Oftentimes when we travel, we pass thru places that look interesting as we go to our final destination.
We often wish that we could have time to stop and explore those places.
One of these places that I passed so many times was Bais. From a bus window, I saw many times its sprawling plaza, its beautiful American era buildings and the massive Central Azucarera de Bais factory spewing smoke from its chimneys.
I used to ask myself: is it worth stopping by? And one day I did.
Bais is located in Negros Oriental. It is the largest producer of sugar in the province. Two large sugar mills are located in Bais: the Central Azucarera de Bais that was established by Tabacalera of Spain in the early 1900s; and Universal Robina Sugar Milling Corporation that recently launched a bioethanol plant. Bais owes much of its progress to the sugar industry.
During the mid-1800, Bais’ economy was far from progressive and its soil was not utilized to its full capacity. Even before the sugar boom, Negros Oriental was already producing sugar. But transportation was a big problem: raw sugar had to be shipped to Iloilo via San Carlos and then via Bacolod.
When the Central Azucarera de Bais was established in 1918, the sugar pioneers carved the virgin forests on the eastern side of the island and planted them with sugar cane. Next came the development of a new product – muscovado – that soon became the province’s biggest export to Spain. And finally, several roads were carved out of the central mountains to connect the eastern municipalities of Negros to the trading center in Bacolod.
During the 1930s, the sugar industry reached its peak, bringing affluence to the people of Bais, allowing them to build stately mansions and to acquire properties all over the province.
Nowadays, the price of sugar in the world market has gone down and the industry is struggling. Bais has to look beyond sugar to provide livelihood to its people. Fortunately, the sea that covers Bais is one of the richest in the country, but not for fishing but for eco-tourism.
How to get there
Bais is about 48 kilometers from Dumaguete City. So the easiest way to get there is to fly from Manila to Dumaguete (about an hour and 15 minutes). From the airport, take a tricycle to Central Terminal and from there, take a bus or a van to Bais (about an hour to an hour and a half).
Another way is to fly from Manila to Bacolod via Silay Airport. From Silay, take a taxi or a van to the Ceres Bus Terminal. At the terminal, take any bus going south to either Bais or Dumaguete. Travel time from Bacolod to Bais is about five hours.
From Cebu, take a Ceres Bus that goes straight to Bais that crosses the Tanon Strait via Santander to Tanjay. Or one can take the passenger only boat in Liloan to Sibulan Port near Bais.
What to see, what to do
Tourists come to Bais nowadays not to visit the sugar plantations but to experience dolphin and whale watching.
Nine out of the 23 species of marine mammals documented to have been sighted in the Philippines can be seen in the Bais Bay-Tanon Strait area. The local tourism office (contact numbers 63 (35) 402-6629 and 63 (35) 541-5161) runs the Bais Bay Cruise where visitors can get a chance to see these gentle mammals from March to October when the waters are calmer. Reservations must be made in advance especially during peak season.
Whole day boat rental costs between P3,000 to P4,000 and they can accommodate as much as 20 people. Smaller boats are also available for smaller group. The local tourism office recommends visitors hire a guide or “spotter.”
It is recommended the tour starts early in the day so the boat can make a stopover at the Manjuyod Sandbar, which is a beautiful stretch of white sand that disappears during high tide. Visitors can also visit the Talabong Mangrove Park, a 400-hectare protected mangrove forest where visitors have to walk through a split-bamboo boardwalk before reaching the park.
But the highlight of the cruise is to see the dolphins, several dozens of them, which always come as expected to entertain the guests with their natural acrobatic performances.
The tourism office can also make special arrangements for visitors to see Bais’ rich past. A visit to Central Azucarera will allow visitors to take a look at the old buildings, early machineries, implements and locomotives used for hauling sugar cane in olden times. Also on display is the old Baldwin locomotive now resting on memories of its heyday as the dean of the hacienda workhorses.
Around the new city plaza, one can still see many of the palatial houses, the lovely San Nicolas de Tolentino church, the old Presidentia and the new Mercado.
Where to stay, what to eat
The best place to stay in Bais is Casa Don Julian. It is an old mansion converted into a lodging place. For P1,000 a night, one can stay at one of the four spacious guest rooms with polished teak floors, king-sized beds and private baths. Right next to Casa Don Julian is the attractive Spanish Colonial style La Planta Hotel (P1,450 per night). It has a very nice pool, ample parking space and a stylish restaurant with high ceiling that used to be an old power- generating house.
Those on a budget can stay at either Casa Sandoval or Sandoval Pensionne, both located along the National Highway.
For lunch for those on a boat cruise, they only need to buy fresh meat, seafood, fruits and vegetables and rice at the Mercado, and turn them over to the boatman and his crew who will take care of preparing them.
For those staying overnight in Bais, the only place to get a meal are the carinderias (local eateries) at the Mercado or at the many stalls beside the Auditorium. On weekends, there’s a night market in front of Mercado where one can get pork barbecue at P5 per stick.
But the best delicacy to try in Bais is their Budbud Kabug that originated in nearby Tanjay. Instead of chocolate, their version of this suman contains muscovado. It’s a tribute to their rich past and visitors who try this are bound to feel like hacienderos.