Sunday, August 26, 2007

Baguio: The Road To Take

Well well well… who does not know Baguio?!

The summer capital of the country, the place that let a thousand flowers bloom every February, the place where your mom and grandma would go for an AUV-full of vegetables so you end up eating ceasar salad from morning till night – in three consecutive weeks! Any more memories?! Yes, the ukay-ukay capital of the country – definitely with more choices than you have in all of Cubao and Aurora Boulevard, right? I cannot disagree. But for me, there are a lot of other (good or bad) things Baguio worth remembering!

For now, let’s talk about the various ways on how we go up to this summer capital.

Getting there
Easiest is to take to the air and land at Loakan Airport, 4251 feet above sea level – which is actually still “below” the city of Baguio. Flights from Manila take less than an hour but you will need land transportation from said airport about 20 or so minutes to the city proper. Don’t worry, there are jeeps and cabs!

For the commuters, most common is of course Victory Liner. Metro Manila folks would agree that in all likelihood, they have known Victory Liner because of Baguio. Others have even dared go to Baguio car-less because of Victory Liner. And we are thankful they now have a website, right?! Indeed! And we realize that all their terminals in the metropolis (except Kamias) have trips to Baguio with Pasay having as many as 30 or so trips a day – that means its not just every hour!

Then again, many a traveler knows (esp those who come from Baguio), there are other buses that regularly run to and from the city such as Dagupan Bus, Dangwa Bus, Genesis, Partas and Philippine Rabbit to name a few.

There are generally three road approaches to the city – via Kennon Road, via Naguilian Road or via Marcos Highway. Most everyone would know that the Kennon Road approach is shortest but trickiest due to many steep and zigzagging narrow portions with landslides during rainy months. This is the very reason why it is now off-limits to buses, trucks and other big vehicles. The Naguilian way is more convenient for people coming from the Ilocos area as it starts down by the seaside town of Bauang in La Union province. While it is a bit wider than Kennon, it still is rather narrow for me, plus there are a lot of smaller vehicles using that road, and it’s not even spared by landslides when the rains come. The most common way to Baguio these days is of course via Marcos Highway which is the usual way of major bus companies. Yes, Marcos Highway does have its share of landslides at times, but this being a major road is aptly watched and maintained by the DPWH. There is even a “tunnel” and a looong skyway nearing towards the city to avoid landslides!

There is also the Halsema Highway if you are approaching Baguio from the other northern Cordillera towns and there is even that road from Aritao in Nueva Vizcaya. Unless you are driving your own 4X4, I won’t suggest you take that last route!

Hey hey hey, wait… what about my memories?!

My various approaches to Baguio
For a number of times, I have used those approaches described above except that I only did the Halsema and Aritao approaches once each. Friends and family keep discouraging me… and they have prevailed so far :)

By Air. When I was a little kid, there were times we went up there via the smaller crafts of Philippine Airlines. I think those flights stopped after the infamous earthquake that claimed many lives. What I do remember on those flights is that the airplane was mostly traveling over land (unlike going to the Vsayas or even Legaspi) and there would always be a lot of clouds until we landed. In short, as a kid, flying to Baguio for me was a boring hour just listening to the drone of the big electric fans on each side of the airplane. Sometime ago, in a rush for an important life-event, I had to fly via Asian Spirit. It was uneventful. But when I added the times spent from the time I left the house in Quezon City (to the domestic airport) until I reached my destination (Hotel Veniz), I realized it was virtually about the same span of time if I took the Victory Liner or asked Mang Manuel (driver) to whisk me through)! Y'know, you have to be at the airport at least 2 hours before departure, and so on.

By Bus. Ah this had always been the most interesting way for me going to Baguio. And almost always it has been via Victory Liner. Why do I like it? Am not really sure! I always like it just the same. But let me “attempt” to describe these experiences perchance you can help me point-out why I like riding the bus to Baguio.

Foremost that I like is the price (compared to the airlplane) as the bus is about 5 times cheaper. It is also cheaper than bringing a car since Baguio is 250++ kms from Manila. Yes, when there’s too many of us, I oblige doing the convoy thing! In a bus though (Victory Liner that is), there is no worrying about flat tires or overheating radiators or tune ups! Hmm, I sound to be just searching for plausible justifications but if I may download what I have in mind… here are the primary reasons… 1) I still can drink beer during the night time trip; 2) There is a comfort room (I always choose this kind of bus); 3) I can stretch my long legs well enough for utmost comfort; 4) I have a better view of the outside sceneries during daytime travel (bus is taller than any AUV); and, 5) on arrival, I am free to leave the vehicle without a care for anything needs to be checked!

Yeah of course, on a full bus, we sometimes get to socialize with other passengers or spot somebody or something to buzz and laugh about for the entire duration of the trip hehehe! And I think I remember many things during these bus rides!

Oh, please don’t think I am a Victory Liner fan (even if I truly am) as I have taken other buses direct to/from Baguio. There was even a time I couldn’t get on a bus with comfort room from any of the Victory Liner stations on my desired departure time. After some calls, I ended up riding the Maria De Leon bus from behind UST all the way to La Union, where from a corner I had to hop on a Partas bus that came from Laoag going Baguio! I thought that was excellent. Why? Go check-out the Maria De Leon buses. They’re clean and orderly – even tidier than Victory Liners, I think. Plus the bus that I chanced upon has its comfort room by the middle of the bus and below the passenger cabin. Can’t imagine it?! Oh go forth and check it out! Not to be left out are the Partas buses. They’re also fine – though my greatest experiences with them were not trips to Baguio but to Abra. I love the 'fully reclining seats'!

By Car. Many a times, I have gone up to Baguio by private vehicle, at times driving with family and other times with friends. The fastest so far was a drive with a friend (only two of us in his CRV). On the other hand, the longest trip I ever took to Baguio was also via this kind of conveyance. Imagine us (four vehicles) leaving Quezon City at 6AM and arriving in Baguio almost 9PM of the same day! There was neither a single car breakdown nor any road mishap. This is just what happens if you set out to Baguio without an objective! Everything by the roadside becomes a photo-op and every food you see is worth tasting. Beware, you could catch yourselves visiting all the malls and handicraft stores along the way starting from Pampanga haha!

Road memories
Naguilian Road. I have passed through this road only four times (as of yet), twice was going to Baguio and the other two on my way to the beaches of San Fernando (La Union) from Baguio – all in a span of 3 days (see below).

This would be the farthest route to take if you’re coming from Metro Manila because in fact, it approaches Baguio already from the northwest. That means you have to travel from Manila further north than Baguio is, then head southeast via another bus. But I loved my Maria De Leon bus ride – and I almost never got off at Bauang entertaining a thought why couldn’t I go straight to Laoag first, then take a bus from there to Baguio!

Approaching Naguilian Road is actually the most interesting part for me rather than traveling along it. I love the bus breezing through highways that are mostly by the seaside. From Rosario passing via Sto. Tomas, Agoo, Aringay, Caba and then Bauang… oh the waters are inviting! Then again this was all about Baguio so I had to remind myself that I was going for the boondocks and not the surf! Sniff, sniff!

It is always wiser, as I did (per instruction of a friend), to wait at the defunct gas station (or is it open again?) by the corner of Maharlika Highway and Naguilian Road. A lot of jeeps, mini-buses and vans will be competing for your patronage all offering a ride to Baguio. Don’t ask them when the next Partas or Victory bus would come by as they won’t tell you exactly (so you’ll ride with them). This road passes at least three towns (Naguilian, Burgos, Sablan) that will slow the bus a bit. ANyway, the sometimes concrete and sometimes asphalt finish is definitely better than that of Kennon Road’s sometimes asphalt sometimes bare earth finish!

Having passed this way just four times, I don’t have a lot of fond memories except that when the climb starts, your bus starts pitching and turning via a zigzag road while avoiding smaller vehicles going to or coming from Baguio. There seems to be more traffic in this area. Up in the mountains, the road does have traces that is has its own share of landslides though definitely fewer than Kennon Road’s. Naguilian Road has its own blind curves and very sharp curves by the mountains unlike at Marcos Highway.

On these few occasions that I traveled along this route going up to and coming down from Baguio, I saw 1) a tricycle versus a car mishap; 2) a van that rammed part of the outer stalls of a mini-grocery; 3) a truck coming from Baguio with its right-hind tires that fell to the side of the road – good thing it was by the mountain and not on the other side (a cliff); and 4) a mini bus lying on its back some 10 feet or so down below the road – it must have fallen off and rolled down or flipped while traveling!

Now, why did I pass this way four times in just a span of 3 days? Well, I went to Baguio on a Firday and returned to Bauang & San Fernando on a Sunday. Upon arrival I immediately hit the beaches of San Fernando. While lazing around by the sand, sea and sun… I realized I left my cellphone up at Benguet Prime Hotel. Called them up, the phone was being safekept at their front desk, hurried up to Baguio again, then back to San Fernando’s beaches! So I have trodden Naguilian road four times! Bow!

Marcos Highway. This is the main lifeline to Baguio nowadays. Oh yes, its new and official name as of today is “Jose D. Aspiras Highway”! Just the same people commonly refer to it as Marcos Highway.

The road is generally expansive and mostly concrete. This is the usual (if not the only) bus route that bus companies use when carrying passengers to Baguio from Metro Manila. And this should also be your preferred route if you are driving up to Baguio for the first time or if you are new at driving! While there are less of the great sceneries you would experience at Kennon Road, there are a good number of things to interest you while on this road.

Buses take the same route from Metro Manila ( via NLEX, Pampanga, Tarlac, Pangasinan) until they reach Rosario, La Union where instead of heading up to Kennon Road (not anymore allowed) they’d veer left by some kind of a rotund, keep onwards to the more populated place of Rosario, then enter the Marcos Highway heading right towards the town of Pugo and all the way up to Baguio. From that expansive junction that looks like an autobahn intersection, there is no missing the correct way to Baguio as there are no more major forking roads or splits.

As the climb starts, aside from the usual breathtaking farm sceneries, you’ll be regaled by a number of craft stores that fashion fallen tree-branches and roots into various things like furniture, home utensils, decorative items and the likes. There are also a lot of decorative wood carvings from as tiny as a matchbox to as gigantic as a door frame or a dining table! If you’re on the bus, just be quick to spot them and probably have your cameras ready. There is no stopping. If you were driving, start talking animatedly to your mom or grandma (if you can’t get them literally blindfolded) to keep them busy and away from seeing those. Otherwise, they’d surely request that you stop by those stores for them to ogle and tinker at those marvelous works – even if they won’t eventually buy anything! Right?! Oh shopping! Why so can it now be done even at the edge of a forest!

As your climb moves on (its Mt. Sto Tomas), watch out front-left for the remains, if anything can still be seen, of the “Marcos Bust”. A few fortnights ago, we had a very hard time showing it to one of my nieces as foliage would usually obstruct the view PLUS the bust is actually a thing no more.

The Marcos Bust, yes, was an attempt to copy the busts of four US Presidents carved unto Mt. Rushmore. This one was not carved but a concrete “building” about 30 meters high which was supposed to serve as club house and central edifice of the now also dilapidating Marcos Park that was supposed to have a golf course, hotel, conference buildings and other resort amenities. When that bust was still intact, there was a viewdeck with a fantastic view of the vast lands and the sea below.

All I can tell my niece now is: bad the intention may have been for putting up that structure, but the morons who blasted it should never have done so. Had they left it untouched – even maintained it – the bust could have been a “monumental” reminder for all of us that something useless was done with the people's money. Then the next generations could still learn from a negative example. Anyway, it was not Marcos nor any of his family members who cooked up the idea of erecting such an edifice in order to immortalize himself. It was the then Department of Tourism head who wanted to lick ass on his (then) president and unfortunately, his idea was bought by the (then) first lady.

Anyway, for you who have not been to that place, you may even have to consider if indeed the whole idea of the Marcos Park (and the bust) was really worthless. Why? Because as of now, various clans who previously sold their lands in that area, the governments of two provinces, the tourism department and their lawyers are in the midst of some legal quandary who will take possession of the Marcos Park. Why? Because all of them have their very own ideas on how to earn from it – like making it a school, a resort or whatever else! See?! Had they let the original plan move, it probably should have been earning for all their families and constituents, at least for the last two decades!

Going further up this route, the primary thing to watch out for would be behind you as the bus climbs up to the clouds. Hep, hep, this “behind” by the way, is sometimes to the left of the bus and sometimes to the right as it keeps turning along the road. On a clear day, your heart will pound at the spectacular views of the South China Sea down beyond La Union and Pangasinan esp if it were early morning or late in the afternoon. The waters down in that far distance seem to be so calm, and it shimmers under the sun… beautiful! Now, imagine if you’re coming down from Baguio along this route where you actually face the grand scenery. Fantastic! BTW, when you're already up at that level, do keep looking down below the road. You might chance upon 3 or 4 levels of this zigzagging road - also a nice view!

Watch out too for the various ways the government has attempted to thwart erosion and landslides along the way. Must be expensive! There are portions where something like wire/steel fences have been erected. There are also portions where the mountain or hillsides seem to have been concreted once and for all, with little round holes dotting them (I hear those are drainage holes, for water to seep out?). There are portions where the sides of the road have been fashioned out to look like a neatly arranged rip-rap of rocks and stones. As you keep watch on all those anti-landslide things, you encounter foggy areas where even at noontime all vehicles light up! Hmm, you must already be near Baguio!

Then there is the tunnel. Yes, a concrete tunnel with “windows” so you can still see the views of the forests below! It reminds me of the numerous Avalanche Sheds far at the Alpine Mountains. And that tunnel in Baguio is no different. It is there to shield commuters from avalanches, only this time, not from snow but from heavy hurtling and rumbling bare earth, mud, rocks and boulders. Golly!

Watch out too, just a few meters from the tunnel is a “skyway” or a “flyover”. I want to call it a skyway! It is that concrete road spanning on concrete posts erected from down below the hills. Government engineers made it so, probably because they cannot anymore carve a road from the mountain, lest it again crumble and fall upon us travelers! Yes, this skyway is more like that highway along the Brisbane river and also like the Patapat viaduct – only this time its not over water but over high cliffs and ravines. Oh my, I’d rather fall to the waters hehe!

Kennon Road. As we said earlier, Kennon is no more for any kind of bus. So there are no more dizzying twists of the bus along the zigzags. There are also no more heart-pounding wonders when the undersides of a bus would make those various sounds as it negotiates a steep climbing curve amidst traffic. Hah, how many times did I ever think the bus might fall off a cliff or might roll backwards while it stayed suspended in such a berserk position? Countless! There are also no more green & wet virgin forest views plus the occasional wild animal or bird by the roadside or even crossing the road. There are also no more feelings of awe, wonder and apprehension when a bus halts in wait inches from the side of an obviously freshly eroding mountain – and you never know if pellets of earth, boulders or entire mountains would come crashing towards your bus or your bus and the road would go fall off a cliff! Lastly, there will be no more of the most-awaited watch for those women and children with flags who help to control traffic along those steep, narrow and sharp curves. No they were not girl-scouts doing there semaphore signals! Do you remember them? Good if you do! But do you remember that they did it so that motorists would dole out coins to them as a sign of gratitude? And did your bus drivers do so? Seldom, right?! Well, if you don’t remember any of these, sorry, you have just missed another interesting fact about Baguio’s history.

Oh yes, because there is no more Kennon Road for the bus riders, there is also no more casual and passing view of the “Lion”. Do you remember what that is and its significance? No more free and breathtaking sceneries too that Kennon Road offered the bus riders of yesteryears. Aside from the dangers of the road and those flag-waving women and children, passengers would usually be on alert to look-out for another great view at each bend of the road. Left and right were such inspiring views of winding roads above or below your bus; pine trees and other greeneries; rivers silently cascading amongst rocks and boulders; mountains covered by thick fog slowly revealing themselves; and even waterfalls – all by the roadside! The buses never had to stop for the passengers to see those! Spectacular views were everywhere in more than 40 kilometers of winding roads and bridges that any bus rider will never get to experience anymore (as of today anyway).

But don’t worry, there is still a way to visit this place. And that is: 1) don’t ride the bus but drive along Kennon Road or 2) hire a tour from Baguio!

You’d be interested to realize that there is a new enterprise in this historic road. A number of van operators (similar to the V-Hires of Cebu) offer regular and even privately hired trips from both ends of Kennon Road. You can easily spot them at the Rosario (La Union) junction – just before you enter the tollway – yes, Kennon road is now a protected tollway. These vans ply this route mainly for faster commute via Kennon Road, so chances are you will be cramped with all passengers inside the usually tinted vehicles. The drivers are very used to this road so they drive furiously fast. Thus, you’re not assured you’ll get to catch a glimpse of the beautiful sceneries. Better to hire them privately if you want to tour.

Kennon Road Trivia: Did you know that contrary to common notion, the Japanese people did not come to this country only during the Japanese Occupation of the 1940s? As early as 1902 and 1903, about two thousand of them were already here. Yep, they were mostly engineers and laborers imported by the Americans to help in carving out from the Cordilleras what is now Kennon Road (previously called Benguet Road). Many of those Japanese folks died during that arduous carving of the mountains. Some of them returned to Japan. Some of them lent a hand in their country’s violent & shameful bid to occupy this country. Still some of them just married and settled with the womenfolk in this country. And that latter case, my dear folks, was how your Pinoy Traveler (yeah, that’s me) came to exist after 2 generations from the procreation of a Japanese road worker in Baguio and a Spanish-Filipina Mestiza!

Oh well, via whichever way it may be, enjoy your trip to Baguio!


  1. Great post and information about Baguio, sir Pinoy Traveler.

    Well, been to Baguio twice already since i had my own car last year, but only took Marcos Hiway. this coming october, we are planning a trip again, but this time, we're going to try Kennon Rd.

    Since this post is already ~4yrs old, I would like to ask how is Kennon Road already these days? Has it improved or worsened based on your baseline post on this blog?

    Looking forward to your response. I am excited to try different route to Baguio with my trusted old CRV.


  2. Hi Ash,
    I last passed by Kennon road last June and it was fine. Still scenic with most everywhere still like a forest. Am not inclined to believe it will worsen since I saw (and heard) that it is still very promptly maintained due to its touristic value to Baguio. Not sure about these days though, like after typhoon Mina if anything has happened there. Do check your brakes. I think that'd be most important.

    Enjoy! and am looking forward to read more stories on your blog :)

  3. The road trip through the mountain terrains to Baguio was a great adventure to keep. It is worth to ponder the cold breeze of this place.