Sometime in April, my friends and I had the fortune to meet a backpacker, Kat, during our trip to the sleepy town of Pai in northern Thailand. Little did we know that in a month, our paths would cross again as Kat found herself on Philippine shores.
We promised to show her the beauty of the Philippines from a local’s eyes, away from the glitzy dressings of travel guides and luxury magazines. This meant exploring the road less taken: the road to the North.
The Cordilleras and its surrounding areas may be more familiar to us local folk, but it’s a region often ignored by international travel magazines, who choose to paint the country as a jumble of pristine beaches and urban chaos.
Although not necessarily untrue, the Philippines’ 7,107 islands have their own stories to tell, the Cordilleras included. Teeming with a rich culture unmarred by colonial influences, and lush green scenery, the North is definitely a destination worthy of any traveler’s bucket list.
Armed with a plan but with little time, our goal was to hit as many places as possible over a weekend. So we hopped into a sedan and rode off into the sunset.
To kick off our road trip, we headed northeast of Manila and visited the Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo, a beautiful estate that showcases the best of contemporary Philippine art and serene views. Look through the museum’s stunning six galleries, each enclosed in grand wooden doors. Watch the sun set through Manila’s skyline from their viewing deck.
Right after the quick trip to Antipolo, we went home, packed our bags and headed straight to Baguio. We recommend leaving for Baguio at dawn — after leaving at 1AM, we arrived in the City of Pines at 5 in the morning, after coasting through the expressways of NLex, SCTex, and TPLex.
Breakfast at Hill Station is the best way to start, with classic Filipino breakfast against rustic colonial interiors.
After that we went sightseeing at Camp John Hay, marveling at its manicured gardens and arrays of pine trees.
Wanting to dive a little further into the local produce, we also drove to the Baguio Dairy Farm, a must-visit if you want to try local dairy, like yogurt and fresh cow’s milk.
We also headed to Baguio Korean Palace on South Drive, undoubtedly the best samgyeopsal experience you can get in the City of Pines, giving Korean buffets in Manila a run for their money.
To end the day, we drove to Arca’s Yard, perched on the outskirts of Baguio City by the Ambuklao Road. It’s a perfect place to have coffee in solace, away from the lights of Baguio.
Roadside stalls selling local passionfruit
After Baguio City, we took a side trip to the nearby town of Atok, Benguet, and ended up discovering breathtaking mountainous landscapes.
We had lunch at a roadside restaurant, serving a fried chicken rice meal, an eponymous dish in Baguio and Benguet.
The culture in La Union is impressive. With a tight-knit community, homegrown businesses have been booming left and right, and the province has since become a haven for surfers and urban jungle retirees in recent years.
One of our absolute favorite spots to hang out in the affectionately called LU is El Union, a homegrown coffee shop that has since moved to a bigger location.
We recommend staying at the hip hostel Flotsam and Jetsam, but even if you’re just passing through, go for their craft cocktails and awesome ambiance.
One of the newest spots at La Union is the burger joint called Mad Monkeys, now occupying El Union’s former spot across Sebay. If home-cooked Filipino food is more your calling, have dinner at Tagpuan.
All in all, we clocked in about 1000 kilometers — and that’s all with a sedan. It’s absolutely possible to go on a road trip and explore the north even without an SUV. In fact, we drove with the Chevrolet Sail, and it’s everything you’d want in a city car that can do more.
Decked with a stylish 9-inch Android head unit, navigating with Waze was a breeze, and we were even able to watch movies on the screen. You also get lots of space in this car — our friend, who stands at 5 feet 11 inches, was able to drive comfortably without sacrificing leg room for our group of five.
The wide compartment allowed enough room for each of our heavy backpacks, as well as a guitar. The sun roof was also a great finishing touch especially for this nature-filled road trip, whether it was a panoramic view of the lush greenery, or driving underneath the stars.
Where are you guys headed for the weekend? Share with us your dream road trip!