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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Along the West Coast of North Luzon and a Thriller in Manila

PHILIPPINES | Monday, 4 January 2010 | Views [1490]

Here it is – the last part of our Philippines trilogy!  This section of the holiday saw us basically sticking to the west coast of North Luzon.  It was time to say a final farewell to Baguio.


The Partas bus we boarded that morning was by far the most luxurious yet.  However, the sheer quantity of veggies that were being stashed in the hold meant we had to take our bags on board.  Once again things got shuffled around until everyone was a comfy as possible.  We quickly settled in to enjoy 5 hours of the scenery changing from hills to coast.  On getting down in Vigan we were instantly pounced upon by a bunch of odd tricycle drivers.  They were all much more interested in telling us where they would take us than ask where we might like to go!   It was all a bit of a surprise since everyone had been so chilled everywhere else we’d been.  We eventually spotted a calmer bloke and headed off to the hotel we were hoping to use.   It was shut / closed down so not a good start.

We wandered into the nearest cafe for a bite to eat before traipsing all round Vigan trying to find somewhere to stay.  If there was a hotel we didn’t try, then it was very well hidden!  We eventually settled on Gordion Hotel even though it was somewhat over-priced at P2000.  To be fair it was a lovely room but the staff were all very odd ( a reoccurring theme in Vigan).  It was time to explore Vigan without feeling hungry, homeless or carrying luggage.  It turned out that we’d already seen all the old Unesco World Heritage area during our search for digs.  We assumed we must have missed a bit!  To be honest we just couldn’t warm to Vigan at all which was a real shame as we’d been looking forward to it and intended to spend a couple of nights there.

To be fair the buildings that they’ve preserved are lovely and yes they are well worth protecting.  The trouble is the tacky souvenirs shops have been allowed to spill out onto the street and it detracts from the architecture.  We’d read that the main area was closed to traffic so we’d anticipated strolling up and down at leisure.  The place was mobbed with huge, loud shuffling Filipino families, bicycle powered vendors and kalesas (horse and cart) trotting up and down.  Oh yeah – no one bothered to point out that it’s only one street!  Eating in the square that evening would have been pleasant if there hadn’t been hundreds of children running around the place.  We decided to try Filipino food one more time but it was still bland and boring.  We decided to move on a day earlier than planned.  Vigan?  Nice enough but odd.

Saud Beach (Pagapud)

From Vigan we took a bus to Laoag and from there, were lucky enough to get straight on a bus for Pagapud.  Once in Pagapud we hopped in a tricycle to take us down to the beach.  Unfortunately the weather wasn’t too good and beaches never look their best when it’s gloomy.  Once again we encountered big groups and it was a case of going from one guesthouse to the next trying to find a room.  Jun and Carol’s place that is supposed to be backpacker friendly has changed since our Lonely Planet was written.  Everywhere else that we tried looked at us as if we were stark staring mad because we were only a group of 2.  We returned the compliment when they showed us a room and told us the tarrif – all very expensive and not particularly pleasant.

Eventually we found Britanya Lodge tucked away down a side lane away from the beach.  It still wasn’t good value at P1000 a night but at least we had a balcony and it was quiet.  Once again everyone seemed a bit strange.  By this time the gloomy weather had developed into rain and it was chilly.  The thermals and fleeces were dug out of the bag once more!  We went for a wander but ended up retreating to our balcony to decide how best to spend the last 3 days of our holiday.

Luckily the sun came out the next morning so we went for a long walk down the beach and soon lost the crowds.  It was warm enough to dispense with the fleeces and Steve was even foolish enough to put on his swimmers.  He lasted seconds in the ocean!!  The day ended with a wonderful sunset and our spirits well and truly restored.

Since we were heading towards a long holiday weekend for Rizal and New Year we knew there’d be even more crowds descending.  With that in mind we flagged down a tricycle and set off further up the coast.

Blue Lagoon

This wide, picturesque bay is much quieter than Pagapud and we ended up staying in Kapuluan Resort.  Unfortunately they only had a room for that night and the other resorts either looked grim or the staff couldn’t be bothered to talk to us.  Hey ho – we’ll be moving on again.  Kapuluan was the most expensive place we stayed in but the rooms were lovely, they had a nice little pool and the restaurant rustled up some tasty scran.

Once again the weather was against us and I was all for getting the fleeces back out!  Tried to chill out with our books by the pool but it was rather windy.  Steve just had to have a dip in the pool but yet again he lasted seconds – and then went and developed a cold.  We soon legged it back to the room for a hot shower!  To keep warm we decided to head off down the path and find a good spot to watch the sunset.  We quickly realised it was going to set the other side of the headland.  Was a small hillock enough to stop us – oh no!  I was only wearing flip flops so had to pull myself up the steep little slope using clumps of grass.  The sunset wasn’t as pretty as the one we’d seen in Pagapud by it was all very moody through the stunted trees.


Following a relaxing morning in our room – we tried the beach but it was blowing a gale – we packed our bags and readied ourselves for one last public transport adventure.  As we stepped out of the hotel’s gate a jeepney pulled up with Laoag painted on it.  Only one couple got out and they’d clearly booked it privately.  Each time we’d thought to do that the price was outrageous and we knew the hotel charged P3500 for the journey we were about to take.  We assumed the driver would welcome the extra business and we didn’t really want the hassle of changing vehicles 5 times that day.  What price would he quote?

We quickly had a chat and decided we wouldn’t pay any more than P1500.  The driver quoted P1000 so we didn’t debate, haggle or hand around we jumped in our private jeepney.  Result!  The driver didn’t hang around either and we were back in Laoag in under 2 hours.  We checked into Isabella Suites that had small but perfectly adequate rooms including cable TV.  Laoag is a functional town with very little in the way of tourist attractions.  There are a few nice old buildings and the town itself is pleasant and friendly enough to wander around.

Our next mission was to find somewhere for a nice meal and where we’d be able to bring in the New Year.  We found one nice place and they assured us they would be open later.  On returning later we were dismayed to find that the boss had decided to close and entertain his friends instead.  As we wandered back into town it became very clear that everywhere was closing.  We managed to grab some beer and crisps from a mini-mart just before they shut but the owner pointed out a basic locals’ eatery that was still open.  Steve ordered some noodles while I ran round the corner to an offy to grab a bottle of wine before they shut too!  Even the hotel’s restaurant was shut so we gave up and saw in the New Year from our room.  At midnight we were rewarded with loads of fireworks and firecrackers going off all around – it lasted for 45mins!

We weren’t flying until later in the day so we had time for once last bit of sightseeing – another Unesco sight.  Paoay Church was built in the 1700’s and its solid style means that is has proven to be earthquake resistant over the decades.  The actual building isn’t classically beautiful but it’s set in gardens that aren’t over-run by tourist stalls.  They were only a handful of other visitors so it was a pleasurable little side trip.

We had plenty of time so decided to go and check out Fort Ilocandia Resort.  This huge hotel and entertainment complex was built by the Marcos family for their daughter’s wedding reception.  Did no one think to ask where the money was coming from to fund such an almighty project?!  It truly is a standing testament to the level of corruption that was going on.  Anyway, these days it makes a fine hotel but the entertainment side of things is a bit tacky. 

By this point it was time to collect our bags and get to the airport for our flight down to Manila.


Without realising it we chose one of the best times to visit Manila – it was much quieter than we’d expected.  On reflection a whole hoard of Manilans was out of town on their holidays – we know, we’d encountered them in vast numbers all along the coast!  We’d expected Manila to be a big, busy, polluted city and so had only set aside the last day to explore.  We focused our attention on Intramuros which is basically an ancient walled city within the modern city.

It was incredibly quiet when we were there and wandering round the old streets admiring the old buildings was great.  To be honest we felt like we’d been transported back to Europe and we even found a nice little courtyard cafe for a brew.  While we were in that part of town we also went to look at Fort Santiago near the mouth of the Pasig River.  Again; very quiet and interesting to wander around.  Both places are well worth popping to have a look at and we could have spent longer exploring Intamuros.

Once again, and for the last time on this trip, it was time to pick up our bags and head for the airport.  We thoroughly enjoyed The Philippines and really can’t work out why it’s taken us so long to visit.  The Cordilleras and Palawan were by far and away the favourite sections of the holiday.  North Luzon didn’t disappoint to the point where we wouldn’t want to go back.  Quite the contrary as we’re now trying to work out how we can fit in another trip and which area we should explore next.

Farewell from The Philippines – for now!

Travel Information

Kapuluan Vista Resort was the best place we stayed in on this leg of the trip.


In Manila we would recommend Matale Pensionne, which is in a good central location with nice rooms and lots of restaurants and bars near by. We paid 1500 peso, which seemed good value for the city.
































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