Every country in Southeast Asia has an upland, pine-clad retreat from the heat and dust of the lowlands, and Baguio (bah-gee-oh) is the Philippines’ exemplar of the genre. Like other hill stations, Baguio is a university town that boasts one of the Philippines’ largest student populations (a quarter of a million!), and is also a crossroads between hill tribe culture and lowland settlers. For most travellers, Baguio serves as the primary gateway to backpacker bliss up north in Sagada, Banaue and Kalinga.
Sadly, thousands of jeepneys, taxis and trikes are responsible for almost unbearable levels of smog in the city centre, and long-time Baguio dwellers wax nostalgic about the days before SM Mall marred every view and traffic clogged every street. Away from the traffic-snarled city centre, Baguio is airy and pleasant. If you’re returning from the mountains, the small-scale urban mayhem, nightlife and burgeoning restaurant scene are actually refreshing.