DAY 1Nov 16 2015
Baguio is absolutely one of my favorite places to go to. It is an old nirvana with rich culture of the north. And the temperature is significantly different from that in the otherwise hellish Manila, especially when it’s the Yule tide season. It’s what makes people from Manila and all other hot areas in the country visit the place. Definitely a sell-out.
This was the only spot we got to visit on our first day in Baguio. But we didn’t run out of things to do at this place. We first went boating in the famous lagoon or the man-made lake. Each boat costs P100 for 30 minutes. Other rates are higher, depending on the number of persons. Some boatmen even carry with them a laminated menu of tour packages. The higher the package, the more spots in the city to visit. But we didn’t take this route as we had plans already. We only took the 30-minute boat ride.
Upon docking, we went for a bike rental. It was unplanned, though, but we had to do it. Bike rental range from P40 to P50 for an hour, depending on the kind of bike. There’s a single- or two-seater bike and that one with a sidecar. We took the two-seater one and drove around the park.
DAY 2Nov 17 2015
Our Lady of the Atonement Cathedral, better known as Baguio Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic cathedral located at Cathedral Loop adjacent to Session Road. Its distinctive pink exterior, twin spires and stained glass windows make it a popular tourist attraction in Baguio. Construction began in 1920 and finished in 1936. It served as an evacuation center under the Japanese Occupation during Second World War.
Just right outside the church, souvenirs, again, like religious items, key chains in the shape of the human phallus or strawberries are available. Speaking of Baguio’s signature fruit, visitors can indulge with strawberry taho for only P20.
Our Lady of the Atonement Cathedral
Bamboo Art Exhibit
Built in the 1920s by Don Roberto Laperal as a family rest house, this Victorian edifice known as the Laperal White House is feared among cab drivers and local residents for its notorious haunting history. The grandeur of its interior remains intact and withstood the tremor in Baguio back in July 1990. It reminded me of that manor in Charmed.
With an entrance fee of P50, the house can be toured from the basement up. The basement is where the bamboo art is exhibited. It was turned into an interrogation and torture chamber back in the day at the time of the second world war. Americans, English, French, Spanish and Chinese prisoners were held and questioned for hours. Many were tortured to death, said the large history on the wall of the garage. In 1945 Americans recaptured the property and executed remaining Japanese staff and soldiers stationed at the house.
The curator of the exhibit went on with some more gruesome and spooky tales about the house’s owners. It was said that, before the war, two children drowned in the pool in front of the house. One of the children was the Laperal’s, the other was the family’s servant’s. It wasn’t the only child that the Laperals lost. In another occasion, one of their children went out to the road and was tragically hit by a vehicle. For fear of the Laperals, the babysitter who looked after the child jumped off from the highest level of the house. Some tales vary. It was believed that the reason for the maid’s suicide was heartache. Either tales add to the frightening history of the house, anyway, attracting TV networks to feature the house in Halloween specials. It was also the setting of a 2010 film called White House that starred Iza Calzado, Maricar Reyes and Gabby Concepcion.
Presently, the house has been turned into a Bamboo Art Exhibit by the Lucio Tan Group of Companies.
The house can be eerie in the inside, perhaps, because the air is cool. But contrary to the scary stories about the house, the structure is surprisingly pleasant. It is unlike the common depiction of “haunted houses” where the house is abandoned, dusty and full of outstretching cobwebs. Although, the caretaker warned that the spirits in the house had strong presence, especially when they open the house to the public in the morning and when they close in the evening. But this didn’t stop me from going back. On April 10, 2016, I went to the visit the house again. Alone.
Bamboo Art Exhibit
The Teachers' Camp is an idyllic sort of retreat area where conferences usually take place. And it is as spooky as the Laperal house as it once became the morgue of dead people during World War II. When the camp couldn’t hold more incoming bodies any longer, bodies were transported to the Laperal house’s garage instead.
Today, the camp is still operational and visitors prefer this place for accommodation over luxury and costly hotels.
Baguio Botanical Garden
The dark history of Baguio had finally been sealed and now commemorated by the Japanese-Filipino Memorial Peace Park located in the Botanical Garden just close by. The memorial park hid a 150-meter tunnel walk that Japanese soldiers dug in order to take refuge from air raids and the advancing Allied forces as they liberated Baguio in April 1945.
The tunnel was also used to stealthily transport ammunitions or troop reinforcements without being detected by several surveillance units. On either side of the tunnel are 20 make-believe chambers caved in as though a mining took place. Water dripped in some of the chambers like a natural behavior of caves. The tunnel can be claustrophobic so visitors will have to brave their way in. The tunnel was well lit, but lights go off at 6pm.
Right at the very entrance of the tunnel stood a Japanese post like a shrine archway, representing the Japanese culture in this culmination of Asian countries (like China and Korea) within Baguio’s Botanical Garden. Those countries are represented through their signature architecture and flora just like that Japanese shrine archway.
The Botanical Garden is a sanctuary of over-towering pines and greenhouses or nurseries of little seedlings alike. Stone steps and paths will lead guests around the different areas of the Garden including an Art Gallery, a pavilion, and a row of souvenir stalls selling native handicrafts. Then there are the different relics from Botanical Garden's Igorot Village days with large statues depicting different Cordillera tribesmen and symbols.
While the entrance to the garden is free, picture-taking with the natives would cost about P20 per person per photo or even higher. Igorot tribal costumes can also be rend and worn around the area for P20 per person. It’d feel like being one of the tribesmen as you group with them for a photograph at the bronze sculpture by Filipino artist Ben-Hur Villanueva just right by the entrance of the garden.
Baguio Botanical Garden
Right after the Botanical Garden lies the huge area for horseback riding just at the foot of Wright Park known as Wright Park Riding Circle. It was a surprise to see horses which heads were dyed pink! You can ride them for P150 for half an hour, or double that amount for one hour.
Up the long staircase was the way to the Wright Park. The park had a long lagoon in the middle and across the park proper was The Mansion. Just like at the Botanical Garden, Igorot tribal outfits can be rend and worn around the park complete with wooden weaponry and dragon-like wooden shield for only P20 per person.
Across Wright Park is the Mansion. It is the official summer residence of the President of the Philippines. That means, tourists are only allowed to enter behind the gates. The rest of the property is restricted. Built in 1908 by architect William E. Parsons to serve as the official summer residence of U.S. Governor-Generals.
The Mansion was then turned over to the Philippine president together With Malacañan Palace upon the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth. In 1947, the house was rebuilt after being badly damaged during the Second World War. It has served as the holiday home and working office for each President of the Philippines during his or her visits to Baguio since.
Mines View Observation Deck
Mines View’s entrance was packed with people. It was like the commercial center of a small town. Rows of souvenir stores lined up on the side, while vendors of sweet corn, isaw and refreshments of all sorts bellow their products beside the road. It wasn’t exactly the kind of view that you want to see or linger in.
Upon entering the vicinity, more items were sold, mostly cacti of various kinds (zebra cactus, banana cactus, rose cactus and the cute and jiggly jelly bean) and delicate flowers (hydrangeas, daisies, mini-roses, chrysanthemums, carnations and marigolds) that had started blossoming in different colors. It was the most beautiful flower bazaar I had seen. The flowers looked as though they were picked from the cross-stitch of a garden. The colors were really incredible that I wanted to start my own garden of succulents. How much they were sold for, I’m uncertain, but it's the best go-to place for succulent collectors. Other travelers who’d gone there and shopped for plants said that the price would range from P20 apiece to P100 for 3. Such a really great deal if you’re a plant collector. Redding poinsettias were widely available as well since it was Christmas season then.
Further along inside are the gentle giant Saint Bernards. It was tricky to get a photo with the dogs because the person that looked after them rushed in taking photos. I couldn’t get the amount they collect PER photo but it was very costly. While Saint Bernards are among the cutest, I couldn’t seem to look at them too long because they were stressed out by so many people in the area and dusty ground.
So, we moved on to the patio where the mines view was truly magnificent to behold, overlooking at houses that had dwarfed in sight, and a hill that had evidently gone bald on one side. The patio was like a natural balcony barred with concrete railings and textured like logs. Just right above the patio was a huge rock where people took turns in climbing up on to get a photo of them taken.
Once we were out of the Mines View vicinity, a young local in an Igorot outfit caught our attention. I thought it was the best way to invite people to visit their store. The guy worked at Cordillera World, a mini-museum of Igorot-made products. It was located at the second floor of a commercial building.
The museum did not have an entrance fee but willing donors can drop whatever amount as courtesy. Inside was like a huge tent with wide array of wooden carvings of anitos and religious scenes like the Last Supper, the more common phallic symbols (perhaps, for fertility agriculturally and reproductively) and other primitive items, snake wine and even a hut in the middle! These items were for sale too.
Mines View Observation Deck
Chocolate de Batirol
We took the cab to the Christmas Village but the place wasn’t ready for visitors yet when we got there, so we chose to roam around Camp John Hay for the meantime. With very limited access to the Manor, private properties and the golf course plus exhausted and hungry, we decided to try out Choco-Late de Batirol and bibingka, served by a humble and shabby restaurant at Camp John Hay for P80 and P90 respectively. The restaurant also had a live acoustic one-man band, so sipping hot chocolate was more romantic. Although, the hot chocolate wasn’t as chocolate-y or creamy, nevertheless, the experience was satisfactory.
Finally, the gates to the Christmas Village had opened. The Christmas Village's area was approximately 2,048 sq.m., showcasing 25 Christmas trees in various sizes. These Christmas trees were decorated using recycled materials (condemned golf balls, empty plastic bottles of various sizes, shampoo and lotion bottles, key cards, buttons, soda cans, plastic bottle caps, scrap tarpaulins and lumber, wood trimmings, recycled paper, beer cases, oil cans among others) as Baguio Country Club's advocacy to support the environment in various ways possible.
The village also featured different characters from “How to Train your Dragon”, superheroes and Disney princesses. 15 miniature houses in different forms were stationed around the area, some of which were occupied by concessionaire stores and foam machines for the "snow" later. The entrance fee was P100 for adults and P40 for kids aged 4-12 years old, 3 years below are free of charge.
When it got a bit darker, the show began with a reenactment of Jesus Christ’s birth. As a chorus echoed of jolly Christmas songs, the whole village snowed like foam party, surprising everyone with awe. However, the longer you stay under the raining foam, the more damp your clothes and skin become. It would potentially start colds due to the temperature being cold already. It was fun after all. The Philippines being a tropical country, people of all ages particularly enjoyed the fake snow.
DAY 3Nov 18 2015
The farm stretched toward the foot of the hills that looked like giant walls. Each row of the plantation had a unique owner from the neighboring next. Farmers not only tend strawberries, but lettuces as well that grow on the sides of the elevated row. Some lettuces though had a space intended for them.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t go strawberry-picking because the farm was affected by typhoon Lando a few weeks earlier. On the bright side, we met a farmer who was gracious enough to offer us his remaining overgrown lettuce for free! Instead of letting the lettuce take space and just bloom flowers until such time that it was no longer good for consumption, he’d rather give it away.
Before leaving the farm, we indulged ourselves with a few samples of strawberry wine. Some were more strawberry juice than wine. They were so red and pure as if they were blood. What caught our attention was a wine called Love Potion. I was uncertain as to how much each bottle was sold for.
HERITAGE AND NATURE PARK (Diplomat Hotel)
Constructed by Dominican priests in 1913-15, this building was once Colegio del Santissimo Rosario; later became a vacation house of the Dominicans until the second world war when Japanese Army turned it into a garrison. Renovated in the 1970s to what we now know as Diplomat Hotel, it was then that strange sightings began to occur, most notably that of a headless priest.
TV shows had featured this heritage structure countless times already, mostly, like the Laperal White House, in Halloween specials or documentaries. In 2013, a film called The Diplomat Hotel starring Gretchen Barretto shot scenes in the actual location.
Sitting at the courtyard of the place considered to be the most haunted in the Philippines where, based on the chronicles, Japanese Army beheaded the babies of suspected guerrillas during WWII, was not as frightening as what others claim to be. In daylight at least! In hopes of erasing this place's dark past, the local government of Baguio has renamed it Heritage Hill and Nature Park, or simply the Prayer Hill.
HERITAGE AND NATURE PARK (Diplomat Hotel)
Baguio Craft Brewery
Baguio Craft Brewery, known for their signature strawberry craft beer called Lagud, is located along Marcos Hiway 15 minutes from Upper Session Road. Beer-lovers can get there by jeepney or cab.
Baguio Craft Brewery isn’t a typical beerhouse. The interior has an industrial feel: sacks piled on the side and barrels as cocktail tables. The bar counter is setup with 16 colorful craft beer taps, each labeled with its respective flavor. And the roof deck gives an overlooking view of the city perfect for barkada night out or a simple romantic date over beer. The temperature at night is freezing, especially during the Christmas season. Price range from P170 to P200 per glass.
Other recommended places to visit: Mt. Cloud Bookshop, Bookends, Session Road, Baguio Night Market and BenCab Museum.
Cabs in Baguio are surprisingly cheap. It is the cheapest in all the country, I believe. The flag-down rate in Baguio is only P30 and P2 for every succeeding 400 meters and P2 for the waiting time per 60 seconds (sunstar.com.ph). However far the distance you’re going, you’ll most likely pay only around P50 to P60 average.
Overall, it's best to travel to Baguio with at least one person and ready P5000 of bus fare, accommodation, food and pocket money for three days. If you’re travelling alone and become reclusive, better prepare more than that amount and be wise in choosing lodging. Check out reviews online and book in advance. Plan your itinerary and get yourself a map. And most of all, enjoy!