Going Loco at Ilocos!
If you're not into words then just check out my Ilocos Photo Essay so you can imagine what I've been babbling about!
It was around July of this year when I thought of going for a tour of Ilocos with my family. My wife just surprised me on my birthday with a Taiwan family trip this December (stay tuned for that!) and I wanted to give her the gift of travel for her birthday as well. Heard a lot of good things about Travel Galore’s bus tours in Ilocos from a good friend (SO: Chaii) and the best part is that it is very affordable. It was indeed very cheap - I ended up paying for just PhP 7,400 for a 3D2N accommodation with breakfast, with the tour bus as our means of transportation and all entrance fees paid already. I have a couple of concerns like the 10 hour drive and the accommodations that can fit in the amount that I paid for. Turns out that a 10 hour drive is truly quite long but the bus had its moments (there was karaoke and Q&A games) so it was sort of okay. We had to go to the Quirino Grandstand by 8PM to meet the bus and from there, it picked up a couple of fellow tourists near Trinoma Mall in Quezon City.
After a couple of stops and hours of restless sleep, our bus finally arrived at Paoay Church. We had a quick breakfast at a nearby eatery then I began exploring and taking pictures of the church. Paoay Church is highlighted by its massive buttresses on its sides and back. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the Philippine Government. The tour continued to a couple of touristy places in Ilocos Norte such as the World Peace Center Marcos Photo Gallery (a proxy of the Marcos Mausoleum), Malacanang of the North and the Sta. Monica (Sarrat) Church. Sta. Monica Church is really something with its wooden ceiling trusses. However, the highlight of the day (and of the whole trip!) was reserved for last - the La Paz Sand Dunes and the (optional) 4x4 adventure.
I wasn’t too sure what to think about this - I love going to the beach but I hate sand on my slippers - so I was quite apprehensive as we alighted on our 4x4 (P2,500 per 4x4, can be shared by five people). We were just going from one scenic spot to another for the first five minutes and while I thought the surroundings were astounding, the ride was a bit ho-hum. Then we were off to the actual sand dunes and HOLY $#!T was the word that came to mind and my throat multiple times. It was like a roller coaster that you had to stand up and literally hold on for dear life - because there were no safety harnesses. Interspersed in the craziness were different scenic views that were supposed to make you catch your breath but the mini-stopovers are nothing short of breathtaking. Within the perimeter of the sand dunes there was a beach and a cliff that was a delight to see. Then, it was back to cursing my head of off the countless slopes for what seemed like the whole afternoon (actually just 20 minutes or so). It ended with unlimited sand boarding which I tried out but it just seemed so sedate compared to the 4x4. Around 5PM, we were brought to our hotel in Laoag (very small but livable - the restroom even had a bidet!) and it was time to clean-up and rest.
The next couple of days were a bit more relaxing relatively and that’s a very nice thing coming from yesterday’s crazy afternoon. So on our Day 2, it was time to explore the scenic spots near Laoag and it did not disappoint. We started at Cape Bojeador Lighthouse and the views from its vantage point were just amazing. It’s the oldest functioning lighthouse in the country (more than 100 years in service!) and is declared both as a National Historical Landmark and a National Cultural Treasure by the Philippine Governement. Next up was the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation and the white cliffs set upon the blue sea was quite the sight. My wife and son rode a horse to get to the main destination but I just walked so I managed to take in the place a bit more. There were windmills aplenty near Kapurpurawan Rock Formation but where you’d see the most is at the Bangui area. Unfortunately (or fortunately), it wasn’t that windy that day and many windmills were just sitting idle. After lunch, we stopped by the Patapat Viaduct and the photo op there was fun and the view was spectacular. We had to time our group photo just right so that we avoid the speeding vehicles. The last tourist spot is the Blue Lagoon in Pagudpod which is really not a lagoon but a beach. The beach has fine, white sand and the swim with my wife and kid was so enjoyable that I wasn’t able to do the zip line over the beach anymore. The after-beach bath situation was not ideal (had to find the most decent paid bath room but even that sucked) but we managed and it’s again time for us to get back to our hotel.
We checked out on Sunday and headed to Vigan and the first location we visited was the Baluarte, a resort and mini zoo owned by one of the elites in Ilocos. A good mix of animals can be found there considering the size of the zoo (camels, ostriches, monkeys etc.) but I don’t think we saw it all since we don’t really have the time to roam. We also visited the showcase of animals that were hunted by the owner of the zoo and there were some large animals there on display like elephants and polar bears. Overall though, Baluarte was just okay and maybe it was the animal-sensitive part of me that did not appreciate the zoo all that much. Next stop is the Heritage Village and the history lover in me really appreciated what they did to preserve the old Vigan. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Center and a good proxy for a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia. We visited a couple of museums there but the highlight for me is just walking down Calle Crisologo and taking in all the history there. We also visited an old school pottery where my wife got to experience molding clay in to pot (or more accurately, pot-like shapes).
Before long, it was time for the return drive back to Manila. We bought Vigan empanada (nice but the Laoag version is better, in my opinion) and bagnet (the best!) as pasalubong before we left. Overall, I don’t think I’ll do a repeat but I am very glad that I was able to experience it. I truly enjoyed 4x4 experience and the views at the Bojeador Lighthouse, Kapurpurawan Rock Formation and the Patapat Viaduct are as good as any. The whole tour was pure value - we got way more than we bargained for and that’s pretty good! If there was any way to avoid the 10 hour drive then I would definitely be exploring that option. My suggestion is to go for this trip if you want an affordable and quick getaway over the weekend with friends and/or family, especially if you haven’t been to Ilocos. I don’t think this beats my wife’s Taiwan trip gift (which is where I am now, incidentally - will be writing about our Taiwan experiences in the near future) but it was a respectable gift nonetheless and I think she appreciated it and well worth the costs and effort. Try it!