Published: January 2nd 2006December 25th 2005 This is part 1 of our Ilocos Tour. Do check out the succeeding blogs for entries on Laoag and Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.
Antique calesa at the mall
Our Vigan adventure starts off on Christmas Day 2005. Armed only with half a day’s worth of research, money and clothes to last us five days, my sister and I boarded the Partas bus bound for Laoag City at 10PM. First discovery: fare has gone up 25% from P450 last May (according to my notes) to P600.
The bus was clean and comfortable, with reclining seats, adjustable aircon vents (unfortunately, you can’t turn it off completely which was especially painful because it soon turned very cold) and best of all, the headrest has side supports so that your head does not fall off the seat as you sleep :)
It being Christmas Day, traffic was very light. First stopover was at Dau. After 15 minutes, the bus proceeded on its trip, taking McArthur Highway and passing by the towns of Pampanga. Not surprisingly, there were a lot of passengers on the road even during the wee hours of the morning, probably coming from Christmas gatherings.
Second stopover was at Sison, Pangasinan. Restrooms
Vigan's mall - Plaza Maestro
were clean and there’s a selection of food stores where you can have something to warm you up - lugaw, mami, instant noodles (P25), grilled hotdogs (P20), meals, and lots of junk food.
After an impossible number of stops due to people boarding and alighting, we arrived at Vigan City at 4:30 in the morning of the 26th. We then boarded a tricycle (P8 / person) to take us to the Aniceto Mansion where we had a reservation.
As we arrived earlier than expected, the hotel was dark and closed when we arrived. We rang the bell and a sleepy attendant took us in and deposited us in our room. (I made prior reservations - room rate was P1200 / night for standard room, double occupancy, with breakfast.)
Aniceto Mansion is a restored mansion with lots of beautiful antiques and huge family pictures on the walls. It was not creepy although our room freaked me out. The entire right wall, the longest wall of the room, is actually a huge sliding door made up of wood and glass squares and which was covered only by a thin white curtain. Outside is a veranda where the
The old and the new - Vigan Cathedral's belfry and the golden arches of McDonald's
main hallway of the second floor ends -- meaning anyone can actually peek in our room anytime :(
On top of that completely disconcerting feature, the bad feng shui of our room also freaked me out. The two single beds were both positioned directly in line with the doors: mine with the main door and my sister’s with the CR’s door.
There was a TV, a bedside lamp which was totally useless because there was no electrical outlet, an antique mirror and dresser, and the CR which did not have hot water nor any other amenities (I had to ask for towels and toiletries later in the day).
IT’S FINALLY VIGAN!
I slept fitfully (with my back against the glass doors) until around 9AM then after a quick shower, we ventured out for our first sight of daytime Vigan.
To be fair, our hotel has the best location, beside the famous Vigan Plaza Hotel (owned by Chavit Singson), right across the Plaza Burgos. Vigan Plaza Hotel, if you’re not traveling on a budget is probably the best accommodation in Vigan. At P2300 / night for standard room double occupancy with breakfast, it’s almost double the
Calesas at Plaza Burgos
going rates in most hotels in the area.
First stop was the Tourism office which is just on the block next to our hotel. We were asked to sign in the guest book and given brochures of Vigan. Good thing they were open despite it being a holiday.
With no other food outlets open, we walk towards the bright golden arches of McDonald’s and were pleased to find out that McDo came with an entire mall called Plaza Maestro. There seemed to be a Christmas bazaar but it’s breakfast we needed so after scouring the area for possible breakfast places, we settled for Chowking.
Without any specific itinerary in mind, I reviewed the materials given by the Tourism officer while having my so un-Vigan breakfast at the second floor of Chowking, which by the way, has a very good view of the Vigan Cathedral and Plaza Salcedo. Funnily enough, Chowking’s longganisa meal did not even feature Vigan longganisa! But the hot chocolate was good :) I don’t know if they have it here in Manila. St. Paul’s Church / Vigan Cathedral
After breakfast and watching two busloads of Chinese / Korean tourists race each other
St. Paul's Church / Vigan Cathedral
to the waiting calesas near the church, we crossed the street for some serious picture-taking of the cathedral. There was a wedding going on but the church was so huge, I doubt the guests upfront even noticed us taking pictures at the back of the church.
St. Paul’s Church or Vigan Cathedral as it is more popularly known, is a beautiful church, with its belfry sitting on its left, across the street. The bells still toll for masses. The cathedral does not seem to be very old given the modern paint-job in the façade but it still holds a certain charm, especially inside where the exposed wooden beams in the dome give you an indication of the period when it was built.
Afterwards, we chose from among the waiting calesas a healthy-looking horse for our Calesa tour :) The standard DOT-accredited rate is P150 / hour. There is a “packaged” tour already - how long you want to spend on each site depends on you. St. Augustine Church
First stop was the oldest church in Region 1, the St. Augustine Church. It is a beautiful old church with a much-photographed brown and white façade. The belfry
Vigan Cathedral belfry
sits farther away on a hill, a brick structure set against a gorgeous backdrop of blue skies and green horizons. Rodel, our cuchero, said this was where Panday was shot. This belfry is the most beautiful I’ve seen in our entire Ilocos trip. Crisologo Museum
Next stop was the Crisologo Museum where you will be asked by an effervescent old lady to sign the guest book and donate any amount you wish in the box beside the guest book. Most of what is here are things of Vigan’s beloved late Governor Floro Crisologo, father of Bingbong Crisologo, and probably the most famous in the Crisologo clan. He was a man so powerful that he was killed inside the Vigan Cathedral - the only place where his enemies can get to him. His killer was never caught and the family promised no revenge.
The Museum itself is the ancestral house of the Crisologos. It is a huge, beautiful house, obviously well taken care of. Interesting stuff include a gorgeous antique calesa (according to Rodel used in the film Maruja) which is still taken out for weddings, the Crisologo’s master bedroom, the dressing room with the Crisologo matriarch’s Imeldific
collection of matching shoes and bags and ternos, the sunshiny 20-seater dining area, newspaper clippings of Floro Crisologo’s death, including pics and the pants and shoes he was wearing the day he died. Pagburnayan Jar Factory
Passing by the commercial district and with Rodel pointing out some minor establishments (the city’s fish nursery, etc.), we proceeded to our next stop - the Pagburnayan Jar Factory. We were lucky to have been the only two guests as we were treated to an exclusive demonstration of jar-making by none other than the National Folk Artist Fidel Antiporda Go himself. The stop would have been uninteresting were it not for the personal demo and historical banter of Mr. Go, a 4th generation Chinese who is one of the four remaining burnay-makers in Vigan. I videoed him make a traditional putik jar from a mass of sand and clay in only three minutes. Unfortunately, we cannot buy any of the jars because we were still going to Ilocos Norte. Hidden Garden
In one of the remote baranggays of Vigan is the Hidden Garden, a gorgeous haven owned by an architect famous for his landscaping projects. They actually sell the plants
Inside Vigan Cathedral
and garden settings here and offer landscaping, but the garden is so beautifully done that it does not seem to be a showroom at all. Plants are sold at very low prices. In huge, clean cages in various corners are the architect’s pets - colorful birds, miniature Chinese roosters, dogs… all blending well with the greens. In cool, shady coves sit wooden benches surrounded by more greens. There are bonsai plants, fortune plants, hanging plants, clay and wood garden chairs. I truly regret not being able to buy some plants. Baluarte
After a long hot ride through the sleepy baranggays on the fringes of the city, we arrive at the hilltop Baluarte of Chavit Singson. A 70-hectare property with a mini-zoo, a caregiver school, its own chapel, man-made decorative falls, and several other buildings, this is where the famous governor lives, overlooking much of the city. I was happy to see that the animals are well taken care of - the cages are clean and the animals look very healthy. There were 4 huge (sleeping) tigers, some small horses (we are debating on whether these are ponies or full-grown mini horses), a couple of cute apes, geese, and
Our calesa :)
lots of creepy-crawlies :)
There are calesa rides offered for free but the horses seemed so small no one wanted to ride them :) we were happy to just look at the beautiful horses running free on the vast open field. Villa Angela
We dropped by Villa Angela but unfortunately the mansion is not open for viewing when there are guests staying in so we just took a picture of the façade. According to Rodel, this is where Tom Cruise stayed when they were shooting at the Heritage Village for the movie Born on the Fourth of July. The film Maruja was also shot here. The antique calesa used by Imee Marcos on her wedding day was in the garden. We were able to take a couple of pics on the calesa :) the seats were surprisingly very comfortable. Syquia Mansion
We were lucky to be touring on a day the Syquia Mansion is open (it is almost always closed - we suspect the days and times depend on the mood of the medyo masungit na caretaker who is also the museum guide). Also known as the Quirino Mansion, it is owned by the family of
St. Augustine Church, the oldest church in Region I
former President Quirino’s wife.
It is by far, the grandest ancestral home I have seen in my entire life. The rooms are huge, filled with antiques from here and abroad. There is a massive replica of the Spolarium in the sitting room. It was done by Juan Luna’s assistant and apparently, when the real Spolarium is being restored, they refer to this replica for the details. Huge oil portraits of the family’s distinguished men and women adorn the walls of the sitting room and the VIP sala, three of which were painted by Fernando Amorsolo. Hardbound books written in Spanish fill the glass-enclosed bookcases in the library. Cabinets full of antique delicate China discreetly occupy one wall of the dining area, at the other end of which are the modern plates and utensils they use when the Quirinos are visiting. The curtains and seats are of almost-identical materials, very rich and elegant. There are secret doors and secret viewing holes. The prayer room is closed because they already lost 2 ivory Santo heads from tourists before.
I hardly think they need donations to maintain the place as the Quirinos still use the place frequently but we still gave
St. Augustine belfry
P100 for the caretaker’s time. (I was just so happy to have been able to see the place! Unfortunately, we were not able to take pics because we were so scared of the caretaker hehe) Calle Crisologo and Café Leona
Our calesa tour ended with a ride along the length of Calle Crisologo, the Heritage Village, probably Vigan’s most famous attraction. It was indeed like being taken back in time with old houses left and right and the horse’s hooves on the cobblestone floor.
Our tour took 3.5 hours and the P550 was all worth it. We stopped right in front of the Tourism office, beside Café Leona, yet another of Vigan’s must-visits. We had a late lunch of bagnet and mussels in oyster sauce - quite expensive at P370 but superb!
After lunch, we took a nap back at the hotel. At 4PM, we were back on Calle Crisologo, scouring the little shops for souvenirs. We bought chichacorn at P35 each, fabulous Abel Iloco scarves at P100 each and an Ilocos blanket at P220.
Vigan at night
It was already dark by the time we finished our touristy shopping at Calle Crisologo.
Statue of the Virgin Mary and the St. Augustine belfry
We went around Plaza Burgos and Plaza Salcedo and took more pictures. To cap the night, we had the famous Vigan empanada for dinner (P25 each). I was surprised to see that the empanada was mostly made of coleslaw-like stuff with ground meat and egg wrapped in paper-thin wafer. See, I don’t eat vegetables and there was a lot of it in that empanada. But I had to try it so I did and enjoyed it immensely. My sister finished 2 empanadas!
After our dinner, we retired in the hotel (it was only still 7PM!) and made plans for the next day. I wanted to go to the beach at Paraiso ni Juan and visit Sta. Maria church but we were getting confusing directions from the people in the hotel so we decided to just skip it and proceed to Laoag instead. See Laoag and Pagudpud blogs for continuation of our Ilocos Tour.
There are more photos below