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Ilocos Norte: Breathtaking Northern Exposure

June 20, 2014

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Ilocos Norte: Breathtaking Northern Exposure
Adventure trip through – The Jewel of Northern Philippines
‘Discover, Explore, Experience’

It was only recently when I discovered how richly blessed the Northern Philippines is, with unique history, culture and landscape that cannot be found elsewhere. My adventure trip through the Ilocos Region literally opened my eyes to its majestic precious charms and reminded me why the Philippines deserves to be called the Pearl of the Pacific.

laoag sinage

+++++DAY 1 September 26, 2013

Laoag City, throughout a seemingly interminable 1 hour and 35 minutes flight from Davao to Manila and a connecting flight of 1 hour and 20 minutes from Manila to finally arrived in Laoag International Airport in Laoag City, the capital of Ilocos Norte, immediately observed how the place exuded a charming small town feel, in spite of its status as the commercial center of the region. There were many Spaniard-looking Calesas or horse carriages transporting people around the city, as well as typical provincial tricycles.



Laoag City is the gateway to the North Luzon Tourism Hub and Growth Quadrangle, Truly endless rays of possibilities, Laoag is the country’s Sunshine City.…………


+++++DAY 2 September 27, 2013

Schedule to graced my presence on the official residence of the Mayor, Laoag City hall on “courtesy call” to City Mayor Chevylle Farinas; Executive Secretary to the Mayor Walter John Aquino; DILG Officer Lavin Basilio; Alwin Formantes and Rene Paguirigan of Public Information Office and Media Center – Laoag City. After in the company of, a tour around the City hall premises was done of which I saw the huge welcome signage at the entrance of the city hall, my name!

Later on, the Adventure Trip starts on!

1. Laoag City Hall on Courtesy Call
2. Laoag City, Ilocos Norte: St. William’s Cathedral and Sinking Bell Tower
3. La Paz, Laoag City, Ilocos Norte: La paz Sand Dunes
4. Municipality of Paoay, Ilocos Norte: Paoay Lake National Park
5. Municipality of Paoay, Ilocos Norte: Paoay Church
6. Barangay Burgos, Ilocos Norte: Café Bojeador Lighthouse
7. Barangay Burgos, Ilocos Norte: Kapurpurawan Rock Formations
8. Barangay Bangui, Ilocos Norte: Bangui Windmills


1-18Laoag City, Ilocos Norte: St. William’s Cathedral and Sinking Bell Tower

This church, adorned in a grand Italian renaissance design, is unlike any other cathedral I’d previously encountered in other parts in the Philippines. Near the top of the church is the image of Laoag City’s very own patron Saint William, whom the church is named after.


Also saw the ornate columns gracing the front entrance doors, along with the small artistically modeled statues of Catholic saints and patrons. Learned that Augustian friars in their mission to support a growing Christian population first constructed this cathedral in 1612, which is called Ylaua. This was originally built with a mixture of molasses, lime, stones, sand and gravel to keep it erect. They say, over the succeeding years, the church suffered damage wrought by typhoons, earthquakes and fire before it was finally restored in 1880, thus becoming a symbol of strength and resolve for the people of Laoag.


My visit was cut short when I realized that there was a wedding being celebrated inside, so I proceeded to the 45-meter Sinking Bell tower nearby. Although at first glance it appears as simply another graying centuries-old ruin, it still retains a sense of historical splendor, with its architectural highlight being the cross at the top and the iconic bell situated just right below it.

This bell tower was actually one of the tallest in the Philippines, and it was also built by the Augustinian priests in 1612. It earned its “sinking” label due to its construction atop sandy foundations, causing it to constantly sink into the ground. Local stories claim that a person on horseback could enter the bell tower with relative ease back in the early 17th century when it was first built.

The wooden door is engraved with Greek words “Alpha” and “Omega”. The twin engaged columns are likened to giant candles. These columns contain statues niches and recessed portals, which are alternately placed.

3-26La Paz, Laoag City, Ilocos Norte: La paz Sand Dunes

Country such as in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in United Arab Emirates are famous for their natural sand dunes. But did you know that the Philippines have its own 52 square mile of this God-given wonder?

The La Paz Sand Dunes in Laoag City is one of the more popular sand dune destinations in Ilocos Norte. But more recently, the PAOAY SAND DUNES is remarkably gaining popularity to tourists travelling up north.


The dunes land with an area of 45 hectares more or less, situated at the western outskirts of Laoag City proper, with an elevation of 700 feet above sea level and about 6 kilometers drive from the city proper of Laoag with an approximately 85 square kilometers of protected sandy coastal desert. It is also called Bantay Bimaboy because the shape resembles a pig’s back and has been declared as National Geological Monument.

The area is popularly known as the Desert of the North and with its dramatic landscape and also popular site for shooting local and foreign films. It was used as a location for the Philippines Movies like Himala and Panday.
Simply being there was a great experience. I spent some time here for my usual photography but wish I could stay longer.


Municipality of Paoay, Ilocos Norte: Paoay Lake National Park

A beautiful fresh water inland lake. It is located 3 kilometers away from the sea in Suba. The lake has an 470 hectares and was declared as a National Park under Republic Act 5631 on June 21, 1969, its environs has been turned into a sports complex.

Bird watching is also slowly becoming an attraction in Paoay Lake. Migratory birds visit the famous lake from far off countries. One of the recorded birds to fly here on record is the Great Cormorants from Russia. Sighting for this kind of duck bird is in November to December where it is winter in Russia. In these months, the lake is enveloped with hundreds of migratory birds that also attract bird enthusiasts and photographers from around the world. Make sure not to miss this beautiful body of water once you head up north. The façade of the lake alone is well worth to Paoay, Ilocos Norte.


The Legend of Paoay Lake

Long, ago in this once-dry land where Paoay Lake now stands, there a village whose people were kind, generous and God-fearing Prosperity was evident in their beautiful houses, their expensive clothing and glittering jewelries.

As years passed, rivalry among the people set in, that they worked hard to acquire material things more than the others. God-worship was forgotten. Among them, Juan and his wife Maria, remained simple folks and never forgot to worship God. One night, in a dream, they were told let the village will be destroyed by a flood, if the people will not reform. They related their dream to their neighbors, but they only laughed at them.
One morning, the couples hear a voice saying “Leave this place tonight. When you hear the roar of thunder, do not look back, lest you suffer the same fate as these sinners.” When dusk came, they left with their little belongings towards the hill. Then they heard the clap of thunder and felt the earth beneath them sway and tremble.

The vilagers were roused but their cries died down as they were submerged under the rampaging water. The woman instinctively turned back to look at the village. She “Nangguyudan”. They turned into rocks, which can still be seen today at Bantay Pugaro. Atop one rock grew a ‘bangar’ tree which rises to the sky like an open umbrella.
As years went by at the place where the village sank, a beautiful lake emerged, and is now the famous PAOAY LAKE. Today, they said if one looks into the depths of the lake, one could see the shadows of the buildings and houses of the once prosperous village. Fisherman reported catching fishes adorned with jewels. It is believed that these were the early inhabitants of the ill-fated village. Source: The people of Paoay, Ilocos Norte
Today, the story and mysticism add to the charm of the lake. The residents embraced its legend and the tourists who started discovering it soon followed. Now, it is home to hundreds of tourists, migratory birds, sports attraction and is the most prominent feature of this quaint town.


Municipality of Paoay, Ilocos Norte: Paoay Church

Church of Saint Augustine commonly known as the Paoay Church, is the Roman Catholic Parish Church of the Municipality of Paoay, Ilocos Norte, Island Luzon, Philippines. Completed in 1710, the church is famous for its distinct architecture highlighted by the enormous buttresses on the sides and back of building. In 1993, the church was designated as s UNESCO World Heritage Site as one best example of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines.


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 people under the joint auspices of the Church and the town Officials. Inauguration ceremonies, 28 February 1896. Church damaged by earthquake, 1706 and 1927. Tower used as observation post by Katipuneros during the revolution, by Guerilleros during the Japanese occupation’
Source: Philippines Historical Committee, Church of Paoay


Barangay Burgos, Ilocos Norte: Café Bojeador Lighthouse

Also known, as Burgos Lighthouse is a cultural heritage structure that was established during the Spanish Colonial period in the Philippines. It was first lit on March 30, 1893, and is set high on Vigia de Nagparitan Hill overlooking the scenic Cape Bojeador where early galleons used to sail by. After over 100 years, it still functions as a welcoming beacon to the international ships that enter the Philippines archipelago from the north and guide the safety away from the rocky coast of the town.

The light marks the northwest most point in Luzon. The 65-foot tall (20 m) octagonal stone tower, the most prominent structure in the vicinity, can be seen from as far away as Pasuquin town in the south and Bangui on the east on a clear day.


The beam now comes from a modern electric lamp that is powered by solar panels. The light before was like ‘Coleman lamps’. In 2005, the old pressure vessels and wicks for the light could still be found in the shed.

The Lighthouse was declared a National Historical Landmark on August 13, 2004 and a National Cultural Treasure on June 20, 2005 by the Philippines Government.


Barangay Burgos, Ilocos Norte: Kapurpurawan Rocks

One of the must-see destinations in the province. You will take about 3 kms away from the highway and 5-10 minutes trek and walk from the drop off area. There is also horseback riding available in the area that will take you to the rock amazing formations.


In Ilocano, “Kapurpurawan” or “punaw” means white. Most of the rocks formations are shaded by sparkling white in color. Forces of wind, water and most specially waves from the ocean created this beautiful tourist spot. In Science, it is sedimentation, where the deposition of particles carried by fluid flow, created rocks on different shapes and formations.

I’m blessed to see on actual for this work of nature. Looking those rock formations and the big ocean took away all stress. It’s always feels good and relaxing to be in this place. The breath-taking scenery of the ocean adds beauty of the place.

This is just one of the many tourist spots that you can see if you decide to visit Ilocos Norte. There will be no regrets at all. So if you are planning to have a vacation put on your schedule Ilocos Norte.


Barangay Bangui, Ilocos Norte: Bangui Windmills

After spending more than one hour and half at Kapurpurawan Rocks, arrived at the town of Bangui, where the majestic windmills of Ilocos Norte are located. Riding to the countryside to Bangui was exhilarating with the wind blowing in my face, all the while enjoying the picturesque countryside scenes of rolling hills and green meadows. Wow, I reached Bangui, where I gazed in amazement at the enormous windmills built right along the shores facing the South China Sea.


Stop here, disembarked and walked along the beach towards the windmills. From afar, I were already impressive, but seeing them up close with the giant windmills allowed me to truly very much pick up the pace and appreciate the engineering genius of these man-made marvels that can be seen only in Ilocos Norte in the entire Philippine archipelago. Observing the massive rotors turn like a spinning wheel from the foot of one of the windmills made me appreciate the power of these structures.

Throughout the years, the Bangui Windmills has become a major tourist attraction not only in Ilocos Norte but the whole Philippines. I oftentimes see it featured in DOT tourism ads whom my “dreams to visit with”, when I was in United Arab Emirates before. I’ve always been bewildered about its claim to fame.

Mr. Alwin, who accompanied me in my journey from the office of Laoag Public Information, explained to me how these windmills were a project of the former Ilocos Governor Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. The windmills benefit the entire Ilocos region, as they harness the wind power emanating from the South China Sea, which lies in the pathway of the Asia-pacific monsoons that frequently pass through the area.


Standing face to face with giant windmills of Bangui, I was initially awed by its size. Each of the 20 windmills were as tall as a 15-storeu building, I felt like an ant standing beside them. The windmills were spread across a 6.5 kilometers stretch of the grey sand beach. The sight was indeed beautiful. It wasn’t just the windmills that made it a breathtaking sight but the magnificent view of the coast and the backdrop of scenic mountains ranges. I liked that stark contrast of nature and the minimalist design of the Bangui Windmills. Truly, a fitting poster child for ‘green” energy.

I learned that according to regional statistics, approximately 56,788 tons of greenhouse gases are expected to reduce every year for the duration of the project activity (about 21 years)! I found this fact to be both inspiring and encouraging, and I sincerely hope that other wind-prone regions of the Philippines will undertake similar windmill projects, bringing cost-saving and eco-friendly benefits to millions of citizens.

laoag pagudpud
-Municipality of Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte
Saud Beach, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte: On my Home-stay Accommodation

Pagudpud is probably one of the most scenic places I’ve ever been to in the Philippines. Located in the far north of Luzon, it is blessed with several wonderful sights, which are truly rewarding for those who are game enough to endure the long travel to reach this place. Sun-kissed beaches, beautiful coastlines, rock formations and an inviting waterfall are just some of Pagudpud’s natural wonders.


Saud Beach, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte: On my Home-stay Accommodation

After an entire whole-day exploring Laoag City, I embarked on a nearby six-hour long pick-up ride which Laoag City Mayor provide on my adventure trip, traveling further north through rocky terrain to the beautiful beaches of Pagudpud, the northernmost coastal resort of the Philippines.

Mr. Alwin of Laoag Public Information Office, who served as my guide, took us to home stay in Saud Beach. It is where we booked my accommodation and after settling down my backpacks in my room, hurriedly went down to the beach, which is only about 50 meters away. Moving ahead from the distance, I can clearly see the famous landscape of the majestic 20 windmills in Bangui of Ilocos Norte where located.

The place is probably the most popular beach destination in the northern part of Luzon. It is often dubbed as the “Boracay of the North”. It has a long stretch of fine, powdery sands dotted with coconut trees, which give the beach a tropical feel. Saud is nearer to Pagudpud town center. It has a very scenic view and is often visited not just by local tourists but foreigners as well.
Contrary to popular belief, the sands of Saud Beach are not really as white as those in Boracay. Saud’s sands are a bit yellowish to light brownish in color and since arrived there in late afternoon, the setting sun lent it a beautiful golden hue. The sands are also very soft that our feet would often sink while walking along the beach.

+++++DAY 3 September 28, 2013

– Sitio Gaoa, Barangay Baloi, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte:
– Sunrise Captured at Timmangtang Rocks;
– Bantay Abot Cave;
– Patapat Viaduct
– Barangay Baloi in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte: The Hike to Kabigan Falls

“Wake up early and watch the sunrise” on my 2nd day to Pagudpud, I started my day very early as 4:45 AM when I left in my homestay in Saud Beach and move on with Do-It-Myself (DIM), Pagudpud journey. Pagudpud was from an exhausted Batangueño peddler’s response when asked what’s his purpose for the visit. He doesn’t know Ilokano but answered anyway. “Ako’y pagud na pagod at ang sapatos ko’y pudpod”. The reply became the byword of the residents and soon became “Pagud-Pudpod” and later shortened to Pagudpud, according to my tour guide, Mr. Waldy, the tricycle driver.

Timmangtang Rock in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

Sitio Gaoa, Barangay Baloi, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte:
Sunrise Captured at Timmangtang Rocks; Bantay Abot Cave; Patapat Viaduct

Timmangtang Rock juts out of the coast of Sitio Gaoa in Barangay Baloi, Pagudpud. Here one can view the rugged but beautiful coastal side of Pagudpud of which you can behold the magnificent backdrop of the sunrise. A green hill from the distance is where part of the telenovela Walang Hanggan was filmed. Timmangtang is actually one half of the so-called Lover’s Rock.

This is not even just a “rock” anymore. It’s a boulder! Well, I’m not sure if it is totally detached from the ground but it doesn’t seem to belong there. So maybe it came from somewhere up the mountain. Anyway, it’s a big rock shaped like a bell.

The other half of Lover’s Rock is located a few meters away from Timmangtang and is called the Bantay Abot Cave. It is not really a cave but a tunnel-like hole in a cliff. Bantay Abot is considered as the “female rock” while Timmangtang is her male counterpart. Literally, Bantay Abot means “mountain with a hole” and “Eye of the needle.” That holes diameter is pretty wide, maybe 2 storey’s tall, or a bit more.

The green, grassy hill seen from Bantay Abot cave is where part of the Walang Hanggan telenovela was filmed.

Patapat Viaduct is one of the few bridges in the Philippines,

which are considered as tourist attractions. Spanning a length of 1.3 kilometers and rising 30 meters high from the coastal edge of Pasaleng Bay, it is officially the 4th longest bridge of the country. Patapat Viaduct offers a really breathtaking view of mountain ranges merging with the horizon of the South China Sea and the clear, blue skies. The view is really beautiful that we did not mind the heat of the morning sun and lingered a little longer to enjoy it. And since there were only a few vehicles passing by, I managed to run a few hundred meters of this bridge and took personal solo shots.

A long and winding road. Patapat Viaduct was said to be one of the projects of Marcos in developing Ilocos Norte. The viaduct was constructed to help motorists in traveling safely to the farther northern provinces. And what a sight it was.

Barangay Baloi in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte: The Hike to Kabigan Falls

While Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte is known for its gorgeous beaches, it has one beautiful attraction, which is far away from its sands and waves. Tucked inside a forested area in Barangay Baloi is Kabigan Falls.

After paying the entrance fee of Php 10.00 per person and a guide fee of P100.00, started our hike to Kabigan Falls. My guide is an old man, probably in her early or mid 60s, Leonides C. Francia. There is an established trail in going to the falls and it could actually be reach even without a guide. But then, I also have to consider that tourism is a source of livelihood in this barangay and the entrance and guide fees are a big help to the local community.

We passed through some rice fields, river streams, open and shaded trails and wooden bridges. We even passed by some groups who went ahead of us. There was also a roadside vendor somewhere along the route, selling buko juice and softdrinks.

The falls has a drop of about 120-feet and its base forms a natural pool making it ideal for a cool dip. And a cool dip is what you really need for getting here requires sweating it out through a trail hike of more than one and half kilometer.

I had a vey sublime experience touring around the place for the whole day. I was surprised to be greeted yet again with the most amazing deep blue skies and sunny weather since I arrived tell the last day. I didn’t expect to be so lucky since I was traveling in September, which is usually typhoon season in the Philippines. It was already the 3rd day on my plan to circle the northernmost cape of Luzon.

Indeed, with “Wen Napintas Innakon”

Thank you very much…
– Laoag City Mayor Chevylle Farinas
– Lavin Basilio – DILG Officer, Laoag City @09175702174
– Alwin Formantes – Public Information Office and Media Center @09163954723
– Rene Paguirigan – Public Information Office and Media Center @09255431120
– Ricky B. Villaflores – Kapurpurawan Tourguide @09073004601
– Leonides C. Francia – Kabigan Falls Tourguide @09398446899
– Waldy Ubasa – Pagudpud Tricycle Driver @09091212921
– Jess Aviso – Senior Crew Manager, A Taste of L.A. Café in Tomas Morato, Manila for my food Manila accommodations
– Dennis Murro – (HR Department Officer) of Resorts World Manila for my Manila stay accommodation

Lastly, to the Local Government of Laoag City THANK YOU SO MUCH for the warm welcome and accommodations plus the transportation you provided me throughout my adventure trip to…