Ilocos Family Trip: Long Drive Up North

Long Drive North to Ilocos

During the long weekend of Holy Week 2017, we’ve set our plans for a 4-day trip to visit the provinces of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. We have planned to do a visita iglesia to its beautiful churches. And while we are at it, we have included in our itinerary trips to the city of Vigan, the famous sites around Paoay, Laoag City, and to the town of Pagudpud.

It has been almost two decades, I think, since I last visited this proud region. Ilocos is famous for being the hometown of Philippines‘ former strongman Ferdinand Marcos and tobacco, its main produce. And so I was very excited to make this trip. In the 90’s, my family frequented Ilocos to visit family friends and this time I’m able to chart our own paths to see more of the province.

For this trip, I’ve booked ourselves a 15-seater van from my cousin’s friend. We started our trip in the early morning of Maundy Thursday. Our ride first picked up my wife’s family from Canlubang in Calamba, Laguna at 12 midnight before picking us up in Bonifacio Global City within Metro Manila around 1AM in the morning.

Long Drive North to Ilocos

Heavy Traffic along the NLEx

Long Drive North to Ilocos

Our Route from Laguna to Ilocos and our key destinations

With that weekend being a major long holiday weekend, the Holy Week, we expected that majority of the people in Manila are on their path of out of the city. And as expected, we met everyone on the road. From EDSA, traffic was already terrible specially as we approached the entrance to the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx). And along NLEx, we got stuck in heavy traffic as well in Bocaue and Mexico sections of the highway.

From the NLEx, we transferred to the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) heading north to Tarlac. From there we proceeded further north to via the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx). The trip through both expressways was quite a breeze while other travelers made their stops in the petrol stations along the way.

Long Drive North to Ilocos

Somewhere in Pampanga along the NLEx

Long Drive North to Ilocos

At the fork heading to the SCTEx

Long Drive North to Ilocos

Mount Arayat with the morning sun while driving along the SCTEx

Long Drive North to Ilocos

Breezing through the TPLEx somewhere in Tarlac

We exited TPLEx by the Urdaneta exit in Pangasinan. From there we were headed north via the North Manila Road also known as the McArthur Highway. When we reached the junction that leads to the city of Baguio in the Cordillera mountains, we once more got stuck in traffic for around 30 minutes. But it pales from the traffic that waited us in the bridge that separates the provinces of La Union and Pangasinan. We got there stuck for 2 hours. Too much vehicular traffic caused the congestion. Traffic congestion did not stop there as me again met heavy traffic in Bauang, La Union. Due to heavy traffic, we had to take our late lunch in the city of San Fernando in La Union province.

Long Drive North to Ilocos

The bridge by the border of La Union that served as the main choke point

Long Drive North to Ilocos

People stopping by the archway of Ilocos Sur

It was a very long drive. All 360 hours of it and it felt longer due to all the traffic that we encountered. For our first night, we are booked at Aloha Nui Hotel in the city of Candon. And due to our delays, we decided to drive past Candon all the way to Vigan. Vigan is another 65 kilometers further north, an additional 2 hour drive.

I’ve initially planned for us to tour most of Vigan on that first day. But we only reached Vigan at around 5PM. So, we had to cut most of our itinerary that day and drive back to Candon again to our hotel.

Long Drive North to Ilocos

View of the sea from the national highway

Long Drive North to Ilocos

The Vigan Gap and the old bridge crossing the pass

Long Drive North to Ilocos

The newer bridge across the Vigan Gap

The next day was Good Friday. And we went on for our visita iglesia. We drove further north from Candon City in Ilocos Sur to Sarrat in Ilocos Norte. Along the 150 kilometer path, we dropped by seven different century old and notable churches.

Our visita iglesia ended with the Sarrat Church our 3:30 in the afternoon. We took our late lunch in Laoag City and decided that we take advantage of daytime to check some nearby tourist destinations. From Laoag, we drove to Paoay via the Laoag-Paoay Road for around 30 minutes to the south.

Long Drive North to Ilocos

Tobacco farms

Long Drive North to Ilocos

The Ilocos Norte Archway

Long Drive North to Ilocos

Crossing the bridge to Laoag City

We first stopped at the Malacañang of the North. This two-storey mansion house is built on hill with an overlooking view of the Paoay Lake. The Malacañang of the North was built by then Philippine Tourism Authority to serve as the official residence of the presidential family while they stay in the region. The name of the mansion originated from the Malacañang Palace, which is the official presidential residence located in Manila.

Long Drive North to Ilocos

Malacañang of the North

Long Drive North to Ilocos

The western side facing the lake

Long Drive North to Ilocos

Its veranda and the Paoay Lake

Long Drive North to Ilocos

Picture frames of the Marcos family

Today, this edifice has been converted into a museum and a small fee is taken to allow entry. Too bad though as I feel that they did not do a good job in maintaining this building. I guess due to this building being linked to the Marcoses that past presidents ignored maintaining this property properly. I’ve seen it in its better days.

Long Drive North to Ilocos

the barren landscape of the Ilocos Sand Dunes

Long Drive North to Ilocos

4x4s at the jump of point to the Paoay Sand Dunes Adventure

Long Drive North to Ilocos

Rivermount Hotel’s infinity pool facing the Padsan River

Then next we drove about 10 minutes to the west to the Paoay Sand Dunes Adventure site. It is located within the Ilocos Sand Dunes which stretches from the city of Laoag to the town of Currimao. Basically, the sand dunes area is like an extended coastline that reaches inland for about 1.2 kms. This location has become famous this past few years for different adventure activities like sandboarding and 4×4 rough riding through the dunes. Also, this place first became famous locally after being film locations for the Panday movies in the 80’s which featured a desert-like post-apocalyptic dimension. Unfortunately, we arrived to the location past 5PM already so we just decided to take photos near the 4x4s.

We retired for the night Rivermount Hotel and Resort off the banks of the Padsan River in Sarrat.

On the next day, Saturday, we then ventured further north for a 2 hour trip to Pagudpud. Pagudpud is located on the north-westernmost tip of the island of Luzon. It is famous for its beautiful beaches and windmills. I’ll talk about part of our trip on another blog. On that night we still retired to the Rivermount and checked out early the next day.

Long Drive North to Ilocos

Windmills en route to Pagudpud

On Easter Sunday, we drove to the St. William’s Cathedral in Laoag City to attend the Easter mass. Right after mass, we started our long journey back to Manila. All 500 kilometers through 7 provinces, 3 expressways, and lengthy national highways for another 11 hours. It was a very long trip and was very memorable. Sadly we didn’t spend much time in enjoying Ilocos’s expansive beaches but may be next time we’ll visit the region again. Probably, next time we will take a flight to Laoag instead of taking the long drive that we took.

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