, and some other vestiges of old America.

A relatively new attraction is the¬†Cemetery of Negativism. It’s a small plot that contains “tombstones”of what many may consider to be negative vibes in their lives; the objective of this attraction is for people to be able to let go of all the negative things, events, and thoughts that hold them back by giving them a visual representation of such negativities, and emerge as a completely refreshed and revitalized soul. It only takes a few minutes to see them all, but Kara and I tended to focus on some tombstones that best describe what we’re experiencing during those times.

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Another attraction is the Bell House, a former residence of Maj. General Franklin Bell, one of the commanding forces of the US Army in the Philippines and was instrumental in transforming Camp John Hay into a major military resort.

There’s also a¬†history trail, which is nothing big really and just describes the history of Camp John Hay as an American hill station and the present day. At its end is a cool and quiet¬†secret garden.

Wright Park/The Mansion

It was already getting dark, and we were in a rush to get to our next destination. We had to take a cab to Wright Park, just in case anyone wants to ride horses.

Wright Park is situated near Pacdal Circle, and primarily Wright Park is about horses! One can stroll around the Park for only Php 250 for 30 minutes, while larger amounts could get you into around the nearby areas.

However, no one at the time wanted to ride a horse, so we just walked away to our next destination as we admire the horses from afar.

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Seat of power

Then we arrived at¬†The Mansion, just a few meters at the back of Wright Park. The Mansion is the official summer residence of the President of the Philippines, since Baguio is still very¬†much officially the¬†summer capital of the Philippines. It’s situated on a hill, and its ornate gate can never be mistaken for something else. Entry is free, although one can only enter a few meters past the gate (it’s not allowed to go up the residence itself), since it’s an official residence after all. The President officially lives there in summer, in which case security at the area would be a lot tighter. After a few pictures, we went to our next destination.

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Mines View Park

We took a cab to¬†Mines View Park (after realizing that it would be impossible to walk those few meters of Outlook Road uphill). Mines View nowadays is more of a souvenir shopping center than a real park, since most vendors occupied the park area already. Here they sell everything Baguio: t-shirts, mugs, barrel men, as well as various delicacies that could be considered¬†tatak Baguio — only in Baguio.

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Mines View!

However, the view deck still exists — although it’s obviously overcrowded. The view is still a sight to behold, albeit the former mines have been taken over by subdivisions and besides old abandoned mines, one can now also see houses in the hills. It’s still worth our time, though, and also worth taking a picture of.

Dinner: Good Taste

From Mines View Park, we took a jeepney few meters from the Good Shepherd gate (we’ll go there the next day) in Gibraltar Road, and went to SM City Baguio for a while. The fare costs¬†Php 10. After staying at SM for a while, we went off to get dinner: we walked onto Session Road and then to Burnham and then to Otek and Cari√Īo Streets, where¬†Good Taste can be found. It seems to be a famous place, as people line up to get into the restaurant, even considering that the restaurant is¬†four floors high already.

The six of us paid around¬†Php 117 each for a cup of rice each and three¬†dishes. It was cheap for such an amount of food, but that’s not even the catch… The food was awesome!

The food was so heavenly, savory, all at one. We ordered sinigang na baboy, sweet and sour pork, and the famed buttered chicken. The buttered chicken was awesome! It’s a must have when in eating in Good Taste.

Harrison Night Market

Right after that, we walked–nay, braved–into the cold streets of Baguio at 9:30 PM to go to¬†Harrison Road, just west of Burnham Park, where the best of the best bargains could be made. Every day, at 9 PM, ¬†a section of the ¬†southbound (the side closer to Burnham) carriageway is closed for vendors to set up shop. There’s a lot of variety in the products they sell: from the necessities like jackets, raincoats, and some other cold-weather clothes, to things like stuffed toys, alarm clocks, flashlights with tasers, and even cellphones (which seems shady)! I managed to buy a cap for Php 120, and Angela got a bonnet for Php 70. Our friend Clarissa, however, bought quite a bargain!

After the night market, we decided to call it a day, and head back to Camp 7. We took a cab to get there since it’s almost 11:30 in the evening by then.

Day 2: Down the Valley

We woke up late. Too late.

We woke up at 7:30 AM. This time, our trip was getting out of the city and from the mountains–into the La Trinidad Valley!

La Trinidad Valley Strawberry Farm

Our first destination was La Trinidad Valley, where Benguet State University’s¬†Strawberry Farm is located. We took a jeepney to “Town”, the terminal near Burnham Park. It costs¬†Php 10. And then, we walked up City Hall to¬†Shuntug Road, then took any of the jeepneys going to La Trinidad. The fare to Strawberry Farm costs around¬†Php 10.00. We asked the driver to drop us off at Strawberry Farm, or KM 6.

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Strawberry Farm is on a small side street just across Benguet State University. It has parking around it, as well as souvenir shops.

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One of us in the group thought this was real fondant! Who could that be? HAHA

They also sell the famed strawberry ice cream here, For around Php 30 to Php 50 per cone. There are also ice cream sandwiches, for Php 40.

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The strawberry farm itself has no entrance fee; Only if one wants to experience the strawberry/vegetable picking will one have to¬†pay¬†Php 450. Of course, we didn’t try it; we just looked at people and spotted the best and largest strawberries. ūüôā

BenCab Museum

We then headed to our final destination in the City of Pines.

From La Trinidad, we took a cab to¬†KM 6¬†of¬†Asin Road, in Tuba, Benguet, where the¬†BenCab Museum is located. It’s the permanent collection of National Artist¬†Benedicto Cabrera. Inside are some of his works, along with works by other local and international artists, as well as some traditional Cordillera art.

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I don’t usually hang out in art galleries, so while we’re at it, I took the chance to mostly observe and appreciate the talent that is Filipino art. I didn’t take much pictures (my friends did it for me).

The artworks in the gallery doesn’t just cover Cordillera culture or even just the feelings of Mr. Cabrera; It contains every facet of Filipino culture — from mundane events and themes to motifs centered around progressiveness and liberalism.

There’s a cafe at the fourth level (downstairs) of the museum, as well as a garden.

Cafe by the Ruins Dua

After BenCab, we went back to town (taking a jeepney for Php 10 from Asin to Town), and then¬†Kara, Lean, and I went back to our apartment at Kennon Road, just to negotiate a few hours’ extension with the landlady. Group 2 went on to find a place for us to eat. Then, when we were at the cab back to the city, they told us to follow them at¬†Cafe by the Ruins Dua.

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Located on 225 Upper Session Road, It is the second branch of the original Cafe by the Ruins at 25 Shuntug Road, near City Hall.

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For budget travelers like us, the food is quite expensive, but the quality is awesome. The most memorable food I had there was their version of the Pavlova — it was full of mangoes, strawberries, and whipped cream, spread over a generous chunk of meringue. It was delightful to eat. Their strawberry soda is awesome as well.

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Pavlova!!!

Good Shepherd Baguio

The final stop was the Good Shepherd Convent, just a few meters beside Mines View Park, on Gibraltar Road. From town, in Lower Mabini Street, we took the jeepney to Mines View through Gibraltar Road. the fare was Php 10.

We arrived too late, and we didn’t manage to go up the main store; instead, we were led to the extension store, just right beside the entrance. We were able to buy some¬†pasalubong for our families and ourselves, too.

Last Hurrahs

After going back to Town, Angela, Clarissa, Jeric, and Lean went back to the apartment to get our things and officially check out, while Kara and I just strolled and hanged out at Burnham Park. It was getting cold, but we made good use of the time and talked about many things.

Then, we went to SM Baguio together with the others to have dinner, since we’re mostly broke by then and planned to eat somewhere cheap. We stayed around a while before walking at Upper Session Road on the way to the Victory Liner terminal.

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Until next time!

Baguio City has always been special to me, and after being there seven times already, I still don’t seem to get tired of this beautiful city. Despite the increasing number of people (and crime — someone approached us trying to sell us a stolen phone), Baguio will still be the city I fell in love with the first time I was there.

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The freezing air, the people in jackets, and their friendly taxi drivers–along with the beautiful skylines and viewpoints–will always be a comforting sign to me. I will always come back to Baguio City. Always.

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