Author’s note: I’ve been a planner for as far as I can remember. I love going through checklists, I bought my 2017 planner last September, I started working on my biggest Christmas gifts since July, I even got myself a BA II Plus calculator 4 years prior to entering the actuarial industry. XD
It makes sense then that interrupted or postponed plans are quite disappointing, though it can’t be helped ’cause there usually are so many variables to consider (especially the unreliable schedules of busy people). I’ve found that unplanned get-togethers have the biggest success rate, so I had this idea to start a “spontaneous travels” series for when my friends and I would find ourselves having the free time and courage to explore the gastronomical and cultural offerings of places outside the city. 😀
How it started
One day, approximately 6 months after I set a cosplay photoshoot that got postponed due to unreliable weather (imagine how sad-looking a beach is during rainy season), my photographer friend and colleague Tristan proposed to convert it to a day-long food trip to Baguio. 😀 It was certainly feasible, since dreary weather is typical of a mountainous region and I was pretty sure that the Christmas vibe will offset the dreary mood, if any. I had no cold weather attire to use, save for my jacket from 4th grade (which still miraculously fits!).
Based on our satisfactions and regrets that day, here are our recommendations on how to survive a spontaneous trip to Baguio:
Bring cold weather clothing!
We got there in the afternoon so it wasn’t as cold as we expected, I was able to survive with only a light jacket and knitted gloves (Tristan says it’s way colder in the office, haha). It did become chilly at night though, and I bet it stays that way until the sun comes up. Good for you if you’re used to a cold environment, but if you’re like me (6 months later and I’m still not used to the office temperature, lol), it’s best to at least put on multiple layers of clothing. Fortunately there are many shops in the city that sell knitted sweaters and scarves, which make nice souvenirs as well.
Travel super early!
Unfortunately, we were only able to meet up as late as 10am ’cause he had some business in a certain bank that opens at 9am to attend to, lol. That greatly limited our exploration time cuz his family wanted him to be back in Dagupan by 9pm or to just come home the following day. This wouldn’t have been a problem if we could go there early morning for an extra 6-9 hours of seizing the day.
Plan your itinerary (even on the spot)!
Upon meeting up, we went straight to an internet cafe, rented two PCs, and took 45 minutes to simultaneously look for the items we wanted to include in our itinerary and take screenshots of maps and (haphazardly) research the walking/jeepney routes to get there. Since we weren’t expecting a fine weather, we decided to make our itinerary mainly food-based. We sorted through travel blogs and got recommendations from some colleagues.
Downloading offline maps (or having one on hand) is important to be able to get around in case of poor cellular reception. This proved to be useful when we went to the Wright Park area, where I found it hard to connect to the internet (it depends on the service provider I guess?)
Since we were both pressed for time (travel from Dagupan to Baguio took longer than expected — roughly 3 hours), we had to constantly adjust our itinerary to fit the limited time we had. There were a couple of places that we wanted to go to but had to disregard cuz we decided to prioritize proximity.
Most parks and scenery can only be appreciated during daylight, so we had to give most of them up past twilight. 😦
Estimate the expenses!
This will depend on your itinerary. It’s useful to have an idea of the bus fares beforehand (as of writing, 109php from Dagupan to Baguio, 245php from Baguio to Tarlac City, 445php from Baguio to Manila). From what I remember, taxi fares around the city usually range from 100-150php due to medium to heavy traffic. Jeepney fares have a minimum of 8.50php. In my case, transportation fee didn’t exceed 1000php. (Random note: I prefer taking the Dagupan-La Union-Baguio route because it allows me to gaze at the blue sea for an hour or so from the western window seat * u *)
For the food trip, there is an advantage to bring more friends along for a lower price per capita. 😀 We stuck to one to two dishes per resto since we’re not really hefty eaters (had to request take out and give the food to our colleague Glenn, who met up with us at the overpopulated Night Market).
We had lunch, dinner, and dessert in 3 different places, and that cost us approximately 500php per head.
Many of Baguio’s attractions don’t require an entrance fee, but for museums and special activities you might want to look them up. Food took precedence on our itinerary, but we managed to squeeze a night horseback riding session so Tristan could try it. 😀 That cost us 400php per head for 30 minutes. (It’s useful to actually monitor time-based activities using a stopwatch so that you won’t get cheated. XD)
The Baguio Night Market (opens around 9pm along Harrison Road) offers everyday items and clothing at ridiculously low prices, where you might be able to snag good buys if you’re willing to brave that stampede-prone area. XD Glenn, having been trapped in the market crowd for a few minutes, gave a few tips: as soon as you find something that catches your eye, take it and leave so you won’t be carried away by the people pushing past you (you can’t spend too much time on a certain item or section). It’s also useful to inspect the stores first from the sides of the road, that way you will more easily be able to go in and out. Tristan and I were already an extremely introverted and tired pair by that time, and we were content with just observing all the hubhub from the landing of an overpass.
And of course, if you have people waiting for pasalubong at home or at the office, you should allocate budget for that too. In case you run out of places to buy pasalubong in the middle of the night, there are several stores near the bus stations that offer Baguio products to last minute passengers (like us XD). As of writing, a pack of fresh strawberries costs 120php, lengua biscuits and choco/milk flakes cost 80php (medium jar) or 120php (large jar), a small jar of strawberry jam costs 100? I forgot D: There are souvenir shirts and keychains as well.
Book a place outside the city! (optional)
Log into any hotel booking site and you will find that Baguio is 100% booked this Christmas season (the major hotels at least). It’s also inconvenient that provincial buses are in high demand and we were unsure about the schedules. To address this problem, we recommend booking accessible places just outside the city. For example, as insurance against the worst case scenario (having to extend our stay but with no place to stay), we reserved a resort room by the beach in La Union, just before the corner to the straight road to Baguio. We didn’t have to check in in the end cuz he suddenly had a work emergency to attend to and had to leave Baguio as soon as we’re done. But he did agree to split the “insurance risk”. 🙂
Have enough cell load and battery!
I did something stupid: left home with my phone only on 68% battery. Also something smart: I brought my phone cable and a 13000mAh powerbank. It turned out to be more than enough to recharge both my phone and Tristan’s several times, but just in case, we also borrowed some from Glenn. 😀 I’ve found that using GPS services and accessing the internet is quite taxing to the battery percentage. Also, it’s best to have enough load for mobile data and communication with friends in case you get lost. (I was low on load but wasn’t worried about getting lost since Tristan is freakishly tall and I was wearing such an attention-grabbing color XD) Sometimes the same stores that offer Baguio products also sell cell load. Alternatively, your gang can agree to head to a landmark (e.g. Jollibee in the middle of the Night Market) in case one gets lost, or to hang out in a cafe until the phone batt is charged well enough.
Talk to the locals!
Ugh, the bane of an introvert’s existence! But if we didn’t manage to pull it off (thanks Tristan!), we probably wouldn’t have gotten our food orders much earlier, and we wouldn’t have received guidance on which directions and alternative jeepney routes to take (apparently “Baguio-Plaza-Liteng” also travels to the Mine’s View Park’s direction, haha). It helped that I can understand some Ilocano, the dialect of most locals we encountered.
Bring some medicine and neck pillows!
Tristan once mentioned that he has a bit of motion sickness so I brought whiteflower for him just in case. I felt sick in the evening, like I was about to catch a fever and throw up, but a little yogurt (comfort food!) fortunately helped. It’s going to be useful to bring medicine and a first aid kit anywhere one travels, especially if one plans to go hiking. The neck pillow is obviously for lengthy travels, if you don’t want your head to sway around so much on the winding roads up/down the mountain (also if you’re too embarrassed to lean your head on your travel partner’s shoulder, but too bad I didn’t bring one >///<)
Next time we’ll drag Chris (the third guy in our trio) along for sure, so our colleagues won’t have to ship us incessantly upon return >_> I look forward to our future trips! Time to earn vacation leaves 😀
Check out Tristan’s food reviews on his instagram profile, he’s so much better than me at making up photo captions and describing things XD