Baguio to Vigan to Laoag, Oh My

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Asia » Philippines » Vigan
September 14th 2008
Published: September 23rd 2008EDIT THIS ENTRY

I am now going to write the one, and likely only, real travel blog I will ever produce for this site. I am breaking from my traditional style for a couple of reasons: because I am finding even government sponsored tourist information in the Philippines hard to find, incomplete or unreliable, and, consequently, because I had to rely so heavily on information from other travel blogs on this site while planning my vacation to Vigan.

My sister, Laura, decided to come from Canada to see me during this last leg of my internship in the Philippines. Her trip was scheduled ages ago for the end of August, beginning of September and I was left to plan a vacation at the height of the rainy season. My first though was Boracay, but Laura wanted to see where I live while she was here. And since she could only visit for 10 days there would be no time to do both Boracay and Baguio City. So I settled on breaking the trip up between Baguio and Vigan. Vigan seemed like an ideal pick: only 5 hours by bus from Baguio, a reputation for great restaurants, old churches and museums to keep us occupied if it rained, and close, tropical beaches if it didn't. Laura checked it out online and agreed. Vigan it was.

Laura arrived around midnight in Manila. And we settled into a nice hotel in Manila proper. There are a lot of hotels in the many city's that make up Metro Manila. But it is important to know what kind f an area you are choosing. I have lived here for a while, and have no problem spending the night in a hotel with a jeepney clogged highway on one side and a shanty town on the other. For new and short term foreign guests the intense poverty in Metro Manila might be very overwhelming. This should be taken into account when booking a place to stay.

The next day we took the bus from Manila to Baguio. We chose to bus instead of to fly because flights into the Cordillera Mountains are infamously unreliable. Any amount of rain might delay or even lead to the cancellation of the trip, which only runs 3 times a week. In the unpredictable rainy season weather, when a typhoon can hit Baguio in the middle of a Tuesday after a 30 degree morning, I decided not to risk it. We took the Victory Liner Delux bus from Cubao. Victory Liner is one of the most respected bus companies in the country, with drivers who make me feel safe, even on the winding mountain roads. The Delux bus runs overnight at 11:15pm and 12:15am and at 1:15pm, which is the trip we took. The Delux costs Php 710, which is about Php300 more then the regular Victory Liner trip, which leaves every hour. I always choose the Delux though, since it has bigger seats, an on-bus bathroom, movies (almost always in English), and a stewardess who provides passengers with cookies and a bottle of water at the beginning of the trip. Taking the bus also provides you with some wonderful views of rice fields, carabao, Mount Arayat (a picturesque dormant volcano), and towards the end of the trip, the corded mountains. If you are looking for a view of the regions rice or vegetable terraces, they are not on this road (it is too far south), but on a clear day you can see the South China Sea from the left-hand side seats.

In Baguio Laura and I stayed in the Hotel Vinez. The standard rooms are Php 1300 in the low season. The room had two nice single beds, a big bathroom and a tv with English cable. Rooms with an air-conditioner and windows (ours had one tiny slit of a window) cost more. But I have never seen Baguio get hot enough to require an air-conditioner and the street is too noisy to want a window anyway. The only problem with the room was the internal water heater, which only had 2 minute bursts of hot water. However, the service was good enough to make up for the cold water. I chose the Hotel Vinez because of its central local, at one corner of the city's main plaza, and because in the last 6 months I have frequently used their wireless internet for free. I felt like I owed them.

While we where in Baguio we ate some really wonderful food. Our choices were limited by Laura's distaste for rice, but as a result we had some surprisingly good western food. Here are the best places where we ate:
Yellow Cab Pizza (a franchise pizza place with really great but really expensive pizza,
which also serves pistachio ice cream for some reason. Yum.)
Oh My Goulay (Laura and I didn't have a chance to eat there, but did stop in to
check out it's local art displays. I hear great things about their vegetarian
food and their artistic/fantastic decor is a must see for Baguio visitors.)
The Flying Geeko (run by my favorite old ex-pat in Baguio this restaurants is hands
down the best western food in the city. They serve a sangria to die for
and the biggest piece of apple pie I have ever seen.)
50's Diner (which is exactly that, a 50's diner just outside the town center
with an interesting selection of Filipino and western food)
Cafe by the Ruins (This restaurant was built around the ruins of an old mansion
destroyed during Japanese bombing in WWII. The atmosphere is funky and
yet romantic. Though the restaurant claims to serve true Filipino food the
items on their menu are never things I have seen in real kitchens. However,
their funky and delicious dishes are all served with native ingredients, like
carabao milk and lots of yellow mangoes.
Baguio is also know for its Korean restaurants, because of the wave of Koreans who have immigrated to the city as students and business people. We didn't eat at any because Laura is not keen on Korean, but anyone who is visiting the city really should sit on a floor cushion and give this authentic Korean a try.

While in Baguio we also got the chance to do some of the tourist stuff that I don't have time for in my every day life. We visited a Butterfly Sanctuary just inside the gates of Camp John Hay. The entrance fee was Php40. We where there on a cloudy morning, which was unfortunate, because we were told that butterflies are more active in warmer weather. However, the older man who maintains the Sanctuary was extremely informative and only too happy to catch a few of the butterflies in order to put them on our clothing for photos. We spent a surprising amount of time in the Sanctuary, and I would say it was probably the most entertaining thing we did in Baguio. Some of the other things we did and saw where:
Mines View Park (this is just a look off point, it is not really a park. Although the
look out has a decent view of the Cordillleran mountains for those people
who are only going to visit Baguio and won't have the chance to go farther
into the mountains. Mines View also shares its parking lot with a convent
that produces regional edible goodies that make great snacks or
pasalubong - thing you take home from vacation to share. The money is put
into scholarships for local university students.)
The Mansion (this is the President's summer home in the Cordillera. You can only
go inside the gate, not up into the house, but it is very pretty. There
is also a great mall facing the Mansion which makes a good "I've been to
Baguio" picture.)
Asin (this is a hot spring right outside of the city. It costs about Php40 to take a
jeep each way. We spent an afternoon at the Coconut Grove Resort, which is
slightly farther down the road then the other resorts, but is worth the
distance, because there are fewer children and private jaccuzzis with
mountain views that you can rent for Php 250 an hour. The entrance fee for
the the Resort is Php 100 per adult.)
Burnham Park (this is the large park in the middle of the city. It is not particularly
scenic, but it's fun because you can rent swan shaped paddle boats and
cruise around the man made lake.)

When we traveled from Baguio City to Vigan I chose Partas Bus Liner. I consider Partas to be one of the most reliable bus companies in Luzon. The bus that travels this route is not direct, but it is air-conditioned and costs about Php 400 one way. There will be snack vendors getting on and off the bus during the 5 hour trip, but no real stops, so you should hit the washroom before you leave.

In Vigan, as a result of both personal needs and poor planning, Laura and I ended up staying in a different hotel almost every night. If you stay in a hotel in the Mestizo District then you will be in easy walking distance to almost everything of historical interest.
Aniceto Mansion (this Spanish colonial Mansion is lovely, but for Php 1400 a night
it was not what we were looking for. There is no air-conditioning in the
common areas, leaving most of the mansion unbearable hot. And the rooms
are pretty run down. Though the staff, all in adorable pink uniforms, were
really helpful.)
The Cordillera Inn (this was our favorite of all the three places we stayed. It is
clean and fresh, with a great combination of Cordilleran and Spanish decor
that I really appreciated. The room was clean and well kept. The bathroom
was particularly nice and the shower had lots of hot water. The staff were
also exceptional. We paid Php 1400 per night and probably would have paid
Grandpa's Inn (we ended up staying here because a pre-booked group of 200
university students, traveling overnight by bus from Manila, bumped us from
the Cordillera Inn. We paid Php 1300 for our room and found Grandpa's to
be clean and comfortable. Some of the rooms even have bed frames made
to look like Calasas. The cafe and restaurant attached to the Inn are
palatable, although better at breakfast and snacks then lunch or dinner.
The one real problem with Grandpa's Inn is that it is built at the end of a
street and so does not have a lot passing tricycle traffic. As a result some
tricycle drivers sit across from the hotel waiting to make guests their
customers. I found that these drivers were more likely to rip you off then
those caught at any regular street corner. There was also a man positioned
at the door while we were staying there who encourages guests to take
these tricycles. He is not a bellman, or even a hotel employee, but works
with these tricycle drivers. It is easier just to walk to the next block to catch
a normal tricycle, avoiding the entire situation.)

The town of Vigan is one of the best known tourist spots in Northern Luzon. But for a popular vacation spot I was surprised by how few good restaurants there were. If you like Filipino food you will have more luck, and should definitely try the local sausage. I also recommend that you try Basi, sugar cane wine, which is made allover Northern Luzon, but is commercially produced in Vigan. It tastes like sweet red wine mixed with brandy. If you are looking for western food in Vigan I would suggest that you try out:
Cafe Leona (this cafe was recommended by everyone we asked around Vigan, and
has a beautiful little patio out in the plaza at night. The inside decor is very
celtic pub, which I found really entertaining. The menu is huge and packed
full of various cultural favorites. I loved the salad, which comes with a great,
tangy homemade dressing, and the pizza, which they serve on the most
awesome pizza shaped plates, because it is thin crusted and full of real
Sitio Bar (their menu only has appetizers, but they are great appetizers. Their
alcohol selection though is monumentous. It was only the second bar in the
whole country where I have found a cosmo on their menu.)

Vigan is known for its calasas, a tiny horse-drawn carriage, drawn by a tiny horse. Calasas are mostly used now by tourists. Calasa drivers sit all over the city trying to intice you into their carriage. Calasa rides are Php 150 and hour. This is significantly more expensive then taking a tricycle. However, they are fun and it is a great way to see the main attractions. The Calasa route seems to be one that hits all of the tourist spots, where the driver will stop and offer to wait as you go in. This is of course one way that the drivers to make more money, but we decided that it was worth it. This was how we got to see Baluarte, a private zoo owned by a former governor and which seriously has camels, peacocks, a lion and about 7 tigers among other things. I actually got to pet a tiger during their animal attraction show, which was probably the most frightening and exhilarating moment of my life so far.The zoo is free. So is the Hidden Garden, a beautiful tropical garden on the outskirts of town that has a fabulous little canteen which sells fresh coconut juice and Basi amongst other things. Other places we visited we:
Syquia-Quirino House (a privately operated museum of former President Quirno
and his family. His wife was from Vigan and the museum is literally in her old
family home. The entrance fee is only Php20.)
Pot Factory (there are a few different pot factories in Vigan. The word factory is
misleading, these are more life craftsman shops. Laura and I went to a
shop with a manual pottery wheel and after the demonstration I was
allowed to make my own pot. They were willing to fire my pot and give it to
me, but firing takes a week - so if you have the time and want your own pot
go see the potters at the beginning of your vacation.)
Burgos Museum (this museum is dedicated to Bishop Burgos, who was a
pro-people Catholic Bishop from the final days of the Spanish colonial
period. Not being from the area we found the stuff about Burgos boring,
but they also have really interestnig displays of indigenous and colonial
artifacts. The museum does close at 4pm though.)
Plaza Salcedo (this plaza was a must see for me because it is where Gabriela
Silang was executed. I was disappointed to discover that there is no
monument to her in the plaza. However, there are two amazing things to be
found there: a huge raised map of the Philippines with really campy
dioramas of the country's main historical sights, and a large display of
miniturized world monuments. Where can you find the Sphynx and the CN
Tower both? Vigan apparently.)
Pug-os Beach Resort (you take a mini-bus out of Vigan in the direction of Laoag to
get to this resort. Just tell the conductor that you are going to Pug-os and
he will tell you when to get off. The trip costs about Php 40 one way and
takes about an hour. The resort is worth the distance though. The sand is
mocha colored and the sea is a wonderful two-tone blue. We watched local
fisherman pulling in nets full of tiny shrimp from the warm shade of the
resort's beach front. The restaurant at the resort is not great though, and
there are no general stores close, so pack some food before you go.)

Laura and I chose to fly out of Northern Luzon instead of taking the bus. The bus ride from Vigan to Manila is about 14 hours long, while the flight is only an hour. The closest airport is in Laoag, an hour and a half away from Vigan. There are two flights a day from Laoag to Manila, a PhilAir flight around 11am and Cebu Pacific flight around 8pm. We stay in VIgan our last night and travel to Laoag the day of our flight. This was a bad idea. Our intention was to give ourselves 3 hours to get the short distance via Partas Bus Liner. Like I said earlier, Partas is normally very reliable. However, for us the bus was late and then broke down, which resulted in us missing out PhilAir flight and having to wait all day for the Cebu Pacific plane. I would suggest anyone flying should stay in Laoag the night before their flight, just in case. One other important fact to know if flying is that there is a PhilAir ticket booth at the airport, but no Cebu Pacific ticket vendor. You have to buy all Cebu Pacific tickets from the travel agents inside the town.

Hope this is helpful. Good luck and enjoy your trip to Northern Luuzon!


24th September 2008

If I ever visit the Philippines, I will follow all of your very informative travel tips!
11th March 2009

thanks for the information
Planning to go to baguio and Vigan next year...i have no clue where, how, and what to do, but I am thankful for the very useful infos in your blog.

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