Wanderlust | Old world vibe

While some old buildings are refurbished to look new, we recently visited a modern one designed to look, well, pre-colonial.

Balai Belen is a bed and breakfast facility tucked in the middle of RGA Village in Bajada. While it is a residential area, its location (Garnet Street) has become more and more commercial each day as it is now being used as a bypass road from Dakudao creek to R. Cabaguio Avenue.

“This building was originally constructed as an apartment. However, after my vacation with my husband in Ilocos, we were inspired to make it into a bed-and-breakfast facility,” said owner Che Afdal Zhang.

But it wasn’t just ordinary accommodations that the couple had in mind but something that mirrors Filipino culture.

“That’s why we invited some Davao artists to make Balai Belen into their gallery. Today, we have around 20 to 30 artworks made by members of Gama and Tabula Rasa,” Zhang shared.

A likeness of the Philippine president at the restaurant entrance by artist Brando Cedeno

A likeness of the Philippine president at the restaurant entrance by artist Brando Cedeno

The artworks – a mix of paintings, murals, scripture and canvass art – are strategically displayed along hallways, inside the rooms, lobby and restaurant, giving it a more artsy vibe.

“I don’t paint but I am a big supporter of the local arts. In this digital age, it’s good to go back and appreciate the basic, like drawing, painting or sculpting,” she said.

The collection on display (which are also for sale) also helped gave Balai Belen its unique traditional Pinoy character. Aside from the art pieces, its concrete walls were also encrusted with faux Capiz windows while most of its furniture were made to mimic to antique heirlooms.

“It’s something that we don’t see in Davao – decorating the place with something that can also become conversation pieces for our guests,” she added.

Local art and faux Capiz windowns as part of the interior design

Local art and faux Capiz windowns as part of the interior design

To complete the traditional vibe, Zhang also made their dining outlet a destination for heritage cuisine. Apo Andoy’s Filipino Heritage Restaurant doesn’t only make you feel like you’ve time-travelled to the past, it also makes you taste some long forgotten recipes from various regions.

“We offer our guests ‘lutong bahay’ (home-cooked meals) and heritage food, which recipes we had to source from different provinces, like nilagpang, laing, pinaputok na bangus, and sugpo Alavar,” revealed Zhang.

It may be out of sync from its old world look but its cafe has its own quirkiness with its semi-industroal vibe.

“We only serve drinks and snacks at Pipes and Bites Cafe but since guests are clamoring for pampering services, we will soon expand this into a cafe plus nail and wellness spa,” she said.

Balai Belen, which name originated from the Afdal matriarch Evelyn, also has a 50-capacity function room.

“At first, we didn’t know how to run the place so we do it one step at a time. We really just want to provide inexpensive and decent overnight accommodation while serving food that we’re familiar with and that most people can afford,” quipped the young entrepreneur.

Posted in Lifestyle