City of Lights
On our next move in the Philippines after Manila we head to the northern region of Ilocos Norte, flying to it’s capital city, Laoag, where the only commercial airport for the whole region is located. We knew the night we landed and the following day would be extremely packed with a very explicit visit of Laoag in the night, Paoay in the morning, then the drive south towards Vigan, highlight for this trip but not before an unexpected surprise stop over by Pangil, an ancient dead coral reef and the UNESCO World Heritage listed Santa Maria Church; passing through countless tobacco fields plantations and beautiful landscapes; then back again towards Laoag for a late evening departure flight to Manila.
So right upon landing, our friend came to pick us from the airport and gave us a small tour around the landmarks of Laoag. Few minutes after we were already on way to the neighbouring village of Paoay where we drop our bags at the hotel and then enjoyed an amazing Northern Philippine dinner where we sampled the incredibly good Ilocano dishes. That was a great feast! We will always keep these great memories!
So here they are the key reasons in getting to this region: meeting my friend in Paoay, its World Heritage listed church, and of course, getting to visit the best preserved and almost untouched Spanish-Oriental colonial city in Asia, Vigan, a fascinating city like no other, and yet another UNESCO site visited in our growing list.
With all those places being so small and if you are in a tight agenda as we were, a two days visit will be enough although you won’t be able to enjoy any of the great beaches in this region for the lack of time for example. Worst in our case that we landed in the evening, meaning we only spent the night and whole of the following day before returning to our base in Manila. On the plus side, our friend drove us everywhere around saving us loads of time and getting to see lots of places and beautiful landscapes.
And why not experiencing some zip-line across a river? Well, that really came out of sudden in the way and a great thrill I’ve never done before! I could not even mention where this place was on the route, but somewhere after Vigan southwards direction to Santa Maria.
Not much more to be said in this introduction, but before I move on to another subject, there is something you must try for food while in this area; the specialities from this region such as empanada, longanisa (sausage) or poque-poque. Really delicious and inexpensive.
For more information about Laoag check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites, as for Paoay these Wikipedia and Wikitravel links. The Philippine’s currency is the Peso (PHP, ₱). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Laoag and Paoay
- Capitol Building At one end of Aurora Park is this beautiful building, the city hall of Laoag.
- Tobacco Monopoly Monument Located at the heart of Aurora Park.
- Cathedral of Saint William Built in 1612 to replace a wooden chapel on Italian Renaissance style. It is famous for its Sinking Bell Tower which sinks at a rate of an inch a year. A decade ago, the entrance was still tall enough to let a man on horseback enter. Now not even a man could enter.
- Saint Augustine Church In Paoay is an UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Spanish colonial Baroque earthquake-resistance architecture in the Philippines. Without doubt the landmark in the village, well worth the trip. As curious facts, it is entirely built of coral blocks, and notice the rounded lines decorating the bases of the buttress, those are an allegory to the Sun, symbols that the ancestral people used before the arrival of the Spanish.
- La Paz San Dunes Is the only desert in the Philippines. Either you can rent a 4×4 to drive up and down the dunes or get a jeepney and enjoy yourself walking along them.
What to see and do heading south towards Vigan
- Pangil coral rocks An ancient coral reef now dead, it is where the Spanish used as a canter for the construction of Paoay Church. You will get great views of the sea and the rocks along the 3km that stretches.
- Santa Maria Church Around 40 kilometres south of Vigan, it is another of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Spanish colonial Baroque earthquake-resistance churches in the Philippines. It is also the only one ever built on top of a hill as a fortress and accessible through the “Spanish Steps”.
The airport is located quite near the centre of Laoag, to the west of the city just south of the Padsan River. The only public transportation available are public jeepneys and tricycles.
Between Laoag and Paoay you can easily get a jeepney. Both are 20km apart from each other. While for public transportation within the city it is absolutely not needed. The size of them is so small that it just do not exist. Of course taxis and jeepneys can be taken in the streets in any case to move to further destinations and villages around.
There is not much choice if what you are looking are big hotels. There is a good amount in any case on small properties in Laoag and a much smaller choice in Paoay, with also some resorts by the beach, and the only 5* property in Northern Philippines located at Laoag. A good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at Casa Dona Emilia, 9 San Pedro Street, Paoay. A simple but nice small hotel right in the centre of the city, seconds away from the main church and next door to a Seven Eleven shop. The only problem we encountered were the roosters that woke us up from 4am with their non stop crowing, although some earplugs will do. Everything else was great and a very recommended place to anyone.