ROAD TRIP! ILOCOS STYLE
ROAD TRIP! Was the cry that could be heard if this were a low budget Hollywood movie. We were off to northern Luzon for a few days. Luzon is the largest of the Philippine Islands and we decided to explore the Northern provinces of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur.
The route we took north
Getting there would be relatively easy, as there are many bus companies that travel to this area from Manila.
The fare depends on what level of comfort you would like. There are three main levels. Economy, which has no air conditioning, thin padded seats and is quite crowded. Standard, which had air con, and was quite comfortable and the same a coaches you would find in most western countries. Then there was deluxe. The seats were akin to business class in a jet and had loads of leg room, a toilet and of course air conditioning and also a movie. The seats were so large, they could only fit three wide, two together, the aisle, then a single seat. The deluxe was only P200 more than economy so at P720 (AUD $15) we opted for VIP class for our nine hour drive.
Left : The economy bus Right : The deluxe bus
We went with the Dominion Bus company which departed from Cubao in Manila. The bus was scheduled to leave at 1.30 P.M, but we ended up getting on the road a bit after 2 P.M. To my surprise it didn’t take long until farms were all we could see. About half an hour north the crazy frenetic pace of Manila that reminds me of an ants’ nest that had been disturbed, was replaced with a country side full of green. As the bus rolled past Mt Pinatubo I tried to stay off my phone as much as possible and soak in the sights. I am not great at getting sleep on public transport, but managed to get an hour or two. I recommend a small pillow and perhaps some of those eye masks they give you on airlines to block out the sun as much as possible if you want to take a nap. The bus stops for a 20 minute break where you can get a quick bite to eat. I am not sure where we were, but it was good to stretch the legs. We arrived in Vigan about 10PM. The town looked like it had gone sleep for the night, but as predicted, there were a handful of tricycle drivers vying for our custom. We escape the initial onslaught and we chat to one to find a place to stay. They suggest the green Hotel, which is nice and reasonably priced.
The Green Hotel where we stayed in Vigan
Vigan is not that large and after a 5 minute ride, we emerge from the tricycle cab and talk with the security guard, who gives us a run-down of the prices. We try to negotiate, but the prices are fixed. I didn’t mind too much as the room was only P900 (AUD $20) for the night. The rooms were quite nice and the only complaint was there was no hot water. They had not run out, there was never any installed, but as the temperature was usually about 30+ degrees Celsius during the day, this was only a minor annoyance.
We head across the road to a restaurant/bar/karaoke/local hang out. The music draws us in and can be heard from down the road as the singer belts out their rendition of a favourite song. I don’t think they get many westerners here as we get a few looks walking in, but soon we are just another group of patrons. The place did not have any walls and was more like a large beer garden, with a few plastic tables and chairs scattered around the place. We have a few beers to relax after the day of travelling and our girls have a turn at singing, like most people in the Philippines, they are quite good. It had been a long day, and I could barely keep my eyes open, and head back to the hotel to get some much needed rest.
We spend the day looking around the world heritage listed town and about 6PM decide to head to Laoag, which is about two and a half hours to the north.
Catching the bus to Laoag was fairly straight forward. We did miss the first one as we did not realise you needed to get numbered tickets to get on the bus. This is a way to ensure that it is first come first served. The conductor will stand at the doorway of the bus and say number 1, then the person with the number one ticket will board, and so on until the bus is full. These are not tickets to ride, just tickets to get on the bus. You pay the bus conductor while the bus is on the road. It was only P120 (AUD $3) for the trip.
When we arrived we chatted to a few tricycle taxi drivers who advised of a few places to stay. I had a few screenshots on my phone of some internet pages that suggested a few hotels, but were dismissed by the taxi drivers as either too far or too dangerous. I had a feeling they get kick backs from the hotel they take us to, but that was fine. It was only P800 and reasonable and clean and even came with a midday check out and breakfast included.
A live band in Laoag
It had a nightclub downstairs, and they called it a restobar as they served food there as well. It had a nice atmosphere, late 20s crowd, dark, loud and a good light show. There were a few different bands singing current covers and even taking a few requests. It was a good spot to relax after a busy day of sightseeing.
Laoag is a very clean town and nothing like Manila. It is not as claustrophobic and was home to the politicians Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, who I was told injected money into this community. In the morning after checking out, we stow our bags at reception and haggle with a few local tricycle riders to show us around for the day. We agree on a price of P350 to see a few key places we had researched the night before. We travel some distance, discovering what Laoag had to offer.
One of the attractions in Laoag : Church Of Paoay Bell Tower.
Continuing our tradition of not being tied down, we hopped on a bus bound for the Pagudpud, a lazy beach town. Estimating an hour trip from the map it ended up taking two. The scenery along the route was mostly rice farms. After half way the bus follows the coastline and we saw some spectacular views as the sun went down. The bus was an economy bus and had no air conditioning. All the windows were down and the seats were quite uncomfortable. However, for P60 (AUD $1.50) who could complain? When we arrived we were dropped off in the centre of Pagudpud. There is not much there, a few scattered shops, not much paving on the road and most of the smaller off shot roads are just dirt. It was not long before we were in a tricycle again. You can’t see much from a tricycle as it is covered and I can only see glimpses of the countryside as I look out to the side.
Travelling on a dirt road for about ten minutes we began to see signs to different hotels and was not long before the driver was negotiating the driveway to where we would stay. The hotel had 10 units, five each side of the dirt driveway. We could book the standard for P1000 or the deluxe for $1500. The difference was the deluxe had hot water and a TV. We took a few minutes discussing it and trying to get a lower price, but ended up going for the deluxe and felt a hot shower was worth the extra P500. The room was quite large and had two double beds, with one of the doubles having a single bunk on top. There were also two pull out bed bases under each bed, so this room could accommodate up to nine people if required.
Entrance to the Casa Victoria resort in Pagudpud
The resort was on the beach. We entered the common area, which was labelled as the restaurant, souvenir and general store. Arriving at night we sat down facing the ocean, not knowing how beautiful the bay was. It was not until the next day when we emerged for breakfast did we understand how lucky we were. White sand beach with clear blue water and palm trees. It was so nice that our intended stay of just one night turned into three. It rivaled Boracay for its sheer beauty.
Front of the Casa Victoria resort in Pagudpud
After three days we needed to get back to Manila. There was a direct bus that took twelve hours. It was a standard coach and cost us P750. The trip back was kind of hazy, as I was drifting in and out of consciousness. It was an overnight bus ride leaving at 7.30 PM and arriving 7.30 AM in Manila. There were a few short stops along the way, but most people were asleep and stayed where they were, just the odd smoker alighting for a quick puff.
It was like a slap in the face with a large smelly fish to be back in Manila. After we had discovered our beach paradise it took some adjusting being back in this humungous city. The coach line (Miami) drop us off in Cubao where the trip started. Still dazed and confused from lack of any proper sleep we hail a taxi which whisks us back home.
From this trip I had grown as a traveller. I learn that it is okay to arrive in a place without any booking and things would be okay. I usually like to book at least one night when I arrived to make it easy, but found it was not necessary and often we got a much better deal. I also learn that you don’t have to pay western prices for accommodation. If you are willing to sacrifice a few home comforts like hot showers it was easy to get decent places for under $20 a night. I would recommend you bring your own toiletries like soap and shampoo and conditioner. All the places we stayed at had air conditioning, TV, were clean and provided towels. I also discovered that the Philippines have quite extensive bus coverage, with dozens of different carriers that can transport you almost anywhere and at a very cheap price. Tricycle taxi drivers were also a wealth of local knowledge and usually there were a handful to meet the buses, talk to these guys if you want to learn about their town.