If you’re given an opportunity to visit Baguio City in the month of December, would you take it? Chilly wind, cold temperature, pine trees, nice view. I bet you would, the same thing with the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visited Baguio City in December 2008. We’re included in that thousands.
When my wife “asked” me if we could spend the new year countdown (see fireworks here) in the City of Pines, the Summer Capital of the Philippines which we happen to include in our top Christmas destinations for 2008, of course I said yes. I heard that the temperature in Baguio this time is really cold. I also heard that traffic in and around SM City Baguio is a mess, but that’s another story.
So we set out to prepare for the long drive with the entire family. Shopping for chichirya or junk food for the long drive – check. Spare tire, repair kit for flat tire and general vehicle tune-up – check. Your car conking out during the uphill climb at Kennon Road is not really pretty. You could choose to take Marcos Highway, instead of Kennon Road, as the road condition in Marcos Highway is better and the climbs are not as steep. Still, I prefer taking Kennon Road because the views are more scenic and travel time is shorter. The Lion Head is also found along Kennon.
This is the first time we passed through SCTEX, or the Subic-Clark-Tarlac-Expressway, on the way to Baguio. The SCTEX cuts the travel time by almost an hour because of the smooth, uncongested roads (they should set the maximum speed limit at SCTEX to, say, 160 kph). From the North Luzon Expressway (NLE), there’s an SCTEX entry point at Dau, with the exit in Tarlac City. You’ll miss passing through Hacienda Luisita, but the good thing is that Isdaan Restaurant (Gerona, Tarlac) is still along the way.
There are so many changes along the way for the two years since I’ve been to Baguio. One of the changes I would love to see is the clearing of heavy traffic through Urdaneta City, brought about the ongoing road construction (which is ongoing for years now, just like the construction in South Luzon Expressway). Because it was the peak travel time, it took us around 30 minutes to pass through a short stretch of road at Urdaneta City, but my head was cooler because my stomach was already full at the stop in Matutina’s (in Urdaneta City, strategically located before you go through the traffic mess in Urdaneta City). Seafoods is the name of the game, so better order Inihaw na Bangus or Inihaw na Pusit (or you could order pansit, crispy pata and the lechon kawali).
There are a number of interesting places that you’ll pass along the way. When you see huge statues of white herons, you’re entering Gerona (read: he-ro-na), Tarlac, where you’ll probably drop by to enjoy a meal at Isdaan Restaurant. When you see a statue of a huge black bat, you’re in Paniqui, Tarlac. Nice, huh? Now that you get the drift, let’s see if you could guess what’s the appropriate statue for a town in Pampanga (province before Tarlac) – Sexmoan (Sasmuan). Hmm, let’s not get into that. Let’s just say the view on the way up to Baguio City, through Kennon Road, is a relaxing experience (for me, at least).
Because it’s a long holiday, many were going to Baguio and the queue at the toll gate at the foot of Kennon Road was long. This brings us to an important reminder – if you’re bring a car, make sure to have it checked and conditioned before hitting the steep climbs going to and within Baguio. And if you’re not familiar with the city roads, by a Baguio map in bookstores and also in some gasoline stations. It will make your life easier in looking for the tourist spots, some of which are included below:
Burnham Park. It’s a combination of many things, but the heart of Burnham Park is the water world. Take your kids boating around the man-made pond (or is it a lake?). Rate: P100 for 30 minutes for each boat and add P20 if you want to hire someone to do the paddling for you. There’s plenty of fingerfoods being sold around, like boiled corn, peanuts, etc. There are also restaurants within the park (Solibao Restaurant) or the surrounding areas (Rose Bowl Garden, which serves great food). The surrounding areas also contain the ukay-ukay. Burnham park is near Session Road, the main road within the city. Read more about Burnham Park.
Mines View. We did a mini-poll and found out that Mines View is the top choice, at least among those we asked. This isn’t my top choice, so feel free to express your preference on this one through the comment section below. Anyway, the Mines View offers a panoramic view of the mines – let me rephrase that: it allows visitors to witness the majestic mountains surrounding the area where mines for gold and other minerals WERE located. It has a viewing deck but that area will only consume around 10 minutes of your time. A bigger chunk of your time will be spent around the souvenir shops. Be sure to haggle for the price.
The Mansion House. Just learned that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today unveiled the centennial marker at the Mansion (I figured she’s around because of the number of police in the vicinity). The marker reads: “Constructed at the instance of William Cameron Forbes following the design of William E. Parsons, as part of the Burnham Plan for Baguio, 1908. Inspired by the City Beautiful Movement. Venue of the Special Session of the Second Philippine Legislature, 1910. Destroyed during war, 1945. Rehabilitated, 1947. Venue of the U.N. Economic Commission of Asia and the Fareast (ECAFE), 1947; The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Southeast Asian Union (SEAU) known as the Baguio Conference of 1950. Summer residence of American Governors-General, 1908-1935, and later of Philippine Presidents from Manuel L. Quezon to the present.” One more thing, I heard its gate is patterned after that of London’s Buckingham Palace.
Wright Park. This is sometimes erroneously spelled as “write” or “right” because it’s the way it sounds. This is the mother of all horse-riding parks in the Philippines, although the huge concentration of horses may not be welcome for those with uber-sensitive noses (many horse x urine from each horse, go figure). But, hey, you’ll get used to it after a minute or two and, more importantly, your kid will enjoy riding the horses more than he’ll complain about the urine. How much? The rate is P150 for 30 minutes (minimum), P300 for one hour.
Baguio Botanical Garden. Formerly known as “Imelda Park”, it’s a place where you’re supposed to see beautiful flowers in multitude of colors.
Camp John Hay. They say people could have a picnic in certain areas here, but I haven’t done that. They say the 18-hole golf course is great, but I wouldn’t know because I don’t play golf, yet. They say it’s a great place, and I say it is. If you have an image in your mind about how Baguio should look, perhaps acquired from movies shot in and photos of Baguio, then you would want to visit Camp John Hay. If you want to soak the atmosphere a little longer, try The Manor Hotel at Camp John Hay. There are clusters of restaurants within the area (Shakey’s, House of Waffle, Starbucks) so you won’t get hungry.
Philippine Military Academy. The PMA is the training grounds of the Philippine military’s corps of officers. Click here to read more.
Lourdes and Baguio Cathedral. Please click here to read more.
BenCab Museum. This is located outside of, but always mentioned in the same breath as, Baguio City because of its proximity to the city. It’s a museum, gallery, souvenir store, restaurant, workshop, garden, paradise and home of the artist, all rolled into one.Read more.
SM City Baguio. This is not a landmark or a tourist destination, but locals and tourists alike flock here. It’s difficult to understand why tourists from Metro Manila who have gone to bigger SM malls would go here. The aircon in SM-Baguio, however, is all-natural. Fresh air naturally cools the mall and perhaps it’s the only SM where the outside is colder than the department store or other areas within the mall. The tent-like roof of the mall is highly visible, including from Burnham Park. If you want to go into the debate on whether Baguio would be better off without such a huge mall in its midst, use the comment section below.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list and I’m sure there are other areas that we’ve missed in this list. You could highlight and describe those other spots through the comment section below. Thank you.