Bacolod: A Quick Tour of the City of Smiles

Almost all trips in Negros Occidental start and end in Bacolod, the province’s capital. It’s the political, economic, and cultural epicenter of the province (though because of the Philippines’ confusing politics, it’s administratively separate from the province), and it’s worth at least a day staying here to get a glimpse of what makes Negrenses in the western part of the island tick.

After a four-hour ride back from Cauayan, I arrive in Bacolod just in time for dinner. I eat at a fast food restaurant in the city’s SM mall, and from there I walk to my hotel just beside the provincial capitol. I check in and rest a bit. Then I go to the hotel’s rooftop deck to take in the city’s panorama and listen to the Hiligaynon conversations around me while eating a piece of cheesecake and drinking a can of diet soda.

The next morning, after doing some work and eating breakfast, I do my quick tour of the city before. Naturally, I start with the area fronting the provincial capitol, where a large lagoon is surrounded by leafy sidewalks. It’s a Saturday morning, and the area is sporadically filled with people: parents with their young children, young adults keeping up with the latest gossips, and travelers like me taking pictures.

Green spaces surround the lagoon in front of the provincial capitol building.

A short walk from the capitol is the Negros Museum, housed in the old capitol building. Owned by the Negros Cultural Foundation, the museum displays various things that illustrate the Negrense society. The first floor houses exhibits from local artists while the second floor shows loaned items from various ancestral houses in the province.

The Negros Museum displays things that define the Negrense society.

At the back of the museum is the Negros Forest Park run by the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation. The park provides a sanctuary to various birds and creatures endemic to the Philippines and Visayas.

A park staff holds a monitor lizard, one of the residents of the Negros Forest Park.

After the Forest Park, I meet with my parents who have arrived from Manila. This is why I actually am in Bacolod now. A few weeks ago, when they learned that I was going to Negros Occidental, they wanted to come along. My mom wanted to see Bacolod again despite her having here several times before. But because my dad had prior commitments, he and my mom couldn’t arrive until today. Besides, I’m not sure their legs would’ve had the strength to do the Danjugan Island ecotour.

So there they are, I meet with them, and we check in at another hotel near SM. They spend the afternoon resting, while I go on with my city tour. Since it’s already 2 in the afternoon and I haven’t eaten proper lunch yet (unless you count a hotdog sandwich from 7-Eleven an actual meal), I go to the famed Manokan Country, where lines of informal eateries serve chicken inasal, Bacolod’s most famous culinary export.

The chicken inasal is a quintessential Bacolod dish.

Tummy grumbles fixed, I continue my walking tour and head to the San Sebastian Cathedral. This one’s a recent construction by Philippine colonial church standards, having been built in the 19th century. The church is notable for its coral stones, which were brought from the neighboring island of Guimaras. There’s a mass going on as I pass through.

The San Sebastian Cathedral is notable for its stones that were brought from Guimaras.

Across the church is the Bacolod Public Plaza, where a hodgepodge of young Bacolodnons converge. A group of boys are doing skateboard tricks in the wide square, another group of students are practicing their dance in a faux-Roman structure, and a smattering of families are having their selfies in a larger-than-life texts that read “Bacolod” and “City of Smiles.”

The Bacolod Public Plaza is a popular meeting place in the city’s downtown.

As a slight drizzle begins to fall, I walk to the Ayala Malls Capitol Central near the capitol. It’s here where I meet my parents again, who took a taxi from the hotel. We have dinner at a casual restaurant and explore the mall a bit. There’s a provincial trade fair at the entertainment grounds, and stalls representing the province’s cities and towns sell various delicacies and other products. On the stage, a group of young people are practicing their choreography for what I assume is the fair’s main event that would be held the next day.

The Art District is a hip enclave in the city, housing restaurants and art galleries.

At around 9 in the evening, I’m still filled with energy. Nonetheless, we finally decide to call it a day. We take a taxi back to the hotel.

It’s been 12 years since the last time I’ve been to Bacolod, and while a lot has changed since then (Oscar noted that traffic has become worse), much of what I remember is still there. That easygoing and friendly vibe. This is a city that’s really easy to love.

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