Note: 1. This post is long and a bit personal so you can just skip the top part if you want to read more about our Baguio experience this time around. 2. The photos in this post are also not high-quality DSLR. These were taken with iPhone and GoPro cameras. 3. If you would like to read more about Baguio, you can also visit an earlier post of mine by clicking on this link: Baguio 2013
When I was younger, my family and I would go on all sorts of road trips together. At the time, it was only my dad who could drive, but he would take us to all sorts of local destinations without getting tired at all. When we finally learned how to drive, he drove less and less but he was still always eager to be along for the ride. One of our favorite destinations is Baguio, the City of Pines. This particular trip almost didn’t push through because my Dad was rushed to the hospital a few weeks before the trip. He was confined at the hospital for two weeks and was still quite weak by the time this trip rolled around. My brother and I decided to cancel because we couldn’t leave our parents behind. There was a chance that we would need to rush back to the hospital. But our parents wanted us to push through because the accommodations were already pre-paid and it was a whole week’s worth of money down the drain if we didn’t go.
Even then, by the week of the trip, I was still quite hesitant. The days and nights spent at the hospital had drained me both physically and emotionally. I felt really tired and was not feeling well. The stress finally caught up and I was feeling heaviness in my chest and having a hard time breathing, my shoulders were tight and I just wanted to rest. I had already decided that even if we didn’t push through, I would still be taking my leaves, just so I could rest. Still, I was torn since my family were already excited to go. I woke up early on the day of our trip feeling a little better and I owe it to The One Up Above for helping me make the decision.
Day 1 – TPLEX, Our Lady of Manaog, S.O.U.L. Cafe, Amare La Cucina, Mansion House and Camp John Hay
We left our home at around 3am in the morning and encountered very little traffic, despite the holidays. This was one of the reasons we decided to leave on Black Saturday. We were hoping that most of the vacationers were already off the road and we were right. We used Waze to help us navigate since this was the first time I wasn’t driving in a convoy with my brother or Dad, plus it would be our first time passing via TPLEX (Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway). It’s now the most hassle-free to get to Baguio. It bypasses the Tarlac towns and several Pangasinan towns as well. The idea is for it to go all the way to La Union but it’s still under construction. The farthest it goes today is Urdaneta.
During our trip, we noticed that some of the toll gates were removed and it made our travel hassle-free. Once you get by the tollgate entry into NLEX, it goes all the way to the TPLEX entry point. We reached Urdaneta just before 6am. The TPLEX was quite convenient because we were only a few kilometres away from the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary Manaoag. This is a very popular stop for Catholics like us. Manaoag is known for its long history of miraculous events which are also duplicated in the murals all over the church. Devotees come from all over the world to pray for their intentions ranging from good health, safe voyage or a better fate. I thought it only right for us to drop by and give our thanks for my dad’s recovery, pray for my own health and for our safe voyage. I also promised my mom I would go because she couldn’t make it. It was especially crowded during our visit given the Lenten season. We couldn’t even go all the way into the church. After saying our intentions, we dropped by the souvenir/gift shop to buy some religious articles for our families. The visit brought me peace and it was only then that I really felt myself relax and enjoy the start of our vacay.
By around 7 am, we were again on our way. After reaching La Union, we stopped by to have some breakfast at the S.O.U.L. Cafe (Spice Of Urban Life). We tried it by accident since we were eyeing the fast food restaurants first but they were packed. It caught our attention because it was located in the area where my family and I always used to stop for a break before heading up Kennon Road or Marcos Highway. We were lucky because we enjoyed our breakfast in the cafe. It was very quaint and comfy and had a small outdoor garden. The food was good and plentiful. We especially liked the hot chocolate that we even bought some cacao tablets so we could make our own. If you are ever on your way to Baguio, don’t forget to make it one of your stops. It definitely beats just any old fast food.
We decided to take the Marcos Highway going up to Baguio city since it’s the safer, yet longer route. Kennon road is prone to landslides and we didn’t want to risk any accidents. Other than the rare slow-moving car or truck, it was smooth-sailing going up. We didn’t notice any waterfalls coming down from the mountain side. That was always one of the things I looked forward to as a child on our trips to Baguio, in addition to opening our car windows on the way up so we could already feel and smell the cool fresh air. We arrived at the Regal Lexber Homes at around 11am. Baguio has become pretty crowded in the past 10 years and it was no surprise to encounter traffic on our way to the vacation homes. (Tip #1: Use Waze to find the fastest route to your destination. It may take you through unfamiliar side streets that are a bit narrow so be cautious).
After resting a bit, we decided to try out one of the popular restaurants I read about trying to plan for our trip — Amare La Cucina. It’s an Italian restaurant/pizza place and cafe located at the ground floor of the Albergo Hotel. Known for it’s wood-fire brick-oven, the place was packed when we arrived and we were lucky to get a table right away. We tried some salad, pizza, ribs and pasta. We LOVED the pizza, especially the four-cheese. I can still imagine the taste as I type away. Yum-yum! Pasta came a bit late so we were full by the time it arrived. If I’m not mistaken, we tried both the carbonara and the arrabiata. The ribs could have been more tender.
It was a short drive to the Mansion House, located just a few meters away. After the customary photos, we walked towards the small canal on the opposite side because we knew there were a lot of souvenir shops at the end. I was also looking for the Sagada orange vendors. (Tip #2: If you find them, buy some after wrangling for a reasonable price — these are some of the sweetest oranges you will ever taste and they are seedless.) After a bit of shopping, and eating strawberry-flavored taho on the side, my brother suggested we try on some of the Igorot costumes for fun. I think it cost us about PHP20/person with unlimited photos. For a fee, you can also have a photo on horseback. Wright park, popular for those who would like to try some horseback riding, is just a short distance away
Our next stop was Camp John Hay. One of our goals was to buy bread and pastries at Le Chef. We were big fans of the raisin bread and I also wanted to buy some rhum butter cake and almond bread. They actually ran out of rhum butter cake and almond bread so we had to go back the following day. (Tip #3: If you want to buy from their shop, be there early. Some guests buy by bulk and they easily run out.) The gardens at The Manor has also been a favorite hangout of ours in the past and we were thinking of spending the rest of the afternoon just hanging out. Like every other place in Baguio at the time, it was packed with guests. They had a few events planned for Holy Week and they had some attractions set up in the garden (e.g. , a small aviary and butterfly garden, which you could enter for a fee). They also had face painting, and a few carnival games for the kids to enjoy.
Other than The Manor, you can also drop by the Mile-Hi Inn where there are a number of souvenir and outlet stores where you can do some serious shopping. For other dining options, you can try eating at one of the many restaurants there or go instead to The Filling Station for some coffee and snacks. Take your kids to the playground, visit the cemetery of negativism on the camp grounds, or simply just lay down a blanket and enjoy the cool afternoon under the pine trees. There’s lots to do at Camp John Hay and you can be sure to find activity for just about everyone in the family.
Here are a few more photos from Camp John Hay:
Day 2 – Shopping at the Good Shepherd Convent and Mines View Park
On Day 2, we started our day a bit later since my brother had to go back to Manila. After lunch and some unfinished errands at the Camp John Hay, we went to the Good Shepherd convent and Mines View Park.
The Good Shepherd Convent is known for it’s strawberry jam, ube jam and peanut brittle. We’ve been going to the convent to buy these old-time faves since I was a young girl and no visit is complete without bringing something home from their store and this time wasn’t any different. Just outside the convent grounds are also some vendors who sell strawberries. I was lucky to buy some of the bigger but more expensive variety which I prefer.
As for Mine’s View Park, I didn’t get to see the view myself but my family said that it wasn’t what it once was. The overpopulation in Baguio hasn’t helped the view. Good thing I was there for the shopping 🙂 Right across the park is a long line of souvenir stores where you can buy native merchandise such as wooden chopping boards, ladles, knitted bonnets, sweaters, shawls and a lot more. You can also buy some potted plants or visit the silver jewellery shops. Who can forget the chocolate flakes which I soooo love?!? Let’s say that by the time we finished shopping, the car was lot heavier. After making a quick stop at a nearby supermarket for some vanilla ice cream, it was time to head home. Another family tradition was to eat vanilla ice cream with Good Shepherd Ube and strawberry for dessert. This time was no different.
Day 3 – Regal Lexber Homes, Baguio City Market and The Secret Garden
On our 3rd day in Baguio, we started our morning by taking a walk around Regal Lexber Homes. You can read more about it in my earlier post which you can check out in the link at the top. It hadn’t changed much from 2013 except for the fact that the reception/clubhouse no longer functioned as such and there were definitely less guests. 😦 In contrast, it seemed like there were more permanent residents. It still had it’s quiet appeal with it’s silent streets and awesome mountain view. It’s far enough from the city proper that you could enjoy the silence and calm of the view while enjoying the cool breeze. At night, the fog rolls right into your living room and if you are lucky, try looking closely at the surrounding plants, you just might see fireflies — insects we haven’t seen in Manila for a long time.
Here are some more photos from Regal Lexber:
By mid-morning, we were on our way to the Baguio City Market. I dreaded the challenge of finding parking downtown. I knew it was going to be tough even though it was the Monday after Holy Week and most of the tourists had probably left. After a couple of rounds around Burnham Park, we finally found a pay parking area at the end of session road near the overpass complex which is a short walking-distance to the market. Once there, we were able to buy fresh vegetables for a bargain. I was also to purchase Sagada oranges and lemons for a very cheap price. Baguio longganiza is also one of our faves and taking a photo with the long chains of longganiza has always been a tradition. There also a long line of souvenir shops inside the market if you want to buy more ube, strawberry jam or peanut brittle.
For lunch, we headed to South Drive to try out another fast-rising Baguio restaurant, The Secret Garden Resto & Cafe Co. It’s located off the main road and it’s easy to miss. You can park on the side street or a little further along the road. It’s known for think-crust, brick-oven style pizza, pasta and Filipino rice dishes. Upon entering the premises, a short walkway leads to some outdoor seating in a small garden. We picked a table inside to escape the noon sun and was surprised to see the quaint ambiance inside. Being a Monday and past the normal lunch hour, we had the place pretty much to ourselves.
We started with a prosciutto and cheese salad which we soooo loved! It was accentuated by slices of strawberries and grapes which made it fresh and well-balanced. Yummy! We also ordered a variety of rice meals like Sweet & Sour Fish, Beef Salpicao and Beef Tapa. Food was good and very filling. Every dish came with small slices of strawberries and oranges, you surely won’t forget that you’re in Baguio. They also served refreshing pitchers of lemonade that we could not get enough of. Overall, we loved the experience and it’s a stop we recommend in case you are ever in the area.
We wanted to make another stop before we ended our day and tried going to the Cafe By the Ruins for coffee and dessert but unfortunately, we could not find any parking. 😦 It’s really congested in the area and their parking space is very small so I guess we will have to try it next time. Hopefully the local government will be able to address the traffic congestion in that area and provide for more parking spaces.
Day 4 – Drive Back via TPLEX
It was time to head back to Manila and since it was a Tuesday, our car was only allowed to be on the main thoroughfares between the hours of 10AM to 3PM. We had to leave early just in case we encountered traffic along the way. The downside to passing via TPLEX is that we could no longer drop by the Villasis ‘Bagsakan’ or the open air market where vegetables and fruits were dropped off by nearby farmers/distributors and sold at cheap prices. We also missed dropping by one of our favorite restaurants in Tarlac — Vilmar. 😦 Nevertheless, be on the look-out for souvenir stores by the side of the road before you reach the TPLEX entry point. You can still get a good bargain for onions, garlic and Pangasinan mangoes along the way.
It took us roughly 6 hours to reach BF Homes in Paranaque. We encountered moderate to heavy traffic along some parts of EDSA. 😦 But we were safe and finally back home 🙂 We enjoyed our trip to Baguio. It was a relaxing 4 days and I was happy we pushed through. I needed the time away from the stress of my normal to just chill out and enjoy quality time with my family. With the new TPLEX route, the distance to Baguio seems a little shorter so we will definitely be back soon.