I’ve always felt that if you want to see the best of the Philippines, you must go to the Visayas. It’s the one place where you can get everything that’s good about this country. It’s got the beaches, the environment, the urbanity in its major cities, and the history – lots and lots of history. And one of the most “historical” cities in the country is here, Bacolod. It was one of the more affluent cities during the Spanish colonial era, with its wealth driven mainly by the vast sugar cane “haciendas” (plantations) that continue to exist to this day. Traces of its wealthy past can be seen with the numerous old mansions of the Spanish era “hacienderos”, on it and it’s neighbouring sister city of Silay.
Nothing captures the old, romantic Bacolod better than the sight of “The Ruins” (photos below). It is the remains of a once elegant mansion built by one of the local “sugar barons” – a name contemporarily used to describe the wealthy owners of plantations back then. The Ruins has a tragic backstory that led to it being called the “Taj Mahal of Bacolod”, for it was built not only as a house, but a monument to the then recently deceased wife of the then landowner. Unlike the Taj Mahal though, it was never a mausoleum, but was a fully functioning new residence of the widower’s family. The second tragedy was that it was burned by guerillas during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in world war 2. Today what remains is the skeletal structure of the mansion, but even that in itself is a thing of wonderous beauty.
Silay City, around half an hour’s drive away from central Bacolod, looks like a peek through a time machine. This city is abundant in old houses, old restaurants, old churches, old streets, and just about old anything. Here, some of the old aristocratic mansions have been preserved and turned into private museums – open to the public for a reasonable fee. The houses give a good view of the lives of the priviledged back then, but even simply navigating the streets of Silay sort of take you to a world where time moves slower,
Despite the rich history, Bacolod is a city that is in tune with the times. And that means big shopping malls and traffic, and more traffic. The center of Bacolod can be congested, and while it does not yet get into the EDSA or even Cebu levels of traffic induced stress, Bacolodnons are not spared from the urban hassles of growing cities. But there’s relief from the urban clutter in the form of a mountain resort.
The Campuestohan resort is nestled in mountainous slopes in the outskirts of the city, and the weather here is noticeably cooler even in the middle of August, one of the country’s most humid months. The resort is sort of a mish mash of everything. It’s a picnic area in some areas, it’s a water park in some areas, an adventure park in some areas, an overnight hang-out in some areas, a Universal Studios wannabe in some areas – sort of like it couldn’t decide what exactly it wanted to be so it decided to be everything at once. Not that it isn’t fun. It’s a legit option for recreation, and while it doesn’t give the peace and quiet most mountain resorts provide (it attracts quite a horde from all over the province), it can give families a much needed fun weekend.
So what do I think of Bacolod? It is a charming city, healthy and throbbing with life. It’s not as hectic and large as Cebu or even Iloilo just across the channel, but neither can you call it “little”. The transportation is as good as you can get in any major Philippine city, with taxis and jeepneys ruling the road. And it is orderly, and in fact I find it quite pedestrian friendly by third world standards, more so than its two larger Visayan neighbours.
We made this trip to Bacolod around 5 months ago, but only wrote about it now, which is a bit uncharacteristic of me. Why? I’m at a loss for words as to why. Perhaps I just could find the right words to describe it.