Baguio Better Be Better Next Time

Fifteen years after my first visit to the Summer Capital of the Philippines (I was 3 or 4), my family decided to go up, for the first time in 15 long years.

Based on my parents’ reactions on the sights and spots, it has gotten bad. I don’t remember anything from my first visit, but after going to Mines View Park (MVP), I get their point. It seemed less like Baguio and more like a tiangge in Quezon City. Everywhere, and I’m not exaggerating, there are stalls selling souvenirs. One or two stalls is fine, but there are probably a hundred of them. Selling the same stuff. Annoying.

Add to that the multitude of people walking around you from all directions. It’s chaotic. It’s hard to take a photo without strangers’ heads in the background. The number of people is a good sign that people are visiting the place, but the sheer number of souvenir stalls made the place more cramped than it should’ve been.

My dad said that after seeing MVP, he’d already made up his mind: we wouldn’t be going to the other popular spots in Baguio like Burnham Park. It was going to be as messed up, he said.

SM Baguio was the same thing. It didn’t look like a mall because of the amount of people shuffling in and out. What came to mind was an MTR station in Hong Kong during rush hour. And we all know how those go: stampede-like. I’ve never seen a mall with that many people (with the exception of Alabang Town Center when Jabbawockeez had a show there 2 or 3 years ago).

Camp John Hay still looks good. And I use the word “still” even though it’s really my first time, because my parents say that, yes, the place has been pretty much well-maintained through the years. The trees look good, looking like the ones from forest chase scenes from horror flicks. There weren’t that many people. And I don’t think I saw a single souvenir stall up there, the ones which littered MVP.

The best part about our Baguio trip was the weather. It’s the kind of weather I’d like to live in, where nights go down below 15-degrees Celsius. And the Monopoly Deal nights I had with my family. It was also the first time I ingested some alcohol into my system for 3 straight nights. And the first time I tasted the San Miguel Alcoholic Malt Beverage I always hear King DJ Logan and Marf and Cleo advertise on-air on the Disenchanted Kingdom.

Much like my conclusion when we went to Macau, I would like to say that Baguio is overrated now as far as tourist spots are concerned. Too little space for loads and loads of people. I wish their city government can transform Baguio to be one big Camp John Hay.


Lutong Macau

 You’ve probably heard of Macau being hyped as the "Vegas of Asia", or as some place even better than Las Vegas, home of the best casinos in the world. In other words, Macau is probably the most tourist-attractive place at least in Southeast Asia.

But I think it’s the least tourist-friendly tourist destination.

From the moment we set foot in the Macau International Airport — and outside of it — to hail a taxi and get to our hotel, it was kind of hard talking to the cab driver since the hotel we stayed in wasn’t really well-known (Pousada Marina Infante? Anyone heard of it? Exactly.). Fortunately, we got to our quarters safely.

Yes, my biggest concern, ever since our first night in Macau, was the language barrier. Whenever I travel with my family, I always expect this to pop up, may it be in Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, wherever (in non-English countries). But with Macau having world-class 7-star luxury hotels and casinos, the language barrier was magnified, so much so it seemed like the barrier was the Great Wall of China, and the Great Wall is in Beijing! Take as an example the grand Venetian Hotel and Casino along the Cotai Strip (soon-to-be Macau’s version of Las Vegas’ Strip). Being an international hotel, my family expected the people here to be able to speak English. But no. Unless you find a Filipino, if you talk to a Chinese national, conversation is close to impossible. Why is that? Is it that hard to find English-speakers in Macau?

I was in a casino with my mom in the City of Dreams and we were in the slot machines. When we won a little amount of credits, these two ladies approached us, asking us to sign up for a membership to some club, which we really had no idea how it worked. But since all we had to do was fill up a form, and with the membership card being free, we — or rather, I — signed up for it. We got the card, but we had NO IDEA whatsoever how to use it. We ask them, they explain in Chinese. HOW DO I UNDERSTAND CHINESE?! We ended up using the card as a souvenir because it served us no better purpose.

To experience Macau, I suggest having a tour guide, or at least someone you understand well who knows the ins and outs of Macau, from the best shops to the most breathtaking sites and shows.

And if it’s your first time playing in a casino, bring a companion knowledgable in casinos to guide you. Don’t rely on those security personnel or anyone on the floor, unless he or she is a Filipino (I say this not only to my friends, but to whoever reads this who doesn’t understand Chinese at all). They’re your best bet with communication.

I personally think Macau is overhyped. The language barrier is too much of a blockage for tourists. And for you to really enjoy Macau, you must go to the casinos and hotels. This makes traveling with sub-18 year olds tough. Once, we had to go through the Sands Casino to get to a site across it. Because my brother was 15, we had to go around, a much, much longer trip than if we were able to pass through the casino. Tough luck.

The best part of our Macau trip, for me, was our visit to Hong Kong. When the best thing about your trip to <insert place here> was your visit to <insert a different place here>, then there is something wrong.

(BTW, if you’re going to Macau, avoid Pousada Marina Infante Hotel at all costs.)