The Great Escape – Ilocos Norte (Part I)

Again, the second part of our journey went up through the long, meandering and seemingly never ending roads heading up to the northernmost tip of Luzon. As our bus swiftly passed through several communities and municipalities of Ilocos Sur, I can’t help but notice the simple lives of Ilocano locals going on with their daily routines, kids merrily walking side by side with their best friends as they went to school, the daily gossiping at the local store, the busy intersections filled with the roaring engines of jeepneys and tricycles, and the frantic shouting of the barkers near the municipal markets.

The bus came to an abrupt stop with the attendant yelling that we are now at the junction of Batac, Ilocos Norte. We then alighted, Sun’s up and probably a little scorching by noon time. It was 09:45am on my trusted wristwatch, and without any contacts prior to the trip, we haggled with the TODA drivers at the nearest tricycle terminal to take us to some of the different attractions of Batac and Paoay then head to Laoag for our final stop of the tricycle tour. We then agreed with 600php as Kuya Jun’s fixed rate and the going got a little better from here.


The Making of a Great Leader

Batac, Ilocos Norte, is dubbed as the home of Great Leaders, with the insignia and slogan flashing loud and proud against the plaza grounds. First stop on our tricycle tour was the Ferdinand E. Marcos Presidential Center where it also happens to be the ancestral home of the Marcoses. It also houses the infamous ghostly cenotaph of the Martial Law regime, the well preserved corpse of the late president Marcos.

No picture taking is allowed, the entrance to the mausoleum involves some strict security measures and the insides of it were equipped with cctv cameras so don’t you dare snap a photo or else. The main wooden door is guarded by two wooden eagle sculptures, upon entry, the whole place were deprived with natural light, the interiors are flushed in black paint up to the higher spans of the ceiling.

Eerie classical music filled our ears, and will warrant goosebumps as soon as we set foot into the red carpet. Then there he is, the late President of the Philippines, Ferdinand Edralin Marcos laid in an eternal unrest, he was wearing a Piña fiber Barong Tagalog and black slacks and shoes, while being encased by a glass compartment. His remains were transported back to Batac from the United States in 1993 after succumbing to Lung Cancer, his frail little figure was far from the once powerful physique that I have seen in documentaries and textbooks. After the encounter with the late president, we then paid for a 50php museum fee and proceeded to the second floor of the ancestral home.



















Update: As of November 2016, his remains were re-interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes Cemetery) in Taguig. A replica made up of wax remains to be displayed inside the coffin in Batac. This event was uncalled for and was tagged by the masses as the “Last Betrayal of the Marcoses”. There were no information as to what was about to happen, and like a thief in the middle of the night, his remains were air lifted from Batac to Taguig and the processional march instantly came into life at the cemetery with his immediate family behind the funeral carriage. News spread all across mass media like wildfire, with mixed reactions varying from rage, contentions to vindication.


The second floor of the ancestral home houses several memorabilias of Marcos from his stint as an official of the Armed Forces of the Philippines down to assuming the highest seat in the country as the President.

One should also not miss the Dragon Fruit flavored ice cream peddled in the streets of Batac while enjoying the view of the nearby plaza and the Church of Batac.

Paoay, Kumakaway

After an hour, we then headed west going closer to the shoreline of Ilocos Norte, we passed by the DMMSU or the Don Mariano Marcos State University named after the father of the late President Ferdinand Marcos. Several kilometers and a couple of minutes more, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Paoay with its towering belfry came into full view.

Demanding your undivided attention, the Paoay Church is really magnificent in its very own right.

Sighting the inscription from the Philippine Historical Commission Marker at the main entrance:



















Parish founded by Augustinian Missionaries, 1593. Cornerstone of Church laid, 1704, of convent, 1707, of tower, 1793. Used before completion and kept in repair by the joint auspices of the church and town officials. Inaugurations ceremonies, February 28, 1896. Church damaged by earthquake 1704 and 1927. Tower used as observation post by Katipuneros during the revolution. By the Guerilleros during the Japanese occupation.


The construction of the massive edifice started in 1704, and is a prime example of “Earthquake Baroque” a localized interpretation of Baroque architecture suited for the country’s seismic conditions. It has twenty four (24) large buttreses designed like fluorishing vines supporting the coral stone and brick clad side walls. The facade somewhat suggests influences from other south east asian countries for its pointed niches on top of large pillars.

The Paoay Church or Church of San Agustin is one of the four (4) Baroque Churches in the Philippines inscribed in the 1993 World Heritage Sites of UNESCO. Heritage sites such as this one that displays exceptional value and deserves protection for the benefit of the humanity.

A little farther away from the lush landscape of the centuries old church lies the Paoay marker made of fiber glass and is a must photo spot for every tourist visiting the area.

Across the main road, is a photo gallery open for all and named as Arte Luna, with their latest exhibit, the Fade Into Light Series by Raul Echivarre and AP Murillo. The installation is composed of several photos of the fisherfolks of Currimao. Title loosely refers to a series of professions slowly waning into irrelevance. It is about workers staring into the inevitable but still soldiers on.

And a question from one of the exhibit panel really hit me hard: “How do you travel? Are you the type who gets the most bang of the buck by cramming as much places of interest as you can into the itinerary? Or would you rather spend time getting to know the nuances of a place?” And then the answer came like a ton of realization washing me out into full unscathed attention with the last sentence; ” ..while these two roads may diverge, it is guaranteed that it won’t be in the same yellow wood.” Changing my perception of how to travel if only given enough time not just to explore the place but also the culture.

After a short but meaningful visit to the gallery, it made me more inspired to travel the Ilocos Region.

The Sand Dunes of Paoay is really a must for anyone who visits the Ilocos Region, but with only the two of us, with a tight budget on our pockets,we chose to skip this place. We made sure that this will be our next destination on our next Ilocos trip.

Paoay Sand Dunes is a long stretch of desert sands facing the West Philippine Sea that encompasses the town of Currimao up to Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte. One can rent a 4×4 vehicle, which are at your disposal and can be found at the base of the site near the highway. The tour costs 1500php for 30minutes with maximum of 5 pax per vehicle, enjoy sightseeing and photo sessions. One should also not miss Sand Boarding and experience sliding down the dunes aboard a wooden plank!

Dakkel a Danum

A little farther up into the alternate route going to Laoag, the houses at each side of the highway got lesser and lesser by the minute. Then Kuya Jun, our tour guide, stopped by a restaurant at the right side and only then we realized that the placid body of water in front of us is the Paoay Lake!

Legend has it that this 3.86 square kilometer lake, the largest in Ilocos Norte, once existed as the village of San Juan de Sahagun. Villagers, once god fearing and humble, prospered much that they turned materialistic and selfish over time. The gods, appalled by the transformation, punished them by submerging the whole place in water, with the villagers turned into fishes, with their jewelries still adorning their scales and fins.

The leaves of the nearby trees rustled against the warm and humid air streaming across the lake. Terrazas De Paoay, the restaurant in which we stopped by, offers food and refreshments to any visitors who wants to appreciate the unobstructed view of the lake. And to fully enjoy our brief stay, we ordered some Ilocos Empanada partnered with a glass of Halo-halo.

Malacañang Ti Amianan

Half an hour spent at the Terrazas de Paoay, we then ventured again up into our second to the last stop, the Malacañang Ti Amianan or the Malacañang of the North. The road then forked into a smaller one, then we happened to pass by an old golf course and country club then continued into what seemed like a country side filled on both sides with trees blocking out the sunlight and served as mighty canopies.

We then alighted at a gate where you have to pay the entrance fee of 20php before we got down into a road sloping down into an old but elegant filipino style two-storey mansion made up of local materials. It was built impressively in a five(5) hectare property in Suba, Paoay, Ilocos Norte facing the serene Paoay Lake. It was once the official residence in Ilocos Norte during the former president’s regime.

The flooring, panels, and doors were made up of Philippine hardwood while the sliding windows were filled with capiz shells. Upon entry, we were welcomed with an elegant receiving hall, big enough to accomodate a hundred. A grand wooden staircase stood at the left side, a common sign of Imelda Marcos’ penchant for grandiose and elegance. The dining hall were fit for a king.

The second floor, similar to the ground floor is a much wider one but filled with rooms ranging from the spacious masters bedroom up to the well kept library and the office where officials are received whenever the late president seeks refuge and peace in his hometown. The balcony faces the mansion’s large garden extending up to the banks of the Paoay Lake.

After an hour inside the Malacañang of the North, it is now time to bid our goodbyes with the locals whom we had a short chat with, and headed to our last destination.

The City of Lights

The long tricycle ride felt like eternity as the hot afternoon air were like little pin pricks on our skin. Then after 30minutes we were welcomed by a long bridge encompassing a whole river system, the big white signage standing atop a hill from afar said it all, “LAOAG CITY”. It is the political, commercial and industrial hub and the location of Ilocos Region’s only commercial airport, the Laoag International Airport.

It is not only known as the “City of Lights” but also for another preserved massive edifice that really exemplifies Ilocos Norte as the Region of Grand Bell Towers, the Sinking Bell Tower of Laoag. 

Built in 1707, and sinking at a rate of an inch a year, the tower has a foundation of 300 feet or roughly 90 meters. This 45 meter tower is made up of locally produced bricks joined by molasses and juice of sablot leaves mixed with lime and sand. It used to have a big clock face at the tower’s western face that is reachable through a winding staircase inside.

Across the street lies the main church of the sinking bell tower, the Laoag Cathedral built in 1612 by the Augustinian Friars. It showcases an Italian Reinassance style that has a two storey facade composed of a main retablo and two smaller ones at both sides. The upper retablo houses a recessed niche that contains the image of the city’s patron saint, St. William of Maleval.

Other places also worth visiting when in Laoag City:

■ Museo Ilocos Norte

Provincial Capitol of Ilocos Norte and the Marcos Hall of Justice

The neigboring towns also houses historical riches in the form of ancestral homes and century old churches with detached beautiful bell towers. The distinct charm of Laoag, with its right fusion of the classic and the modern influences of Ilocano and Spanish roots, never ceases to amaze and still continues even up to the pristine beaches and mountains of Pagudpud at the northernmost tip of Luzon.
Second Part of our Ilocos Norte adventure here:

The Greater Amianan, Upclose – Ilocos Norte (Part II)


How To Get There:

○ Ferdinand Marcos Presidential Center, Paoay Church, Sand Dunes, Lake, Malacañang of the North:
● By land, take any bus bound for Laoag, Ilocos Norte (GV Florida Transport, Dominion Bus Lines, Partas Bus) then alight at the junction of Batac, Ilocos Norte (9-11hrs travel time, 700-800php). Then hire a tricycle that will take you to the places of interest in Batac and Paoay
● By Air, take any flight bound for Laoag City Airport via Cebu Pacific or Philippine Airlines (45mins travel time)
● From the airport hire a tricycle that will take you to the city proper, from there take any jeepneys bound for Batac or buses that will pass by the area. Upon arrival in Batac, hire a tricycle that will take you to the places of interest in Paoay and Batac

○ Laoag Sinking Bell Tower, St. William’s Cathedral, Ilocos Norte Provincial Capitol:
● By land, take any bus bound for Laoag, Ilocos Norte (GV Florida Transport, Partas Bus, Dominion Bus Lines, Fariñas Transit). (10-12hrs travel time, 700-800php). Upon arrival hire a tricyle to take you to the places of interest in Laoag
● By Air, take any flight bound for Laoag City Airport via Cebu Pacific or Philippine Airlines (45mins travel time).
● From the airport hire a tricycle to take you to the Belltower which is located in the town center.

○ Where to Stay in Laoag:

Hotel Tiffany
Address: M.H. Del Pilar St. Laoag City
Contact: or (+63)9266945221

Java Hotel
Address: G. Segundo Avenue, Bacarra Rd., Laoag City
Contact: or (+63)9108776849

Balay De Blas
Address: #10 Giron St., Brgy. 7-B, Laoag City
Contact: or (+63)9175712110

Texicano Hotel
Address: Corner Giron and J.P. Rizal Streets, Laoag City


Ilocos Norte-Ilocos Sur 2D1N DIY Adventure

Day 0
2000 – Cubao, Take Partas Bus Bound for Vigan, Ilocos Sur (625php/pax)

Day 01
0500 – Arrival at Vigan (Breakfast own account)
0530 – Start walking tour
●Calle Crisologo
●Vigan Cathedral
●Simbaan A Bassit
●Plaza Burgos and Plaza Salcedo
●Ilocos Sur Provincial Capitol
●Bantay Bell Tower (Hail a tricycle to take you to Bantay, 30php/trip)
0815 – Take Tricycle to Partas Bus Terminal (40php/trip)
830 ETD to Batac, Ilocos Norte via Partas Bus (105php)
0945 Alight at Batac Junction, Start tour (300 each(2pax)/ 600php good for 3 pax)
●Marcos Presidential Center and Mausoleum (50php/per pax)
●Batac Cathedral
●Paoay Church
●Paoay Lake
●Malacañang Ti Amianan (20php/pax)
*you can add Suba Paoay Sand Dunes if you are traveling by group, 2500php for an hour of 4×4 ride and sand surfing
1300 Laoag City, visit Sinking Bell Tower, Ilocos Norte Museum and Ilocos Norte Provincial Capitol, take lunch
1430 Depart for Pagudpud, Bus Terminal is at the back of Provincial Capitol (90php/pax)
1630 – Arrival at Pagudpud, take tricycle to Aling Rollie’s Homestay (tricycle free of charge to and fro the bus terminal, if you are availing his tour services)
1650 – Arrival at Homestay (500php/overnight/fan room/good for 2-3persons, Aircon Room starts at 800php)

Day 02
0700 – Wake up, breakfast
0800 –  Start South bound tour (600php, 200php/pax if group of 3)
0830 – Bangui Wind Farm
0930 – Arrival at Burgos Junction, transfer to another tricycle (100php/each, 300php/trip)
0945 – Kapurpurawan Rock Formation and Burgos Wind Farm (15php/pax, Entrance Fee)
1100 – Cape Bojeador Light House
1145 – Start Southbound Tour (600php, 200php/pax if group of 3)
1300 – Arrival at Kabigan falls (Guide Fee: 300php, Entrance Fee: 10php)
1430 – End of Waterfall trek
1445 – Lunch
1530 – Patapat Viaduct
1600 – Timangtang Rock Formation
1615 – Bantay Abot Cave
1645 – Pagudpud Blue Lagoon
1730 – Saud beach
1800 – Back at Homestay, Tidy up
1830 – Tricycle to Bus Terminal, Buy Vigan Longganisa at Aling Maricel’s House 250php/Kilo
1900 – Florida Deluxe Bus (700php/pax)

Day 03
0500 – Manila

TOTAL DAMAGE: 2815php/pax excluding food
My total expenses (with food and souvenirs): 3500php 

“What is the meaning of life? The meaning is not for you to find but for you to define. The meaning is found in the purposes that we pursue as we grow older.”

– Miriam Santiago

Go, Carve That Niche,