Ilocos: First Impressions, Observations, Retrospection

Like Cebu, I have always wanted to visit Ilocos because of four things: awesome beaches, historical sites, old churches, and delicious food. In spite of my complex relationship with bodies of water, I’ve always wanted to see Pagudpud, its sandy beaches and fierce waters, and stare enviously as guys surf effortlessly atop the waves; Marcos’ life has always been a fascination to me, probably because of one too many English 10 and History papers; I wanted to see Paoay Church, simply because I’ve never seen a photo of it I didn’t find marvelous; and I was curious to try authentic pinakbet and kilawin. That’s why when Cebu Pacific held a Piso Fare promo months back, I quickly bought myself and another friend tickets to Laoag. Finally, I would see Ilocos!


After months of waiting and saving up, our Ilocos trip happened. We boarded the plane at 7 in the evening, and arrived at Laoag Airport an hour later. The first thing I noticed upon—ehem—disembarkation was the weather: Ilocos was incredibly hot and humid. It only took a couple of minutes for my face to get all shiny and sticky.

A driver from our hotel’s shuttle service (whom we shall refer to as Kuya Shuttle) picked us up from the airport. On the way to the city proper, he was asking us where we came from, and how many days we were staying. I thought it was all small talk, until I realized where our conversation was leading to. Sure enough, he was offering tour services the next minute, discussing rates, giving out his cellphone number, and well, warning us against over-charging hotels and swindling tricycle drivers. He said he could take us to a Pagudpud Tour for only PhP2,500—supposedly, a good deal because the greedy hotels and cheating trike drivers would charge us more.

Forewarned, we slept that night feeling smarter, until we overslept the next day—missing Kuya Shuttle’s tour. We apologized for not waking up on time, and informed him we would just go to Pagudpud by bus. After a quick breakfast, we waited for a tricycle that would take us to the bus station.

Enter driver #2: Kuya Trike. Upon hearing we were headed for Pagudpud, he offered to take us there via tricycle—as well as to the other tourist destinations. His price? PhP2,000. Whoa, that’s less than what Kuya Shuttle offered—I thought trike drivers were swindlers? After a little mental math, arguing with my friend, and weighing the pros and cons, we decided to take it. Traveling by bus would be definitely cheaper, the same way that a guided tour from Pagudpud residents presumably was, but we didn’t want the hassle of multiple transfers and longer waiting times.

Not to mention it was PhP500 cheaper than the original. I don’t care if these drivers double-cross each other, as long as I’m paying less.

(Digression: what if Kuya Trike was in fact an accomplice, planted there to offer a friendlier rate to innocent tourists like me? What if Kuya Shuttle was only pretending to bad-mouth trike drivers so we would immediately trust one when we encounter one?)

Ilocano brekky! (arte-arte ng brekky, LOL)
Anyway, that’s how we met Kuya Trike, whom we hired for the rest of our stay in Ilocos. He took us to Pagudpud, to a Paoay and Batac tour, and to the airport going back to Manila. But before this blog post turns into all about drivers, let me go back and start with my first impressions on Ilocos. First up, Laoag.


Laoag

the sinking bell tower
We got to Laoag on a nighttime, so most of the shops were already closed and the streets were incredibly quiet. All the tourist spots you can find in blogs are actually located within one area; you can see them all in less than 3 hours. We checked them out that night and didn’t return in the morning.

Provincial Capitol
Tricycle is the primary mode of transport—no jeeps nor taxis. Minimum fare for trikes is PhP9, although for far-flung areas it could reach until PhP30. As expected, drivers charge you higher if you’re a clueless visitor. Yeah, just like Manila.

sculpture from Fort Ilocandia
If you ask me, I honestly found Laoag a little unexciting: shops are closing early and there seemed to be a lack of attractions. Fortunately, I tasted the best empanada in our Ilocos trip there, so that somehow redeemed Laoag. In addition, I found the best, crispiest bagnet in a Laoag restaurant, so that's another big plus!



Pagudpud

Located on the countryside along the beach, Pagudpud is home to some of the most popular surfing spots in the Philippines. Saud and Blue Lagoon both have white sand beaches and huge waves perfect for surfing. We visited Blue Lagoon only briefly to try the food at Kapuluan Vista Resort (which was awesome, by the way), and from the overall look of the area it seemed like Blue Lagoon was more sosyal. Saud, where we stayed, looked humbler, with small resorts and homestays lined up along the coast.

the Pagudpud morning
On the way to Pagudpud, we passed by three tourist spots: Cape Bojeadar, a centuries-old lighthouse; Kapurpurawan Rock Formation, a fascinating blinding-white natural sculpture; and the windmills of Bangui, which were a thousand better in actual than in pictures.

Clockwise from top: Kapurpurawan Rock Formation; Cape Bojeador; Bangui Windmills
If Laoag was soft-spoken at night, Pagudpud was a deafening silence. Evangeline Beach Resort was terribly quiet, the only thing you can hear is the crashing of the waves, apart from the light buzz of people. I have no problems with the peace and calm, but I am greatly concerned with the lack of lighting. It was so dark, you’d think there was no electricity anywhere. Someone could easily fall off the water from the seaside restaurants by accident and die instantly, because nobody saw him.

Also, the shops and restaurants close early. Damn, I don’t even drink beer before 10pm.

Pagudpud sunset


Paoay and Batac

The breathtaking Paoay Church
The most impressive encounters I had in Ilocos happened in Paoay. The sand dunes. The majestic Paoay church. The Malacanang of the North. Paoay seemed like a pretty competitive and proud city, with streets that are spotlessly clean, brightly colored and lively.

4x4 and sand-boarding at Paoay Sand Dunes
Batac was Ferdinand Marcos’ hometown, and it was here where we found his remains. It also holds the Batac Church, but it wasn’t as beautiful as Paoay’s.

top: Malacanang of the North; bottom: Paoay Lake, the view from the Malacanang's balcony
Batac Church
I wish I was able to explore more of these two places. I’m sure there was more to them than these generic tourist must-sees?


Vigan

All the things people are saying about Vigan is true: it is indeed breathtaking. That clichĂ© about the city being able to transport you back in time? That’s true as well, albeit the presence of buses and tricycles. The old buildings are fascinating: stone and wood, browns and whites, intricate carvings. Even restaurants like Mang Inasal are forced to join the vintage theme—to preserve the overall look of the city. It was amazing.

Bantay Bell Tower
Our hotel, Grandpa’s Inn, was incredibly homey and charming. Dark panels and floorings, light-colored walls, and knickknacks from some long-lost era. I totally adored the place, not to mention the nearby restaurants.

Clockwise from bottom left: cute "closet" from our bedroom; my bed; old musical instruments
displayed in the inn's lobby; antique telephones; Grandpa's Inn's facade
Calle Crisologo, what Vigan is best known for, is a long strip of old houses and stores. But while the sights are incredibly attractive, the place reeks of commercialism as well. Souvenirs are everywhere, and kalesa rides are aplenty—seducing tourists to see the town, which could also be happily enjoyed on foot. The heritage sites charge no entrance fees, but donations felt compulsory. I don’t know, but that somehow smeared my otherwise perfect love for Vigan.

St. Augustine Parish
There! Those are the things I saw, and feelings that lingered after visiting Ilocos. Some are positive and some are negative, and I hope the latter don’t discourage you from going there yourself, because really, the place is awesome. I just think you need to be warned—and don’t worry, I won’t be making any money from this! Haha!

To help you further, I’m going to publish a series of posts about my Ilocos trip, containing detailed reviews of the hotels where we stayed in, things that struck me most about the tourist sites we saw, and maybe some tips to get around and avoid overspending. I will also be publishing our detailed itinerary and expenses report. So stay tuned!

~*~

PS: Notwithstanding my theories about double-crossing drivers, I still felt at ease with Kuya Trike because he was so knowledgeable about Ilocos and told a lot of interesting stories from his visits to Manila. I would recommend him to my friends going to Ilocos in the future, because he willingly gives in to requests, suggests changes in itinerary to maximize time, and doesn’t let you stay in one spot too long so he could either: (A) prolong the tour (and charge higher); or (B) make you miss the other spots to cut your tour short (and then he could go home and rest early). If you’re planning a trip to Ilocos and you're interested to get his name and number, send me a private message in Facebook.


Have you been to Ilocos? What tourist spots did you see? What were your observations? Do you feel like going there again? Share your thoughts below! Comments, rants, and raves are highly appreciated!

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Don’t miss any of these posts in the Ilocos 2014 series:

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pepe samson

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10 comments :

  1. Nice shots Pat! Magaling ka talaga mag frame ng shots. Sakto rin maganda weather sa Ilocos nung nagpunta kayo :) di lang pang pagkain, pang galaang picturan ka na rin haha

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  2. Nice view and shots. kaso may kulang pa. Yung kulang na iyon ay mag full time photographer ka na. hehe :) Pwede ka sa travel magazine.

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  3. Are these pictures taken by a Pro? Alam kong magaling kang magconvert ng nakikita mo at naiisip mo sa pamamagitan ng pagsusulat, at ngayon kaya mo naring iexpress yun sa pamamagitan ng litrato. Great job! Gustong gusto ko yung framing mo, at ang paggamit ng skies (well-exposed foreground and background) kahit na sa araw at gabi. Hindi ka nalang pag food photog/blog pang travel photog/blog ka narin.
    Keep up the good work! Keep exploring, learning and inspiring. (Parang may mali sa construction ng last sentence ko)

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  4. More! Haha! Just by looking and reading at your post, it seems i'm already at Ilocos! Great blogger! That's my brotha! :)

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  5. Balik ako dito, kung kasama na kayo. Haha! Thanks Jolo!

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  6. Haha naalala mo pa yung short stories dati na based sa pics mo? LOL. Thanks! Pati sa photog tips! :)

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  7. Naks! Haha. Thanks sir!

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  8. Patay gutom. Lakwatsero. LOL

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  9. No problem. pero yung cupcakes ko kelan mo papadeliver dito sa office? haha.

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  10. Oo nga eh.. Sayang hindi ko natuloy yun.. Pero ngayon pictures mo na mismo yung ginagawan mo ng kwento..

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Let me know what you think!