Tag Archives: Baguio

A Filipino Vantage Point


English: Political map of the Cordillera Admin...Hidden just outside the mountain city of Baguio – summer capital of the Philippines – sits Tam-awan Village. An artists’ colony based around a cluster of the traditional dwellings of the Ifugao and Kalinga (two of the many tribes of the Cordillera region), Tam-awan was founded in 1998 and continues to attract the more intrepid visitors from all over the Philippines, and, indeed, the world.

Baguio hills

Blurry Baguio hills

Approaching from the winding mountain road, on a clear day you can see how the village earns its name, meaning ‘vantage point’ – the views stretch all the way over hazy slopes to the South China Sea.

Inside the complex, huts nestle on their stilts in the greenery, staggered up the steep hillsides from the entrance point. When we arrived, early one New Year’s Eve, all was quiet.

Our  booking seemed to have been lost, but the smiling girl in the office assured us that one of the huts was free. A glance around at the decidedly adult artwork and décor confirmed that ours was the ‘love bug hut’ – perhaps less traditional than the others, but certainly full of character.

Tam awan Village

The rest of the huts are built of dark polished pinewood and were transported from different parts of the Cordillera before being reconstructed. One enters through a small door, emerging in a room whose walls are low, but which is surprisingly spacious due to the pitched thatch roof. Two of the larger huts at Tam-awan are employed to display the eclectic artwork of the Filipino artists who use it as a base. As part of the village’s aim to preserve and promote Philippine culture, guests can also participate in workshops and see music and dance demonstrations.

Getting ready to head into the city that first night, we stumbled down stone steps, wrapped up against the evening chill and already steeped in the smell of wood smoke. We stopped off first in the café, whose blazing lights offered the only illumination in the otherwise pitch dark. There the music was of an altogether less ancient provenance. The staff sat round the videoke (karaoke) machine with beers: they ushered us in and plied us with longganisa (Filipino sausages) and ice cream. It was all we could do to resist the enthusiastically proffered microphone.

Mornings up in the village were cold but fresh (the showers, presumably supplied by the nearby spring, even more so); the mists rolling in from the mountains adding to the other-worldly feel of the place. Nonetheless, days started early, and even here there was no escape from the clamour of Philippine life. Just as the Tokay gecko finished its nocturnal football-rattle-and-hooter call, the videoke machine would spring back into full voice, distant buses would blare their horns and visitors to the village would arrive chattering animatedly.

Tam-awan feels a long way from the tropical beaches the Philippines are perhaps better known for, a long way from anywhere, in fact. It’s a very Filipino kind of sanctuary, and I’m not sure there’s a better.

Baguio City

Baguio City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



X Factor Nation

Provinces and regions of the Philippines


The crowd waited breathlessly as the singer tapped his microphone once, twice, his eyes darting from side to side. As the introductory notes started up, one member of the audience let out an involuntary yelp. The singer gave a dazzling smile and began to croon, ‘I throw my hands up in the air sometimes, singing ay-o. . .’

The ‘crowd’ consisted of my boyfriend and I, and three members of staff from the Tam-awan artists’ colony in Baguio City, the Philippines. The singer was a fourth member of staff, and this was their New Year’s Eve.

The day before the finals of this series of The X Factor are aired, aspiring Brits might do well to cast their eyes towards the Philippines for some musical inspiration.

Never has a nation seemed better suited to these supersized talent shows, as the popularity of the Philippines’s sister programme – Pilipinas Got Talent – demonstrates. (And for an instant mood-lifter I can’t recommend checking out a few clips on You Tube enough.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, Filipinos have embraced the opportunity to sing their hearts out on national television with gusto.





From the moment we landed in Ninoy Aguino airport in Manila, music and exhibition were everywhere. In the ubiquitous ‘videoke’ (karaoke) bars, tunelessness and even shyness are no hindrance to performing. As Butch Aldana, owner of the institution that is the Penguin Café/Gallery – bar and gig venue for up and coming musicians – as well as former percussionist of Philippine band Pinikpikan, remarked to me, ‘When a Filipino has money, the first thing he will buy for himself is a videoke machine.’

Not quite ready to embrace the videoke microphone, on our first night we eased ourselves in with dinner in Zamboanga in the popular Manila tourist district of Malate. There we watched their nightly cultural show while sampling local cuisine. There’s no guarantee customers won’t be hauled up to the stage to join in, but we managed to dodge it on that occasion. We’d been given a word of warning – Filipinos are as subtle with flavours as they are with volume – we were to expect garlic, sugar and salt in attention-grabbing quantities. Afterwards, a string trio circled the room, playing pop hits from our native countries while a chubby local toddler danced along enthusiastically.

Night-time entertainment in El Nido

In buses, taxis and jeepneys (flamboyant converted jeeps that act as cheap mode of transport) cheesy tunes blare out at deafening volumes. Singing along is positively encouraged.

In the bars of beautiful Boracay, singers vie to be heard over those in the neighbouring establishment. Departing from El Nido airport in Palawan towards the end of our trip, a group of ladies in traditional dress serenaded us as we boarded the plane.

With a full calendar of festivals, in the fun-loving Philippines every day is a party. I noticed many shops, offices and jeepneys with plaques or printed signs reading, ‘The problem with life is that there’s no background music’ – which struck me as somewhat ironic in the circumstances.

If you can't beat 'em. . .

This is not a place for musical snobbery. A visit to the Philippines is the ideal opportunity to put all those years of practising in the shower to good use!