My original post on the Philippines was getting so long I decided to break it into two parts. Part 1 covers Manila, Olongapo, Subic Bay and Tagaytay. In this post I am going to cover our time in Baguio and a few other bits and pieces I thought you might find interesting!
Baguio is a beautiful town, high up in the mountains (5000 ft above sea level), and about a 5 hour drive north of Manila (depending on traffic, of course). The “City of Pines” was originally settled by Americans who used it as an R&R base (Camp John Hay is there and it was given back to the people of the Philippines over 50 years ago). This is a great place to visit because it is cooler as you are at altitude, and there is so much to do! In fact, it is so nice during their summer, that this is where the President of the Philippines vacations at The Mansion!
Baguio is much bigger than I thought it would be and due to the mountainous terrain is a complete maze of streets. It is a college town (there are 7 colleges there) so there is a real vibrancy and youth to the city. Standing at any view point, you feel like you are on top of the world, and it is so amazing!
We did a lot, so let’s get started!
Camp John Hay
Camp John Hay is the former US base used mainly for recreation and rest, although I was told it was also used for telecommunication purposes. The base was returned to the Filipino people and has been turned into a place for fun and exploration.
One of the activities we checked out was Tree Top Adventure. They recently changed their dress code “for safety”, so I wasn’t allowed to go on any of the activities because I was wearing a skort which was deemed “too short”. Just make sure your shorts are long enough if you want to do any of these activities. My son was able to go on his adventure with our cousin and I was grateful for that. There are several adventures you can choose from that are either very fast and thrilling or a bit on the slower side. My son decided he would like to do the Canopy Tour and the Funicular ride (it came as a package). The Canopy Tour is kind of like a chair lift that takes you to various points and exposes you to some of the amazing views the area has to offer. It lasts about 45-minutes and the rider passes through 8 points. The Funicular Ride is a 5-10 minute ride up and down. After mozying along on both rides, we met back up and he said it was good fun, but was a bit too slow for him. He is quite thin and we were a little worried about him and the harnesses they used for the more adventurous rides, plus with me not being there he was a little more cautious (something I am kind of happy to see…he can be an adrenaline-junky if we let him!). He said next time he will try some new things! Faster things!
While the boys were off on their Tree Top Adventures, the rest of the group checked out the Bell House and Amphitheater and the Cemetery of Negativity. The Bell house was built over 100 years ago, which is something quite unusual in the Philippines, especially in Baguio, which was devastated by an earthquake in 1990. The house was unaffected by the earthquake, which seems incredible to me considering the massive destruction it caused city wide. The house was named after Gen. Franklin Bell who built the house and lived here. He also built the neighboring Bell Amphitheater for $1427 back in 1914. It is a lovely place that can seat 1500 people and has hosted several shows and events since it’s construction. It is a really beautiful area to sit and relax.
Across from the Bell House is the Cemetery of Negativity. A guide told us that originally this was established because soldiers had heavy thoughts that were “holding them back”. This was a place for them to get rid of those thoughts, burying them, and moving on with life. As some of them were quite funny, the monument has endured and is included with the price of visiting the Bell House and Amphitheater. We had a good chuckle at some of the “headstones” and thought to ourselves, it is a shame we don’t still follow this tradition of burying of our worries!
Philippine Military Academy
We made a stop one morning at the Philippine Military Academy. I found it so interesting that we were allowed to come on campus and observe different practices, but after checking our credentials and collecting our fee they waved us through, along with many others. We watched the students marching in formation and being inspected by their superiors. The PMA is the equivalent of our West Point Academy, and where the finest soldiers go for their education. The academy began in 1898 and has been going strong at it’s location at Fort Gegorio del Pilar. Competition to get into PMA is very steep but can provide a good life for the men and women who attend. We were able to watch from a covered grand stand at the field.
There is a very nice museum a short walk from the field that gives the history of the Academy, explains military symbols, shows what their dorm rooms look like, how the uniforms have changed over the last 100 years (they have gotten so much more ornate, and they showed the uniforms for the ladies as well), and explains the history of the academy and some of their heroes. I thought it was really well done.
My son’s favorite part was stopping along the drive and having a look at all of the decommissioned military equipment, from Sherman Tanks to Howitzers. They span several generations of war and each comes with a brass plate explaining what they are, where they came from and some of their traits. He had never seen anything like these before, so it was really interesting for him and was able to climb on top and feel like he was driving them.
We also had a quick visit of the Departed Alumni Memorial which was quite humbling. New names were being added to the marble base during our visit which was especially poignant.
Dinosaur’s Island and Baguio EcoPark
As you drive into Baguio on the highway, on your right you will pass Baguio EcoPark which is home to Dinosaur’s Island. It is an interesting place with life sized replica dinosaurs, standing on the side of the hill. The animatronics were a bit hit and miss, but when the sensors did work, they triggered the dinosaur movement and sounds (which oddly sounded more like elephants and lions than dinosaurs). This is a very hilly area, and required walking up quite a few stairs and then back down the hill again. The park is pretty low key but dinosaur lovers will really enjoy it. The bathrooms were even shaped like dinosaur eggs, and it was good fun. At the end of your dinosaur tour, there is a small show where actors put on dinosaur costumes and dance around to some interesting music. It goes on for about 5 minutes and they like to snap at audience members trying to scare them. They also let you pose with your head in their mouths at the end of the show.
Dinosaur’s Island is one of 4 attractions at the Baguio Ecopark. We decided to check out “The Ruins” as it was part of a package deal. The Ruins, coincidentally, suffered from high winds the day before and several statues fell over and were “ruined”, but it takes you through history in a very quick way showcasing Egyptian, Chinese, and Greek history using replica relics.
Other attractions at the Baguio Ecopark include “Holy Land” and “The Renaissance Museum”.
Baguio Botanical Gardens
Baguio is a very lush city, but this garden really gives you the full sense of it
and lets you walk among the plants. It is a very peaceful place where orchids hang from trellises covering paths, sunflowers grow tall, and many other plants seem to be bursting to life and filling the world with color. There is also a small replica traditional Igorot Village in the garden, featuring native huts called “Bahay Kubo”. You will see people at the front gate dressed in traditional Igorot dress and inside the park you can dress up and take pictures for a fee. The garden was a really lovely place for a peaceful walk and for someone who enjoys plants, it was amazing to see some things in their natural environment and to discover some familiar plants as well!
Mines View Park
The picture at the top of this page was taken at Mines View Park, which is an amazing view point where you can take in mountain peaks and valleys from quite a high vantage point. You can see some of the now defunct gold and copper mines in the distance as well. This is the place to come and take it all in and really get a sense of the mountains you are visiting (sometimes it can be hard to tell you are on a mountain in the city). On the path to the view point you will find a table full of Igorot traditional dress. The ladies there will dress you for a small fee and you can take pictures with amazing backdrops. This was something we all really enjoyed.
On the path there are also stands selling plants and there were big St. Bernard’s you can have a picture with (for a fee) or a picture on a horse (for a fee). This is a lovely place to see history and learn about tradition. My son’s favorite thing was to climb all over the rocks on near the outcrop (seems I need more white hair), but as one of our first stops in our sightseeing in Baguio, it was really breath-taking and we would recommend checking it out.
Burnham Park is a gorgeous green space in the middle of Baguio. It hosts a pond and gardens, and lots of space to walk and ride. We enjoyed two activities while we were there: paddle boats and biking!
There are various boat rental places around the perimeter of the pond, but we chose based on the type of boat we wanted. It was decided we would pedal a swan boat – naturally!! We had never seen one of these before and likely wouldn’t get the chance again! We paid for a half hour and got into our swan, who I later named “Zoolander” (it couldn’t turn left either), and I pedaled with my 8 year old for 30 minutes. Trust me on this, 30-minutes is enough, especially at the speed my 8-year old pedals. I came away sweaty and tired. My kid was still rearing to go, so we decided biking might be a nice peaceful activity!
You can rent a bike for 40 Pesos an hour (about $1). Then you get to go out and join the masses. The really cool thing was the number of different types of bikes we could try out! My son fell in love with the Filipino Tricycle and was able to drive a bicycle version for a bit. Then he switched to a 2-person bike driving us around the enclosed area. He said he was starting to get tired, so he got on a 2-wheeler and just cruised the strip. It really was a lot of fun and everyone had a go on the bikes. After 30 minutes of swan boat pedaling and 45 minutes of biking, he was finally tired, so we packed up and headed out to refuel. We were hungry!
Strawberry Picking in La Trinidad
Living in the northern hemisphere our strawberries are ripe from June-July, and the thought of picking strawberries in the only other “J” month would be completely unheard of. I can now say I have picked strawberries in January!
Baguio, being at a higher altitude than other areas around the island gives it a unique climate where farming of fruits and vegetables is much easier year round. Much of the fruit and veg grown here is packed up and shipped to other cities at lower altitudes in the Philippines where they are sold at the markets.
We went out to an amazing co-op of farms for strawberry picking. It was such an awesome place. Beautiful lush, green plants everywhere. Fruits and veg growing together in perfect harmony. Bright red strawberries, ripe for the picking and eating! You check in and they give you your baskets and scissors to use. That is right…scissors! That was the first time I have ever been strawberry picking where I cut the fruit off the plant, but it makes so much sense. It is much easier on the plant and keeps it healthy.Once you pay your entry fee and have your supplies, a guide takes you to their strawberry field and you can pick until your baskets are full (or you think you have what you need). You walk back to the stand and pay by the kilo for your strawberries. You can also buy all sorts of other pre-picked fruit and veg at the stand (and it was all so gorgeous!).
Since we are on the topic, lets move on to …..
This really needs it own section. We found the food in the Philippines to be quite delicious and they were shocked how many plates of pancit my guy would eat. We have been home a few weeks and still aren’t hungry. There are so many amazing things to taste and smell, and here are a few of our favorite ideas! I have to admit though, we were really spoiled by our family making us such wonderful food at home too. Here is one feast we enjoyed, which then turned into “Boodle Fight” the next day (picnic spread out on a banana leaf where you eat with your hands…no fighting necessary!).
I love to walk through the markets in various countries to see what people are selling. It is incredible what you can find! The food sections are my favorite as you get a real sense of what the people eat and food makes up such a huge part of each of our cultures. We stopped in at several markets to see what was on offer. We saw a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, fish, meat, lots and lots of rice, and in the “dry” section, pretty much anything else you can imagine from shoes to toys to household items to clothes and so much more! We picked up some snacks for the car ride to Baguio and found a small toy Tricycle for my son to bring home. We also found him a Barong Tagalog (a traditional Filipino shirt for men/boys) to wear for his class presentation and also for the St. Lorenzo Celebration. Kids will be fascinated by everything they see and hear.
Being from Portland, food carts are kind of a big deal here. People have been doing food carts in Asia for far longer than they have been “Portland hip and trendy”. We are pretty adventurous eaters, and this sort of thing totally floats our boat. We tried lots of interesting foods and we especially love stuff on sticks. They are the best!
The Philippines has a very special hot chocolate they like to drink, using local cocoa. It is made in a very special way with a tool that resembles a honey-dipper. The liquid is basically whipped with the tool and the poured into small-ish cups for people to drink. It is very rich and thick, so a little really goes a long way. We went to a special restaurant in Baguio, called the Chocolate de Batirol, where they will make the hot chocolate at your table if you ask. Even if you don’t like hot chocolate, this restaurant has really delicious food and I highly recommend it. My son commented, “mama, I didn’t realize lunch was going to be so beautiful” when we sat down in our little hut with the flowers all around. It really was beautiful!
Pancakes, Pancit, & Pendesals!
Is it strange I have decided all foods starting with “P” in the Philippines are the most delicious things I have ever eaten? Outside of mangoes of course, because they don’t get better than what you get here. There are special Filipino pancakes that we tried that honestly tasted like clouds of sweet/salty deliciousness. Not sure if it was just that restaurant, but I will never forget them. Pendesals are also a very common item. They are like little rolls. Some have fillings, but our favorites were the plain ones, fresh from the bakery! And Pancit. This noodle dish has been a favorite at home, and it is a favorite there. My son would eat 4 plates per meal, and he said he could eat it every day (which he very nearly did).
We absolutely loved our time in the Philippines. Much of that was in large part to our family, but there is so much for families on their own to do as well. My son has promised that we will be back in 2 years, which means we have already started saving for another trip. Because as he says, “Mama, you say we can never break a promise and I promised.” I might be in trouble if he keeps making promises, but I can be assured he will take me on some great adventures. And the next time we go, we will take daddy with us!