Three and a half hours to Manila.
That’s what the sign posted at the entrance of Kennon Road in Baguio says. This is just one of the changes that the visitors to this summer capital will experience when they visit in 2017. This and the horrendous traffic around the city once you get in.
And it’s not only the traffic that you must bear; visitors must fight for space if they wish to have their photos taken at the Lion’s Head and Mine’s View Park. There are also long lines to get a table at some of the favorite local restaurants and once you get a table, you must wait long to have your food delivered.
In terms of size, Baguio is a small city. Even smaller than Tagaytay. But it is home to 350,000 people, which is five times more than Tagaytay. And the number doubles during the cool months from December to February, when most Filipinos wish to go up there to enjoy the cold weather, eat fresh strawberries and to see the flower festival.
At the start of the American occupation of the Philippines, Baguio was established as a hill station. A hill station is a town located at a higher elevation. Baguio was the only hill station built by the United States in Asia. When Governor-General William Howard Taft visited this town in 1901, he found its cool weather a good alternative to escape the scorching summer heat in Manila.
Soon after, it was decided that a new road directly connecting Baguio from the lowlands of Pangasinan must be built. And Kennon Road was born in 1903. An interesting trivia about Kennon Road: the famous Zigzag portion was born out of an engineering error! American engineers built this road parallel to the Bued River on both ends. After nearly five years into the project, it became evident that the road won’t meet from differences in elevation. So to compensate for the early miscalculations, the engineers twisted and turned the road producing the steep and winding zigzag.
Kennon Road’s famous Lion Head was conceptualized by the members of the Lion’s Club of Baguio to become the club’s imprint in the area. Construction on the 40-foot structure started in 1968 and was finally completed in 1972. It has since become the city’s unofficial welcoming landmark where visitors stop and have their pictures taken to show people back home that they have finally reached Baguio.
How to get there
To reach Baguio from Manila in three and half hour, here’s what motorists must do: drive north via NLEX, then SCTEX and finally TPLEX, exit from Binalonan (two hours); then drive through the national road all the way to Rosario, La Union (45 minutes); and finally, go up to Baguio via Kennon Road (45 minutes). Alternatively, one can also take Marcos Highway from Rosario (one hour).
Another way to reach Baguio is via the scenic Benguet-Nueva Vizcaya Road that starts in Aritao and traverses the scenic towns of Kayapa, Bokod and Itogon.
What to see, what to do
While there are the usual attractions like the Mine’s View, the Mansion, Wright Park, the Philippine Military Academy, the Baguio Cathedral and Burnham Park, there are many new ones in the city to avoid the crowd.
One of the must visit places is the BenCab Museum by National Artist for visual arts, Benedicto Cabrera. The museum contains many of his works as well as works of other national artists. Entrance fee is now P120, but it’s worth a visit specially to see his huge collection of rice gods and other art pieces from the Cordillera region.
Another attraction is the row of old American buildings in Session Road that has been recently restored. It makes walking along Session Road more pleasurable with its sparkling new coats of paint. Inside these restored buildings are old Baguio favorites like the 50’s Diner and Pizza Volante. The influx of Korean students also resulted in the mushrooming of many stalls along Session selling Korean street foods.
Also glistening in colors are the houses in Barangay Balili in La Trinidad that local artists have transformed into a large mural reminiscent of Brazil’s favelas.
The old Camp John Hay has also been transformed into a high end resort with The Manor as the premier hotel for those who wish to experience the ultimate in “high end” lodging. While at the Camp, visitors can also enjoy the zip lines, trekking, picnics and visits to the unusual Cemetery of Negativism. There are also several Manila restaurants at Ayala Technohub for those who miss food from home.
And for those who can’t get enough of Baguio’s “ukay-ukay,” there’s this regular night market at Burnham for those looking of second-hand designer clothes.
Where to stay, what to eat
It is now easier to find clean and decent accommodations in Baguio. When travelling in a big group of at least eight people, it is better to find a fully-furnished transient house (with kitchen of course) that rents out for P2,000 per night.
There are also many budget hotels that offer overnight stay for P500 to P600 for twin accommodation, with P100 additional for extra bed. Stay at St. John’s Inn along Dominican Hill Road or at Baguio Village Inn at Magsaysay Road. Both have ample parking space and are very quiet at night.
But nothing tops staying at government run dormitories when it comes to getting inexpensive accommodations. Baguio was built as a summer capital and during the 1930s to the 1950s, many government agencies built their own extension offices in the city. The Teacher’s Camp, which was built in 1908, is the best and most known government-run lodging facilities. It allows even private visitors to rent out dormitory beds for as low as P200 per night during off-peak season.
For dining, the local favorite is the Chinese restaurant aptly called Good Taste. Tucked at the corner of the Dangwa Bus Terminal at the back of City Mall, it serves the freshest but most affordable vegetable, meat and noodle dishes.
Ketchup Food Community near Wright Park is also fast becoming a favorite among the visitors to Baguio. Inside the community are home grown food concepts such as Happy Tummy that serves Thai food, Rancho Norte for Pinoy comfort food, Canto for barbeques, and Green Pepper for continental cuisine.
Baguio may have evolved into an overcrowded tourist destination, but it is still the best place to go for that “cool” family bonding.