Baguio beyond the usual

The Ten Commandments Building, Baguio’s newest attraction and The wooden cottage charm of Forest House

THE last time I was in Baguio, that northern destination known as the City of Pines, was a little over three years ago and it was nice to again be feeling the cool (12 degree Celsius), crisp Baguio air as my son Jandy and I joined my wife Grace’s E. Ganzon Inc. company outing. As in the past, we all stayed in the company-owned, 137-room Albergo Hotel where we were all welcomed by General Manager Gerry Beltran. The hotel is just a stone’s throw away from three of Baguio’s usual attractions: the horse riding mecca of Wright Park, the Mansion House (the summer residence of the Philippine president) and Mine’s View Park (just another tourist trap). These we could easily visit in our free time.

The horse riding haven called Wright Park

The entirety of the next day was reserved for a different kind of city tour, and Jandy and I joined Joel Jimenez, the hotel’s sales and marketing consultant, in his car.  The whole morning was spent at the Philippine Military Academy in Fort del Pilar, the country’s version of the US West Point, which was just 5 kilometers from the hotel. Here, we watched cadets (in their gray and white uniforms) drilling; explored the PMA Museum and Korean War Memorial; and saw (and touched) some mean military hardware (tanks, howitzers, etc.) on display at Relics Point.

Our lunch was to be at Forest House, a popular bistro and café, with a wooden cottage feel, tucked into busy Loakan Road. Here, we dined on a delightful and tasty fare of Forest House Wine Sauced Chicken, Stuffed Fish Fillet in White Cream Sauce and Pancit Canton complemented by freshly brewed Benguet Arabica coffee.

The iconic Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto

Our city tour continued with a visit to the iconic Lourdes Grotto, a Catholic shrine and pilgrimage site established by the Spanish Jesuits in 1907 on the hilly western part of the city. Normally, the grotto is accessed by climbing the 252 steps but, to save us time (as well as the effort), Joel drove his car up a winding, narrow, and steep asphalt-paved road, all the way to the top. Here, we had our first panoramic view of the city.

Just a little over a kilometer away, along Dominican Hill Road, is the  abandoned Dominican Hill Retreat House (more popularly known as the Diplomat Hotel), a favorite spot for photography, airsoft tournaments, filmmaking, wedding receptions and photography, cosplay photoshoots, and many more. Despite it being in ruins, almost every tourist that goes to the City of Pines now makes it a point to visit this place because it is one of the most panoramic and picturesque spots in the city. However, due to its brutal and grim World War II history, it is considered by paranormal believers to be haunted.

Beside it is the Ten Commandments Building.  The newest tourist attraction in Baguio, it serves as a symbol that drives away evil spirits that may emanate from its haunted neighbor. This A-shaped, 12.19-meter high “prayer building,” with two slanting slabs of stone carved with the imposing 152.90 square meter. Bible’s Ten Commandments, broke the Guinness World Record as the world’s first and tallest facility that features the Ten Commandments.

Baguio City is the place to buy strawberries as well as fresh vegetables, all of which can be bought in the Public Market. However, nothing beats getting them fresh from the source itself, the nearby town of La Trinidad, and that’s where we proceeded next. The Trinidad Valley is home, aside from vegetable farms and flower plantations, to strawberry fields that are in full bloom between November and May. Upon arrival at the town, we dropped by the Strawberry Farms. Due to a process of tissue culture pioneered by Benguet State University, the hardworking Ibaloi farmers here have been able to produce the best, disease-free strawberries in the country.

Upon entering the rows of fields, members of our group started the fun activity of picking the choice strawberries and vegetables to bring home.  Though these cost more than those in the public market, they were still cheaper than the ones sold in Manila. We also sampled the strawberry-flavored ice cream and taho, as well as sweet corn, sold by vendors by the entrance. From nearby stalls, you can buy all sorts of souvenirs such as t-shirts, hats, key chains, Baguio brooms and other delicacies like peanut brittle; bottled ube and strawberry jam; native wine, among others.

Back at the hotel, we culminated the day’s activities with a buffet dinner, videoke singing and line dancing at Albergo Hall.


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