The first time I visited Vigan in 2013, I can’t help but to fall in love with the place and its history. Not just with Vigan but of course with other places in Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte. I was there with a friend and I said to myself that one day I will bring my family there. True enough, fast forward to January 2015, I’ve decided to celebrate my birthday there (not exactly on my birthday because I still have work) and bring my family since my Mom came home for a vacation. It was a last-minute trip because I have to check my budget first (it was my treat to my family) and my work schedule as well. Thank God and everything fell into place. A week before our departure date I was able to book our hotel, find a van rental and create our itinerary.
On January 23, 2015 at 5 in the morning, we arrived in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Since most of the restaurants were still closed, we decided to take a nap inside our van. Around 6:30am, I roamed around to score a place to have our breakfast. My itchy feet brought me to Vigan’s famous Calle Crisologo – a half-kilometer cobblestone street lined with fine examples of 18th century Filipino-Spanish architecture. To say that Calle Crisologo is beautiful is an understatement – it is a sight to behold! And if you get to view it at night, it becomes surreal, like drifting back through time. You can also ride a “Kalesa” (it’s a horse-drawn carriage which, if I’m not mistaken, will cost you roughly about 250php). This will give you a trip-down-memory feels. They say you shouldn’t miss the Bantay Bell Tower (which I haven’t visited yet Well, at least I will always have the reason to go back and embrace the 10-hour ride lol). After breakfast, we roamed around and bought some souvenirs, then off we head to Baluarte.
The famous Baluarte is just 10-minute ride away from Vigan and owned by Governor Chavit Singson. It is also a must to visit this place because, unlike the usual zoos we are used to seeing in the metro, it is a place where animals roam freely. And, oh, have I mentioned that you don’t need to pay any fees to enjoy Baluarte? Yup! You read it right! Gov. Singson is generous enough to waive off any fees for the visitors to fully enjoy the experience. He said that it is his gift to his fellow Filipinos. How cool is that?
Some of the animals you could see here are ostriches, horses, monkeys, deers (I guess those ARE deers lol) camels, (desert feels, really!), tigers (there’s one where you can have your photo taken), peacocks (if you are lucky enough, you’ll see how the male peacock flirts with a female one by displaying his feathers), eagles, iguanas, pythons and there’s also a butterfly sanctuary. There’s even a live show where you can get a chance to interact with other animals – of course with a guidance of their friendly zoo keepers.
From Vigan, we drove all the way to Ilocos Norte for 2 hours. Our first stop was Batac, where Ferdinand Marcos Presidential Center is located. The home of the late President Ferdinand Marcos now converted into a museum with his own memorabilia and other family members as well during his political life.
Also, within the same building is the mausoleum of Pres. Marcos himself. It is a small air-conditioned dimly lit room with lots of flowers (I’m just not sure if those were real). Upon entering the room, you will hear background music (a Gregorian chant I guess). A caretaker will follow you because taking pictures are prohibited inside the mausoleum.
That was the second time I saw his preserved body but up until now I am having doubts if it is indeed real (hahaha may pagdududa pa! Yes my trust issues po talaga ako lol). After our brief visit to Batac, we headed to our last destination for the day. A nearby town of Paoay.
This place is very famous because of the St. Augustine Church of Paoay – one of the four baroque churches in the country. It is also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site on 1993. It is made of coral blocks and brick that incorporates Gothic, Baroque and Oriental designs that add up to its striking appeal (thanks to Wikipedia for that information lol). It is built to withstand earthquakes by the Augustinian friars in 1694 to adapt to the Philippines’ earthquake-prone reputation.
From Paoay, we drove to Laoag to rest. We stayed at Palacio de Laoag. P5,500 for a night for 10 pa with free breakfast. Good deal right? The room is okay with a single bed, a double deck and an extra mattresses plus a small comfort room. Not bad for an overnight stay.
Hotel amenities included swimming pool and a small bar where you can drink and play billiards. The food was great.
On our second day after our breakfast, our first destination was Bangui Windmill. It was an hour and half drive from Laoag. As I’ve mentioned it was my second time in Ilocos but it was my first time to see these giant “electric fans”. The Windmills generates 40% of Ilocos’ electricity, contributing in reduced greenhouse effect that leads to global warming. Amazing isn’t it?!
Seeing these numerous beautiful giant electric fans is one of the highlight of our Ilocos adventure. From Bangui, we went back to Suba in Paoay to visit the Malacanang of the North also known as Malacanang Ti Amianan. It is the official residence of the Marcos’ in Ilocos Norte.
Trivia: Malacanang Ti Amianan was the birthday gift of the first lady Imelda Marcos to her husband’s 60th birthday (Bongga ng gift! Ako nga kahit doll house lang e lol).
Our Ilocos trip won’t be complete without the extreme sport activities at La Paz Sand dunes. I asked my siblings and cousins if they wanna try (crossing my fingers while asking them because it’s on my bucket list). Good thing they said yes! challenge accepted! Wohooooooo!
We first took a 4×4 ride. Go figure! We had to stand at the back, hold on tight (kagaya ng pag kapit mo sa mga pangako nya na babalik siya charot! #hugot), no harness nor anything! One have to make sure they ate “Balot”! As Filipinos say it “pampalakas ng tuhod”. Literally, cause believe me when I say that this ride scared the hell out of me. I’m not a fan of any extreme amusement ride and riding that 4×4 felt like I rode a roller coaster again and again!
The route was different trails and we started of course with the easiest. “Mani Lang!” Then it became challenging until I thought it was the end, but wait! There’s more!
The jeep stopped at the edge of a slope, stepped on the gas and drove down. Everyone screamed so hard!! The feeling is so surreal! I even cracked a joke to our driver and said “Kuya, may mga madaling daan naman bakit doon tayo sa mahirap dumaan? Yung puso ko nakadikit lang ng scotch tape to muntik ng matanggal!”. LOL
Besides the 4×4 ride, they also offer sand boarding. There are 3 levels that you can try in different ways. The instructor gave us option if we want to sit or stand and we chose the latter. I didn’t have a hard time doing it because for me it’s like I’m just surfing. (I’m not bragging swear!)
Everyone tried it even my 7-year-old cousin who was shaking after (so proud of him). We went to another level, which is a little bit steeper than the first one. I was at the middle of the slope when I fell off the board because I was looking at my GoPro lol.
Finally we reached the last level, it was very steep. And because I’m afraid of heights, I didn’t try it. My brothers and my cousins (except the little one) tried it but this time they were sitting.
After that we decided to end the activity and go back to the registration where my mom and grandma was waiting. If you wanna try this activity, I suggest you schedule irt early in the morning or late in the aftenoon because we did it at 2 in the afternoon under the heat of the sun.
To sum it up, it was indeed a super fun experience specially because I spent it with my family. Two days full of memories with special people in my life was a great way to celebrate my birthday. It was PRICELESS!
How to get to Vigan/Laoag:
Via Private Car – 8-10 hours; Via Plane to Laoag Airport – Less than an hour
There’s a lot of bus company that can take you to Vigan/Laoag and it’s up to you which one you want. (The First time I went to Ilocos, I took Florida’s sleeper bus)
- Florida (Manila near UST)
- Partas (Cubao and Pasay)
- Dominion (Cubao)
I suggest to make an early reservation.
From Calle Crisologo to Bantay Bell Tower or to Baluarte – You ca hire a tricycle or ride a Kalesa (if you are going to Bantay Bell Tower)
From Vigan to Laoag: You can take Partas Bus. Travel time is 1.5 – 2 hours
Tour around Laoag: The first time I went there hire a tricycle to bring us to Paoay Church, Batac and Malacanang Ti Amianan
Pres. Marcos Center – P50.00 ; Malacanang Ti Amianan – P30.00
La Paz Sand Dunes 4×4 and sand boarding – P2500/5 pax (in our case we were 6 adults and 1 kid because we are so skinny lol)
Where to eat:
There’s a lot of restaurants from low budget – high end restos both in Vigan and Ilocos Norte. But my favorite is at Batac Riverside Empanadaan near Pres. Marcos Center.
“Time spent with FAMILY is worth every second…”