It has been awhile and yes, I’ve been caught up with so much stuffs a lot lately. I missed blogging and communicating with you guys. Well, enough missing, it’s time to get back on track on my blogging habit and share some wonderful stuffs I have been busy doing lately.
Summer is just around the corner again and I can’t wait to hit the beach and get my summer activities ready. What better way to start the summer is to go on a vacation like you’ve never done before. Just few months ago I had the best weekend I’ve ever had for so long together with my boyfriend. I visited Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur and was able to check my bucket list places to visit. I am just so thrilled to be sharing this to you!
Countless times I did plan for an Ilocos getaway and I can no longer remember when it started. I thought I would never ever push this trip and see Ilocos. At last after numerous times of postponed planned tour, I got to visit Ilocos this time together with my boyfriend.
For busy and “tamad” people just like us who don’t have the time and patience to plan for Do-it-yourself trips, travel and tour companies will be your best friend. They will take care of every single detail of your tour from transportation down to accommodation. They even have an official tour guide who also serves as your group’s official photographer.
Should you trust travel agencies that you see online advertising their travel packages at a bargain? Coz, we almost thought that we’ve been shammed.
Our objective is to have an affordable but memorable travel experience. We looked into different travel agencies, compared their packages and offers. The N.E.C Tours have the most enticing package among other offers we had. Also, it was recommended by a good friend of mine. They reply and give immediate quotation for my inquiries. I really had no problems contacting and updating with them. Plus the tour itself was really good, given the fact that there will always be some glitches here and there but overall my experience with them was just so amazing! If you have any inquiries about N.E.C Tours just go to their website HERE. After we narrow down our choices we did our research, looked for their official website and read reviews on their Facebook page.
Moving forward, the package we had cost us Php 3,500/person all-inclusive except for foods and activities for 3 days and 2 nights travel and stay in Ilocos. Plus the travel agency provides you complimentary breakfast on the 2nd and 3rd day. You need to made a downpayment for reservation of Php 500/person. The balance amount should be settle 5 days before your scheduled departure date.
So, let me share to you guys how we explored Laoag, Pagudpud and Vigan in 3 days, 2 nights tour :)
We left Manila at 9:30 in the evening. From Manila we had 11 hours long drive (one way) going to Ilocos Norte / Ilocos Sur including stop overs. When we found out that the trip was that long, I prepared myself for some pain for my butt. It ain’t easy sleeping in the van but with the kind of itinerary that we have, catching some Zzzzs is a must. But, it doesn’t really matter because the journey is the destination. A trip here is like going on a one – stop shop because for 3 days and 2 nights, you can have a good combination of nature, heritage, outdoor activities and food all together!
Located in the northwest of Luzon, it takes approximately 11 hours to get here from Manila by land and 45 minutes by air. If you think you don’t have the patience to travel via bus or private vehicle for 11 hours, the most ideal time of departure is around 9pm of the night before your trip so that you can just sleep away for the whole duration and reach Ilocos as you wake up in the morning.
Ilocos Norte is such a fascinating place with a lot of natural wonders that would definitely leave every tourist breathless, with its timeless appeal and captivating beauty. I’ll try my very best to write down separate entries each day we had in the succeeding blogs.
Since we only have 3 days and 2 nights to explore Ilocos, our tour guide carefully chose our Must-Visit Places.
And after 11 hours of long drive, we finally arrived to Paoay, Ilocos Norte! #TouchdownIlocos!
FIRST STOP: The Church of Saint Augustine (Paoay Church)
At around 8 AM, we disembarked at the Saint Augustine Church or Paoay Church. It was the most gigantic Spanish-era church we’ve ever seen in our whole lives! I have been wanting to see Paoay Church. Just seeing the photos of this church in the internet makes me wonder what more does it looks like up close and in-person. It is one of the spots I’ve been looking forward to see. And when I was there already, it doesn’t disappoint me. The beautiful structure and the mix of Baroque and Oriental designs of this church makes me fall in love with it.
The church, which was built in 1704 and finished in 1710, is among the four remaining churches in the country that is characterized by a Baroque architecture. Paoay church was built using bricks, tree sap, and lumbers but what makes it special and strong is, it is mainly built using coral stones/rocks. Huge coral stones were used in the lower portion of the church to have a great hold of its weight. Its bell tower, although it is separated from the main building, is also made in coral stones. With its striking look and architectural design, Paoay Church was proclaimed as one of UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Philippines which took part in 1993.
A huge bell tower stands some distance away from the Paoay Church; that is quite a unique placement considering that in the Philippines, bell towers are usually connected to the main church building. The separation of the structures, we learned, was a damage prevention method. In case the tower topples down after an earthquake, the debris won’t damage the main church. The Paoay Church bell tower was used as an observation post by the Katipuneros during the Philippine Revolution and, much later, by guerrillas during World War 2.
After we offered prayers, I let my boyfriend roam around to photograph. I just sat there quietly and watched the few people inside the church. It’s so solemn; the silence and occasional soft thudding from somewhere are deafening. The solemnity and the atmosphere inside have something to do with it.
SECOND STOP: Sand Boarding and 4×4 Ride in Sand Dunes
If you think that Ilocos is just all about historical sites and natural wonders, that of course isn’t true! Ilocos is also a place for extreme adventures. This place is a protected area that was furnished with landscapes creating a stunning view of creative nature. It has been a shooting ground of some Hollywood and local movies. Due to the nice sand landscape this place attracts a lot of sand boarders and thrill riders. This was the most exciting part of our tour! If you are adventurous enough and looking for some thrill I recommend that you try this one.
There are handfuls of tourists that time joining the tour on separate jeeps and as we climb up and drop down the series of ridges, we can all hear each other’s ear-slitting screams like there’s no more tomorrow! It was really a heart-pounding, action-packed adventure with so much adrenaline rush and a different kind of fun!
An Exhilarating 4X4 Ride
The whole area of Suba Sand Dunes serves as the trail for the 4×4 activity. I never thought a jeep ride would shake the hell out of me. Yeah, I’m not kidding here. The idea of this activity is simple. You have to stand at the back of the jeep, hold on tight and survive until you reach the last level of the ride without falling or fading out. Easy? Hmmm, not sure of that. You’ll be going to different obstacles and big slopes. And what makes this activity more extreme is, there are no knee pads, elbow pads, and even helmet.
There are 3 levels as far as I can remember. Those 3 stops have different levels of adventures too, care of the different obstacles and big slopes like easy, medium and hard. The first or easy trail is more likely a warm up of what you could expect from the ride. We’ve survived quite a not so heart pounding moment for that, it was just like a bumpy road and it’s still bearable.
On the medium trail was a more serious challenge, we were already heading for a bigger and higher slopes. The best parts of the ride are the downhill rushes. Our 4X4 slows down at the ridge of a downhill track. Then suddenly, the driver accelerates as he drives down the slope. We could feel our tummies rising up to meet our lungs! That was elbow-breaking and knee-bruising for me because we are not properly geared up for such ride.
And for the hard trail—well, it was like a roller coaster ride! Yeah! No kidding! From the edge of a hill that was like a 90 degrees slope we will be dropped down gushing through the dunes and that was an extreme dose of adrenaline! I think it is the most steep part of the trail, I thought I was going to fall out of the jeep, it was like we were being thrown away side by side and mind you, you need a stronghold to survive this adventure or you’ll fall out on the side, really! Holding the steel bars at the back of the 4×4 jeepney while there were 6 of us, I was really screaming my lungs out! And my heart is bursting with so much excitement! On the other side my boyfriend was securing me, wrapping me around supporting my back.
After an hour or so, our 4X4 ride was over. I knew as well that these are professional drivers and know the trail very well. If not, they will not be issued a permit/license to drive in Sand Dunes. We can’t exactly tell you how much fun this was by just text and photos alone. It was a totally liberating experience!
After the 4×4 ride we then proceed to the allotted area for sand boarding – it is a sport that uses skimboard to slide down the sand slope. Sand boarding is also held on the same place where the 4×4 ride is being conducted. It was like that kind of slope for the beginner type. They brought two kinds of boards. One is for the sitting position and the other one is for the standing position. Again, no protective gears for this activity so take extra careful guys! As a starter, we started on a sitting position as it seems much easier than the standing. You will be slowly pushed through the sands to drop down the slope. So I sit down on the board then the instructor led the board at the edge of the slope. At first I was so nervous and afraid that I might fall flat on my face or worst tumble down but desire gives you limitless experience so I did my first try, same goes with my boyfriend. Then off I go! That was one great ride and I really enjoyed it.
Part of the attraction is stopping in different areas of the area to take awesome photos. What I loved about the Suba Sand Dune drivers is that they know how to take nice photos, and they even know the features of my phone that would best capture this amazing place. He took panoramic shots all by himself! Galing ni Kuya! I was really surprised!
This was really an awesome experience. If you want something awesome don’t ever skip the Sand Dunes! The Paoay Sand Dunes is definitely something one must experience when planning a trip to Ilocos Norte.
Here’s the video of our sand boarding experience. Enjoy watching :) Don’t forget to turn on the HD mode for good quality video :)
THIRD STOP: Malacañang of the North
Malacañang of the North served as the official residence of the former president Ferdinand E. Marcos. It is located in the town of Paoay Ilocos Norte. This place should always be present in everyone’s itinerary when visiting the historical province of Ilocos. It is within a 5 hectare property that overlooks Paoay Lake. It is one of the 29 houses that was built during the Marcos regime during is two decades of power. The Marcos family used to live here when they are in Ilocos. In 1986, the famous EDSA People Power Revolution ended his term and he was sent in Hawaii where he died a few years later. The palace was transformed into a museum of the late president’s memorabilia.
Just as I set my foot at the entrance door of the house it immediately revealed the lavish lifestyle of the Marcos family with all the lovely and elegant interiors of the house. The entire structure is very impressive. The spacious lobby-like receiving area and the huge rooms of the Marcos children holds the ground floor of the house. From grand living room to the elegant dining rooms, attractive guest rooms to the grand master’s bedroom – everything is a work of art. It has also an equally elegant grand staircase that compliments the grandeur of the whole mansion.
The wooden curved staircase was grandeur. The long dining table on the other side was really impressive and the expensive paintings of various national artists that hangs on the wall speaks more about their lavish lifestyle.
In the ground floor of the mansion is where you find lounge areas, a big dining area, Bongbong Marcos’ room and a guest room. On the second floor was the master’s bedroom and a lot more of interesting and antique finds. Just like the first floor, it has spacious halls and the interiors has a touch of elegance from the shiny wooden floors up to its ceiling with all the lavish ornaments around.
I know there’s more to explore on that mansion but we got pressured by the time as the fellow tourists began to clear out and the staff in the mansion silently counting and looking at the tourists.
The mansion is full of history. It’s just one of the Marcos properties took by the Philippine government when President Marcos stepped down. Visitors are allowed to go anywhere in the house, from one room to another and are allowed to take pictures. They just prohibit anybody to sit on the chairs and sofas to maintain its structure and finish. Thus, it has been a part of everyone’s itinerary to Ilocos. Everything you see there speaks grandeur. Take the opportunity to stop over and see it for yourself.
FOURTH STOP: Plaza Salcedo
The historical Plaza Salcedo is the central park of Vigan. It was named after to Juan de Salcedo who was a Spanish conqueror and founder of the old Villa Fernandina de Vigan (now called as Vigan City). But today, Plaza Salcedo is converted to a venue where one can experience and witness a dancing fountain show. It happens every night at 7:30 PM. Unfortunately, we haven’t experience watching it. The plaza served plenty of purposes during the Spanish Colonial period. It served as a parade ground for the Spanish troops, meeting venue for important announcements, and even as an execution site. Just a bit of a trivia, the famous revolutionary Gabriela Silang was publicly hanged in the plaza in September 1763 to serve as a warning to those who wanted to join the revolution.
FIFTH STOP: Bacarra Domeless Bell Tower
It is quite obvious that Ilocos, ostentatiously evidenced by Imelda’s fondness for the arts, is a hotpot for bricks, Baroque structures and grandiosity. Old Spanish-Baroque churches and bell towers have been among the most visited tourist destinations in the Philippines where majority are Catholics. Undeniably, every proud Catholics in every town take pride in their stunningly beautiful churches and the stories behind it, just like how the Bacarreños are proud of theirs.
Bacarra Bell Tower once reigned as the highest bell tower in the Philippine islands until it was trembled by 2 earthquakes that brought down the top most level. It is famous for its centuries-old, domeless or “beheaded” belfry known as Torre ti Bacarra.
Though not the highest anymore, curious travelers still drop by town to see what’s left of Bacarra Tower that was declared a National Cultural Treasure. Instead of cleaning up the mess left by devastation, debris were left untouched which gave more character to Bacarra’s pride. Rather, walkways, plants, and trees, were added to beautify the the tower and the church across it.
SIXTH STOP: Pasuquin’s Biscocho
This time, we’re heading Pagudpod. Along the way, we passed by to the famous Pasuquin Biscocho House. I’m mostly familiar with this pastry on it’s toasted and crunchy form. The Biscocho here is famous for its soft and tasty bread. It has a well guarded family recipe that made it famous throughout Ilocos Norte.
SEVENTH STOP: Salt Making in Pasuquin
From Pasuquin Bakery, we next proceeded to a crude salt processing area near the National Highway to observe the long-time tradition of making of rock salt, said to be one of the finest in the country. It is a common sight to see people riding in provincial buses that often stop at these stalls to purchase salt. Sold by the kilo and contained in plastic bags, the salt is cooked in large vats in huts which are usually found behind the stalls.
Under the morning sun, we observed the steamy process of how salt were made here. Clean sea water is first pumped into salt beds along the seashore, sun dried there for several hours and, when the various sediments and impurities have settled, the dried salt is transferred to vats in makeshift huts. Water is poured into the vats and then heated overnight (around 12 hours) by ovens directly underneath the pans, fueled by rice by-products such as dried husks, leaves and stalks.The coarseness diminishes during boiling, leaving pure white salt. So aside from using them as seasoning, it is also part of their livelihood.
EIGHT STOP: Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
We arrived at our next destination, the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse. Cape Bojeador is elevated at 386 ft. and offers its visitors a good view of the West Philippine Sea. It is the highest point in Burgos and in the whole region of Ilocos.
Cape Bojeador lighthouse also known as Burgos lighthouse is a 66-foot (20 meters) tall octagonal stone tower that seats on top of Vigia de Nagpartian Hill. Up until now, this 100+ year old structure is still functioning as a guide to passing ships and other sea vessels in the West Philippine Sea. (source)
From the main road we were pointed to a narrow two-laned winding road going up to the lighthouse base. We parked in a small corner and walked uphill until we reached the flight of stairs going inside.
Climbing up the stairs and feasting my eyes on the 360 degrees view of Ilocos is such an overwhelming experience. We start taking photographs. Though it’s so hot, we’re so glad the wind favored its way to us to cool down the temperature. There are vendors at the foot of the lighthouse that sell souvenirs (keychains, ref magnets, shirts, etc.) and ice scramble which was a hit for us since it was very hot then. Our visit was short and brief but the memory will surely last.
NINTH STOP: Bangui Windmills
As we get closer to Pagudpud, the sights are more likely to bring excitement to any traveler. One can never miss its extremely enormous blades waving in the sky. Bangui Windmills which are just so tiny from afar but is so huge in a closer encounter, it has really an astonishing height! The 20 units of gigantic wind turbines that were arranged in a single row stretching along a 9 kilometer shoreline of Bangui Bay facing the West Philippine Sea has a capacity of producing electricity- 40% of which is sold and used by the residents in the area. They were said to be created to help reduce the greenhouse gases that causes global warming.
Though the main purpose of this project is to practice and utilize renewable energy sources such as the wind, the site itself has become a tourist attraction as well. It is mainly one of the reason why tourism in Ilocos has boomed. Who wouldn’t be amaze to see those towering electric-fan-like structures? Plus, not to mention that it is situated on a beach front. Imagine walking on the shore while waves and wind splashes on your body. Refreshing! It was also difficult to have a decent photo since the wind was so strong.
There is no entrance fee when visiting the area. You can get closer to this turbines so as to appreciate the beauty and the entirely different vibe of giant electric fan-like structures.
TENTH STOP: Burgos Wind Farm
We have arrived at the Burgos Wind Farm, the second wind farm constructed in Ilocos Norte after the more popular shore-based Bangui Windmills. And then, we got surprised at what we saw – wind turbines! I couldn’t believe it. I have no idea there’s a wind farm in Burgos. I was expecting to see the windmills later that afternoon in Bangui (not in Burgos!) as it is the last attraction to visit before we head to Pagudpud.
Check out the photo below so you’ll have an idea of the size of each of these monster windmills. Look at how that windmill dwarfs the van in the foreground. Anyway, we enjoyed the moments seeing these giant turbines.
ELEVENTH STOP: Saud Beach
We have reached the welcoming arch of Pagudpud. It is located right after Saud Beach Resort, which is a known landmark along Saud Beach coastal line. After a filling lunch in a local carenderia, we headed to our last stop, a pretty beach called Saud Beach.
After the day-long Ilocos tour, Kuya Romy, our driver who also served as our guide, took us to Elsa’s Home Stay in Saud Beach. It is where we booked our accommodation and after settling down our backpacks in our room we hurriedly went down to the beach. From Elsa’s, Saud Beach is only about 50 meters away.
It is no doubt that Ilocos never fails its tourists with their beaches which is dubbed as the “Boracay of the North” and I never wonder why now. magine a beach without too many tourists, no jet skis, no speeding banana boats nor rows of anchored boat blocking the magnificent views; no strip of sleazy bars, no noise in the nightlife, no blanket of lowly or high rise hotels, and not even a mall or fast food, just you, the sun, and the beach!
Its pristine white sand, clear waters and captivating view are truly relaxing side by side with its bright and breezy surroundings. The sands are also very soft that our feet would often sink while walking along the beach. On the far left side is the Bangui Bay and I can barely see the windmills due to sun’s glare. It was far, though, but I still managed to recognize the erected wind turbines. On the other sides are coconut trees that added a more natural feel and a panoramic beauty. More than the wonderful vibe of nature on its own.
Saud beach is where you can find a handful of resorts that offer both a budget, average and posh accommodations depending on your preferences.
After an hour of walking in the shore and picture taking by the beach and a day-long tour it was time to get back to our home stay, recharge ourselves with dinner and getting some rest for our next destination.
Our Day 1 of Ilocos tour is already done. It’s time to take some rest and recharge ourselves to prepare for next day adventure. Since we booked a package tour the inclusive accommodation is to stay at a transient home in Saud beach.
Elsa’s Home Stay is situated at Saud Beach, beside the other beach resorts. As we arrived, we were greeted by Ate Elsa and she showed us the rooms. There were 3 rooms available and what she was giving us was the one big rooms where me and my boyfriend was too much too fit in. Each room has two queen beds, two sets of pillows and blankets on each bed, and a private bath. The room was very basic but it was all spacious and clean. The air-condition was cool and we had a wall mounted flat screen cable television. Also, inclusive in our package is a complimentary breakfast for 2 for 2nd and 3rd day, there’s also unlimited wi-fi in rooms, who am I to complain?
After we have taken a rest, we visited the beach. Elsa’s homestay has no beach front. You need to walk through the neighboring resorts to get a good swim but it’s okay. The entire shoreline was big and long enough for you to stay and swim wherever and whenever you wanted to. You’ll get great views of the windmills on both sides and the sunset during sunny days are amazing at this part of Pagudpud.
Overall we had a nice and convenient stay at Elsa’s…and it is highly recommendable indeed for big families. Budget-friendly, accommodating and truly a sweet home in Pagudpud!
This is just the first in a series of posts about our Northern Luzon adventure. In the coming blog posts, I will be showing you the more beauty of Ilocos and culture. Stay tuned for the Day 2 and Day 3! :)