Vigan

Type : Cultural
Best Date : December
Expense :  Fair
Things to do : Kalesa (horse drawn calash), Dine, Visit Museums, Shop
Points of Interest: Sycquia Mansion, National Museum of the Philippines, Crisologo Museum, Plaza Burgos, Calle Crisologo, St Paul Cathedral, Bantay Church, ect

Brief

Vigan city is the capital of the ‘Ilocos Sur (South Ilocos)’ region in the Philippines. The city is very popular for its old Spanish buildings that have been preserved through the years. Vigan is also known for the ‘calesa’ (horse drawn carriages) rides through the city. Now the historic city is a UNESCO world heritage site and many tourist flock to see the only Spanish styled colony in East Asia.

The Place

Vigan city is the Philippines most preserved Spanish colonial city and tourism here is large because of its architecture, culture and culinary influence from its past. There is plenty to see and do here but all can be done in one single day through riding a ‘calesa’ which costs 150php/ hour (equivalent of £2/ hour). The Calesa do a circuit of all the attractions in the city and allows you to get down to roam and take photos (just like a hop-on and hop-off bus).  Usually a full circuit will take 1-3 hours depending on how long you roam at each point of interest.

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The Calesa starts beside ‘St Pauls cathedral’, and as the ride starts you pass around the city’s ‘Plaza (Plaza Burgos)’ this is where the evening ‘Light and fountain show’ takes place at around 19:00 everyday of the week. This show lasts about 20minutes and is very busy full of spectators so an early arrival is advisable.

After riding past the plaza in about 5-10minutes you arrive at the first stop ‘Bantay church’ or ‘St Agustin church’  and its ‘Bell tower’. The church is free to enter however its bell tower requires registration and a donation which could be as much as you want. The bell tower once served as a watch tower for pirates during the Spanish colonial era.

Next is the ‘National Museum of Ilocos’ and the ‘Old provincial jail’ both which requires registration but no fee and donations are required. There are plenty of cultural and historic objects and artefacts of this the Philippines and the Ilocos region.

The ‘Crisologo museum’ is next followed by the ‘Syquia mansion’ which is now dedicated to the Philippines late president Elpidio Quirino, who was born in the city.  The Crisologo museum is also a place with many different memorabilia from Philippines past. Furniture, paintings,different artworks and even vehicles are seen here.

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After that you ride through the ‘Calle Crisologo’ the old Spanish street which in my opinion is the highlight of the tour. At any point you may ask the coachman (horse drawn carriage driver) to stop so that you may take a photo (but not to roam). Here there are plenty antique shops, bakeries, restaurants, hotels and bars all in older Spanish styled buildings.  I believe this street is the cover attraction of the city and it is busy throughout the day.

Lastly you are dropped off where you got on beside ‘St Pauls cathedral’ also known as ‘Vigan cathedral’ another of many UNESCO world heritage sites across Ilocos.  The ride took 2hours paying a total of 300php (equivalent of £4), you may or may not give a tip if you want. The Calesa ride is an invaluable way of transport in the city and the price is nothing compared to the gain of experience. Positives of the ride were its ease, cheapness and its uniqueness, whilst its negatives are little in smell of the waste (horse) and fumes of vehicle on the road.

In conclusion, Vigan is for tourists more fascinated about history and culture as there are no adrenaline activities here. Hotels here are fairly cheap but there can be the odd expensive ones, whilst restaurants are vast. A good place for families and groups in my opinion.

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Paoay

Type : Activities / Cultural
Best Date : March- June
Expense :  Cheap
Things to do : 4×4, Sand surfing, ATV, Sand Dunes, Visit Churches
Points of Interest: Malacanang of the North,  Paoay Church, Paoay Lake, Paoay Sand Dunes, Ferdinand E. Marcos Presidential Centre, ect

Brief

Paoay which is in my opinion more interesting than its neighbouring city of Laoag. Having much more fascinating attractions such as the ‘Marcos Presidential Centre (Malacanang of the North), Paoay church and the Sand Dunes, Paoay is an increasing popular destination in the ‘Ilocos Norte’ Region.

The Place

I visited Paoay as a half day excursion from where I was staying in Laoag. I simply just asked a tricycle driver to take us to all the points of interests in the region for a standard agreed fee. Here is where we got to:

‘Paoay Church and its Bell Tower’ also known as the ‘St Agustin Church’ is another of Philippine’s UNESCO heritage site. Built in 1710 the church is particularly special due to is 24 buttresses in its side. Still hosting masses, this church is popular for tourism due to its beauty and historic significance.

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‘Paoay Lake’ which is the largest lake in the province of ‘Ilocos Norte’. Shaped like a horseshoe. Legend has it that there was an ill-fated village which was submerged underwater by god as punishment and after the floods disappeared it left the lake, which we know today as ‘Paoay Lake’.

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‘Malacanang of the North’ which has a entrance fee of 20php was the official residence of Ferdinand Marcos’s family during his reign as president of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986. Today the building is used as a presidential museum of culture and history, with many of the late presidents furniture, artwork and projects that were both successful not. Built for Marcos’s 60th birthday by the Philippine tourism authority at the time, the building has been refurbished and now visited by masses who want for tourism and educational purposes. Special events such as weddings are also hosted here.

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‘Paoay Sand Dunes’ which is the centre point for adrenaline in the province with its 4×4 trail, ATV and sandboarding activities. It costs 2500php (£35 equivalent) for the 4×4 trail which rides up to 5 people and includes unlimited sandboarding. The 4×4 buggy is brilliant and very fun, there are plenty of uphill, steep downhill and plenty of bumps within the trail, I can only describe it as an enjoyable rollercoaster and you can feel the G-force whilst standing and no seatbelts. Throughout the trail there are stops (3 in my count) to take photos and take a little breather whilst enjoying the panoramic views. After the whole trail which lasts about 12-30 minutes you are dropped off the sandboarding area which is a steep downhill slope. You are able to stand or sit if you wish whilst sandboarding, but it is advised that standing are for those who already know how to skate or snowboard as it can be very dangerous.

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Overall ‘Paoay’ is culture, religion and adrenaline altogether in a small region of Ilocos Norte. It is not too expensive to roam here with a tricycle and tickets to attractions are not too expensive, however activities are a little different and can be a little pricey. Paoay I believe is underrated and should be a more popular destination in the Philippines. I highly recommend this place.

Laoag

Type : Cultural
Best Date : April- June
Expense : Cheap
Things to do : Just roam and eat, visiting neighbouring towns.
Points of Interest: Tobacco monopoly monument, Bell tower, Rizal amusement park, Museo Ilocos Norte, ect

Brief

Laoag is the capital of the province Ilocos Notre (North Ilocos) a medium sized provincial city famous for its Spanish upbringings just like many cities and towns in the Ilocos region of the Philippines. 

The Place

Laoag is Ilocos Norte’s capital city but in my opinion not the best for tourism. It is very small and compact unlike its neighbouring cities and towns in the province.

Firstly my first impressions of the city were brilliant, it is very spacious, quiet in the day and somewhat busy in the evenings due to the night market. The city has a large Robinson’s Mall, centre of both ‘Laoag city’ and ‘San Nicolas’  which is unusual for a provincial city, furthermore its mall is very modern and has high class shops and restaurants such as Guess, Lacoste, TGI Fridays, Starbucks and many more. Centring the city is the ‘Bell tower’ unofficially known as the ‘Sinking Bell Tower’ which is a beautiful building left by the Spaniards. Other than that there are not many to see and do in the city but many do go to ‘Paoay’ for many different sites and activities.

In conclusion Laoag is a good centre point to stay in the province of Ilocos Norte but you may want to travel around neighbouring cities for more to see and do.  Laoag is normally just the hub of where tourists arrive or depart from the province as many bus stations, hotels and resorts reside here. A nice place to dine and roam but for me a day or two is enough for this city and anymore may result into boredom.

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