They say it’s more fun in the Philippines.
So there goes our reason for packing our bags to leave our home in the middle of summer and travel thousands of miles to go to Manila.
The mind-twisting 18 hour plane ride and the long and winding lines at the airports are like ceremonial potions that we have to drink so we can transport ourselves to the land of our birth, our heritage, our families and of course, our favorite local treats.
Local treats would range from the Philippines’ famous desserts such as Halo-Halo and Leche Flan, the traditional yet not-really-seasonal Puto Bumbong, mouth-watering dishes from a range of old and new fast food joints and restaurants and yes, the awesome travel destinations.
In June, the rainy season in tropical Philippines is usually in full swing but that’s not a reason to dampen the adventurous traveler’s spirits in exploring and enjoying what the country has to offer.
This year, our first destination was the City of Pines, more popularly known as Baguio City - also known as the summer capital of the Philippines.
Baguio City sits on top of a mountain so travelers have to climb up the paved uphill roads built around the looming mountains beneath the city in order to reach the famous tourist spot.
A “highly urbanized” city within the Benguet province in Northern Luzon, Baguio is home to more than 300,000 residents and haven to many tourists who love the city for its history and scenic beauty.
Based on our own observation, it takes motorists traveling from Manila who probably left their homes at the crack of dawn six hours or more to reach Baguio City not because of the long distance or the traffic but because people just make way too many stops.
Travelers stop for bathroom breaks or pause for an hour or two to eat a meal or some snacks or enjoy some ice cold drinks or buy souvenirs or fill up their tanks and check their tires or take group pictures and selfies.
The list never ends.
The pit stops normally take place in gas stations scattered along the roads - located in a huge complex - sharing the space with a host of restaurants and shops that cater to the needs of their favorite customers – travelers from all walks of life and origin.
We ourselves were guilty of “filling up” in more than one gas station in every major city or town that we passed through.
We had flat tires after flat tires going up to Baguio.
At one point, we even had to make a full stop at Kennon Road amidst the steep cliffs and the mountain ridges to assess our chances of making it to the top in one piece without using our carjacks and spare tires. We almost got rained on had we not decided to move on in the hopes of finding a vulcanizing shop in the middle of nowhere.
We discovered that the road leading up to the mountains is traveler-friendly.
There were many small vulcanizing shops offering tires and car maintenance services along the way. There were even single gas pumps and mini-stores selling basic necessities.
First Night in Baguio
We reached Baguio City by dusk and were scooped up by the landlord/owner of the house that we rented for two nights. We wanted to cook so we decided to stay at a three story house that had a patio and a big kitchen.
The hills going up and down the subdivision where we stayed at were amazingly narrow and steep. At night, it was harder to navigate because of poor visibility coupled with the wet and winding roads. Amazingly, our vehicles managed just fine.
Because of the scattered yet heavy rains, we were not able to set out to enjoy a taste of the city’s night life. Instead, we got holed up in the well-known SM City mall that seemed to operate using nature as its air conditioner.
The Sun Did Come Out
Day 2 in Baguio was relatively “sunnier”.
Although we missed out on riding ponies or bicycles, gliding in the skating rink or boating at the lake at Burnham Park, we were able to get off our cars to walk to different areas of the park.
We bought coffee beans, scarves, beanies, straw hats, blankets, wooden brooms and handcrafted artwork at the local market including local delicacies such as the ube (purple yam) and strawberry jams.
We also posed for photos with one of the cute and well-trained St. Bernards hanging out in the park with their agents/owners.
At Camp John Hay, we enjoyed doughnuts and iced coffee at J.Co and Starbucks that were facing each other in one of the more urban commercial strips in the area
We also explored the exquisite gardens of the classy Manor Hotel and enjoyed a few cups of their brewed coffee and vanilla ice cream.
For dinner, we visited the popular Forest House Café and Bistro located near Camp John Hay. The restaurant looked like a cozy log cabin filled with comfortable couches and wooden furniture.
Our group occupied almost half of the restaurant as the staff accommodated us by joining eight small tables together. The food was superb and the restaurant's interiors were pleasantly rustic. The only downside to our great dining experience was the staff telling one of us not to charge any mobile phone at the restaurant for more than 15 minutes.
Although the mind-boggling gesture killed the mood for most of us, the manager made an effort to explain why they didn’t allow phone charging in their restaurant.
What We Learned in Baguio
The rain and flat tires, being told not to charge a phone in a restaurant and not being able to see friends for a nightcap were not the only party poopers in our Baguio adventure. There were many more including a tension-filled trip to the Emergency Room in the city hospital for one of our family members in the middle of the night in the pouring rain.
Going back home, we had to drive through the thick fog, scattered rain, slippery roads and a handful of rocks on the road due to mild landslides while making our way down the mountains.
But as they say, “All’s well that ends well.”
We definitely learned a lot during our Baguio trip. Here are a few:
- Stay in a nice hotel where friends from Baguio can come over safely and fuss-free for a chat over drinks and pastries despite the rainy weather.
- Make sure mobile phones are fully charged before heading out.
- Customer service should be stretched much longer than say, fifteen minutes.
- Get a good doctor’s check-up and stack up on medicine before traveling.
- Long distance driving requires highly reliable, if not new, tires.
- Don’t make too many pit stops.
- Enjoy the journey despite the mishaps.
- Family and friends are underrated.
- If we stick together, we can do anything.
- We are absolutely coming back.
What happened in Baguio should not stay in Baguio. Please share to those who love to travel.