Monday, March 12, 2007

La Union, Ilocos Sur & Ilocos Norte: Driving up north to Pagudpud

Our long drive up north began yesterday afternoon. We left San Fernando, Pampanga at about 2 p.m. (it was my grandmother's birthday celebration so we had lunch there) and reached San Fernando, La Union at about 6 p.m. We passed by the Ma-cho Temple so that Jiajin could see a local Taoist temple. It was closed when we got there so we were only able to go around the grounds and enjoy the San Fernando Bay sunset from the place which was high on top of a hill.

From San Fernando, it was another long drive to Candon, Ilocos Sur where we had dinner. It is a popular stopover because of its local calamay, which are flat like pancakes and covered with a clear celophane. There are two kinds, one made with brown sugar and the other with white sugar. Another product sold there is the Ilocos chichacorn.

It took another 45 minutes or so before we finally arrived in Vigan where we decided to stay for the night. Hotels in the heritage area are quite pricey. But after walking around, we found the Vigan Hotel which offered air-conditioned rooms for PHP795 a night, breakfast for two included. The only hitch though was that it was a common bathroom (they have rooms with private bathrooms just like the other hotels but it was in the same price range of over PHP1000). But since it was a Sunday, most tourists had gone back to Manila. So it seemed we had the hotel all to ourselves.

The next day, we got up early to walk around Vigan, the best-preserved Spanish town in Asia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was my third visit here so I just accompanied Jiajin around, from the St. Paul Cathedral to Plaza Salcedo, Plaza Burgos, and Crisologo Street which is the most intact of all Vigan's streets.

There are actually better houses in the other streets such as Quirino Boulevard where you can find the Syquia Mansion and the Quema House. But unlike Crisologo Street, they cannot be pedestrianized since they are major routes.
From Vigan, we drove a few meters out to Bantay to check out its bell tower.

Our next stop was the town of Magsingal. It's church, the San Guillermo Church, is a national cutlural treasure. It has a very intricately-carved gold and green retablo. Outside, you could see the ruins of an older church whose bell tower is still standing. This explains why the church belfry is a bit far from the current church since they din't bother to construct a new one. Beside the belfry is a small chapel that was converted into a branch of the National Museum. There was a blackout that day in the Ilocos area so we didn't get to see what was inside.

Batac was next on our list of stopovers so we could check out the Marcos Mausoleum among other things. But since there was no power, it was locked today. But that was not a problem since the other attraction of the town was its empanada. It turns out that the empanadahan has a new home beside the elementary school. So after finding it, it was time for another binge. I have an older post on my previous empanada binge since I just adore these crispy fritters. For today, I had a jumbo special, the one with hotdog in it, aside from longganiza and egg of course.

We then went to Paoay to check out the San Agustin Church, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. A few kilometers drive between Paoay and Laoag is Lake Paoay. There is a viewing area constructed by the Kiwanis Club which is worth stopping over.

One thing I had not seen yet were the Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes, one of the national geological monuments of the Philippines. We had already visited the Taal Volcano which is also a national geological monument.

According to the National Committee on Geological Sciences (NCGS) which makes the declarations, "Though common in desert environments in the higher latitudes, the sand dunes of Ilocos Norte stands out as a unique land form in the Philippine setting. The dunes cover an area of about 85 sq kms, and stretch for at least 40 kms. Along the coast, sparse vegetation consisting mainly of grasses and shrubs blanket the low-relief area which is believed to have been formed a few thousand years ago through the combined action of wind, waves and shore currents."

A good place to view them are in the Suba Beach area. But the marker installed by the NCGS can be found near Fort Ilocandia in Laoag City. In some places, it really feels like you are in a desert. It would have been fun if we had some off-road bikes to explore the sand dunes. Maybe next time.

We made a brief stopover in Laoag to have my car tuned-up and then we were off to Pagudpud. Since we wanted to get there before dark, we had skipped several great stopvers today and reserved them for our trip back. But we made sure to pass by the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse in Burgos, another national cultural treasure, and the viewing area for the Bangui Bay Wind Power Project.

The wind farm project in Bangui Bay, composed of 15 towers, is the first in the Philippines and the largest energy-generating set of wind turbines in Southeast Asia.

It was close to 5 p.m. when we arrived in Pagudpud. To make sure we got value for money, we stopped by the municipal hall to ask the tourism officer to recommend a place. He sent us to the Polaris Beach House which was right beside the Municipal Beach Park or White Beach.

Although the published rate was PHP1500 a room, since there were just two of us, we got the air-conditioned room just for PHP800. I was told that during the peak season, a room for two in the said resort could go as high as PHP2000. So I could imagine how much it would cost in other resorts. It was a good choice since the facilities were good and I personally liked the place relative to the amount we paid for it.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at the beach watching the sunset. It was a bit chilly for a swim but not too cold for us to avoid the water. Dinner was at the resort as well. We got a big plate of adobo good for 2 to 3 persons for PHP200. A bit pricey but what do you expect?

We're off to Baguio City tomorrow. The plan is to leave early since we'll be stopping over at some of the places we missed on the way up.
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