After foiled plans to go to Bangkok (the forecasts predicted daily thunderstorms) and Bali (late booking during peak season made everything absurdly expensive), we decided on a more practical destination that we were sure to enjoy even with minimal planning.
Ry and I drove up to Baguio for his short, and only, vacation leave of the year. Not wanting to just replicate our previous trips, we asked friends who live in or frequent the mountain city for new things to try. The response was a list of food, breweries, viewpoints, and mountains to visit… too long for our measly 2 days; but we did our best, and disregarded “mealtimes,” eating whenever and wherever we found ourselves.
We left Manila at roughly 4:30 pm on Wednesday and arrived close to 9:30 pm, detouring on Aspiras-Palispis, better known as Marcos Highway, because Kennon was closed due to recent avalanches and vehicular accidents. When we had passed the last steep road, we opened our windows. The first thing I noticed, although it was nice and cool outside, was it no longer smelled like pine. The air was thick with exhaust from diesel powered jeepneys and motorcycles. It was disappointing, but I didn’t let that get my spirits down. Besides, we were too hungry to think much about anything else. So after checking into our hotel and dropping off our stuff, we headed straight for our first stop.
Located in a boxy and grey commercial building, the place was unexpectedly cozy, with woodsy interiors accented with indoor plants. The establishment took up both 2nd and 3rd levels, parts of which were occupied by the industrial vats and equipment visible through the windows. When we entered the one on the 2nd floor, the servers told us to proceed to the 3rd floor, where the full tap was. Sure enough, it was more spacious, the seating area nearly triple in size; the counter longer to accommodate an impressive tap with over 20 beers. The first order of business? Deciding what beers to get.
I only learned to appreciate beers because of Ryan’s enthusiasm, and even then I still only like a few. We ordered the tasting tray (P450), only available from Sunday-Thursday, which gives you about 6 oz of 6 beers — which is perfect because I like variety. I prefer dark beers, and so I chose the Stout Crusader (Russian Stout), Ry picked the Rolling Fog (German Hefeweizen), and Lagud (in-house Strawberry Beer). Half of the beers are pre-selected: Foly Huck (amber ale), Balls Out (a red ale), and Dalom (brown ale).
For our super late dinner and pulutan, we got the beef nachos, and later on, an additional order of the schnitzel pizza (both P320). When the plate of nachos was brought to the table, we were pleasantly surprised at the serving size; but all the more so when we tasted it, and it wasn’t just cheesy but really well seasoned, with bits of red bell peppers and jalapeños. We enjoyed it so much, we wondered if we were just hungry or if the food was really good. We got our answer when the schnitzel pizza was laid out in front of us, 2 breaded chicken patties dressed like a pizza, and that was good too.
It was 17 degrees that night, which was just the best way to enjoy hot food and a couple of beers (I liked the Stout Crusader best). Ambience was very chill, service (the young staff looked like hipsters) was friendly, knowledgeable, and fast, and we had a wonderful night.
Before heading home, I wanted to drop by the night market on Harrison Road, both because I wanted to show Ryan and because I was looking for some silver for myself. There was a ring I bought in 2014 and lost a few years ago, and I took a chance describing it to some vendors there in the hopes of finding a similar piece. What were the odds that I’d find the same design, right? But I did.
I also bought a large, locally woven shoulder bag for much cheaper than they even offer the textile in Manila. As usual, more than half of the wares were second hand clothes, and the others were overruns of foreign brands. You can usually tell the difference off the bat, but they’re also very honest about what they’re selling. If you’re ever on the lookout for quality, affordable winter wear, this is the place to look.
Completely content, ready to turn in, and very hopeful for the next day’s explorations, we retired for the night.
The next day, after breakfast buffet at our hotel, we walked toward Session Road and passed by the compound where we stayed at on our last trip together. Ryan hoped to find a local fountain pen 🙄 at Mt. Cloud. This was the first time I realized that most of the stuff they offered were by homegrown artists and authors, and I thought that was interesting (and that it’d be nice if we could park some of our books there).
By lunch time, we sat ourselves in one of the tables at Vizco’s, because I wanted Ry to try their famous Strawberry Shortcake (P110). Ryan loves everything strawberry, so it was a must. Their lemon iced tea (P55) was good, too. To burn off brunch and cake, we decided to walk to Camp John Hay and look for the eco trail that I’d been told about.
On our way there, we passed by Forest House on Loakan Road, and we couldn’t resist a quick stop for old time’s sake. I thought I was just getting a strawberry shake (it used to be my favorite there), but then Ry started ordering a Caesar’s Salad and Quesadilla. What happened to burning off our food?!
I requested to sit out on the balcony, but they said that repairs were being done (though I couldn’t see what they were pointing at) and declined, so we chose a table near the windows instead. When my strawberry shake was served, it tasted more like watered down ice cream, but I remembered it tasting like pure frozen strawberries before. I love the place, so I let them off the hook with a “maybe it’s because it’s not in season” excuse. Veggies are always a good idea in Baguio, and sure enough the lettuce was crisp; but I know my Caesar’s dressing, and something was missing for me. Was it anchovy? I was relieved that the quesadilla was as it should be: the cheese cheesy and the salsa fresh. As we settled the bill, I noticed that no repairs took place on the balcony the whole time we were there. Overall, the visit left me wanting.
We set out again, picking up where we left off. A few minutes later, we found the trail head across the Filling Station, past the entrance to a paintball facility. Following the beaten path, we came across 2 shallow water crossings, after which it was an easy stroll in the woods. Finally, the smell of fumes dissipated, and the loud noises of engines were replaced with the sounds of insects and the chirping of birds. That was the closest to the Baguio of my childhood as it got, and it was wonderful.
We didn’t know how long the trail was, but by the time the sounds of the city came trickling back into the silence, a light drizzle had started. It gradually turned into sheets of rain just as we caught sight of a gate, marking the border of the forest.
With walking out of the question, we thought it best to try another brewery back on the other side of the city. Hopped in a cab and within minutes, we were at the Podium Hotel, home of Hoka Brewery.
Despite the increasingly gloomy skies, Hoka was let lit, with natural light streaming in from the glass paneled walls on one corner, and the modern lamps hanging from the ceiling. We could see the fog creeping over the houses and trees from the balcony overlooking the city, and we were grateful to be indoors.
From the beers on tap, Vanilla Bourbon immediately caught my eye, but they said it wasn’t available… as were the next 3 beers that I wanted. I asked them why they didn’t have so many of their own beers, and that’s when they told me that they didn’t actually brew their own drinks. They were all just brought in from other places.
After tasting several, I settled for Katas, which turned out to be a light beer with a hint pineapple. Ryan got Kudeta, which was also a light beer but with a tinge more bitterness, and was on promo for 2 for 1. All beers from the tap were P155 for 330 mL, and P185 for 425 mL, but with only a handful available from the selection, it was a bit underwhelming. We both kinda read each others’ minds and agreed to go back to Craft to try more of their brews.
Only 400 meters apart on MacArthur, we went on foot. That afternoon, Craft had a different vibe, with more family-types and foreign tourists occupying the long tables. The opaque glass that covered most walls diffused the light of the blue hour and made everything appear fluorescent.
We got another tasting tray, including 2 of the lighter beers, Mango Jango and Ripe (passion fruit), and did a 2nd round of Stout Crusader. For our Nth meal of the day, we got the Sisig Lettuce Wraps (P320). With a bigger crowd this time around, service took a little longer, but when everything came in perfect order and quality, it was all good.
I know I said we wanted to do things we’ve never tried before, but just like Forest House, we couldn’t resist another oldie but goodie: we wanted massages at North Haven. For a slightly different experience, we checked out the other branch on Avelino.
We chose the coffee and strawberry body scrubs with traditional massage (P990) at the reception, before we were led up stone steps through a gate on the side. The property was humongous, with patios and tiny gardens, private cabanas, and more than 2 floors of showers and cubicles.
The treatment included a really silky hair conditioner, our choice of scrub slathered all over our bodies, steaming, and a massage that lasted an hour and a half. Some alcohol in my brain and knots being worked out of my body was blissful. It was no surprise that we had the best sleep that night.
The next day was our last, and we still had more than a handful of places to try. Most of them didn’t open until 10:00 or 11:00, so we killed time at the public market where I wanted to buy coffee and veggies, and Ry looked for food he could share back in the workplace.
I love buying vegetables in Baguio, let me show you why.
1 kg cauliflower, about 2 heads (P120)
1/4 kg bell pepper (P40)
1 bunch organic spinach (P40)
1 bunch bokchoy (P30)
1 kg carrots (P50)
1/2 kg white mushrooms (P150)
7 pieces of lemons (P40)
800 g Baguio cabbage (P45)
1 kg broccoli, about 4 heads (P140)
If you go to the grocer or market in Metro Manila, you will see the huge difference in prices. This is why I love checking out the local produce whenever I’m near any agricultural area (I get my avocados for P40/kg when hiking in Rizal!)
After dropping our stuff back at the hotel, we went to Cafe Yagam. What made me decide to check it out against 3 other cafes was a sweet potato cheesecake I heard they offered. I love everything sweet potato as much as Ry loves strawberry, so I was intrigued.
It was the first thing I asked for, before we were even seated, but the server said they didn’t have it… and the way he said it gave me the impression they never had it? My heart sank, but not wanting to leave empty bellied, I got the taro pie (P99) and a Cafe Olé, described as an arabica with chili (P95). Ry got chili cheese fries and an Irish Coffee (P120). Everything was just okay for me: the only kick their coffee had was from the chili, and was honestly more like warm milk, the pie was interesting but bland for my taste. Perhaps next time I’ll try a black coffee and some of their vegetarian options? The stir fry they had advertised looked good.
Not wanting to push our request for late check out, we went back to the hotel, loaded the car, and drove ourselves to our very last stop.
In the same area as Cafe Yagam, but higher and in a more secluded area, there were noticeably lesser vehicles on this road. A small sign hung on a post by the roadside, but their outer wall also had huge letters that read Arca’s Yard, flanked by a tinagtaggu totem on each side. It didn’t look like much from its exteriors, but the moment I entered, I was greeted by the statuette of a stout chef beside a chain fence crowded with colorful padlocks, revealing its quirky charm. The ceilings were low, and most of the decor were in the darker hues; but sunlight was spilling in from practically every direction, diluted as it scattered into every corner, giving a soft, cozy atmosphere.
We went for the terrace table for 2, which was luckily unoccupied considering they were the best seats in the house for an unobstructed view of the woods beneath our feet. There was another bulul sitting on the corner of the veranda, framing the scene of pine and sky.
Still thinking about my thwarted kamote cheesecake, I ordered their Docto Pie a la Mode (P95) and the server-recommended Cloud Tea (P60). Ry got a coffee (P50) and strawberry shake (P150), and we got the Spicy Sambal Squid (P150) for something savory to share. For a cafe, I did not expect the latter on the menu, but it turned out to be a great choice. It was warm and warming, both from being freshly cooked and the heat from the spices, a perfect complement to the chilly weather (that we were sadly about to leave behind). The Cloud Tea was a black tea layered with milk, and sweetened with wild honey. It tasted so much like arnibal, which I love on my taho. Finally, I got my kamote pie, topped with vanilla ice cream, and was not disappointed. It was not overly sweetened, with hardly any crust and only a thin dusting of nuts and sugar, it really showcased the natural flavor of the root crop. I was super curious about the kamote ice cream, but I was full to my upper esophagus by this time, so it was with the final mouthful of pie that we ended our trip.
The ride back to Manila was a little faster, descending the steep roads in daylight, and it took us a little shy of 5 hours to reach the city. BUT OH BOY, it took us another 2 hours to get from the border to our homes, and that screamed “back to reality” louder than anything else. It was good then that we were so full of chill from our short getaway, that we hardly minded the delay.
Belly and soul fueled by food and fresh(er) air, mind reorganizing the checklist of the places we weren’t able to try this time around, I know it won’t be long before I make my way up North again. Who’s up to explore some more? For those that frequent the north, anything to add to my growing list of must-dos?
We got around mostly by cab, but in more out-of-the-way places, we booked a Grab Taxi. Both were abundant and quick to hail, but our cab rides cost an average of P70/trip, while the Grab rides averaged at P140. Of course, those were also dependent on distance, but these were the rates give or take P30. Cabs there, in contrast to many in Manila (sorry to generalize) were honest and strictly followed the meter, which started at P35.
At the market, there were signs that read, “Bawal ang paggamit ng plastic bags at styrofoam” (“The use of plastic bags and styrofoam is not allowed”) in accordance to the law, but they still handed out their goods in plastic bags. When I refused and pointed out the sign to one of them, a girl replied that they comply when they are being monitored. 😒 Some stalls had ecobags for sale, and a few teens were going around peddling straw bags and their muscle to help carry goods, but I felt sorely disappointed at the majority. Maybe being away from landfills and the bays and oceans so full of trash is making them less aware of the problem behind this ordinance? I refused all the plastic I could. In restaurants, they also automatically serve a plastic straw with every order of a beverage other than water; so indicate that you don’t want one upon ordering, to help lessen waste.
We wanted to go to the strawberry farm in La Trinidad, but strawberries were off season. They recommend going between December and March when there are plenty of sweet fruit. One of our taxi drivers also suggested a different farm that had supposedly cleaner produce, claiming the popular farm in La Trinidad uses sewage water, but I can’t recall the name. 😐 Anyone know? Please share!