Baguio, a city located in the Cordillera Administrative Regio (CAR) in Northern Philippines, was labeled as the “Summer Capital of the Philippines.” Maybe it’s because of the cool-weather climate, usually playing between 17-10 degrees celcius during the summer season. The temperature can be attributed to the fact that Baguio City is located 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) above sea-level and is considered Luzon’s tropical pine forests ecoregion conducive to the growth of mossy plants and orchids.
Baguio is a go-to destination of many Filipinos even before the whole cheap-airfare fads began or the ubiquitous “Summer at Bora” became a by-word among Filipinos. Incidentally, I hate it when people call it “Bora”. Geesh, it’s Bo-ra-cay — 3 syllables, one word. As if calling the island “Bora” will make you ten thousand times cooler (and the Aklanons hate it either when people call the island “Bora”). But let’s save the rant for another post.
Usually, fond summer memories among generations of Filipinos are made in Baguio. Whether it’s the pony rides, the trip to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) grounds and eyeing cute cadets or the strawberry and ukay-ukay (flea market) shopping near Burnham Park.
For our family, Baguio has become very synonymous to the Queen (my younger sister) who finished her bachelor studies at the University of the Philippines Baguio a decade ago. That time, we spent a lot of summers and Christmas vacation going up the mountains to spend time with the sister. Now, after ten years, she came back to continue her communications career. She now lives and works in Benguet (a good 45 minutes away from Baguio City).
I decided to spend my last birthday in Baguio, taking the opportunity to get away from work. Since we have been to the city countless of times before, we decided to take our own sweet time and just go to the places we want to go, and have no set itinerary in mind.
If you’re family is like mine — adventurous but a very loud and complaining bunch, up for anything except anything that will cost them too much and easily gets bored with the usual scenery — why don’t you try to adapt our itinerary when we were at the Summer Capital last May? This itinerary applies to those who have been to Baguio at least once and have done their share of doing the usual “touristy” stuff.
1. Always drop by Cafe by the Ruins – to appreciate artworks from Baguio and Cordillera-based artists and enjoy the freshly baked herbed bread!
The cafe is located at Shuntug Road and can easily be found. Just ask the locals or even the friendly cab drivers and they’d be glad to bring you there. The name Cafe by the Ruins is because the Café was built by the ruins of the gazebo of the 1st American-Governor of Benguet AND the Café is built AROUND the ruined walls of the house of Phelps Whitmarsh, the late American Governor of Benguet. The walls were ruined during World War II, and the remaining walls (with bullet marks and all) was beautifully preserved and incorporated in the place, complimenting the various ornamental plants and the artistically designed interior of the cafe itself.
For my birthday lunch, we ordered their Special Kare Kare, Baguio Bagnet and Cheese Lumpia Straws, plus six orders of rice. We haven’t eaten a decent meal after leaving Manila and we were famished!
2. Discover the art of Tam-Awan Village – is located in Pinsao Proper and is quite a long taxi ride from the city proper. The village contains original native houses transported from their original location in Ifugao. You can also find the so-called Garden in the Sky on top of the carved mountain side (it’s a long and slippery trek but the view up in worth it). Tam-awan is also a venue for artists’ exhibits and cultural shows. Entrance to Tam-awan Village is PHP50 for adults and PHP20 for children.
If you have senior citizens within your group, it might be a bit tricky going up the Garden in the Sky. For folks with really weak legs, I suggest you skip going up and just enjoy the sights offered at ground level or on the lower part of Tam-awan, though it really depends — my dad is 62 years old while my mom is 58, both managed to climb. Going down is another matter all together due the slippery slope. My mom slipped, but it’s all good since she didn’t hurt herself and we managed to have a video of her slipping and hugging a tree. It was funny. Point is, ask the oldies if they’re comfortable going up.
3. Spend time at Burnham Park just chilling out and taking pictures – you don’t have to do everything just because you’re at Burnham Park. When we were there, we spent time sitting on the benches eating various Baguio delicacies and street food (strawberry taho, anyone?). We also took photos and just chatted. You might get tempted to do the time and tested “boat rowing” which is almost synonymous with staying at the Park. You can rent one of the boats (with their animal-shaped Paper Mache heads) for roughly PHP60 for 30 minutes. Tried this when I was younger and it’s a fun activity with friends. Or better yet, ask your crush or girlfriend/boyfriend to ride the boat with you and have your mini “MTV” moment while rowing in the waters of Burnham Park.
Instead of going the usual route of restaurants and fast foods, why not try the rows and rows of canteens and food houses inside the park? We did, and it was a pleasurable dining experience. We spent about a PHP 1,000 for a mid-noon meal for a group of six and we had more than enough to fuel us for the trip going to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).
4. Play soldier and remember our nation’s heroes at the place where they were educated and molded, The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) – Entrance to the PMA, the country’s premier military institution, is free but you have to register at the gate. Also, the PMA does not allow its visitors to enter the campus in slippers or sleeveless tops (for women). They follow a strict decorum in terms of the attire and the behavior of its guests. As the training ground for future soldiers and military officers of the country, its visitors are expected to follow the ground rules.
I mentioned that this blog is for a “laid-back Baguio adventure” but a trip inside the PMA is a test of endurance because you will have to walk or hike (if you don’t have a private vehicle). This is especially tricky when the sun is shining its brightest. Despite this, I assure you that it’s worth it. Upon entering, you will see many statues like that of the young Filipino general and hero, Gregorio del Pilar as well as the PMA Cadet’s hat which is located in the middle of the road. Worth checking out is the Monument for the Fallen Alumni which contains the names of PMA graduates who went ahead of their “mistahs.”
The best place inside the campus is the Relic’s Point, containing tanks, humvees and canyons that will make any war buff salivate (like the Queen), nearby you will find the Korean War Memorial Monument.
The Philippine Military Academy is located at Fort del Pilar, along Loakan Road. Learn more about the PMA here.
Of course, there’s a lot of things that you can do in Baguio, like visit The Mines View Park, The Mansion, the Lourdes Grotto, hear mass at the Baguio Cathedral, among many others. The above activities are the things we did during my birthday celebration last May. For a more comprehensive list of Baguio attractions, you may go here.
Lastly, I will tell you a secret.
It’s about this awesome Chinese restaurant along Session Avenue, near the Baguio Cathedral and located on the second floor of an old building.
Mandarin Chinese Restaurant is one of Baguio’s oldest restos serving top-notch, quality Chinese food at affordable prices. The first time we went here, two years ago to be exact, all five of us had no idea what to expect as my brother lead us into the second floor of a really old building. Inside is a chinese restaurant that seemed stuck in the 1950s with its old decor and vintage furniture. The menu was a no-nonsense list of some of our favorite Chinese favorites while the servers looked like they’ve been with the restaurant for the last 30 years.
But if you will go past the old decor and the feeling that you are stuck in an old Wong Kar Wai film, you will notice how the old server (he is also the one who served us when we went back last May) is kind, efficient and very helpful. The food is served warm and fresh. The vegetables were very crisp, the viand tasty and filling.
I didn’t have any food shots because we were very famished when we had our dinner that the food didn’t stand a chance as soon as it was placed in front of us. For a group of six, we paid roughly PHP1,400.00 for a set meal.
* All information indicated in this blog is correct during the time it was written. All photographs are the property of LM Suzon, otherwise, due credit is given to source.