Chalk Art on Session Road. Photos by Jerome Baquilar

Chalk Art on Session Road. Photos by Jerome Baquilar ()

Baguio has a long history of being the coolest city in the Philippines, perhaps most famously having started back in the late 19th century when then-Governor of the Philippines, William Howard Taft (who would go on to become the 27th President of the United States of America), started the process that made Baguio the capital of the Philippines during the summer months. This was due to the pleasant, cooler weather compared to the rest of the country, thanks to its nearly mile-high elevation. But more on the “cool” stuff later.

American influences As you can probably tell from the first paragraph, the city of Baguio has a lot of “Americana” in its history. The city’s urban design was created by American and world-famous architect Daniel Burnham, who also had the cities of Cleveland, San Francisco, as well as Manila, Philippines, on his urban planning resume. Burnham’s design of the city was centered on Burnham Park, one of the top attractions of the city and one of the few places in the Philippines where you can easily ride a rowboat, at Burnham Lake.

If you’re from Kansas or have been stationed there, it might warm your heart to travel on Leonard Wood Road, which connects the central city to some of the tourist attractions on the east side. Camp John Hay, a former U.S. Air Force installation and originally a U.S. Army base, continues its legacy as a recreational area with many facilities and features dating back to its days as a military base. And with its abundance of trees, hilly landscape, and golf course, it may remind military members and veterans of places such as Tama Hills or even Camp Zama in Japan.

Top spots to see Aside from being the most American city in the Philippines (or perhaps even all of Asia?), there are many other reasons for tourists both from abroad and other parts of the Philippines to visit Baguio.

Mines View Park might be the most scenic spot in the city, if not all of the Philippines, with a vantage point offering a view of the mining areas and mountain range to the east of the city.

Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto offers a similar experience, except with a view of part of the city and closeup views of the many trees and flowers at the site. You don’t have to be religious to come away worshipping the experience at the Grotto, but might need to be at least somewhat fit to walk the 252 stair steps leading up to it! And the altitude makes it even more challenging!

If you’re short on time but love scenic spots, simply traveling to (or out of) Baguio from the “lowlands” on any of the main, winding mountainside roads leading to the city (Kennon Road, Marcos Highway, and Naguilian Road) gives you lots of great scenes of the mountains, city, and even the ocean! One of the highlights is the occasional fog that adds a unique accent to the scene; combined with the trees, mountains, and even the city scene, it makes the city look magical, mysterious even. The Baguio fog often makes its appearances in the cooler times of year, from November to February, but it also frequently appears when it’s raining, especially during the rainy season from July to September.

Interacting with the city Once you get enough of the views in and around the city, there are also more “interactive” ways to enjoy and connect with the city. Wright Park, named after the Philippine governor at the time who directed the development of the park by, yes, Daniel Burnham, is a wooded area most famous for horseback riding. The aforementioned Burnham Park has various activities available for visitors; aside from row boating, you can rent and ride bicycles of various types, roller skate at the rink, or simply walk around the park and take in the scenery and the many flowers at the park.

If you want to give zip lining or even paintball a try, Camp John Hay is your place for that. With the adrenaline rush from those activities, you’ll be in the vicinity of a variety of good food (and buffet-style dining) to feed that appetite, both at the camp and the adjacent Baguio Country Club.

Food scene Speaking of food, the dining scene in Baguio is also unique. With so many different restaurants of various cuisines, from local Filipino dishes to international ones, all over the city, you can enjoy almost anything here. And the coffee culture is on par with the food scene here; with the cooler weather, it’s a natural fit, and the cafes are popular not just with Baguio citizens but perhaps even more so with visitors from the lowlands, finding a source of warmth in a climate significantly cooler than their hometown.

Sundays on Session Road So, about the coolest part of Baguio, it can be described with one word, or one day: Sunday. That is when Session Road, the city’s main street, closes to vehicles and opens up to the artistic and fun types of the city (and beyond). Chalk artists create beautiful scenes right on the asphalt of the road, musicians perform on the street, various vendors sell their artistic creations, dancers perform for the curious crowds, and cosplayers get into character to pose for and with everyone who wants a photo (and taking those photos happens to be the creation of another work of art!). Cosplayers at Session Road

Session Road is like the streets that close in Tokyo on Sundays such as at Akihabara and Shinjuku, but with a lot more action, organized attractions, and fun! The number of cosplayers on Sundays at Baguio far exceed what Harajuku used to have. In a city so full of things to see and do, the scene at Session Road on Sundays is the best for me; you get to take in the vibe and personality of the city and its people.

Truly paradise! Once a popular and easy getaway for US service members stationed in the Philippines, and currently a very popular weekend and holiday spot for Filipinos, Baguio holds a place in my heart as a paradise, as it will always be the coolest city in the Philippines (literally) and one of the coolest cities in Asia (figuratively).

Speakin’ Tagalog

Hello!: Kamusta How are you?: Kamusta ka? Excuse me.: Ipagpaumanhin nyo po. Goodbye.: Paalam, (Sa muling pagkikita.) What’s your name?: Ano ang pangalan mo? My name is…: Ang pangalan ko ay.

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