Home. Nothing can be more spectacular than coming home and living the Christmas spirit in the bosom of family and friends. But more than just home, Bacolod has a certain allure that a local like me could never place her finger into yet finds visitors and tourists prattling about it.
Bacolod is the capital of the province of Negros Occidental, the other half of the sock-shaped island in the central part of the Philippine archipelago. The city is not as fast-paced and urbanized as Metro Manila or Cebu. However, malls and coffee shops are slowly sprouting around the city that brings Bacolodnons to buzzing and moving.
Known for its sugar produce, Bacolod City and Negros Occidental boast of the warm hospitality and sweet nature of its people. Even when the sugar industry went down in the 80’s, the people found a way to cheer up and celebrate amidst the economic crisis. Locals would love to show you around and serve their best and sweetest delicacies.
Though Bacolod City is small, the combination of its economic progress and the conventional, tranquil ambiance always charm tourists and visitors. The small side streets are always filled with colorful jeepneys that have different designs from the traditional ones found in Manila. The downtown area has a public plaza and market where people sell various items especially during the holiday season. The sidewalk of the plaza fronting the Cathedral has rows of thrift shops selling clothes, bags, shoes and stuffs that can be given as Christmas gifts. Large speakers are sometimes placed at the sidewalk with loud Christmas music to attract shoppers.
The Panaad, an Ilonggo word meaning “offering”, is an area in Bacolod that showcases the best of the various towns in the province. The Panaad Stadium has a large track and field where most grand sports activities are held. The Panaad Park has small galleries featuring every town in Negros Occidental with each town dressing up its little gallery and gardens for Christmas. Locals and tourists come to view the Christmas decors and the fireworks display.
During the Christmas season, families get together over lunch or dinner. Christmas lights and decorations are found in every homes, establishments and parks. The Capitol building looks majestic with the lagoon and colorful lights in the foreground. For a restful holiday season, Bacolod is a welcome place to locals coming home and to tourists wanting to have a feel of the fresh, sweet Negros air.
If you plan to spend the holidays in Bacolod, book your hotel and plane tickets two months in advance to get lower rates and discount. Due to the influx of travelers, local airlines give promos in advance.
There are many good getaways within and around Bacolod. Check the local tourism office for package tours that will bring you to nearby Silay City, Mambukal hot springs or the local beaches. Though the people can easily understand and speak English, it would still be good to learn the basic local dialect.
A number of ATMs are in Bacolod city but if you are traveling to other towns within the province, it is safe to have a few pesos in hand. It would come handy to have a mobile phone with you as there may be places without pay telephone.
How to get there?
From Manila, Bacolod can be reached by air or by sea. Flights from Manila to Bacolod are about four to six in a day and may take 45 minutes only. Trips from Cebu are shorter. A ship ride from Manila however may take 20-24 hours, not ideal for those who are following an itinerary. Book your tickets a month or two in advance to have cheaper rates and to ensure seats. When December comes, most flights are full because of people coming home and spending their vacation in Bacolod.
There are many taxis and jeepneys plying within Bacolod city and nearby towns. But they become infrequent by night fall. Be sure to check the jeepney routes before you load them. However, some places within the downtown area can be reached by walking.
Robinson’s Place is the first mall in Bacolod City. Although new malls are being built in the city, most people still go to Robinson’s Place to shop, to meet friends and to relax. “Rob”, as locals popularly call the mall, is in the northern part of Bacolod and serves as a gateway for people from Silay City, Talisay City and other Negros city and town from the north.
Robinson’s Place has a fair share of restaurants, fast food chains and coffee shops; the latest addition is Calea, which is a local pastry shop that is gaining a following from sweet lovers. Just at the main entrance, Calea greets mall goers with their own brand of cakes. At the other side of the main entrance was a doll house looking cubicle with kiddie-size Precious Moments character. Inside the stall were Precious Moments dolls of different sizes and wearing various themes.
Upon entrance, a large fountain sits at the center which sometimes doubles as a stage for events. This Christmas, Barbie dolls dressed as fairies were hung over the fountain as a decoration.
Families and teenagers hang out at Robinson’s Place to watch movies or play at the entertainment center. Both can be found in the 3rd floor. Robinson’s Place in Bacolod is just one of the numerous Robinson’s mall chain owned by the Gokongwei family.
The Bacolod City public plaza is the heart of the city. Its location was designed just like how towns and cities were arranged during Spanish time: a Cathedral, a market, and police precinct around the town square. A cemetery should be beside the church but this was already converted into a school, where my alma mater now stands.
Almost every public utility vehicle, the jeepney, passes through the city plaza or the central market. When Christmas season arrives, the walkways around the plaza, especially the side facing the church, are filled with stalls selling bargain items. People usually sit idly in one of the benches or stroll at the plaza, which also serves as a park. Others hold public debate here. A small gazebo stands at the center of the public plaza. Children would play in the gazebo when it is not used for any public function or occasion.
Apart from bargain displays, the city square comes alive with Christmas lights hanging on large trees. Sometimes, beautiful Christmas trees which are up for competition are displayed in the plaza.
On the eve of New Year, fireworks are lit up in the plaza by people living near the heart of the city. Smoke fills the square after so much noise and light displays. Funny though when the first of January comes, you can find only a few people in the plaza while the market and malls around it are closed. Probably many businessmen are still asleep or are out visiting relatives during this time.
The majestic columns and steps of the Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol is a favorite postcard picture. At the foreground is the Provincial Lagoon, a man-made body of water, with a park and golden carabao/buffalo statues which add color to that beautiful scene. Add some slides and a children’s playground on the side, Christmas trees and floating Christmas lights at the lagoon.
That’s the scene during Christmas season. The Provincial Capitol becomes a fusion of Spanish architecture and modern lights and decors. The capitol building is a familiar structure that connects the city’s present to its past. Being the capital of Negros Occidental, Bacolod City enjoys this landmark in its boundary.
The Provincial Capitol houses the office of the governor and other offices that run the affairs of Negros Occidental.
When you’re looking for elegance plus a place to dig in some food souvenirs, Pendy’s is the place to be. Located along Lacson St., Pendy’s is very accessible. You can take a jeepney going to Mandalagan, Bata or Talisay. Many residents come here to purchase the local food delicacies that they will bring to their destinations.
Pendy’s has a quiet and serene atmosphere. It has a touch of sophistication that makes it stand out from other restaurants. Most of Bacolod’s elite come here for coffee and for an afternoon chat. In fact, the time that we went there, women in their fifties and sixties were huddled in one table. Their food is a bit pricey but tastes great. They offer American food like burgers as well as pasta and several pastries.
They also have Napoleones, a delicious tart with sugar frosting, and various kinds of chocolates. They also sell some souvenir items like key chains and shirts with Bacolod or Negros imprint.
Negros Museum Cafe
Too bad when I went to the Negros Museum it was still closed for the holidays. Nevertheless, my sister and I dropped by at the Museum Café. It was a bit small yet cozy. Underneath the glass tables were diorama and other artsy stuff that depicts about Negros and the Philippines.
A glass wall separates it from a section in the Museum. From the coffee shop you can view some art works made by students. There were paintings and colorful paper arts. So, while sipping coffee you can already let your eyes wander and appreciate the display at the other side of the room.
The food in the menu were not too pricey but they’re not too cheap either. There are mostly pasta, bread and some cakes for snacks.
To get to the Museum Café, take a jeep with signage “Banago” from the Public Plaza. If you’re not too sure, as jeepney routes sometimes change from time to time, ask the driver if it’s passing by the museum or the provincial capitol building.
L’Fisher Hotel is one of the prime hotels in Bacolod. It is located along Lacson St., near the Negros Showroom, Capitol Lagoon, Provincial Capitol, and several restaurants and boutiques. It is also one of the nicest hotels in town though not too large compared with other grand hotels. The lobby is very welcoming with sofas and settees for visitors while a grand piano is placed at the center that place beautiful music.
One of the biggest attractions of L’Fisher Hotel is its delectable breakfast. Various cuisines are prepared every morning to satisfy your gastronomic needs. Great chefs prepare the food with efficiency.
The rooms are well-lit. They are of the right size and ventilation although the floor carpet seems to have the need for a change but I didn’t mind. The room, as well as the bathroom, is complete with amenities needed by a traveler.
The room rates are not that very expensive, in international standards, but L’Fisher is definitely one of the more expensive hotels in the city. To get to L’Fisher, from the airport, you can get a cab to take you there. Or, you can request the hotel when you book a room for a transport service that will pick you up from the airport.