A lot of people refer to Ilocos as one province. If you review your Philippine geography, Ilocos is actually composed of 2 provinces, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte. It is the home of the G.I.s or the ‘Genuine Ilocanos’ as how my good friend calls himself, old architecture, beautifully crafted textiles, longganisa, bagnet, and the special empanada!
So how do you traverse this northern part of the Philippines in just one weekend? To start your trip, it is best to leave Manila for Ilocos at around 11pm, passing though the provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Pangasinan and La Union on the western side of north Philippines. The night trip is the best time to travel if you want to cut your travel time by at least an hour. Traffic flow is faster without the jeepneys and tricycles along the road.
Sabangan Cove in Santiago. This cove is a fishing and weaving community, known for its ‘abel iloko’ or the Ilocano textile. The textile tradition from this community came from the Itnegs of Abra located in the highland areas of Ilocos. You can find these textiles inside houses where you will see a number of women weaving them using the old traditional foot looms.
Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion in Sta. Maria. This is one of the four world heritage churches in the Philippines declared by UNESCO. Built in 1765 under the Augustinian order, it is seated on top of a hill or at the highest point of the town. At the left side of the hill, facing the church is another plight of steps; this leads you to the ruins of the old cemetery chapel.
Salcedo Hotel de Vigan in Vigan. Go straight to Hotel Salcedo de Vigan for your first Ilokano meal. Try their dinoydoy, sinigang na bagnet, and poqui-poqui. It used to be an old mansion which was renovated and made it to a hotel with modern facilities but maintained the charms of the old Filipino Bahay na Bato. Quite a little pricey but they have an air-conditioned dormitory that comfortably accommodates 10 people for Php7K with breakfast. If you’re a group of 40-50 people, they could even set-up your dinner al-fresco at Calle Crisologo.
Calesa Tour of Vigan. For Php150, you can take a calesa tour of Vigan for an hour. Best places you can visit in Vigan are: the old Quema Mansion and Syquia Mansion, try to find Esteban Villanueva’s Basi Revolt painting at the Burgos Museum, watch how jars are made at the ‘burnayan’ or pottery place, find your way to the local market and shop for your take home ‘bagnet’ and ‘longganisa’, walk along the cobbled stone Calle Crisologo and take your postcard photos to let your friends know you’ve been to Vigan, visit the Vigan Cathedral, and lastly, take a bite of the famous Vigan empanada and ukoy by the plaza.
San Agustin Church in Paoay was built in 1710, another UNESCO world heritage church in the Philippines. This church is more commonly seen in postcards and books that represent Ilocos Norte. Most prominent part of this earthquake baroque architecture are its buttresses with huge volutes with strong influences from other Asian countries. These buttresses support the walls of the church in case of earthquakes. Best time to visit the church is during sunset and watch how the facade turns into color gold.
Museo Iloko in Laoag City was awarded by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts for its well-researched cultural data on Ilocos Norte and as the best example for its adaptive re-use of an old structure. The Museo is the old Tabacalera place in Laoag City. ‘Sarusar’, the gift shop insidethe Museo is a one-stop shopping place of the best products of Ilocos Norte, from the blankets and cornicks of Paoay to rolled tobacco and ‘basi’(local wine).
St. Monica Church in Sarrat is ten minutes from Laoag City, the birthplace of then President Ferdinand E. Marcos. Experience the magnificence of this church through its long nave and huge wooden trusses which has been exposed for many years. Beside the church are the ruins of the old convent.
Cape Bojeador Lighthouse in Burgos. This lighthouse is majestically standing on top of a hill facing the China Sea. It was said that if you try opening a radio on top of the lighthouse, you will already be receiving frequency from neighboring country Taiwan. Climb up to the topmost viewpoint of the lighthouse and enjoy the view of the sea. It is the highest lighthouse in the country.
Windmills of Bangui. The windmills were built to support the power supply of the whole Ilocos Norte. Travelers going to and from the town of Pagudpud or the nearby province of Cagayan often stop by to take photos from afar or sometimes even closer when they find the any of the 2 roads that lead to the beach where the windmills are lined up standing.
Try these Ilokano Bestsellers:
1. Traditional blankets and table runners – Sabangan Cove, Santiago
2. Vigan Longganisa and Bagnet – Public Market, Vigan
3. Bibingka – Vigan
4. Pizza (bagnet, longganisa, or pinakbet) – Café Leona in Vigan
5. Empanada – Aling Tina’s stall at the Vigan plaza
6. Calamay and tinubong (calamay inside a bamboo) – in front of the church of Candon
7. Garlic and small onions – Sinait
1. Blankets and Table runners – Paoay Public Market
2. Mama Rosa’s Chichacorn – Paoay
3. Garlic Longganisa and Chicharon (bagnet) – San Nicolas Public Market
4. Pottery and bolos/knives – San Nicolas Public Market
5. Super Double Double Special Empanada (double serving in one empanada – a must try!) – Batac Plaza
6. Local tobacco – Laoag Public Market during market day
7. Biscocho – Pasuquin Bakery in Pasuquin
8. Garlic – Badoc
Take a ride at any of these buses to get to Ilocos:
Partas Bus, Farinas Bus Liner, Maria De Leon – Vigan and Laoag
Florida Bus – Pagudpud
You can stay at the following accommodations:
Budget: Archbioshop’s Dormitory in Vigan
Mid-end: Villa Angela, Grandpa’s Inn, and Cordillera Inn in Vigan
High-end: Hotel Salcedo de Vigan, Vigan Hotel
Budget: National Tobacco Administration Dormitory in Batac
Mid-end: Isabel Suites in Laoag City, Balay da Blas Pensionne House in Laoag City, Villa del Mar in Pagudpud
High-end: Fort Ilocandia Resort & Hotel in Laoag City, Sitio Remedios in Currimao, Saud Beach Resort in Pagudpud
*For a complete guide & listing on Ilocos Norte, try to get hold of the Ilocos Norte Travel Guidebook published by the Gameng Foundation.
Photos by Karlo De Leon