Bacolod is best known for its Masskara Festival, a truly festive event that culminates with an extravagant street parade filled with colorful masks.
Without Masskara Festival, however, Bacolod isn’t really seen as a tourist destination. Bacolod doesn’t have scenic beaches, typical of places like Bohol or Cebu.
We went to Bacolod prior to Masskara Festival, and as our plane descended on the island, I made a quick survey of the province so vastly covered with sugarcane plantation.
Right there and then, I wondered if we would even enjoy the place, sans the beaches that tourists usually look for in tropical paradise Philippines.
Although it was not yet time for Masskara Festival, we were not disappointed with Bacolod at all. And why should we be? We got a round-trip plane ride for only 675 pesos, thanks to Cebu Pacific’s promo fares, hotel for less than 500 pesos per person, and one hell of a great food trip.
Decent hotels are very affordable too. We stayed at Grand Regal Hotel, where we availed of two-bed rooms for less than 1000 pesos per room. For breakfast, we walked about one block to Planta Hotel, where we enjoyed buffet breakfast for 230 pesos.
Grand Regal and Planta hotels are conveniently located across a Gaisano Mall and a Bong-bong’s outlet. Just don’t make the mistake of telling the jeepney driver to drop you off at Gaisano Mall because as in a lot of Visayas cities, Gaisano shops are scattered all over the city, and you might end up at a different location.
Aside from the good food, tourists can visit some ancestral houses, which provide guided tours to sort of help the visitor imagine what life was like for the farm owners (hacienderos) in the past. Many recognizable names, e.g., Locsin, Lacson, Gaston, are linked to the original owners of the ancestral houses.
Ancestral Houses of Silay
Take a trip to Silay, where the new domestic airport is located, and explore the ancestral houses of Bernardino-Ysabel Jalandoni and Victor Fernandez Gaston. Victor Fernandez Gaston Ancestral House is more popularly known as Balay Nigrense. For a small fee of 40 pesos per person, visitors will be taken around the houses to learn more about the history and the stories behind the items inside.
Tourists come here mostly in the afternoon, and wait for the sun to set. At that time, the building, or rather, its skeleton, turns golden — perfect for photo ops. Visitors can take a tour around the remains of this mansion, which after it was burned in World War II, magnificently remained standing. The guided tour includes interesting stories and facts on how this building’s structures survived the war.
Bacolod is home to famous chicken inasal, which is now all over Manila. Try it at Manokan Country, located near the SM Bacolod shopping mall — needless to say, SM is now a Philippine landmark for locating other points of interest. The place is a row of different restos specializing in chicken inasal. Tip: look for the restos with the biggest number of customers. Those most likely serve the best-tasting food in that area.
Another food place to visit is Pala-pala, which is similar to the dampa restaurants we have in Manila. You buy fresh seafood from a nearby market, bring it back to the restaurant of your choice, and they will cook it according to your instructions. Make sure to try their sinigang in Bacolod. They use a different kind of fruit, in place of sampaloc or kamias, to give that nice sinigang-sour taste. There are two Pala-pala restaurants in Bacolod City, but we went to the original place. It’s much simpler and down to earth, so it’s closer to the real deal.
There is a seaside food place in Silay that’s also good to try. Coming from Balay Nigrense, we asked the tricycle driver to take us to a good place to eat, and he took us to this street lined with restaurants serving fresh seafoods. You can enjoy food here while feeling the seaside atmosphere of the restaurant hut on bamboo stilts. The resto we picked made us wait for an hour before we were served, which was equivalent to suffering for a hungry bunch. But the wait was well worth it because the food was so good — and I’m sure it wasn’t because we were just so hungry. Favorite dish: fish with coconut milk, with just the right blend of spices.
Going Around Bacolod
From the airport in Silay, you can take a taxi to go to Bacolod City, or you can hop on a van, along with other people heading to the city proper. Some hotels, such as Grand Regal Hotel, have service vans that will take you to Bacolod City free of charge, provided that you will check in there.
Taxis are available all over Bacolod City, but it would be more fun, and adventurous, to go around by jeepneys, tricycles, or even that half-bus/half-jeep type of vehicle. The tricycles here can accommodate up to six, and maybe, even 10 people – astonishing. There were six of us, and we couldn’t fit in one taxi, but we were comfortable enough inside one tricycle.
We were warned, however, that it’s not wise to ride a tricycle during the night as some of the drivers tend to charge too much and bring the passengers in circles, perhaps to give the impression that it’s a far place where they are going.
Do be careful crossing the streets. Drivers here are crazy. There’s no such thing as slowing down at intersections, no turn signals, and people typically cross the streets carelessly as well. Incidents like being almost hit by a vehicle do not surprise them, as if it’s an everyday thing.
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