Sunday, November 22, 2015

VIGAN, LAOAG & PAGUDPUD TOUR: a detailed account of our Ilocos adventure

Why Ilocos? Because Ilocos has so much to offer. 

It has so much history. There's so much to learn, so much to do, so much to see, so much to eat... 

... it's a photographer's dream and a shopper's paradise. 


Last month, I decided to take a break from work. So along with two friends, I started planning a trip to Ilocos.

This time, I simply did not want to drive. Therefore, the best option was to travel by bus. 

Our route from Manila to Laoag



I. Preparations. 

I used  to find hotels suited for our taste and needs. It was very easy finding hotels, with discount. We had our reservations at Java Hotel in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte for 2 nights (Nov 14-16) and Hotel Luna in Vigan City, Ilocos Sur for 1 night (Nov 16-17).

Tip #1. Book your hotels prior to day of check in. The earlier, the cheaper. And choose days that are off their peak seasons.

On Nov 12, I went to Florida Bus  Manila terminal along Earnshaw St. to get reservations for their sleeper bus going to Laoag (P800/pax).

I checked the internet to arrange for a van to take us to Pagudpud from Laoag, and I found this ad:

I called up Fernando "Ronnie" Sales of Ilocos Travellers Van Rentals, 09985474900 / 09175474194, and we agreed for a Pagudpud Tour on Nov 15 at P3500 van rental.

I. On The Road.

The 3 of us left Grace Park Caloocan City on a taxi cab at around 9 pm Nov 13, and in less than 30 minutes we were already at the Florida Bus Station. We had plenty of time to relax before bus departure. The terminal had a coffee shop, and it was very practical to wait inside just to avoid the heat outside, so we ordered some drinks, a slice of chocolate cake, and a clubhouse sandwich. The meal was good.

The bus left at exactly 11:15pm as scheduled. It was an interesting ride. 3 rows  of double deck beds lined the interior of the 35-bed capacity bus. The beds below were more comfortable than the top beds, we didn't have to go through the hassle of climbing up and down the beds. The bus had a small comfort room, just okay for emptying our bladders.

Tip #2: When traveling long distances by bus, bring a jacket,  a bonnet, a blanket, and socks to protect you from the cold air conditioners, especially if you are cold-intolerant like me.


DAY 1. November 14, 2015

We arrived at the Florida Bus terminal in Laoag at around 730 am. We walked a few blocks to look for some place to have breakfast, and with the help of my waze app and some quick questions from the locals,  we easily found the ever reliable Jollibee.

Ilocanos are fluent in Tagalog, and most of them can speak English, so tourists won't have difficulty asking around. I had less trouble, since I have Ibanag blood hence I can understand and speak chopped up Ilocano.  The locals are friendly and they respect tourists.

We took a tricycle for a few minutes ride to our hotel. The fare was P11/pax. If you have coins, pay the exact amount. We didn't have coins, but we didn't mind not taking our change from our two 20-peso bills.

We reached Java Hotel at around 9 am, but we were not allowed to check in yet (check in time is 2pm, the earliest possible time is 12nn). Instead of paying extra for early check in, we decided to just leave our things at the concierge and start touring around.

III. Laoag City Tour

It was not hard to find public transportation (mainly tricycle), because the hotel is weirdly situated behind a gasoline station.

Since we did not arrange for a van rental to take us on a trip within and around Laoag city (I only arranged for a Laoag-Pagudpud trip for Nov 15), we asked the tricycle driver if he could give us a tour around the city, and he said yes.  Funny but we did not come up with an agreement on how much.

He took us to Paoay Church (a UNESCO heritage site), Malacañang of the North, and Marcos museum.

Paoay Church. Can you see me waving? 

Malacañang of the North

We did not visit the sand dunes because either it was out of the way or we were already tired and hungry.

Tip #3. It was a hot sunny day,  by the way, so be ready with umbrellas, water and sunblock.

By 12nn we were back in Laoag city proper.  We told the tricycle driver to take us to Saramsam restaurant, because it was listed as number 1 in Laoag according to TripAdvisor.

He charged us P700 for the entire tour,  and we gladly obliged.  By the way, his name was Jomar, 09092750598.

We later heard from some people that tricycles are okay within the city proper, but not allowed on the highway going to Marcos museum and Malacañang of the North and sand dunes, especially with tourists as passengers,  because of the danger of getting side-swept by trucks and other bigger vehicles.

IV.  Saramsam Ylocano Restaurant:
       probably the best place to eat in Laoag

 Saramsam Restaurant is in Balay da Blas,  a small hotel in Laoag City proper. It was small with a lovely ambience. For our first lunch in Laoag, the waitress suggested pizza and pasta. We ordered Puqui Puqui pizza and Dinuguan Pizza, which were both very good (I loved the former, while my friends found the latter exquisite).The pasta was also good, but were easily overpowered by the flavor of our pizza. I personally loved their Salamagui Iced Tea (Salamagui is Ilocano and Ibanag for sampaloc or tamarind). We were so satisfied with Saramsam, that we vowed to come back and try other dishes, which we eventually did, a day later. (Click the link above and see the menu).

Saramsam. I'll be back, promise! 

After our meal, we rode a trike to our hotel.

Tip#4. Don't be afraid to be adventurous when finding a place to eat.

At Java Hotel, we checked in at around 130pm.

We cleaned ourselves up, took a short nap, and by 5pm we went to the hotel pool for a swim.

The swimming pool at Java Hotel. 

V. La Preciosa Restaurant

By nightfall, we were famished, and we took a trike downtown, and went to La Preciosa Restaurant. We ordered chicken kare-kare. I did not really like it, but my friends ate it anyway. We also ordered bagnet and fried catfish, and I liked both. For dessert we ordered a slice of carrot cake which was interesting because it had shreds of carrots on top which made it taste weird. I just removed the carrot toppings and ate the overrated cake. We also ordered a blueberry cheesecake which was always a favorite of mine.

La Preciosa restaurant

It was easily noticeable that Laoag has a lazy night life. Most establishments are closed by 8 or 9 pm, and not all stores offer prepaid loads for your cell phones.

Tip #5. Be ready with your prepaid load cards.

The later the night got, the more scarce were the tricycles. Luckily we found one to take us back to our hotel.

VI. Java Hotel

I know Java Hotel because it's my mom's favorite place to stay in Ilocos Norte every time she visits Cagayan. It's a classy hotel with clean decent rooms and modern bathrooms.

They don't offer complimentary slippers, good thing we brought our own. They don't have elevators. It's located quite far from the city proper.

But the staff are genuinely friendly. And this 4-star hotel looks and feels like a 5-star hotel.

Some may complain about the gasoline station right in front of the hotel (but hey, at least you won't have problems when you need gas for your car), and the neighborhood had nothing much to offer, but I like Java Hotel nevertheless. Staying there was very comfortable, it felt like home. I will definitely choose to stay there again in the future.

Java Hotel

DAY 2. November 15, 2015

VII. Pagudpud Tour

Breakfast at Java Hotel

We woke up at 7am and we had our free breakfast as part of our hotel package.

Our van arrived to pick us up at the hotel lobby at around 830 am for our much-awaited Pagudpud Tour.  The driver, Manong Ronnie Sales was friendly, knowledgeable and experienced. And the van had videoke and wifi.

We first went to Bacarra Church and its domeless leaning bell tower.

Then heading farther up north, we stopped by a shop where salt was being made, and they let us have the experience of scooping salt as finished product (be ready with a P20 tip).

We visited the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse.

Kapurpurawan comes from the Ilocano root word "puraw" [pu-RAW] which means white, hence the White Rock formation. It was a long hot walk to see it, so we chose to ride a horse to reach the site, and it was fun (P100/pax) and was definitely worth it.

Horseback riding at Kapurpurawan

We visited the Windmills of Bangui.

Bangui Windmills

We went to Blue Lagoon beach in Pagudpud for lunch at a dampa/paluto style restaurant by the sea. We had a very nice meal worth P900+.

Welcome to Pagudpud! 

Tip#6. It's always best to invite the driver to have a meal with your group.

There at the beach, we rented a boat to ride the waves, and it was fun. They required a minimum number of persons in order to take a boat ride, but since there were only 3 of us, and there were only a few tourists around, they allowed us to take a boat ride as long as we paid the minimum amount of P600 for the boat.

The Blue Lagoon in Pagudpud. Where the South China Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. 

After swimming, we went to our last stop, the picturesque Patapat Viaduct, there at the foot of the Cordillera mountain range. As the 4th longest bridge in the Philippines, no Ilocos Tour is complete without visiting it. Beyond the bridge is the door to my beloved home province, Cagayan Valley (I really felt the urge to mention it.)

We were tired and filled with enjoyment, and we had no more time to visit other places in our itinerary, so we decided to head back to Laoag. Here's a picture of us, with Manong Ronnie posing behind.

The Patapat Bridge/Viaduct. 

Tip#7. Help the local industry by buying souvenirs with every stopover, and try not to haggle too much. 

By 6pm we were already back at Java Hotel in Laoag. We went to Saramsam restaurant once more, and we ordered Tinolang native na manok, and it was heavenly. We also ordered bagnet and, again, Salamagui iced tea.

DAY 3. November 16, 2015

The shuttle that took us to the bus station. 

After breakfast, we checked out from Java Hotel at 10am. The staff offered their shuttle vehicle to take us to Partas Bus station going to Vigan. The vehicle reminded me of the "tuk-tuk" in Thailand.


We reached the historical city of  Vigan within 2 hours from Laoag. A tricycle ride from the highway took us to our hotel.

TRIVIA: During the Spanish colonisation, the Chinese settlers referred to the area as "Bee Gan" (Chinese: 美岸; pinyin: Měi'àn), which means "Beautiful Shore." Since the Spanish conquistadors interchanged V and the B to refer to the /b/ sound, they spelled the Hokkien Chinese name "Bee Gan" as "Vigan", which is the name used to this day.

VIII. Hotel Luna

Hotel Luna is a world-class hotel in Vigan. The lobby is impressive. It has modern facilities. A quick check-in led us to our room at the 4th floor.

Hotel Luna

Hotel Luna
There was no place for us to dry our wet clothes, but they suggested that they can hang our clothes to dry up on the rooftop.

The beds were very comfortable, we had a large cable TV on the wall, split type a/c, and wifi (how can you go wrong with that?). The bathroom fixtures were modern, and the toilet seat was intimidating. It was one of those Japanese toilet seats where you push a button on a remote control and something magically happens "down there". The hotel has a pool and a museum.

I called a friend who resides in Candon,  Ilocos Sur and asked him where he would most probably eat in Vigan. Without hesitation, he suggested Cafe Uno and Cafe Leona.

IX. Cafe Uno

So we had our lunch for our first meal in Vigan at Cafe Uno, a short walk away from our hotel. It's a small restaurant inside a hotel called Grandpa's Inn. The tables were too close to each other, but the ambience was inviting. We ordered the Ilocano version of "papaitan", and it was so good we had to ask for extra rice.

Cafe Uno. 

X. Calesa Tour in Vigan and Neighboring Towns

After  lunch, we looked for a calesa (horse-drawn carriage) to take us to tourist spots in Vigan, for a standard price of P150/hour.

Some tourists prefer renting a tricycle because it's faster. But we chose the calesa for the experience and because,  well (clears throat), CLASSY.

Tip #8. Calculate the approximate time it will take you to complete the calesa tour so you will know if it's practical, and to know which places to see. For our case, it was 5 hours. It all depends on how much time you spend in each stopover. 

A Calesa in Vigan

Bantay Church

Our first stop was the Bantay Church...

... and its tower. 

Then we visited the prison museum where the 6th President,  Elpidio Quirino, was born.

Beside it was the birthplace of  Father Jose Burgos, one of the "Three Martyr Priests", more commonly known as GOMBURZA.

TRIVIA: Father Burgos was a close friend and associate of Paciano RizalJosé Rizal's older brother and mentor. Burgos's execution - along with Gómez's and Zamora's - deeply affected José, who was inspired to write his second novel, El Filibusterismo.

We visited a pottery shop.  Be generous. Even if you don't try making a pot, at least give a tip to the workers. 

We also visited the Hidden Garden. We realized it was actually a restaurant, and we were hungry so we ordered Halo-halo de Iloko and Vigan Empanada, which we ate while riding the calesa. It was a good idea, because we still had a long trail to go.

We visited Baluarte ni Chavit. I was not so happy with what I saw. You will know why when you see the museum where they display the pictures and actual stuffed heads of wild animals hunted by Chavit Singson for sport.

Our last stop was a weaving shop,  where we bought a lot of items perfect as souvenirs, "pasalubong", and/or gifts for the coming Christmas season.

The "kutsero" took us back to Hotel Luna. Our trip started at 1:15pm and ended at almost 6pm, but he only charged us P500 (he must have been confused with the time). We paid him P750 instead. It was worth it, anyway.

XI. Cafe Leona

That night,  we walked to Cafe Leona. I've been there before, back in 2008, and it didn't seem to have changed. Sadly, no maintenance work was evident, as we saw crackled paint on the walls. Their menu was confusing. We ordered fish soup and Vigan longganisa and we were satisfied. 

After that, we strolled around and shopped and took more pictures. 


Day 4. November 17, 2015

We woke up at around 7am and  rode a tricycle to the local market.  There, we bought several packs of bagnet and Vigan longganisa at cheap prices. We also bought some homemade vinegar. And oh, you have to try this:

We went back to Cafe Uno for breakfast then went for a final stroll down Calle Crisologo for some last minute shopping. 

We had lunch at Cafe Leona, then went back to our hotel to pack our bags and then we checked out. 

Hotel Luna

We took one last tricycle ride to the terminal of Dominion Bus,  and our bus left at 130pm as scheduled.  By 12mn we were already at Camachile near Balintawak where we got a taxi and went  home.

Tip#8: If you are commuting,  it is best you pack some meals, because you might not like the food served at the canteens where your bus would stop. If you don't bring your own "baon", be observant and when you see the driver and conductor eat at a canteen, then you should get out of the bus to eat, too. You don't know where the next stop for a meal would be.

Up to now, we still have a hangover from the wonderful and memorable trip to the north. I recommend you visit Ilocos, and you are sure to fall in love with it.

 Thanks for reading. Mabuhay! 

last edited: 11/27/15