Baguio Must-See: The BenCab Museum
In Paolo Coelho’s Like the Flowing River, there is a chapter entitled Traveling Differently. In it, he lists down 9 tips for the average traveler to follow. The first and probably the only tip that I disagreed with completely was the one that told readers not to visit museums. Coelho says that museums hold remnants of the past and we must search more for the future. “You need to know what you want to see [in a museum], otherwise you will leave with a sense of having seen a few fundamental things, but can’t remember what they were.”
In my opinion, though: what better way to completely absorb the culture of a foreign place than to see the art that it holds or the art that it has inspired? Figure out what you want to see beforehand if the museum is vast, but the BenCab Museum is not the Louvre and it won’t take you weeks to view all of its galleries.
Although museums may not appeal to everyone, they are still interesting places to visit if you want to see culture and history all in one go—whether it’s abroad or in your own backyard. This is why, having not been to Baguio in over 17 years, the BenCab Museum was an experience that I couldn’t pass up.
BenCab Museum was approximately one and a half hours away from our hotel by car. It rests on a steep road and overlooks a breathtaking view of the Cordillera Mountains. Because it is situated on a decline, the floors of the museum are inverted. There are three floors of exhibits while the bottom floor holds the much talked about Cafe Sabel.
Upon entering, one will be greeted with the vision of pristine white walls and a front desk on the right. Above it is a BenCab—real name: Benedicto Cabrera—painting titled Ninuno that depicts five various tribal-looking faces. The entrance fee is reasonably priced at Php 100 for adults, Php 80 for students and senior citizens upon presentation of a valid ID, and free for children under the height of 3.5 feet.
On the same floor is the Sepia Gallery, which doubles as the museum gift shop. For sale are various tribal and recycled goods, notebooks with a BenCab painting as the cover, and prints of various BenCab paintings with the signature of the artist. The prints are being sold at a whopping price of almost Php 13,000 per print. Needless to say, I didn’t buy one. Instead, I bought a notebook with Dance of Defiance printed on the front cover for only Php 250, as well as handcrafted paper earrings for Php 200—also pricey for a pair of earrings.
The second level consists of the BenCab Gallery, the Cordillera Gallery, the Print Gallery, the Bulol Installation, the Indigo exhibit, and spans three areas: the Erotica Gallery, and two balconies/viewing areas.
I’ve always loved paintings of Filipinas in traditional costumes. In the BenCab Gallery, there is a painting titled Churchgoers, which shows two Filipinas—one in a white baro’t saya and one in brown—presumably on their way to church. It is so classically Spanish era Philippines, and I loved it.
At the reception desk, there was a family with two young sons in line in front of me, my mom, and my dad. Whilst looking at the map of the museum, the elder brother asked his mother what the Erotica Gallery was. To this, the mother replied that they wouldn’t be going there, that they didn’t need to see that gallery. The boys’ incessant whining about why they weren’t allowed to see those works was definitely entertaining.
Needless to say, it definitely isn’t a gallery for children, nor is it a gallery for those who are sensitive to sexual displays. Under the sign that says “Erotica Gallery” there is also an advisory that reads “This gallery contains works with imagery that may be offensive to minors and to certain individuals.” However, there’s something captivatingly beautiful about such art, something so raw, unadulterated, and—dare I say—pure about the human body on display for the world to see.
The third level consists of the Philippine Contemporary Art Gallery I and II, the Maestro Gallery, and more of the Bulol Installation from the previous floor. There is also another viewing terrace that overlooks the vast mountains of that side of Baguio.
The Maestro Gallery features various works from national artists including a work or two from one of my favorite local painters—Araceli Limcaco Dans. She also has paintings on display in the Indigo Gallery that was previously mentioned.
FARM & GARDEN LEVEL
Having just eaten breakfast, my father and I decided to order some coffee while my mom settled for a strawberry shake—when in Baguio and all that. We sat at one of the wooden tables surrounded by the most colourful chairs, the colors of which you’d think you’d only ever find in a preschool; but the whole set-up is quaint and definitely relaxing. There is a large open window that allows you to stare into the distance – into the seemingly never-ending array of trees and plants. One could spend hours looking at a view like that, and I think we did.
Upon someone’s suggestion online, we opted to try the duck flakes that the cafe sold. It comes with a salad of tomatoes, onions and salted eggs, along with cordillera rice and a very good vinaigrette. However, the main highlight of the dish—the duck flakes—could have used a little more flavor.
There is also a small pond with ducks floating around, and a hut one can occupy at the center. Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed beyond this point, so one will have to settle for simply looking at the view instead of venturing into it.
After almost 3 hours of walking around the museum and sitting down at the Cafe Sabel, we made our way back to our hotel room to relax and soak up the cold weather for the rest of the day.
All-in-all, the BenCab Museum is an experience that I don’t think I would have gone without on my family’s Baguio getaway. So, if you haven’t yet, have a go at the BenCab Museum and the Cafe Sabel on your next trip to the summer capital!
For museums in Manila, check out these articles:
The BenCab Museum in Baguio
Km. 6 Asin Road, Tandiangan, Tuba, Benguet, Philippines
(+63 74) 442 7165