Be charmed by the endearing qualities of Bacolod City
Words Sophie Menor | Photography Suki Salvador and Renee Joy Basa
Additional photos courtesy of Richard Torres
AS SOON AS YOU DISEMBARK FROM THE PLANE AT THE LOCAL AIRPORT, YOU WILL REALIZE WHY BACOLOD IS CALLED THE CITY OF SMILES. Local men, with smiles on their faces, will immediately approach you and offer a ride to Bacolod’s center. And for some strange reason, you will not feel scared or paranoid that the person you are talking to has any ill intentions.
Bacolod City is the capital of Negros Occidental and considered the Sugarbowl of the Philippines. The people’s warmth and hospitality, combined with the city’s delectable cuisines and rich history, will truly charm any visitor.
WHERE TO GO:
Bacolod City is surrounded by places that represent Negros Occidental’s valuable past and natural treasures. Experience them first hand by visiting these places.
Negros Occidental’s opulent story is reflected in these mansions-turned-tourist attractions.
• The Ruins – Located in Talisay City, The Ruins was the home of Don Mariano Lacson that was built in the 1900s after the death of his wife, Maria Braga. The mansion is probably the largest and grandest residence built during those times. During World War II, the house was burned down by the US forces to prevent the Japanese from using it as their headquarters. What is left is a structure that is testament to the grandiose house. Today, The Ruins serves as a café, a tourist attraction and an events venue popular for weddings.
The Ruins is located at Hacienda Sta. Maria, Talisay City, Negros Occidental. Open daily, from 8:30AM to 8PM. Fee is P25 per person. A mini-golf course at the back garden
is available for P50 per game. For more information, call (34)495 2790, (917)832 6003 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
• Balay Negrense – Literally meaning “Negrense House,” this ancestral home of sugar baron Victor Gaston in Silay City was built in 1897, shortly after he was widowed. This bahay na bato is probably one of the biggest colonial homes in Silay, with a basketball court sized living room and 12 bedrooms. Its sprawling gardens were possibly used as a setting for countless festivities. The house was abandoned in the mid- 1970s, but fortunately, it was repaired and furnished with period furniture and fi xtures that guests will feel they were taken back in time. Balay Negrense is located at Cinco de Noviembre St., Silay City, Negros Occidental. Open Tue to Sun, 10AM to 6PM
A few hours away from the city, white sand beaches that are at par with other famous beaches in the country are ready to be explored.
• Punta Bulata White Beach Resort and Spa – Punta Bulata is a tropical haven that echoes the laidback lifestyle of the province’s hacienderos. Aside from the one kilometer stretch of white sand beach, you can also enjoy water sports like kayaking. When you’re there, visit the Danjugan Island Marine and Wildlife Reserve, which is a 10-minute boat ride from the resort. Danjugan is an island surrounded by coral reefs parallel to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. You can also scuba dive and snorkel in the island to experience Mother’s Nature at her fi nest. It is also a bird watcher’s paradise since it houses 72 diff erent bird species. How to get here: From Bacolod City, take Ceres Liner to Hinoban. Buses depart every 30 minutes from 6AM to 7:30PM. The only aircon bus, though, departs at 4PM. Travel time is four hours. Get off at Cartagena and board a tricycle and ask driver to take you to Punta Bulata
• Lakawon Island Resort – This white sand beach is rich in coral reefs and studded with coconut and talisay trees. Its clear water is ideal for swimming, snorkeling and other water sports. The resort off ers tourists lodges, tents, shed houses and other facilities. How to get here: From Bacolod City, take a 45-minute bus trip to Kaduha-an, Cadiz City. When you get here, take a tricycle to Cadiz Viejo, which will take 15 minutes. From Cadiz Viejo, ride a motorized boat to Lakawon Island which will take another 15 minutes
WHAT TO DO:
While in Bacolod, enjoy the delicacies and native crafts the city offers. Dine in old favorites or new restaurants and taste what the city represents in just one plate. Or, bring home a part of the city by shopping for local items.
Bacolod is famous for inasal, where chicken parts are marinated in sinamak (native coconut vinegar) and other spices then basted with achuete or annatto oil before charcoal-grilling them to juicy perfection. Although there are inasal restaurants in Manila, nothing beats the original. Visit Chicken House along Lacson Street and experience true-blue chicken inasal. Choose from pa-a (thigh/leg part), pecho (breast), pakpak (wings), leeg (neck), isol (ass) and even chicken innards like atay (liver) and baticolon (gizzard). Whatever you choose, do not forget to eat it with garlic rice, achuete oil and a dipping sauce made of sinamak, soy sauce, calamansi and siling labuyo for a perfect meal.
If you’re into seafood, dine in Bacolod 18th Street Palapala. It is very similar to Dampa in Manila where you can choose from the fresh catches of the day— shrimps, crabs, squid, scallops and fish. Have it cooked the way you want it, either grilled, fried or sizzling. They also have chicken inasal, liempo and chorizo for the meat lovers. Another seafood restaurant you can try is Aboy’s at Golden Field Commercial Complex.
When in Bacolod, taste the authentic batchoy and molo at 21 Restaurant. Starting as a merienda place that offered batchoy in 1984, it is now a full kitchen restaurant that offers not just Bacolod staples but other Pinoy favorites as well, such as crispy pata, alimango (Mud Crab) and baby back ribs.
Since the city is considered the sugar capital of the country, the locals made sure they make the best out of it. Along Lacson Street, a couple of dessert places are located. One that is not to be missed is Calea. The shabby chic place has all the cakes you can possibly think of—White Chocolate Cheesecake, Mocha Sans Rival, Pecan Pie and Chocolate Cake to name a few. Another dessert place you can try is Felicia, also located along Lacson Street. It is famous for its macarons and sans rival.
Bring home local goods from Bacolod by visiting the Negros Showroom which showcases the best products produced by the Negrenses. Items in the showroom include handicrafts, novelty items, houseware, furniture and furnishings, clothes and accessories, and food. Negros Showroom is located at 9th St. cor. Lacson St., Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. Open daily from 9:30AM to 7:30PM
For pasalubong, do not forget to drop by various pasalubong shops in the city. Go to Pendy’s, Merci, Roli’s, Bongbong’s and Casa Carmela Kitchen for piayaya, barquillos, boat tarts, napoleons and other sweet delicacies.
Enjoy the City of Smiles even more during the MassKara Festival
Held every third weekend of October, the MassKara Festival is one of the country’s most popular festivities. It started in 1980 when the province experienced a period of crisis—sugar was at an all-time low and a sea tragedy occurred when the Don Juan liner collided with a tanker and claimed 700 lives, including Negrenses from prominent families. The city decided to uphold its name as the City of Smiles by creating a festival to survive the crisis. Now, the MassKara Festival is a true testament to how resilient Filipinos are amidst predicaments. Bacolod City becomes one big party place during the MassKara Festival. The streets are fi lled with people from all walks of life dancing and merry making. The festival is known not just to Filipinos but to foreigners, too.
Where to stay
During your trip, stay in L’Fisher and choose whether to board at the main hotel or the chalet. The L’Fisher Hotel room rate starts at P3500 while rooms at L’Fisher Chalet start at P1195. L’Fisher has facilities that can be enjoyed by its guests—swimming pool, gym and various restaurants.
L’Fisher is located at 14 Lacson St., Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. Contact (34)433 3731 to 39 or email or>
Monique Buensalido enjoys the beauty of El Nido on her own
There I was, sitting alone at the bow of the boat as it sliced through the cool, azure waters of El Nido, surrounded by happy canoodling couples— the only single person in a boat of pairs. It was like being stuck in a chick flick, and I imagined the couples were trying to figure out what I was doing there alone. Did my fiancé leave me at the altar, forcing me to go on my honeymoon alone? Did I finally break down after years of a high-pressure life and decide to seek solace in El Nido? Was I looking for someone to fall in love with?
Truthfully, I was just looking to fall in love with El Nido. After having been to other cities in Palawan, El Nido seemed even more captivating than its neighbors. The highlight of my visit to Puerto Princesa was the Underground River, while snorkeling and wreckdiving were my favorite things about visiting Coron. Now, in El Nido, it was the beauty of the place that really took my breath away.
It is believed that The Beach— the novel by Alex Garland set in Thailand that inspired thousands of backpackers to scour Koh Samui for secret beaches and Leonardo Di Caprio lookalikes—was actually inspired by El Nido’s fantastic white sand beaches, limestone islands, lush landscapes and crystal-clear waters. This natural beauty creates the perfect setting for romance, which is why countless couples choose this place for their magic moments and milestones: numeous proposals, weddings and honeymoons have happened here, both planned and spontaneous.
El Nido Resorts prides itself on being able to work with this natural splendor to help couples enjoy it even more. They arrange private lunches or dinners on different islands, as well as carefully craft picturesque weddings— dream it up, and they can make it happen. But even without a boyfriend, fiancé, or husband in tow, visiting El Nido is still an enchanting experience.
El Nido Resorts currently has three properties (and another one soon to open), and of all three, Lagen is considered the most luxurious and elegant. This beautiful resort seems like an organic part of the lush, forestridden island, cradling its own tranquil lagoon and surrounded by limestone cliffs. It is indeed perfect for romantic getaways. Nevertheless, I never got a chance to feel lonely here because everyone from the resort took such good care of me.
I had taken a short flight from Manila to El Nido—one of the daily flights offered by Island Transvoyager Inc. (ITI) to Lio Airport. I immediately felt the personalized and exceptional service that El Nido Resorts is known for. We had to take a boat ride to the resort, and we were shuttled to the dock in an oversized jeepney, even though the distance was walkable. Upon arriving, I was surprised that their resident manager, Melanie, already knew me by name and greeted me with a warm handshake and a big smile.
The staff had a knack for making me comfortable and taken care of without being too intrusive. During boat rides, they always had fluffy towels on hand so we could dry ourselves from the inevitable sea sprays. They also brought large tubs of potato chips to tide us over until our next meal. At the end of each day, I would find a dainty caramelized pili nut dessert and a happy “Good Night, Ms. Monique” message written on a leaf and lovingly placed on my bed. And there was always the view to keep me company—I would sit in my suite’s private balcony to read, then look up from time to time to gaze at Lagen’s private cove, at Bacuit Bay’s shimmering waters, at the peculiar rock formation in front of the resort.
Beaches are always romantic (long walks on the beach, anyone?), but there’s something even more enchanting about lagoons. As they are hidden away from the rest of the sea, these pools evoke a feeling of seclusion and mystery, and no other place highlights the majesty of the limestone cliffs and tranquil waters of Palawan than the Big and Small Lagoons. Once upon a time, according to scientists, these were actually large caves that eventually collapsed, leaving only the gorgeous limestone walls and lagoons.
From Miniloc Island, a small group of us took a boat to the Big Lagoon. As we stared at the fantastic cliffs, our boatman pointed out a small floating platform where most of the “magic” happens. El Nido Resorts can arrange candle-lit dinners and amazing proposals here upon special request. There was actually a couple sitting there when he pointed it out, who didn’t seem perturbed at the fact that a large group had crashed their party of two. They happily waved at us, with their feet dangling in the water. After a few minutes of swimming around, we left them to enjoy the lagoon and headed for the Small Lagoon. It was not as easy as letting the boat take us there, though. We had to strap on our snorkeling masks, slap on flippers, and swim through a small opening underwater. Our efforts were rewarded, however, with the expansive lagoon. Sheltered from the rest of the world, it was serene and quiet inside. As we admired our surroundings, the silence seemed to come over us, and we enjoyed the lagoon’s beauty in solitude.
I joined another group for an island hopping tour in the morning, determined not to miss any of the group activities that Lagen offers its guests. This was where I found myself the only thorn among the rosy honeymooning couples. Our first stop was Pinasil Island, a huge limestone rock with a large cavern, reminiscent of the high ceilings of baroque cathedrals, which can only be accessed by small boats. As our boat gingerly approached the cavern, we admired the lovely, naturally formed stripes on the walls of the cave, beautifully illuminated by the sun.
Next, we stopped at Vigan Island (more popularly known as Snake Island), which has a long and thin sand bar formed by two opposing currents. It only appears when it’s low tide, so it feels as if you’ve come across a beautiful treasure, a white hot strip of sand emerging from shimmering waters. You can even walk up to a view deck on the island to see the whole thing from a distance. As I walked along the sandbar, I realized that I was the only one walking by myself. Couples—even from other tour groups—were walking up and down the long S-shaped stretch (which is where it gets its nickname Snake Island) and transformed it into a lovely Lovers’ Lane. It was such a heartwarming sight; landscapes are beautiful, but there’s nothing like people—couples, especially—to infuse life into them. (The only problem was how to get them to take my picture without destroying their reverie.)
CLIMBING INTO CUDUGNON
Cudugnon Cave was our last stop, but, paraphrasing from The Lord of the Rings, one does not simply walk into Cudugnon. We found ourselves in a small cave, facing a small hole leading into another cavern. We were ready to go through the hole headfirst and subsequently squiggle our way in, but our guide laid a towel on the rocks and demonstrated how one would have to get in. The only way to get inside is to lie down on the rock, twist your body towards the hole, insert your legs, slowly let your body dangle inside and push off, all the while keeping your head low so you don’t hit any of the jagged rock edges. It infused a little challenge and adventure to our tour, and while we had all pretty much kept to ourselves for most of the day, we all cheered each other on as we carefully crept inside, one by one.
Once inside, I marveled at the majestic, amorphous limestone formations, cool to the touch and surprisingly vibrant with color. Our guide expertly showed us how to climb higher on the rock formations to get a closer look at what used to be an
ancient burial site during the Neolithic era. While most of these artifacts had been taken away for safekeeping and preservation, our guide pointed out some small items and said that they may be leftover teeth or bones.
After that, the couples got off at Dibuluan Beach Club to have lunch and soak up the sun, while I opted to go back to the comforts of Lagen. Suddenly, I was completely on my own, and as I rode the boat back to the resort, I realized I was actually thankful for my time here alone. More than a romantic getaway, I had been looking for that perfect, pure, and breathtaking
beach experience, and I finally got it in El Nido.
For more information on El Nido Resorts, phone (+63 2) 902 5980 (for Lagen Island), (+63 2) 813 0000 (from Mondays through Fridays, from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM) or (+63 917) 584 1576 (on weekends and holidays, from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM), emailor visit
By: Anthony Nash O. De Leon
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