MANILA, JULY 7, 2009
(STAR) By Dandi Galvez - The Manor, luxury hotel of choice at John Hay. | Zoom MANILA, Philippines – Ask me about Baguio City and I’ll tell you about Session Theater. The very first cinema house to operate in the city, Session Theater was located along Session Road right beside a restaurant that served sizzling platters. In the mid-1990s, my friends and I would often go there to watch movies at P15 to P25 each. Back then, the Tiong-San department store was the only place to get a pair of Levi’s jeans, and Philippine Treasures for comic books, magazines and imported Nike shoes. Jollibee and McDonald’s were the only major food franchises in the city, unless you count Chowking. Thinking about it today, it is mind-blowing how incredibly cheap prices were and how simple life was then. Where did all the time go?

Session Theater is no more. In its place is a pizza restaurant. At the back and adjacent lots are the ubiquitous wagwagan and ukay-ukay stalls. Always identified with the Baguio experience, the stalls, which offer cheap, ready-to-wear imported surplus goods and apparel, have exploded across the city. It is actually hard not to see an ukay-ukay outlet anywhere you turn at Session Road. A multitude of modern retail stores offer everything from designer handbags to branded clothing. Aside from the bee or the clown, people now have more food options to choose from. The old and established restaurants are still there, either relocated or re-branded, but still enjoying the tourist boom that Baguio inevitably attracts every season.

That’s how the story goes in this place, with its rich cultural history going back to Spanish times. The original city in the 1800s was called Kafagway, then with only 20 houses. The Americans “discovered” the place in 1900, thus really starting the ball rolling toward the development of a city and, with temperatures averaging eight degrees lower than in lowland areas, as a vacation spot for their officials. Some of the more staunch supporters of the area included the early administrators and teachers such as Dean C. Worcester, Governor General Luke Wright, Cameron Forbes and many others whose names still grace many of the city’s streets and public areas.

Responsible for the master plan of the future city was renowned architect and city planner Daniel Burnham. To this day, his design stamp is still seen in Baguio, Manila and the US city of Chicago. By Sept. 1, 1909, Baguio had become a city with a charter that provided administrative and managerial autonomy. Around this time, Kennon Road opened to vehicular traffic, triggering a mining boom in the early to mid-1930s.

Because of its cool weather and ample forest cover, Baguio City was the perfect vacation spot. This fact was not lost on the originalcreators of the Baguio Country Club, today a member-exclusive 182-room hotel with an 18-hole golf course and is also known for its famous raisin bread — a far cry from the single log cabin that it was during the American occupation.

Another remnant of the American era is Camp John Hay. The former base used to be the rest and recreational facility for personnel of the US military and defense department. Now known as Club John Hay, it is open to everyone with The Manor serving as the luxury hotel of choice.

This September marks Baguio City’s 100th year. Much has changed, and things keep on changing for this haven of tourists, students, artists and teachers. It’s expected, I guess. Incumbent City Mayor Peter Rey Bautista has his hands full with the upcoming centennial celebration, not to mention the upcoming Ad Congress. Holding large events is not uncommon for the city, like its famous annual Panagbenga Flower Festival.

“Baguio’s cool and serene atmosphere makes it conducive for these kind of events,” Bautista says. “We are gifted with natural and picturesque attractions which make the city an ideal setting for occasions. Baguio’s testament to hold world-class events bolsters its claim to be the ultimate destination for such affairs.”

Despite having nearly all of the conveniences that any major metropolitan area in the country has, Baguio has so much more to offer to tourists. One can start by booking a room for a few days or weeks at the many hotels near some of the city’s major tourist attractions. At the bottom of Session Road is Hotel Veniz that is adjacent to the Baguio public market and right beside Burnham Park. Going up via Marcos Highway you will pass by the Summer Place Hotel, which is highly accessible to taxis and jeeps all headed to the city center. If you want to be near the major nightlife hot spots, try booking a room at the Golden Pine Hotel and Restaurant on Legarda Road. Much nearer to places such as UP Baguio, the Convention Center and SM Baguio — within walking distance to Burnham Park — are City Travel Hotel, Starwood Hotel and the Burnham Suites.

Offering convenience to tourists who go to the city via Victory Liner is Microtel Baguio, situated conveniently at the top of Session Road and near some quaint and unique restaurants. And along the road leading to Teachers’ Camp, the Botanical Garden, Pink Sisters Convent and Mines View Park is PNKY Home Bed and Breakfast.

Where did all the time go? In the cool atmosphere is a warm fondness — where memories remain of a city I called home for so many years. It’s time to move forward.

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For more information on Baguio City’s centennial celebration, log on to www.baguiocentennial.com. More information on the hotels mentioned in the article can be found at The Philippine STAR’s Hotel Guide that comes out every Wednesday and Friday.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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