UPDATED! Sugarland Rush: Exploring Bacolod City overnight

TWO2TRAVEL | Bacolod

Bacolod is home to many delightful pieces of the Filipino puzzle. A plethora of sights—some souvenirs of its past and others a colorful parade of its present—welcomes every visitor to this Western Visayan city. Though 24 hours is arguably short for any trip, it was many times more so in Bacolod—just as we had experienced during its busiest weekend of the year, during the MassKara Festival.

But an overnight stay should be enough to get a taste of Bacolod’s famed wonders, from history to the arts to food to the beguiling warmth of its people’s smiles. Head to Bacolod any day of the year, and get ready to fall in love—overnight.

SIGHTS TO SEE:

The Ruins, Talisay City | Negros Museum | Manokan Country | Pope John Paul II Tower | Calea or Felicia’s | Negros Showroom | Negros Capitol | San Sebastian Church | Bong-bong’s

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental | Two2TravelIn Bacolod, you can dine amidst Spanish-era ruins (left) or in simple carinderias (right)

DAY 1
8 AM | Visit The Ruins in Talisay City and be amazed

The so-called Taj Mahal of the Philippines is an early 20th century Italianate ancestral house owned by a sugar baron, who built it as a profession of undying love for his wife, who had died in an accident.

This is easily the most photogenic building we’ve seen. The colossal gray skeleton, survivor of a fire at the end of World War II, looks cheery against the bright blue sky and the deep green lawn, well kept and beautifully landscaped with a four-tiered fountain at the center. Built around vast sugar plantations, it is said to be even more beautiful at night as it is bathed in different dazzling lights. The sunset can also be viewed from its belvedere on the second level.

During the day, you can try sipping coffee where the original dining room was at the house’s first level. In place of the usual long table are wrought-iron tables and chairs, with piped-in piano music, shafts of sunlight streaming into the windows, and a magnificent view of the century-old fountain farther off.

*The Ruins is around 20 minutes from the Bacolod city proper. Take a jeepney (Bata route) and ask to be dropped off at the Bangga Rose Lawns Memorial Park, then hire a tricycle to The Ruins for P10 per head (22 cents ). A P60-entrance fee (USD 1.36) will also be collected. The Ruins is open daily from 8 AM to 8 PM.

10 AM | Experience storytelling the Negrense way

Right smack in the middle of the main gallery is a life-sized replica of a batil, a cargo boat about four times the size of a regular fishing boat used to transfer goods to and from Negros. The painstaking effort it took to put together this piece—everything else in the museum, in fact—is admirable: on the boat are mock-up baskets of fruits, several crates, as well as barrels of Tanduay (a local rum brand which operates a distilling plant in Bacolod. Sugar cane, it must be noted, is the main ingredient in rum production).

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental | Two2Travel
Chinese terra cotta figures

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental | Two2Travel
Negros Museum

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental | Two2Travel

A steam engine, also called an Iron Dinosaur, is also on display along with the batil. A staple in the Negros landscape before, these trains were used to transport harvested sugar cane from the fields to the milling centers.

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental | Two2Travel

“The Negros Museum is the first in the Philippines curatorially conceived without focus on precious artifacts, but instead on the complex stories and people whose lives make up the stories,” the museum describes itself in its website.

It’s storytelling through art, something that’s very much alive in Bacolod and the whole province, and it’s something that the Negros Museum has lavishly, lovingly put together.

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental | Two2Travel
Museum Cafe at Negros Museum

You can walk through larger-than-life murals of myths, rituals, and early life in the island along the first level’s cavernous halls. All these, plus oil-on-canvas paintings, terra cotta sculptures, and bas relief paintings depicting the local life, were created by Bacolod’s homegrown artists—a source of pride for the province and living proof of its vibrant art scene.

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental | Two2Travel

Kids and adults will also love the Jose Garcia Montelibano Gallery of International Folk Art and Toys, a 3,000-piece collection from 60 countries gathered for 25 years. From Russian and Japanese dolls to wooden animal figures, some very intricate, others fascinatingly simple, it’s an interesting walk back our very own childhood.

Now, eating al fresco while surrounded by all that history and art is another experience altogether. The Museum Cafe, which flows naturally from the children’s gallery, serves up homemade bread, cheese, and pastries. It’s a refreshing cap to what would certainly be a tiring yet interesting walk through history.

The Museum Cafe serves up freshly baked, homemade pastries and cheeses, among others.

*The Negros Museum is located at the Former Agricultural Building (old Capitol Building) along Gatuslao Street. It’s a 3-minute walk from the Negros Occidental Capitol, otherwise pedicabs (foot-pedaled tricycles) can easily take you there. It opens 10 AM, Tuesdays to Sundays. Entrance fee is P50 (USD 1).

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental | Two2Travel
The Negros Occidental Capitol in Bacolod City

12 NN | Taste the other side of Sugarland in Manokan Country

You can’t have been to Bacolod and not have eaten its chicken inasal (roast chicken)—aside from its sweet treats, of course. Head to Manokan Country for affordable meals and satisfactory serving sizes (Aida’s is a favorite, but we dined at Lion’s Park, which was the preference of our Iloilo-based companions).

Taste the authentic Chicken Inasal from Manokan Country, right across SM City Bacolod.

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental | Two2Travel
Bacolod’s signature chicken inasal at Manokan Country. Pretty obvious for a name, eh?

A pecho (chicken breast) with a serving of rice costs Php90 (USD 2). Don’t be surprised if they don’t serve you with spoon and fork though—tastes better when dipped in calamansi and soy sauce, chicken inasal is usually eaten sans fork and spoon, but these are still provided upon request. Finish off your meal with ice cold soda and you’re ready to see more of the sights around.

1:30 PM | Get a bird’s eye-view of the city from Pope John Paul II Tower

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental | Two2Travel
Pope John Paul II Tower. The building sits on the spot where the late pontiff first touched Negros ground, so say the locals.

Eight stories high, this whitewashed building was built in 2010 to commemorate the late Catholic Pope John Paul II’s 1981 visit to Bacolod City (a life-size bronze statue of the late leader was also built in front).

The John Paul II tower features a life-size bronze statue of the late Pontiff, a tribute to his visit to the province.

Seven floors contain the Pope’s memorabilia as well as oil on canvas paintings of the Stations of the Cross done by Bacolod artists. Climb all the way to the viewdeck and see bustling Bacolod on one side and the Guimaras Strait on the other.

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental | Two2Travel
The glass-walled tower, which we didn’t find impressive, contained memorabilia of the pope, including the clothes he wore during his visit. The view from the top was great though.

*The Pope John Paul II Tower is open daily and entrance fee costs P20 (45 cents) per person. It is located across SM City Bacolod.

2 PM | Taste the sweetest of Sugarland

Bacolod is the country’s sugar granary, so we regret not having been able to squeeze in time for a quick sugar fix in the city’s well-known sugar haunts. Calea and Felicia’s Pastry Cafe are two of the most popular—having been recommended by the locals we had asked for tips and directions.

*Calea is along Lacson St., beside L’Fisher Chalet, while Felicia’s is at 6th St.

3 PM | Buy local crafts at the Negros Showroom

Locally made products—from native handicrafts to sweets to furniture—are for sale at the Negros Showroom, established to give entrepreneurs an avenue to showcase their products.
*The Negros Showroom is a 3-minute walk from the Negros Occidental Capitol or the Negros Museum.

The whitewashed Negros Occidental Capitol near the Negros Museum

4 PM | Spot picture-worthy sights along the street

Stop for quick snaps when you pass by these noteworthy sights. All are easily accessible via pedicab.

San Sebastian Church is Bacolod’s oldest church, and is an architectural wonder for its façade’s coral stones from Guimaras Island.

*San Sebastian Church is at Rizal St., in front of the Bacolod City Public Plaza.

5 PM | Buy pastries from Bong-bong’s

Like Iloilo’s Biscocho Haus, Bacolod’s Bong-Bong’s is where you get your pasalubong—a wide array of affordable pastries, including biscocho, ube piaya (a must-try!), fruit tarts, etc. You can find a store at SM City Bacolod and at Gaisano Mall.

DAY 2
10 AM | See Silay

Silay is a tourist attraction on its own. Comparable to Vigan, Ilocos Sur in Luzon, Silay’s bahay-na-bato (stone houses) are picturesque historical remnants that are sure to be worth an afternoon trip, as is a stop at El Ideal, a circa-1920s bakery that’s still up and running. Also drop by nearby Balay Negrense, a stone-house-turned-museum.
*Silay is 30 minutes from Bacolod City, but since it’s en route the airport, you can take this sidetrip right after arriving or just before leaving.

When visiting in October, catch the MassKara

The MassKara Festival is one of the country’s most visited fiestas, and the two-day parades on the weekend nearest October 19, Bacolod’s charter anniversary, are the biggest crowd-drawer. Bacolod literally lights up in a dizzying array of colors as masks—some donned by dancers, others hanging on trees as lanterns or being sold as souvenirs—fill the streets, all smiling back at you. The parades (one on a Saturday and another on a Sunday) start in the afternoon so you can spend your morning going around the city.

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental | Two2Travel

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental | Two2Travel

*Access to the festival is free for all, but if you want to take photos up close, you’d need a festival photo contest ID, which the local government provides with the Camera Club of Negros. Details in securing IDs are posted at www.themasskarafestival.com.

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental | Two2Travel

See you in Sugarlandia!

GOING TO & AROUND

Go around via foot-pedaled tricycles, called sikads or pedicabs, at P10 per person.

Bacolod City, Negros Occidental | Two2Travel

UPDATE: Alternate routes to Bacolod City (October 11, 2012)

If you have not yet booked your ticket to Bacolod, you can try these alternative routes:

• By air to Iloilo, by sea to Bacolod
◦ From Iloilo airport, take a shuttle (P100-P150 each) to the city center. Drop off at SM Jaro (not SM City Iloilo, which is located farther)
◦ Take a quick cab ride to the port in Jaro where you could board fastcraft ferries to Bacolod (1.5 hours, around P350 round trip). See OceanJet, SuperCat, and Weesam for fares and schedules.
• By air to Dumaguete, by land to Bacolod
◦ From the Dumaguete airport, head to the South Bus Terminal where you can find Bacolod-bound Ceres buses (travel time is 5 hours)

Know more about how it’s like to photograph the Philippines’ festivals. Click here.

Confessions of a Seat Sale King and Queen (and how you can be one too!)

Psst, do you want to travel?

Why are you not doing it then?

You have no money? You have a busy job? Travel looks… far off?

Our answer is no, no, and no. You will have the money. You will find a way with your job, and travelling is POSSIBLE.

You can hop on a plane months from now and spend three days or even longer someplace you’ve never been to; something you’ll enjoy every minute of; and something you’ll want to go back to long before you’ve left.

DSC_4397
You could be one of them (or with them) and have a good time too 

caticlan
The flight that never was. Our first victory too against the elusive piso seat sale. 

Does that excite you?

Of course it does, duh. So let us take this one step at a time, but first, this is something you have to understand:

We do have our struggles. With money. With time. With work. We experience every single thing you think stands between you and your dream trip. But we’re not letting it get in the way of OUR dreams. See, our dream is to travel far and wide, see all the Philippines’ beaches and churches and festivals, taste all the delicious Pinoy dishes we do not know even exist. We all know you want that too. So keep reading, because you’re on the right track. 

Note: All views expressed here are ours.

The biggest, and most probably the MOST COMMON ‘hindrance’ to travel is MONEY. Well we say it isn’t, and it shouldn’t be.

And this is what this first post is about. How do we do it, and how do countless others bitten by the travel bug do it?

We book our plane tickets MONTHS in advance.

Booking a flight is a whole world in itself. There are concerns of where to book, when to book, how to pay, etcetera. We’ll try to cover it one by one:

FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH OUR LOCAL CARRIERS

SEAT SALES!!!
To increase your chances of getting first dibs into those seat sales, follow these airlines on Twitter (believe us, Twitter works!) or like their respective Fan Pages on Facebook. Important: TURN ON NOTIFICATIONS.

(updated July 2014)
PAL Express & Philippine Airlines
Tiger Airways & Cebu Pacific Air
AirAsia Zest
SkyJet Airlines (select destinations only)

TO BE A SEAT SALE KING AND QUEEN, KNOW THY RULES AND KNOW HOW TO BREAK THEM

1. Think like the airlines do (i.e., know thy enemy!). They conduct seat sales during holidays or just about anytime that would look perfect in the name and numbers game:

Piso seat sale for January 1
P11-seat sale for November 11, 2011 (11-11-11)
P12 seat sale for 2012

This means they will most probably come up with their own versions of a 12-12-12 seat sale on December 12, 2012 (probably P12 per person per way).

2. Cebu Pacific (which bought—and now controls—Philippine operations of Tiger Airways, as of 2014) is known for its piso sales, Zest AirAirAsia Zest for its Zestday Wednesday Sales, AirphilPAL Express for its P8 or P88-sales, and PAL for its P77 or P777 sales.

3. Airlines usually announce seat sales between 12 PM and 1 PM (lunch break! so better eat yours inside!) and midnight.

4. You may find more sale seats during weekdays than on weekends.

5. AirAsia PhilippinesAirAsia Zest is known to have pioneered the all-in fare system, advertising rates such as P275 which includes fuel surcharge and other fees.

SO THERE’S A SEAT SALE. HOW DO YOU BOOK AND PAY FOR YOUR TICKETS?

Book through the websites instead of travel agencies, whose fee almost doubles your fare price (that’s from experience).

AIRPHIL EXPRESSPAL EXPRESS: credit card
UPDATE (September 2012): AirphilPAL Express now accepts payments via 7-Eleven, Petron, and M. Lhuillier. Please click on this for more details.
CEBU PACIFIC: Bank deposit (within 24 hours of your booking, otherwise it will be cancelled; not possible on weekends unless you find an open bank then; credit card; debit card (thru ATM payment).
PAL: credit card; bank deposit (within 24 hours of booking)
ZESTAIR: credit card

WHY CREDIT CARDS CAN BE MORE FLEXIBLE:

1) you can book any day as soon as you find a seat that fits your budget and schedule (bingo!) including Saturdays and Sundays.
2) lets you pay even without cash on hand
3) you have more fare choices rather than relying on just the one airline that accepts bank deposits (and believe us, each of these four airlines could give you roughly the same fares. Not to endorse or anything, but ZestAirAirAsia Zest & Airphil Express have the cheapest year-round fares. You can book less than a month from your trip and still score P799-base fare).

HOW MUCH DO WE USUALLY SPEND FOR A FLIGHT?

Great competition = more affordable fares (and by affordable, we mean plane rides are not just for the moneyed people anymore; we even got two one-way tickets to Boracay before for P192 including taxes, but our trip did not push through)

For domestic flights, we usually spend P1000 to P2000 each for a round trip ticket, including taxes (these are usually the P799 base fares, which add up to P1,500 per person with taxes).

We book as early as 10 months in advance to get cheaper flights. For instance, if you want to book a Boracay flight this weekend for a planned April trip, you’re a bit late already since Caticlan flights are pricey (around P4,000 per way) especially because it’s summer. There are alternative routes, of course, but we will discuss that in another post.

ROUND TRIP OR ONE-WAY?

Booking roundtrip tickets saves you on web booking fees, but flying one-way can actually let you save too. Simple: book wherever it is cheaper per way.

This is a common experience: your departing fare is cheap–around P299–but the returning trip is P3,500. This is usually the case during seat sales that’s why they’re dubbed fake (most days they really won’t allow you to fly cheap, but you can always outsmart them by booking one way then looking for another more hospitable airline to fly with).

DITCH THOSE SEAT SELECTORS! (This is serious)

Nikka HATES online seat selectors. She believes they are the most brutally capitalistic, in-your-face tactics to take advantage of people.

Hey, get this, you do NOT need those seat selectors. You do not need to PREPAY your seats (or pay for your seats again, because you already did that, remember?) just so you could spend the next hour or so next to your boyfriend or mother or child. Because whatever happens, as long as you booked at the same time, they will assign you beside each other.

“It’s just P100 per way, which means I only pay P200 for both trips so no biggie.”

WRONG. Multiply P100 with 180, the maximum capacity of an Airbus 320 (assuming everyone paid for their seats) then you’re giving extra P18,000 per flight to an airline that doesn’t even serve you free water.

So please, SKIP those seat selectors, or as I have observed lately, UNTICK those automatically selected seats for you.

INSURANCE?
Insurance is anywhere between P180 and P250 depending on the airline. But we never availed of them. We’ve managed to touch down unscathed everytime anyway.

BAGGAGE
Airphil Express and PAL (who are sister companies) have automatic 15-kilo allowances for their Airbus 320 flights. These are included in the fare price already.
As of 2014, PAL Express and PAL economy flights (and all other local carriers, for that matter) do not come with free baggage allowance anymore. Prepaid baggage can be availed at the time of booking (upwards P180 for 15 kilos).

ZestAir lets you choose between with or without baggage fares (those without are P100 cheaper).

Cebu Pacific is a different case. They’ve scrapped the automatic baggage allowance altogether and lets you prepay your baggage (cheapest is P150 P180 for 15 kilos max).

If you really have to, stick to the P150 (15-kilo) allowance for every two people in your group (or just stuff everything in a backpack and don’t check it in. Hehe). We always travel with a tripod, which is automatically checked in, as well as a 10-kilo suitcase. We never exceeded 15 kilos. Remember, pay only for what you will use.

The rewards of travelling together

traveling gives you that high that even methamphetamine cannot give (not that we’ve tried that one though). But as anyone who has, even for just once, been somewhere far and somewhere new knows, traveling brings a kind of joy that comes even in the simplest of things:

tinoum
a new dish discovered,

sunset
a really fantastic sunset,

 
TWO2TRAVEL | Cebu | Bantayan
or a beach that’s so beautiful you’d want to just forget about your day job (and your boss, both of which suck) and stay sun-kissed all your remaining days.

Ah, what joy.

Every single new experience you get on the road is an investment in your character (and to some of us, your future). The mere fact that you decided to get out of your cubicle and go someplace strange means you still got it inside you. What, exactly?

wanderlust

Your wanderlust. We believe each one of us has this inner urge to travel that just needs to be woken up from slumber. Everyone who’s been hit by the travel bug knows this very well: once you start traveling, you’re never going to stop. 

Once you discover how much more you can do during a measly three-day stay in an island than three days in the office (pfffft), you would do everything to get back to your wandering self rather than be your office cubicle self. 

chart

This is not to say, though, that traveling is all about vacations where all you do is eat and go to the beach and sleep and eat many more times in between. We should know, because for the last year or so, we had been the most exhausted when we were on the road.

Instead, traveling should be all about experiencing things you otherwise won’t get at home or at work (duh), even if it means you have to force your body to do a double-time so you can squeeze in as much of these good stuff in your three-day stay. It’s a literal way of crossing boundaries, letting go of your comforts, because who knows, you might not experience this ever again. We thought about it that way when we went through hell and high water just to taste crabs (God they were good!), forked over an arm and a leg just to get to the next flight after missing ours (damn that again!), or denied ourselves any Christmas treats (and I mean ANY) because we were saving up for a 12-day trip. 

JAN2012
Clockwise from left: Bantayan, Cebu; Dinagyang, Iloilo; and Sinulog, Cebu.

These may not be as ‘bad’ as some of you may have experienced, but we certainly learned so much from all these adventures and misadventures. We’ve learned to sacrifice and stay calm no matter what happens. We’ve learned to value the simplest of thing (like arriving to fireworks in a remote island that barely had electricity!) and work really hard for what we want. We learned to dream together, to dream continuously, and to dream BIG! 

We hope that as we share with you some of these experiences, including some tips and directions and itineraries, you’d start packing your bags and ride those airplanes! As for us, we can’t wait to get on the next one!

Till then, 
Owen & Nikka