Alfonso Cuaron once said: “What's the point of being an Australian guy traveling through India if you are going to go to India to meet other Australians?” Now change India to Baguio and Australians to whatever you call the people from wherever you’re from, and it will still work the same. Why waste 5-7 hours of travel if you just want to shop in SM (who apparently cuts trees for profit) or hang in Ayala Technohub (which is under a company that allegedly has gross violations of farmers' rights?
What I’m saying is, as a center of commerce in the North, Baguio’s already too crowded and it doesn’t need your touristy pomp to thicken its already transient character. Restaurants, condominium and useless parks already cement the mountains. The last thing the city needs is someone who wants to take a selfie with the old Igorots in Botanical Garden and hashtag it "blessed."
Having said that, going to Baguio during the holidays is more likely a stupid idea. Because during these same dates a huge amount of pseudo-tourists (students) go down and a huge amount of tourists go up and they are just clumped up in the same area – a huge amount of everyone in that tiny space between leaving and arriving. Abandon the idea that you can fully unwind and relax because traffic is ridiculous during the holiday season. But if you really really want to go to Baguio and this is your only spare time to have a little bit of fun outside bigger toxic cities, then this list will help you at least find the local produce for the least evil of consumptions.
The places below are secret nests in the city aside from the usual spots in the central business area. They are all about being humble breathing spaces that could bring the North slightly closer to your heart. So when you finally decide to visit Baguio in its peak season, arrive and leave lightly and please avoid being the annoying tourist in town.
Most tourists go to BenCab Museum, Victor Oteyza Community Art Space (VOCAS) and Tam-Awan Gallery to have a taste of “Baguio’s art & culture”. What they always miss is this 4-floor building below UP Baguio that serves as a mine of artifacts from different ethnolinguistic groups in the region namely Ifugao, Benguet, Mountain Province, Abra, Kalinga and Apayao. Of course it is best to visit these areas if you’re all about knowing their communities and the concerns of their everday life, but the collection of Baguio Museum is a good start in understanding the Northern ancestry. The first floor is an art gallery, while the next 2 floors are dedicated in presenting Cordillera and Baguio collections. The last floor is a library.
The museum is open to all from Tuesday to Sunday, 9:00am to 5:00pm. Fee range is 10-40 pesos depending if you’re a student, a senior citizen or a regular pass. I suggest that you inquire for a guided tour at the front desk, it’s best to take that.
If you don’t like books, this bookshop will make you like them. Or, if you really don’t like books, I bet you’d be in the mood to purchase a gift for someone you know who apparently likes books.
Mt. Cloud Bookshop doesn’t only have national and international selections. They have a charming collection of regional publications as well as zines, comics, and all those good self-published DIY stuff. They also have this corner called Death by Cuteness that has hand-made products by local craftspeople.
Mt. Cloud Bookshop is located at Casa Vallejo in Upper Session Road. They’re open daily from 10:30am to 8:00pm.
Bookends Baguio is a discreet tiny bookstore tucked in between ukay stalls. This shop is amazing, last time they had a Christmas sale the trade was 1,000 pesos per crate. That means all the books you can fit in one crate will only damage you a thousand.
They have two branches now, one is in UCPB Building, T. Claudio St. and the other is in Easter Weaving, Guisad.
If you want some downtime, go to the trees. It is best to bring water and food to the woods. Walk a bit, look for a tree and read a book under it. If you don’t like reading, you can watch the crows hover above you. You just have to secure the weather so always check the sky. And your trash, my goodness, I don’t even want to say please!
It’s in our culture to celebrate departures and arrivals. That’s why we always have pabaon and pasalubong. Most tourists buy their pasalubong in Mines View or near the terminals but these places are always heaving with people. The Baguio public market, it being a market, is of course full of people also. But at least it’s not 80% tourists. There are nooks and crannies in the market that gives you awesome deals. You can buy some real good coffee for 200 a kilo. There are also vegetables, plants, flowers, spices, weavings and woodworks around. And yeah those jars of sweet things for 3 for 100.
It’s hard to describe how to get to these stalls but I leave it up to you to explore the market. I suggest you go deeper in the marketplace and not settle for those stalls in front. Besides, it’s always nice to go around this kind of place to see the transactions of the real people that make the city work.
There are lot of ukay shops in Baguio near Session Road. Even the whole stretch of Harrison turns into a big ukay-carnival at night. Obviously these places are usually where the people at, and sadly, when it comes to shopping for second-hand clothes, bags and shoes, local businesses are not exempt from being bastards. They do charge a bit higher if they pulsed you as someone not from Baguio, and the holidays ring the bells of this kind of trade.
However, to get away from that 80% tourist population and the possibility of being fooled, you can always go to Hilltop to appease your ukay needs. There are several stalls there that sell shoes for 100, clothes start at 50 and bags at 150. It is just near the market, so it is best to buy pasalubong and ukay things in one day.
If you have relatives in the area, visit them. It’s always nice to share warm hugs, stories and a bowl of pinikpikan prepared by the hands of someone you know.
If you don’t have relatives in the area, it’s also nice to stay indoors* especially when it’s raining. Spend time with yourself and a cup of warm cocoa, coffee or tea. If you’re into tea, look for some Mountain Tea in the market. It’s 20 per plastic, just boil the leaves and add honey. With that, you can grab a book to read or look out the window and watch the fog embrace the mountains bit by bit. Ah, these simple things are the most wonderful.
*For a really chill stay I suggest you check out Frangeli House. That place is too underrated for what it can offer. It’s quietly located in #1 St. George Drive, Bakakeng Norte.
If you want to party Cordi style, go to Baguio Country Sounds. While most tourists go to Nevada Square or Purple Lounge or Spade to drink and dance, home-grown cowboys party here. There is sort of a mosh pit in the middle (it really looks like a mosh pit) where boys and girls dance, sometimes their traditional dances or variations thereof, to the latest Cordilleran appropriation of Pinoy Pop and Western music. Ilokano country is also being performed here. When I first visited this place I suddenly understood what cultural hybridity means in the flesh – what is its heartbeat and how does it move.
Baguio Country Sounds is located at 260, Magsaysay Ave, Baguio.