Kiangan Side Trip

More like a scrumptious lunch break from the 7+ hours drive from Manila.

It was an eagerly anticipated side trip, a delectable meal guaranteed.

Taken from the 2nd floor:  Left photo — where Dr. Kalugdan entertains while Dra. Kalugdan happily slaves away in her territory that is the kitchen (right photo).

The Kalugdans are perfect hosts.  Their charming house, which they designed themselves, overlooks a fantastic view of the Ibulao River.

We went rafting there once and that was how we got to know them.  Lovely couple.

Kiangan of course is more than rafting and scrumptious meals.  It is also where Nagacadan Rice Terraces, one of the clusters inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, is located.  I have yet to explore this historic town and first on the list is the Philippine War Memorial Shrine – a gigantic memorial shrine commemorating the end of WWII.  It was in Mt. Napuluwan in Kiangan where Gen. Yamashita surrendered so it might be worthwhile to check out the site as well.

Historic town and rice terraces aside, the town boasts of many natural wonders as well.  Ambuwaya Lake is one.  4 km from the town center and is said to be reachable by 4W drive vehicles.  Uttu waterfalls is likewise on my list of must see.   Someday, Kiangan will not be a side trip only.


Banaue Rice Terraces

Credits: Quickpage by LCP using the “You are Awsome” collaborative kit created by J Sprague.

Construction of the terraces is carried out with great care and precision. An underground conduit is placed within the fill for drainage purposes. The groups of terraces blanket the mountainsides, following their contours. Above them, rising to the mountain-tops, is the ring of private woods (muyong), intensively managed in conformity with traditional practices, which recognize a total ecosystem, which assures an adequate water supply to keep the terraces flooded. Water is equitably shared, and no single terrace obstructs the flow on its way down to the next terrace below. There is a complex system, of dams, sluices, channels and bamboo pipes, communally maintained, which drain into a stream at the bottom of the valley. – UNESCO

This is describing a structure built more than 2,000 years ago.  Awesome, isn’t it? Although because of the presence of many modern structures around, the Banaue Rice Terraces was not included on the UNESCO list of “World Heritage in Danger”, it nonetheless holds the same complex trickle-down irrigation system that the UNESCO inscribed clusters have.  And these clusters, all found in the Province of Ifugao, are Nagacadan Terraces in Kiangan, Hungduan Terraces, Central Mayoyao Terraces, Bangaan Terraces and Batad Terraces.

A very touristy thing to do.  For a fee, one gets to be photographed with these Ifugao women.

The Banaue Rice Terraces however, despite the exclusion, remains to be the more popular tourist destination due to its accessibility and proximity to town, which is proving to be both harmful and beneficial to the land.

These stonewalled rice paddies is considered one of mankind’s greatest engineering feats and is every Filipino’s pride.

The terraces as seen on our P1,000 bill.

The 8th wonder of the world (as many Filipinos call it) begins at the base of the mountain and extends upland following the contours of the mountain– almost 5,000 feet above sea level.

This is North Luzon’s most famous sight and one of Southeast Asia’s most popular tourist destinations.  Famous not only for its sculpted beauty but for the traditional craftsmanship and cultural landscape dating back many centuries and is preserved to this day.

That said, these terraces are slowly being abandoned and already showing signs of damage and deterioration due to the lack of maintenance.  Many of the new generations would rather pursue work outside of the rice fields, opting to be guides or drivers.

Banaue is some 348 kilometers away from Manila and a good 8-10 hours drive.  It is a small market village sitting about 1,500 feet above sea level.  The town is not exactly enchanting, thanks to poor planning but it has its own appeal, me thinks – how can you go wrong anyway when breakfast comes with a view like this?

At Sanafe Lodge

Useful Info:

Sanafe Lodge and Restaurant
Contact no:  +63 74 386 4085 (Banaue), +63 920 950 4644 (Mobile), +63 722 2110 (Manila)

Casa Vallejo: Back To Life

More than a hundred years ago, the Americans develop Baguio into a hill station. They also established Camp John Hay, Brent School, and Baguio Country club during that time.  Not long after, Baguio became known as the Philippines’ summer capital and in 1909, Casa Vallejo was put up to accommodate many of Baguio’s visitors and continued doing so for the next 20 years.

This white wooden structure located along Upper Session was an inn for the 1st 20 years and at one point, a detention hall and a temporary annex to the Baguio City High School.   When the government closed it down in 1999, many feared demolition but survived as well as many old timers fought to preserve the structure, particularly the pinewood used to build the inn.

With a little tweaking but with the same quaint charm, it stands today back to life as a boutique hotel– every piece of pinewood intact.  Old window panes were said to have been screwed back and the rotting wooden floors were replaced with pinewood salvaged from other parts of the inn.  The number of rooms was reduced to accommodate bathrooms on each room because the old building had common baths.  The stairs leading to the ballroom were restored.  And the ballroom now turned into Hill Station (that cozy restaurant that serves lovely food) was where government official and socialites back then used to dine and wine.  With so much history (from its glory days to its near fatal fate), it is a pleasure to be staying in one of the remaining American structures still standing on the original government center.

It being an old structure though, the rooms and especially the bathrooms are not as spacious.  Luckily our room was facing the back, more like the parking area, because unfortunately with all the cars, Baguio does not boast of fresh air like it used to many, many decades ago.  I can imagine the noise and pollution we would have to bear if our room faced the road.  A Deluxe Room for P 2,599 for 3 people is a good deal.  It comes with free breakfast albeit limited choices at the Hill Station.

*Information gathered on its restoration found here.

You’ll also find Mt Cloud, a nice little bookshop (as they called it) that carries many interesting foreign and local titles.

Although cramped, for some reason it was conducive enough for me to find 2 books right away.  I would have found more if I had stayed a little longer.

Just beside Mt Cloud is North Haven Spa.  We didn’t think twice to book us a blissfully relaxing indigenous body massage just before we called it a night.  Great decision.

Except for a few hours at BenCab’s Museum, we practically spent most of our time in Casa Vallejo not having the slightest desire to even walk over to SM Baguio for some wonderful sunset views.  We were so content just being lazy.

Useful Info:

Casa Vallejo
Upper Session Road
Baguio City
Phone +6374-424-3397
Mt Cloud Bookshop
North Haven Spa

The Flavors of Old Baguio

My face lit up when A announced that “Mitos recently opened her own restaurant”, and all I could think of was the Fabada she served at her home one time we were in Baguio, that was last year.  Needless to say, we had to go that very evening.  We went back the next day with more friends in tow.  And I’ve been back one more time since then.

Mitos is Mitos Benitez-Yñiquez and her now famous restaurant is called Hill Station.  She, for the longest time, managed her family’s renowned Mario’s Restaurant in Baguio.  Her new restaurant is within Casa Vallejo, the boutique hotel built in 1909, renovated and open again for business along Upper Session.

Inspired by American colonial architecture, the main dining area has high ceiling, big French windows and wooden floors.  It also has 2 elegant staircases that lead to the hotel. Warm and cozy that makes you want to linger.

The food celebrates the flavors of Old Baguio, one of the last hill stations of Southeast Asia.  The menu offers a variety of slow-cooked hearty meals.  Lots of stews and some really good curry dishes.  Slow-cooked meals somehow evoke a sense of comfort and complement it with the homey, cozy atmosphere, who wants to go anywhere else?

Yes we spent the afternoon in a cozy corner of the restaurant reading, chatting and enjoying our cake and coffee until it was time for dinner.

Everything or almost everything is homemade — from the breads to the pastries to their ice cream.  As you enter from the bar you will see a shelf of potteries on sale mostly by famed potter, Lanelle Abueva and the Sagada Potters.  Along with it are homemade goodies by Mitos herself, for sale as well– salad dressings, salsa monja, salsa brave, granola, bihod, some jams… if I could bring them all home, I would.

I couldn’t stop raving about Hill Station to my friends in Manila hence the trip to Baguio early this year.  We got a room at Casa Vallejo and spent most of our time there – more on this on my next post.  We also wanted to try everything on their menu, which suffices to say is impossible for 3 people spending only a weekend there.  But with what we are able to cover, here are our favorites:

Tuna Tataki with Wasabi Mayo

Isn’t it obvious?  So good it was gone before I knew it.  Take my word for it… go for this.  The tuna seared very briefly then sliced thinly and seasoned with freshly cracked pepper that gave the tuna a nice kick.  Dipped in wasabi mayo… absolutely heaven.  A great appetizer just before we moved on to the main dining hall.

Home-made bread with Moroccan spice blend and olive oil

First I must say that this spice blend is brilliant.  What a way to whet one’s appetite.  The thing is, you need to control yourself lest you regret it once the main entrée arrives.

Left to right:  Grilled Shiitake and Grilled Tomatoes; Hill Station Green Garden

Hill Station Green Garden — mixed greens, tomatoes, blueberries, white cheese, caramelized walnuts and topped with a sesame-miso dressing.  What’s not to like about this salad?  Great combination and I’m always a sucker for miso or sesame dressings… this was an obvious choice.

Grilled Shiitake and Grilled Tomatoes — we had this over lunch the next day.  It was on their list of Specials.  A really nice blend of ingredients.  Shiitake with all the flavors and the tomatoes grilled and slightly caramelized… a winner.

Clockwise:  Cambodian Coriander and Garlic Chicken; Crispy Duck Flakes; Indian Lamb Curry; Steak and Prawns Peri-Peri

Cambodian Coriander and Garlic Chicken — marinated overnight and charbroiled.  Yum!

Crispy Duck Flakes — had this on my first visit and I highly recommend.  The duck was simmered for hours and then flaked and fried resulting to a dish full of flavor.  And to add to this flavor is laing sa gata.  Unforgettable.

Indian Lamb Curry —  my friend AH was all smiles when he had his first mouthful of this gorgeous curry dish.  I tried a mouthful too and I agree with his smile.  The lamb was so tender and the curry rich and tasty.  A scrumptious dish that epitomizes slow-cooking.

Steak & Prawns Peri-Peri — it had me at Peri-Peri, a famed South African dish that I enjoy a lot.  Was not disappointed.

Left- right:  Tortilla de Patatas and Chorizo Bilbao; French Toast

French Toast — made from home-made whole wheat bread, of course I must have this.

Tortilla de Patatas and Chorizo Bilbao — saving the best for last, I instantly fell in love with this tortilla.  It raised my love for anything chorizo to the next level.  A dish of eggs, potatoes and good quality chorizo bilbao, have it with the baguette and the salsa brava con chorizo bilbao… wicked!  Wanted to have more than just a few bites, unfortunately it was not mine to do so.  Makes me want to go back to enjoy again, this time I’ll order the dish.

Hill Station is worth a trip to Baguio, I guarantee.  And while there, look out for a bubbly lady with a hearty laugh, that’s Mitos.

Useful Info:

Hill Station
At Casa Vallejo
Upper Session Road,
Baguio City
Contact No.:  (074) 424-2734, 423-9100 or 423-9558

A Museum of Art and Nature

A short ride from the Baguio City center along Km 6, Asin Road stands a modern white building that is BenCab’s Museum.  A 4-hectare project of the National Artist for Visual Arts, Benedicto Reyes Cabrera, more popularly known as BenCab.

The Master of contemporary Philippine Arts traces his beginnings in Mabini where he painted and ran an art gallery with his elder brother Salvador Cabrera.  He then moved to London, gotten married to a British writer and eventually established for himself a name of international recognition.  When his marriage ended, he relocated to Baguio in 1988 and along with other artists formed the Baguio Arts Guild.  BenCab being a tenacious admirer and collector of Cordillera Arts also formed his own group of artists when he established the Tam-awan Village, an art center that promotes Cordillera traditions.

So it is to no surprise that aside from the BenCab Gallery, which presents a range of his works of different periods, sizes and styles,

the museum also houses a Cordillera Gallery displaying a collection of tribal artifacts and indigenous crafts of the northern Luzon highlanders.

It also showcases artworks by contemporary Filipino artists – Cesar Legaspi, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Fernando Zobel, Arturo Luz, Ed Borlongan to name a few.  A collection he accumulated through the years.

Aside from promoting art, a major part of its mission is to preserve, protect, and conserve its natural surroundings.  And how?

The museum commands a breathtaking view of the adjacent organic garden, its surrounding mountains and the South China Sea on the horizon.  Other sections of the estate features large ponds for ducks and a thatched-roof gazebo erected on a center island.

Café Sabel, serving cordillera coffee, tea and some food, is on the ground floor and overlooks all these.  Truly a remarkable man’s gift to a community he joined more than a decade ago.

A museum that is worth a visit opens its doors from Tuesday to Sunday, 9am-6pm.  Admission fee is P100 per head.

Chillin’ at Baguio Country Club

Credits:  LivE Tape it up frames

My last hurrah before the rainy season sets in.  Sometimes one just need a good old fashion pause from the daily grind and the scorching heat of Manila.  So I go up to the mountains to chill.  The smell of pine, the log cabins and the scrumptious Baguio longganisa (local sausages)… they remind me of my childhood.   Happy to be here.   🙂

Happy Independence Day, Philippines!

Five Reasons Why…

You should try Whitewater Rafting at least once in your life.

Credits:  Bannerwoman Designs Worn, Folded Edges, Judy Meibusch Doodle Dot elements, LivEdesigns SSunFun Alpha

Ever since my first rafting experience in 1999, I was hooked (see here, here and here).  I can’t count the number of times I’ve rafted the Chico, after all as they say, you never run the same river twice.  And I felt it time to share this exhilarating experience with my team.

So for 3 days in January, we found ourselves in Tuguegarao slaving away, devising strategies for the year

with a little bit of team building on the side.

Then on day 3, we spent an adrenalin-filled day at the Chico River in Kalinga.  Here are insights gathered from this experience.

It’s Liberating

When was the last time you’ve tried something at least once in your life?  I am one to try almost anything (I say almost because I have yet to convince myself about bungee jumping) at least once.  Whitewater rafting may not be for everyone but you’ll never know unless you’ve tried it.

I’ve rafted with many first timers with sedentary lifestyles through the years and as often as not, they at the very least, had a blast and in numerous occasions, a wild side they never knew they had is kindled.

Anton Carag, charismatic mover and shaker of whitewater rafting since 1998 at the Chico

Many among my team were apprehensive before the run and listened intently to Anton Carag lecturing on proper paddling techniques, what to do when one falls off and how to get back on the raft.

Doing a Hi-Five for a job well done

I saw how their fears transformed to confidence after the first few rapids.  They started to have fun.

Some even enjoyed the falls, bringing home stories of how they survived it etc.  It also helps to know that two internationally recognized wilderness specialists trained Anton and his team of guides some 10 years ago.

It Fosters Team Spirit

Rafting only works if everyone works as a team.  Listen to your leader and follow exactly the commands.  If the team fails to act as one, the raft may capsize.  If you’re not prepared to drink gallons of water, you probably don’t want this.   It’s also a hassle getting back on the raft and if the water’s low, you will most likely be going home with bumps and bruises as a remembrance from the river.  But hey, isn’t that proof of that adventurous spirit you thought you never had?  So listen to your guide and be in sync with your teammates.

It’s Actually Safe

First of all, the guides (mostly natives of Kalinga) know the river like the back of their hands.  And to reiterate, top-notched, seasoned river guides with international experience trained most of them.  But in case you didn’t follow instructions or to put it nicely — misunderstood the guide’s instructions and you fall off or worse, the whole raft flips, not to worry because the equipments, most especially the vest you are wearing (I can only speak of AEPI’s as I am not familiar with the other outfitters) is US-certified safe.  This means that when you’re under, the vest is buoyant enough to carry you out.  Sometimes with a little help from you, but hey again, sometimes you need to work a little harder eh?

It promotes Eco-tourism

And provides jobs.  Whitewater rafting is part of the new adventure and eco-tourism that the Philippines have to offer.  Most of the guides used are from neighboring communities and the more tourists, more jobs and other business opportunities are not far behind.  It also teaches us to respect and appreciate Mother Nature.

It’s Gorgeous Out There

Spectacular views of the Cordillera Mountains coupled with beautiful riverbanks and clear waters (not always the case though) surrounds the whole stretch of the run.  Unspoiled.  Pristine.

Except for raging rapids that never fails to stir up your adrenalin, the only other sounds you hear are chirpings of birds and the flow of the river.  Serenity in a most natural setting.

Excellent Food at Casa Carag

The 6th reason why you should try whitewater rafting with AEPI.  The food is just extraordinary.

Nothing is ordinary, from the longganisa, Salinas and hot native chocolate for breakfast, to the local Ibanag dishes such as their pinakbet and inabraw.  It’s all good!

So, at the first chance of rain (which is sadly a long way off), book a package with AEPI and experience the ultimate adventure of your life.  Season starts in August and ends in February.

*  All photos at the river courtesy of AEPI.

Contact Details:
Anton Carag, Jr.
Mobile:  (63)917-532-7480
Landline: (6378)844-1298

Market, Market!!


I love visiting markets, especially if it is the local market.  It is for me, the soul of a city.  The market reveals so much about the culture of a place.  It is, after all, where the locals go to get their fresh produce and livestocks.  Baguio is no exception and it is actually one of the highlights whenever I find myself there.  A trip to Baguio will never be complete without a trip to the market.


Located high up in the mountains of the province of Benguet and due to the cold weather, fruits, vegetables and even coffee beans grow beautifully and abundantly in this “city of pines”.  The province provides the entire Luzon majority of its vegetables, so they don’t get any fresher in this city.


You’ll find stalls upon stalls of various types of produce obviously from fresh fruits


and vegetables


to organic red mountain rice


to coffee. Garcia’s is at the top of my list for good quality coffee beans.  Quite a variety to choose from and best of all, they deliver to Manila for a fee and I think a minimum order of 5 kilos.


Also ranking high on my list (more than the veggies actually) is the delectable longganisa (Filipino style sausages).  They are just the yummiest and I always go for the Baguio special garlic flavor, the one they serve at the Baguio Country Club.  Just writing about it makes me want to cook me some longganisa… haha!  😀

This is the last post on my recent Baguio trip and my entry to My World.  To have a glimpse of other beautiful worlds, visit My World Tuesday.

Garcia’s Pure Coffee
No. 10-A Chuchria Section, Hangar Market, Baguio City
Mobile:  09175071365

PhotoHunt: Yellow


sunflowersCredits:  Paper – Karen Lewis About a Boy paper – brown; Frame – Karen Lewis About a Boy shadow frame; Embellishments – Karen Lewis About a Boy stitches

Today’s theme was easy and the first thing that came to mind was the sunflower shots I took last New Years in Sagada, Mt. Province located at the Northern Part of the Philippines.  Sagada is fast becoming a tourist destination if not for the distance and the accessibility, it would have been one of  THE tourist destination sharing the stage with Boracay and Palawan.  You’ll find my earlier Sagada posts here and here .

Sunflowers are abundant in Sagada.  Growing ubiquitously in the wild, this yellow flower adds to the charm of Sagada.  It attracts birds, bees and butterflies.  Today though in other parts of the world, it is grown for food and not just for birds.  So not only is it a sight for sore eyes, it is also an important source of food.  Sunflower oil is a healthy vegetable oil and sunflower seeds are enjoyed as a healthy snack and ingredients to many foods.  I particularly like sunflower seeds on my granola.

This week’s Photo Hunt theme is yellow, to join in the fun of photo scavenging, go here.



My visit to Baguio,our summer capital coincided with the Panagbenga Festival.  I was there more to support my friends’ participation in the 4×4 off road challenge in La Trinidad.


But I obviously will not pass up the chance to witness even just a glimpse of the well- attended festival.  We failed on our first attempt to even get close to the area so the following day, we woke up really early (like 5AM), walked to Session Rd. and caught the commencement of the parade.  Come join me in the festivities!



Panagbenga is a kankanay term for “a season of blooming”.  It is also known as the Baguio Flower Festival.  It is held during the month of February, a month-long annual flower festival and was created as a tribute to the city’s flowers and as a way to rise from the devastation of the 1990 Luzon earthquake.



The festival includes floats that are decorated with flowers.  It also includes street dancing presented by dancers clad in flower-inspired costume, that is inspired by the Bendian, an ibaloi dance of celebration that came from the Cordillera Region, where Baguio is.


We didn’t stay to catch the actual parade as there was just too many people and I don’t particularly like crowds.  We instead decided to go to the market while everyone was busy with the festival but I was pleased to have witnessed even just a glimpse of the Panagbenga Festival.

This is my entry to this week’s My World Tuesday.  For a glimpse of more worlds, click here.

Source:  Wikipedia