It was going to be my first Panagbenga and we needed some Ilocos blankets so our little Baguio trip was much anticipated. So Kim, Leonard, Jem and I decided to bring the Picanto and book a room at Baden Powell Inn for one night. We met at McDonald's Philcoa at 5 am Saturday morning and headed up north.
The car broke down in San Manuel, Tarlac. It just wouldn't move anymore. It started, it revved, but it won't move. Luckily, my car insurance has a 24-hour roadside assistance phone desk so I rang them and after a few hours of waiting on the side of the highway they arrived with a tow truck which took the car to the Kia dealership in E. Rodriguez, Quezon City, and an onward transportation service for us to Bagiuo.
We arrived at about 4 pm in Session Road. Traffic was much worse than usual because they're rerouting for the festival. We were dropped off just outside Baden Powell Inn and boy we were in for a series of disappointments.
We rang the hotel to book a room almost a week prior and they referred us to their Manila reservations office. They required a 50% deposit which we didn't mind paying so we advised the reservation staff that we were dropping by that afternoon to book it. When we got there, she insisted that we pay the full amount, saying that they never let guests book for just one evening. I couldn't believe it. The hotel is requiring a minimum of two nights stay. I never thought hotels can actually dictate the length of stay of their guests. After much persuasion (and a lie: a promise that we were going to stay there again later during the week but still don't know which exact dates), they let us just pay the 50% deposit. I was already feeling iffy about the hotel, but knowing that that weekend was Panagbenga (Baguio's Flower Festival) most places are already booked, and I didn't want to spend the entire day trying to find a better room.
When we got there, they immediately asked for the balance which we paid. They showed us our room and it was horrible. There were four of us in our group, and we booked the Family Room which has two (2) double beds, cable TV, hot shower and free breakfast. We got there and the room was tiny; only about a foot between the beds and the walls, so really there's nowhere to sit except the bed. There wasn't a window and the hot shower wasn't working. The television didn't have a remote control and the buttons on the unit don't work. All four of us wanted to shower but there were only two towels, the housekeeping staff said they're still being washed so we should just share. I went to the front desk to tell them about these and they were quite surly. I asked if we can be moved to another room but they said they were fully booked because it was the festival weekend. I asked for a room rate reduction but they won't give that. I asked for a late check out but they insist that it was only until 12 noon the next day.
Then we found out that the hotel is half empty, and when we checked in at 4 pm they were still counting on desperate people who would pay thousands for a room just because everywhere else was fully booked. They finally transferred us to a bigger room after i threatened to go to the police if they don't give us our money back. The room had one double bed and a pull-out bed from under, which had a couple of cockroaches and unidentified stains on the sheets and pillow cases. The room also had a window facing the street where the bus stations are so it wasn't going to be our little quiet retreat.
Luckily we've done enough planning in terms of activities to do in Baguio so we didn't stay much in the room. The next day, we went to get the free breakfast and were told that it is just one fried hotdog, one egg, a cup of rice and brewed coffee. The brewed coffee tasted like burnt water, they ran out of hotdogs so they gave us fried fish (half bangus) instead which was burnt, and the eggs were "scrambled" so they looked like leftovers. It was disgusting. We just smothered our plates with ketchup to make sure that they don't serve it to other guests after we leave. We ate breakfast in a restaurant on Session Road instead.
Having said that, the hotel has certain advantages. It was very central. Two minutes walk from SM Baguio and Session Road with all the nice restaurants and shops. After checkout, they let us leave our bags at the lobby for safekeeping (although it didn't feel very safe because it was just behind the unmanned secondary front desk--but nothing was stolen so we guess it was OK).
All in all, it was a terrible experience. I guess we wouldn't have minded if the room we got didn't cost us PhP 3,000 for four persons per night. If they were charging PhP 1,000 (like Sagada inns where it's normally PhP 200-250/person), it would've been alright. But the hotel was horrible and the food was disgusting. Service was indifferent at best. But the location, well, there were others in the area but none of them have websites so we couldn't contact them to book.
Stay in this hotel only if you want to experience a minor stroke in Baguio.
Enough about Baden Powell Inn.
That Saturday night, we had our first proper meal for the day (having spent most of it waiting for the tow truck and the alternative transport the car insurance provides for). We went to Sizzling Plate on Session Road and ordered several items out of hunger and partial blindness. It was a great meal, but Leonard was convinced that it was because we were starving. The place was packed and smoky.
We went to the public market for a bit of Ilocos blanket shopping. We got those and went back to the room to rest for a little bit, except that by that time Leonard had diarrhea, and Kim and Jem just fell asleep on the bed in their street clothes. I wasn't going to just lay down and sleep. I decided to have a little walk outside, maybe a drink in a small bar. I ended up in Rumours, a rustic place serving cheap drinks and Sisig pizza. I ended up drinking at the bar with the owner and a couple of local journalists covering the event the next day. Drank enough to put me straight to sleep as soon as I got back at the hotel room.
The next morning, we took turns showering and finally got out to get not the best view of the parade. It was packed. I remember reading lots of road signs just before getting inside Baguio City proper: Cleanest City in the Philippines. Really? Jeez. Baguio is like Avenida with central airconditioning. Downtown, it's polluted, crowded, dirty and smelly. I remember several years ago newlyweds on a budget would go to Baguio for their honeymoon. If you do that now, I'm pretty sure it's enough grounds to file for an annulment. Everytime I go to Baguio there's a new monstrosity of a building erected to offend people even with the slightest sense of taste. Town planning is unheard of in this city. Someone please please please do something about this. And everytime we go, shanty-looking houses are covering the hills. It's damn ugly.
For lunch we decided to walk to Cafe by the Ruins and finally get a decent meal. We settled for coffees and breads with their signature spreads. It was awesome. Kim even got a bottle of Tira-Tira. After that, we walked back to the market and got everything we needed to prove to others we were actually in Baguio: bayong bags, strawberries, Good Shepherd bottled sweets, scarves, etc.
Then we had a walk at the Athletic Bowl where the Panagbenga floats were on display. Jem had a field day having her photos taken.
Will I go for another Panagbenga festival? Hell no.
I just hope that Baguio residents wake up soon and realize what the city has become. It is as crowded, polluted, dirty and smelly as the rougher areas in Metro Manila, but cooler. Is that enough reason for you to just let this wanton construction boom happen?
I'm convinced it's not too late. Baguio has all the trappings of a charming little quaint town, but there has to be limits and enough people who care about this place. The city government doesn't seem to.