Coco Beach, Northern Luzon
September - October 2008
Part III - Laoag, Vigan, La Union


Laoag is the provincial capital of Ilocos Norte in Northern Luzon. Actually not much to see. We stopped over here to have the opportunity to visit Ferdinand Marcos' mausoleum in Batac, just 15km from Laoag. We arrived in the early afternoon, so there was plenty of time for this excursion. But first we settled down in the
Texicano Hotel
J.P.Rizal St.
Laoag City
Tel.: (02) 400-7351 to 61
located in the middle of town for 15 Euro. The only worthwhile sight in Laoag was the old St. William's cathedral which was built in 1612. Since then it was hit by several disasters like typhoons, earthquakes and fire but always restored. And now it almost looks like new.

Click the small picture to get it enlarged

St. William's cathedral with beautiful interior
The belltowers are always built in a distance to the church. The height of the St. William's bell tower was originally 45 meter but it is sinking steadily by one inch every year, because it was build on a sandy foundation. In the old days you could ride through on a horse back but now you have to bend down to get through the entrance. Now it is called the "Sinking Belltower".
The belltower in Laoag The belltower in Paoay
In order to get to Batac we hired a trike (tricycle motor bike) for 4.50 Euro for the roundtrip including waiting time during stopovers. On our way we passed the town of Paoay with another belltower with its church, or vice versa, which is even an UN Heritage Site.
Paoay belltower with church Close up look of church only
Then we finally reached Batac. First thing was to get into the Marcos' mausoleum. The key keeper just arrived and he let us in and watched that we didn't take any photographs inside. Marcos was lying in an illuminated glass coffin and his face looked like made of wax. Was he real?
Marcos is still being honored and admired by many
There are a lot of stories written about him. In the adjacent museum you can read only about his good deeds, because he lived in Batac once. But far away in Manila (and elsewhere) he is remembered as a bad dictator.
Marcos' old living quarter (in front: our trike) Marcos' last resting place (the wall on the right)
He was a son of this province of Ilocos Norte, so does his son, who is now the governor. Nepotism is still a wide spread and long lasting disease in the Philippines. You stumble over and over the same names in politics. Gloria, the incumbent president is the daughter of a previous president. Politicians who condemn now the cronyism during Marcos' reign, should first eradicate the graft and corruption nowadays.
Plaque outside Statement inside
The next president? Pilgrims are catered for


Next day we went to the Partas bus station in Laoag and were lucky to leave within ten minutes. There are many other bus companies but Partas is the best with rather new aircon buses. The trip to Vigan only took around 2 hours and the fare was 2 Euro per person. Before we left Laoag I made reservation by phone at the following hotel, or better home stay:
Villa Angela Heritage House
26 Quirino Blvd., Vigan City
Telephone: +63 77 722 2914
Unfortunately the best room, where Tom Cruise once slept, was already occupied by a Thai. It was a pity, not only because we couldn't sleep in Tom Cruise's bed, but it had a private bathroom. The bathroom belonging to our room was located behind the kitchen, but instead of 27 we only paid 21 Euro for the double room, including breakfast for two.
Villa Angela in Vigan Inviting dining room
This villa was a perfect introduction to Vigan, all old Spanish heritage. The only town in the Philippines where you can admire so many old Spanish colonial buildings .
Sala entrance Sala windows
Sitting area with chest Dining room furniture
The house was built by a Filipino engineer and his Filipina wife in 1872 and has been kept in the family since. You would assume that, since this was a colonial town during the Spanish rule, only Spaniards would have owned this kind of houses. But most of these well educated and affluent Filipinos were actually half caste, i.e. Mestizos, with a Spanish father and a Filipina mother.
Old photos hanging on the wall One with the old owner's family
Some of the heirs wanted to sell this house with all the beautiful antique furniture but fortunately they have been overruled, because it would probably not be open to the public and not used as a guesthouse anymore. It's like a museum but also living in it, like in the old times.
Not for show but to use
We could freely walk around, sit down anywhere, having a cup of tea or coffee (self-service for free all day) in the sala. But this was no restaurant. Only breakfast was served at your preferred time.
Whether it's playing harp or piano or having breakfast at the dining table
Coming back to Tom Cruise now. He slept here for a couple of weeks while he was making the movie "Born on the Fourth of July". The other members of the team, including Willem Dafoe, stayed in a hotel. The war scenes were filmed on the Suba beach close to the Fort Ilocandia Resort (as mentioned in part I), and the Mexican part (street, bar and the resort scenes) was made in Vigan. The land lady on the photo died in the meantime. The photograph beside shows the film team schedule.
Tom Cruise slept in this bed Tom Cruise with land lady
Walking in the old streets of Vigan was being set back in time. It's one of the oldest towns in the Philippines. It was already a trading port for Chinese and Japanese junks long before Spanish galleons showed up. The inhabitants who lived in this old town were mainly mestizos (beside some affluent Chinese businessmen), as mentioned before.

It was especially very relaxing strolling along the Crisologo Street: off-limit for motorized vehicles. Only calesas, the horse drawn carriages, are allowed. Get an impression for yourself from the following pictures.
Old street in Vigan that's why we are here
Unfortunately some houses are decaying Not enough funds for renovation
But it's not time to die in this funeral home Trying to beautify decay as best as possible
These are remnants from the good old times
What will she be if she's grown up? Also become a souvenirs sales lady?
Selling all kind of souvernirs or wooden saints for praying
Selling all kinds of furniture and a lot of junk
Selling all kinds of antiques but this lady is not for sale
And she needs no blessings rather some rest on the bench
The Unesco was supposed to have committed some money for the restoration, if so then it does not seem enough. The old owners more or less moved to Manila or elsewhere and don't care about their ancestor's home anymore. Buyers are scarce because restoration would cost more than a new house.

Only some buildings have been privately restored or are being maintained: mostly the ones used for business: like hotels and restaurants (or funeral homes). One of the most famous and best restaurants I can recommend is Café Leona, especially in the evening when you can dine outside and order grilled seafood from the barbecue.
Lunch at this newly renovated hotel or rather at the old Mama Leona
One must is renting a calesa to ride the cobbled old street up and down and visit some interesting places in and around town (3 Euro for 2 hours).
Riding a funeral car to heaven? Or rather a calesa around town?
The coachman offered a good price so we went with him on a ride
The other sites were mostly old churches, as in most other towns in the Philippines. Also here with separate belltowers. Even the Mc. Donald church had his own with a ringing bell to call people to lunch instead to pray?
St. Paul Cathedral Mc. Donald Cathedral?
Bantay church belltower with Joy Bantay church belltower with Madonna
The Spanish heritage is all around. Not much left of the customs of the indigenous inhabitants here around. Bare breasted women were the first thing the Spanish priest eradicated. The old funeral rites may also not comply with the catholic canon. Only the Ayala Museum shows some photos and artefacts of the old life.
Catholic nun Indigenous girl
Indigenous funeral rites Indigenous funeral rule
Very interesting were the replica models of a Chinese and a Japanese junk. More impressive than the Santa Maria. Why didn't the Chinese discover America from the other side? Again, since Asians already came via the Bering Land Bridge once, who subsequently became Indians and Indios.
Old junks Antique tools
Some nice dioramas show the peaceful life of diligent and religious people in the Philippines, even if they had to endure a hard live under the colonial rule.
Country life Church building
With the rebellion against the colonial occupation, also early death was close by. Many revolutionaries, like the Padre José Burgos (who lived in this house, which became a museum), were executed. Others had been killed during violent revolts, long before the Spanish rule ended.
Spaniards execute a priest Spaniards crush a rebellion
Ok, that was Vigan. One of the few cities in the Philippines worth to visit and stay a couple of days. I only wish that the city will collect and spend enough money for the restoration and maintenance of the old buildings, otherwise no tourist will be interested anymore and thus will stop spending money.

La Union

We continued our journey with a Partas bus again. After three hours we arrived in San Fernando, the province capital of La Union (the fare was 3.50 Euro per person). Since you can always hop on or drop off anywhere along the route, we asked the driver to let us off the bus after 10km further down south on the highway near Bauang, exactly at the entrance of the
Bali Hai Beach Resort
Paringao, Bauang
La Union
Tel.: 0063 72 705 0877
This resort was not first class first time on this trip and it had not the charm of Villa Angela, but it was still the best choice around. The special low season rate was only 22 Euro for the first row cottage (with TV, fridge, aircon, hot water) including breakfast for two.

The beach in front was not the best either, but the swimming pool was ok. But there always was the chance to rent a boat for a half or a full day to stay at a real white beach and swim or snorkel in crystal clear water above corals or just try to catch a fish, or everything together.
Bali Hai waterfront Bali Hai swimming pool
And what a breakfast, whether Australian, English, American or German. One person couldn't eat all. One breakfast was enough for the two of us. For the second voucher we ordered a fresh fruit plate which lasted till afternoon.

And you were not out of this world: TV with 40 channels, I suppose, including Deutsche Welle, then two free newspapers every morning to read and last not least free internet access, whether WLAN or LAN.
Bali Hai cottage Bali Hai breakfast
And also personal communication doesn't have to come short. You can always meet a lot of expats coming to this place for a chat while having a beer at the bar, or coming for dinner in the restaurant (open 24 hours). This is also the meeting place once in a while for various clubs, whether for playing dice, etc., or starting the Hash Harrier Run.

There are many other things you can do: one is taking the jeepney to San Fernando. It's a bustling city with many shops and a huge old market place. Take your time to stroll around and then have a real brewed coffee with cake in the Café Esperanza at the Plaza. If you need a massage then the best place is the
Desiderata Spa
P. Gomez St.
San Fernando City
just next door from the Cafe Esperanza. A one hour Shiatsu massage costs only 4.50 Euro. There is much more to see. But be right back at the resort to watch the beautiful sunset.
Bali Hai sunset Bali Hai sunset
And after the sunset you can have dinner in the Bali Hai restaurant . The menu is international with a choice of various steaks imported from Australia (the owner is Australian) or join the various buffets (three times a week) or choose to dine in the
Finegan's Bar and Restaurant
Km 264 National Highway
Pagdalagan Sur
Bauang, La Union
just a hundred meters walk along the highway. It has an Irish ambiance (the owner is Irish) and you can play a round of American Pool while having a drink before you order a delicious meal (never paid more than 12 Euro altogether including two drinks).
Bali Hai dinner Finegan dinner
So there are a lot of things which can be done, also to stay much, much longer than we did.

From San Fernando (with free transport from Bali Hai to the Partas bus station) we went back to Manila (for a fare of 6.50 Euro per person), where we arrived in Pasay after six and a half hours. From there we had to take a taxi to our Cherry Blossom Hotel.

That's the end now of another trip in the Philippines. There could have been seen and done a lot more on our way. Also I could have written more. If you want to know more all about the places we have visited, then just look up any of the many guidebooks or in the internet.

© WEW Tours