I’m from Baguio so I know what COLD feels like and my Ilocos Tour last February 6 to February 8 was freakin’ cold!
I’ve planned my very first trip for the year 2016 all by myself and I’m quite proud of it. Okay, so KGG Travel and Tours took care of the transportation, itinerary AND accommodations… but it was basically the first time that I made plans for a trip. I usually just let other people plan and book everything; all I do is pay for the airfare, go over the itinerary, pack my things and voila! I’m on my way to experience another unforgettable journey.
Anyway, the Korean Lunar New Year holiday this year was for 5 days, so I figured I should at least travel somewhere. I would hate to miss such a rare opportunity. Originally, I wanted to try traveling solo and my option was this beautiful, virgin island called Calaguas somewhere in Camarines Norte. But, I realized I wasn’t quite ready to do that yet. So I invited my travel buddy, Celine, and she suggested the Ilocos Tour: Vigan-Laoag-Pagudpud. It’s quite popular and I always see people posting about it on Facebook. More to the point, thanks to the advent of these group tour package companies, it’s so much easier to travel now.
Ms. Karen from KGG Travel and Tours was very helpful. All the other group tour package companies that I’ve sent messages to didn’t reply as quickly as I expected. They all took their precious time replying and some didn’t even bother replying. I mean, come on, people. Isn’t that the whole point of your business? To reply ASAP to potential customers? Moving on, Ms. Karen immediately and promptly replied to all my queries. Everything went smoothly because she was very professional and she provided the necessary details properly.
Another great thing about KGG Travel and Tours, unlike the other agencies, you can request to get picked up or dropped off somewhere, as long as it’s on the way. Since I’m from Baguio, I thought they could just pick me up along the way . However, I wanted to visit my brother and his family in Manila, and coincidentally, the “meeting place” was really near their house, so I thought I’ll just travel to Manila from Baguio.
So, just a recap, I traveled for more than 7 hours to Manila (from Baguio), and because of the heavy traffic in Pangasinan and Tarlac, I arrived in Manila at 9:30 PM already, just 30 minutes before we were supposed to assemble at the Caltex Gas Station in front of Trinoma. I went to my brother’s house just to change into new clothes, brush my teeth and wash my face and then headed towards the meeting place.
Since it’s my first time taking one of these group tour packages thingy, I was quite apprehensive about a lot of things. I didn’t expect THAT much, but I did expect “some” things to be at least comfortable and good enough. I have to say, the van was spacey, clean and more comfortable than I thought. I was able to sleep peacefully throughout the trip.
I don’t really make proper “reviews” of my trips, so this will be more like my thoughts, opinions, violent reactions and random blabberings.
Since it was a “joiner group”, Celine and I shared the van with three other groups. To make things more fun, I’ll give them nicknames. The first group consists of two middle-aged women, two teenage girls and one teenage boy – The Ahjummas. The second group is a mother and two cute and lovely daughters who are, I think, 8 and 10 years old – The Spanish Girls (coz they are half-Spanish ^^). The last group is a young couple, who I’m guessing are in their early 20’s – The Considerate Couple. Sorry, not feeling so creative right now. LOL.
Anyway, throughout this trip I’ve learned some pros and cons of joining a group tour package like this.
1. There was an itinerary so we didn’t need to do our own research or anything. I mean, you could do your own added research, of course. It’s up to you.
2. Since there was an itinerary, the tour was organized. The driver was knowledgeable about the places that we visited.
3. The schedule was well-organized and there was a “time” for everything. However, the driver sort of made adjustments depending on the weather and certain situations.
4. The transportation was very comfortable and convenient, especially since the tourist spots were kind of too far from one another.
1. The itinerary was not strictly followed.
2. Some members of the group wandered off somewhere and lingered at some places for too long, making everyone else wait longer than necessary.
3. Although, the other members of the group were relatively nice and chatty, there were some awkward and uneasy moments between the group. And there was an annoyingly noisy and know-it-all member from the ahjumma group (one of the teenage girls). I swear I wanted to stuff my fist in her mouth to make her shut the hell up.
4. The early call time was also not followed. 6 AM became almost 8 AM. The hotel was probably overwhelmed by the number of guests so breakfast was served late.
FIRST STOP: VIGAN
When I woke up from my not-so-deep slumber, I heard the driver say that we can go down and take pictures at the bridge. The next thing I felt was the cold gust of wind coming in from the open door of the van. My first thought was: what the hell? Why is it cold and windy? I prepared a lot of short-shorts, crop tops and light, comfortable summer-appropriate clothes. I have a lot of jackets and thick, long-sleeved tops, but I never brought one coz I know for a fact that Ilocos’s weather is HOT, like the rest of the Philippines!
*BANTAY CHURCH AND BELL TOWER – The Bantay Bell Tower was quite a sight. Even from afar, it was impressive. I didn’t get to enjoy it that much though because of the strong wind. I’m from Baguio so I’m used to the cold weather, but it’s different when there’s no sun and the wind is just cold and strong. There’s no admission fee, but you have to give a compulsory “donation”… which kinda beats the point… but yeah, we gave P20 and we signed our names on the list. After this, we went to some place that sells and makes pottery. We are NOT “pottery” people so I have nothing to say about that place. I don’t even know why it’s a “tourist spot”. XD
*BREAKFAST AT HIDDEN GARDEN – We didn’t realize that this was where we’re supposed to eat breakfast. We thought it was another tourist spot. It’s basically a restaurant with a nature/forest/garden theme. I was kinda beat and hungry at this point so we didn’t take a proper tour of the place. We just ordered our food and ate. I ordered the tapsilog and Celine had the famous Vigan longganisa. I don’t nitpick when it comes to food, I’m not really a food snob, but the food here was overpriced and not satisfying at all. I’ve eaten A LOT of tapsilogs in my 29 years here on earth and this wouldn’t make it to the Top 10. Or even Top 20.
*BALUARTE – This was when it started to get REALLY hot. And I mean sun-scorching-your-skin-it-feels-like-you’re-in-hell hot. It was also difficult to take pictures because of the sun’s glare. I don’t really enjoy zoos. I don’t see the fun in ogling at caged animals and taking pictures of/with them. The only zoo that I enjoyed was the one in Singapore coz there was a panda there. 🙂 That museum full of Chavit Singson’s hunting escapades was disturbing, to say the least. I’m not sure if those were the animals that he subjected to first degree murder or if they were mere representations. Anyhow, it was just awful. Especially those poor lechwes.
*MARCOS MAUSOLEUM – It’s kinda creepy seeing the late President Ferdinand Marcos inside that glass box. Mostly because we are somewhat related. No kidding. He and my grandfather (on my mother’s side) are second degree cousins, I think. My initial reaction was, “He’s shorter than I thought”. I’m not sure if that was really him or just a well-made wax figure of him.
*FERDINAND E. MARCOS CENTER – Lots of historical and political stuff. The only thing that sort of sparked my interest was the 11-day romance between Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda Romualdez. The thing about “butong pakwan” was kinda funny and cute. If I remember correctly, there is an admission fee of P 50 for adults. I can’t remember how much it was for kids (20? 30?). There is a discount given for senior citizens and students.
*LUNCH AT SIKAT-TUNA INIHAW AND RESTAURANT – I liked this place better than the Hidden Garden. The ambiance was pretty good and the food was reasonably priced. There was also a tree that suspiciously looked like a cherry blossom tree and the whole place has a “nature” feel to it.
*SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH (AKA the church at the back of the old 10-peso bill) – Even from afar, the facade of this church was just breathtaking. Here’s a tidbit of info from http://paoay.blogspot.com. “Built of coral blocks and stucco-plastered bricks, the architecture is a unique combination of Gothic, Baroque and Oriental. Construction of the church was started in 1704 and completed in 1894. A few meters away is the coral stone bell tower which served as observation post of the “Katipuneros” during the Philippine Revolution, Paoay Church is included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.” We walked around the place and found this place selling shakes and other cold desserts – Ilocos Coolers. We tried their Mais Con Yelo and all I can say is – it’s totally worth it! I highly recommend it. 🙂
*MALACANANG OF THE NORTH – After our burning afternoon outside, it was time for some indoors sightseeing. This place is just majestic, even for an old house. Every room is grandiose and it speaks wealth and power. There was a veranda overlooking the Paoay Lake, which was scenic and simply breathtaking. Apparently, this was where the Marcoses spent their holidays. There is an admission fee of P 20 here.
*PAOAY SAND DUNES – The moment I’ve been waiting for! This was the highlight of my trip. My main goal is, of course, to try that 4×4 wheel ride – by hook or by crook! It started to get super windy and cold again at this point. We were like, “so it’s really cold in the desert at night”. Haha! We headed straight to the queue for the 4×4 wheel ride and we were faced with a dilemma. There was just 2 of us and the ride requires 5-6 people. All the people around us were already groups of 5-6. I talked to the guys who seemed to be in charge but they just told us to wait and IGNORED us. Way to go, guys. Twenty minutes passed and nothing’s happening so we were starting to feel downtrodden. I thought we should just give up and go back to the van. It was nearly impossible to find another group that would take us with them. The sun was already setting and it was getting darker by the minute. On top of that, I suddenly had this pounding headache and I badly wanted to lie down. BUT! We kept the faith. A guy, who turned out to be the other tour group’s driver, suddenly asked us if we were with the group (that he was in charge of). We said “No” and I think he saw something in our eyes – despair, frustration, sorrow – so when I asked him if we could join the group for the ride, he said he’ll try to do something about it! Another twenty minutes or so later and we were on the 4×4 wheel ride with 4 teenagers from the other group, who graciously agreed to let us join them. It was freakin’ AWESOME!!!
I tried to shoot a video of the entire ride but we didn’t have a selfie stick so I had to hold the camera and it was IMPOSSIBLE to do that during the ride. My reaction was “WHY THE HELL DID WE PAY 500 PESOS FOR THIS?!” Basically, we paid some guys to drive us around dangerously, violently and recklessly, which resulted in bruises and sore bodies afterwards. Don’t get me wrong, it was REALLY fun and exciting. The adrenaline rush was beyond compare. However, I would never ride that thing again. It was terrifying and utterly painful! It felt like a roller coaster ride, but you’re standing up and there’s no seat belt and you have to hold on for dear life. By the time we reached the sand boarding area, it was already dark. I wanted to give it a shot, but I thought it wouldn’t be as fun as it is in broad daylight. I can’t even see where I’m going when I slide down the sand hill. All in all, this experience was extraordinary. I’m just glad I survived it. ^^
*CHECK IN AT KINGSCOURT HOTEL, LAOAG
After an extremely exhausting day, we finally came to our final destination… for the day! I was not expecting anything from this budget hotel. I’ve read some bad reviews about the other option – Laoag Park Lane Hotel – so I thought I should prepare myself for the worse. Surprisingly, the staff was really nice and kind and the room was pretty good. There was just some kind of unpleasant smell coming from the toilet bowl in the bathroom, but it was clean.
DAY 2: Pagudpud Tour
The driver told us that our call time was 7 AM so the hotel staff said that they will serve our breakfast in our room at around 6:30 AM. In all fairness to them, they gave us a wake up call at around 6 AM, I think, to inform us that they will be bringing our breakfast in a few minutes. It came at almost 7 AM already. When we went down and checked on the rest of the group, the drivers hadn’t eaten yet. Breakfast was served REALLY late. I think the hotel staff were overwhelmed by the amount of guests (I heard that it was fully booked) so they weren’t able to prepare breakfast for everyone right away. Anyway, we headed out at almost 8:30 AM.
CAPE BOJEADOR LIGHT HOUSE – Just when I thought the weather couldn’t get any windier, it did. It was colder and the wind was stronger than it was on our first day! It was insane. Take note: I was wearing short shorts and a very thin crop top which sort of reveals my lower back (coz it has a “slit” on the back). So, please pardon my BELLY FAT for making cameo appearances in some pictures. ^^
There is a short, uphill walk towards the light house, but Celine and I decided to take a tricycle. We figured we’ll just walk back from the light house. The wind was relentless. Try taking pictures when your hair is flying in all directions and your shirt keeps on hiking up, making you feel almost naked. It was not a walk in the park. There were some really interesting stuff inside the lighthouse, however, the gate to the upper part was closed so we weren’t able to reach the top.
KAPURPURAWAN ROCK FORMATION – The sight of those giant, white windmills excited me. I don’t know why. Haha! I’ve seen the pictures, but nothing compares to seeing them up close, towering over me and sending a windstorm down. Again, because of the strong and cold wind, it was difficult to take pictures. Just walking up the hill was already a challenge. But it was worth it. Standing up on that hill and looking at the splendid view of the windmills and the ocean from a distance was definitely unparalleled.
*BANGUI WINDMILLS – Apparently, the windmills at the Kapurpurawan were the old ones. The Bangui Windmills were the new ones. These were the ones that were lined up by the beach and were picturesque a.k.a. “instagrammable”. However, we couldn’t even come closer to the windmills because the wind was just insane. It felt like a furious wind that is antecedent to a storm. At one point, it was really hurting me and I just wanted to stay in a closed space to avoid the angry slap of the wind. This spot, however, was the best place to do a jump shot. So, with much difficulty, we did lots of jump shots and then ran back to the safety of the van.
*PATAPAT VIADUCT – I’m not sure how to describe this place. It was… a long, zigzagging road…? Haha! The driver told us that the road leads to the border between Ilocos and Cagayan Valley. I wanted to stand at the border and do that Jamie Sullivan thing – being in two places at once. ^^ But I couldn’t find the ‘exact’ border. According to http://www.thepoortraveler.net, “The Patapat Viaduct is an elevated road — over 30 meters above sea level. This 1.3 km long coastal bridge can be found in the municipality of Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte. Connecting the Maharlika Highway in Laoag to the Cagayan Valley, this is a busy street above the coastal areas of Pagudpud. The fourth longest bridge in the country, this winding concrete beauty is said to be the northernmost roadway part of Ilocos Norte.”
*BLUE LAGOON BEACH RESORT – My fellow travelers were quite excited to go swimming at the beach. BUT, at this point in our trip, the strong and heavy wind was still incessant. I salute those who bravely entered the freezing cold sea water. I didn’t even want to get out of the van. It was such a pity because the beach was marvelous – white sand and clear, blue waters! Plus, it was clean and not too crowded. I also wanted to try the zipline at Hannah’s Resort, because it was apparently the longest zipline in Asia! But I still love my life and I didn’t have a death wish yet. ^^ We just took out our frustrations on… jump shots! 🙂
*KABIGAN FALLS – After our sumptuous lunch, we headed to our last stop for that day. I was a bit hesitant about this. Living in Baguio City, I’ve had enough trekking and mountain climbing to last me a lifetime. Needless to say, I am not a fan of trekking or hiking. However, the “guide” told us that the path wasn’t that difficult and it would only take around 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how fast we walk. I ate a lot for lunch, so I thought I could use this opportunity to exercise. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that difficult or exhausting. I actually enjoyed it, despite the cold wind blowing and giving me “wind burns”. LOL. As usual, we couldn’t swim at the falls because the water felt like a bucket full of ice. We just took pictures here and there and then headed back. I really need to learn how to swim one of these days. I’ve always wanted to jump down from the top of the falls and I cannot do that because well, I don’t want to drown.
That concludes the Pagudpud leg of our tour. It was, by far, the most energy-zapping, but extremely thrilling tour.
DAY 3: BACK TO VIGAN
VIGAN HERITAGE VILLAGE AND CALLE CRISOLOGO – I was also sort of looking forward to this. I’ve seen so many pictures of Calle Crisologo over the years and I’ve always wondered how it looked like in person. I spent four years of my life in the “walled city” because my university was in Intramuros. So I don’t get easily impressed with historical and ancient places. However, I have to say that there was something fascinating about the old buildings and cobblestone path of Calle Crisologo. Although the street was lined with souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes and some antique stores, the mood was peaceful and relaxing and we strolled through each shop almost leisurely.
We were given 2 hours to kill at this place. So after going through some stores and shops, we decided to take a break at this quaint place called Guiltea. All I could say is, it was super cute! And we were the only customers so we got the place to ourselves. 🙂
We wanted to go to the post office and mail a post card to ourselves – sort of like a remembrance that we were there, in Ilocos. It was Celine’s idea. Unfortunately, the post office was closed that day because it was the Chinese New Year holiday.
We still had time to kill so we decided to take the famous “kalesa ride” tour. It was only 150 pesos per hour anyway. Our first stop was the Crisologo Museum. Like the Marcoses, the Crisologos were apparently a big deal back then. They said that a 90’s kid would definitely know the name Crisologo. There were some interesting stuff from the past and it was fun to look around here, although it was much smaller than I expected. It was also under some kind of renovation so most of the rooms were off limits.
I think there were 2 more sights to visit, but we were expected to be back at the van by 11 AM, so we told the kalesa “driver” to take us back. Of course, I bought the famous Vigan longganisa, chichacorn and vinegar. I also tried a pack of adobo flakes and I deeply regretted just buying one! I want MORE! It was so damn delicious! I highly recommend it!
All in all, this tour exceeded my expectations. I wasn’t expecting much and I definitely wasn’t expecting to have fun. I just wanted some kind of “getaway” for the long holiday. I even learned a thing or two about Philippine history during this trip. I’m grateful for KGG Travel and Tours for allowing me to experience such a marvelous and memorable trip.
This is the example itinerary by KGG TRAVEL AND TOURS. The Ilocos tour package costs P2999 per person, but since it was a holiday the rate was P3499 per person.
1030PM ETD Manila to Vigan
0500AM ETA at Vigan/ Breakfast * @ Hidden Garden
0630AM Bantay Church and Bell Tower, Baluarte
0900AM ETD Vigan to Batac
1030AM Marcos Mausoleum
1200PM Paoay Church/Herencia Café, Paoay Sand Dunes
(Optional: 4×4 wheeler ride w/ sand-boarding, P2500/hr for 4-5pax)
0200PM Malacanang of the North/Paoay Lake
Sidetrip at Sinking bell tower and Ilocos Norte Capitol Building
0300PM Check-in at Laoag Hotel
0600AM Wake-up call/ Breakfast
0700AM Pagudpud Tour: Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, Kapurpurawan Rock Formation, Bangui Windmills, Patapat Viaduct, Bantay Abot Cave, Blue Lagoon (swimming for 3-4 hours depending on the allotted schedule for the day)
0100PM Kabigan Falls (2hrs trekking, guests may request to skip this tour)
0300PM Return to Hotel
0700AM Wake-up call/ Breakfast
1100PM Lunch at Vigan Plaza/Calle Crisologo (can buy souvenirs/pasalubong here)
0100PM ETD Vigan to Manila
1000PM ETA at Manila
Ilocos Tour Package Inclusions:
3D/2N Accommodation at Budget Hotel/B&B/Inn (Laoag Parklane Hotel or Kingscourt Hotel)
Round-trip air-conditioned van transfers (12-14 seater)
Complete Ilocos Tour from Vigan to Pagudpud
Toll gate fee, gasoline, driver’s meal and accommodation
Daily Hotel breakfast is included
Meals are not included in the package.
Different rates may apply on holidays/peak season. Rates and Hotel may change w/o prior notice.
Reservation fee is non-refundable. Full payment should be paid a week before the travel date.
Exclusive tour groups may select their own travel dates.
Accommodations are subject to availability at the time of booking.
Standard check-in time is 2:00PM; check-out 12:00PM. No guarantee for early check-in.
Pack light: only 1 luggage per person not more than 5kgs