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Last September, I wrote a journal entry about Cebu Pacific giving us a free round trip flight to Laoag. We scheduled our trip early this month and here’s a gist of our  experience in the beautiful capital of Ilocos Norte.

Unlike in our previous adventures, we weren’t really prepared for our trip to Laoag. First of all, we didn’t do much research on what to see up north. As long as I get even just a glimpse of the windmills in Bangui, I’m happy. Also, we didn’t make any hotel reservation. I was pretty much worried on our way to Laoag since we might end up sleeping on the streets if the hotels are full.

On the day of our trip to Laoag, we went to the Manila International Airport pretty early, pretty unusual given that most of our trips were photo-finish. We checked-in our luggage then grabbed something to eat at Kenny Roger’s.

I guess we enjoyed eating too much, we didn’t notice that it was already boarding time. We heard our names being called already when we were on our way to the boarding gate. Good thing we rushed because apparently, passengers of turbo-prop planes have to be transported from the gate to the area where the planes were parked. Sorry, no jet bridges for small planes.

Since it was the first time that I’d be riding a turbo-prop, I couldn’t help but feel scared. I’ve been used to riding jet planes and seeing the propellers exposed made me feel uncomfortable. What if a bird gets hit by those propellers? Add to that the noise those propellers made when they were spinning! Anyway, I was surprised that inside, it’s pretty much the same with Cebu Pacific’s A320 minus a few seats.

As the plane taxied and prepared for take off, I slowly became more relaxed. I got used to the sound the propellers made so I ended up not minding it. When the plane took off, the sound was almost as if I was inside a jet. I bought some snacks when the FAs started selling them.

Inside the plane's lavatory. My head was touching the ceiling of the lavatory!

The flight to Laoag was a little more than an hour long. The first thought I had in my mind when I stepped out of the plane was how nice Laoag International Airport looked. After getting over with the airport’s simple beauty, I realized that I was shivering. It was cold! Also, there was a PAL plane that landed right after ours. Beautiful!

A PAL flight that landed right after our plane.

We were greeted by a band composed of teenagers. Apparently, madame (as in Imelda Marcos) was in the PAL flight.

Luggage claim area of LAO. The airport's nice! It's not your usual ultra-modern glassy airport. It had this local vibe in it.

As I have mentioned, we did NOT book a hotel room. The first thing that we did after getting our luggage was head straight to the tourism counter. Thankfully, the lady in charge there was very, very friendly. She gladly accommodated us and answered our questions. We called the hotels she recommended and went to check them out.

The helpful lady from the tourism counter. I forgot her name though. 😦

Cool, there's a Duty Free shop inside LAO. I wonder which airlines fly internationally from there?

Outside LAO. Nice, isn't it?

Just outside the airport, there were tricycles that would bring us to the city proper. Yes, tricycles. There was no shuttle service to Laoag’s city proper so we had no choice. Good thing that the tricycle driver we hired was nice. We negotiated the price and we ended up paying 150 PhP. Our luggage presented a bit of a challenge though since they were a bit too big. I couldn’t carry my trolley since I’d be riding at the back of the driver. We were eventually able to figure things out so off we went to check out the two hotels that we called.

I had some hesitations about riding at the back of the tricycle since it didn’t have the usual handles present in the tricycles here in Manila. The last thing I wanted to happen was for me to fall while the tricycle’s moving fast. I eventually found out that back-riding was prohibited in Laoag that is why the handles weren’t there.

The ride wasn’t that bad. It was uncomfortable at first since I was trying to ‘look’ for that perfect position but I got used to it. The experience was made even better by the unbelievably smooth asphalted roads of Laoag. Seriously, the roads there would put the roads here in Manila in absolute shame. Kudos to the Ilocos Norte government for being able to maintain the roads there.

We arrived in the city proper at around 8:30 in the evening. The tricycle driver brought us to the first hotel recommended by the tourism officer in the airport. We were immediately turned off by what we saw – there was a strip club just beside the hotel. We asked the driver to bring us to the other hotel, the Laoag Renzo Hotel.

We went inside the hotel and inquired about their rates. They had a promo wherein you’d get your third night stay for free if you book for two consecutive nights. Whilst waiting for the receptionist to accommodate us, I checked reviews on TripAdvisor and it was one of the recommended hotels in Laoag. Good thing there was a Superior room available for the weekend! The room was bundled with breakfast buffet for two so we just added an extra stub for me. We decided to stay there and went up to settle down in our room.

Laoag Renzo Hotel

The hotel lobby. I liked the vibe and ambiance of the lobby.

A short hotel review…

For the price, Laoag Renzo Hotel is definitely worth it. The Superior room we took costs 1,800 PhP a night. Since we’d be staying for three days, once you factor in their promo, it would come out that it only costs 1,200 PhP / head for three days. Heck, I could’ve even paid more and it would still be okay. The staff there were very professional and friendly at the same time. I even chit-chatted with one of the receptionists and she entertained my questions. The hotel was clean and well maintained. They have free wireless internet, perfect for those who needs to be connected all the time. The buffet breakfast? It was okay. There’s a bakeshop beside the hotel, by the way. The rooms need a little bit of a makeover though. The comforters they used looked a tad bit outdated. At least the bed I slept on was comfortable! Also, the shower’s drain was clogged. If you have knee problems, stay away from this hotel. There are no elevators and the rooms are on the third level up. Ours was on the fourth floor and it was a little inconvenient to go up and down the stairs.

We went out to explore a little after settling down. We’ve been thinking about Ilocos Empanada all throughout our journey to Laoag so when we got there, we thought that we should have that for dinner. We asked the hotel’s receptionist where we can eat some Ilocos Empanada and she told us to head to Dap Ayan.

Dap Ayan ti Ilocos Norte

Inside Dap-Ayan ti Ilocos Norte

Dap-ayan is an open air food court just across the provincial capitol. It’s Ilocos Empanada overload there since most of the stalls are selling them. We went to the stall with the most customers and ordered their special Ilocos Empanada.

Ilocos Empanadaaaa!

Heaven in an orange pocket. This was SO good. Mmmm.

Longganisa on a stick, yum!

To say that our tummies were happy is an understatement. We were in empanada ecstasy! The vinegar added an additional punch to the overall taste of the local delicacy.

After satisfying our craving for Ilocos Empanada, we decided to go back to the hotel to have some rest. On our way back, the Ilocos Provincial Capitol caught my attention.

Ilocos Norte's provincial capitol.

The following morning, we went around the city proper to see what a usual day is like in Laoag.

That's the public market in Laoag. It's pretty organized inside.

The Sinking Bell Tower is a prominent figure in the city's skyline.

Nice! I wish there are more of these around the Philippines.

The Capitol during day time.

Tricycles lined up outside Renzo Hotel

Remember the nice tricycle driver that brought us to the city center the previous night? Well, he gave us his contact information just in case we needed someone to tour us around Ilocos Norte. Arman, my sister’s boyfriend, called him and negotiated a ‘tour package’. We would be brought to the popular tourist spots in the province for only 1,500 PhP… not bad, right?

The thing was, the tourist spots were scattered all over the province AND we’d be riding a tricycle. Paoay, for example, is a city more than 15 kilometers away from Laoag. To make matters worse, in most parts of Ilocos Norte, back riding is prohibited. I had to stuff my five-foot-eleven-and-a-half-inch body inside the cart. Did I mention that there were three of us inside?

Still, our adventure around Ilocos Norte was amazing. I still can’t get over the beauty of the province. Pictures would definitely describe how great it is there…

Our first stop was Malacanang ti Amianan, or the Malacanang of the North. It was the presidential palace of Ferdinand Marcos in his home province. The palace was closed for lunch when we arrived so we went to the nearby eatery to have our lunch. When the clock struck 1PM, we hurriedly went to the entrance so that we could avoid the large groups of excursionists.

Beautiful palace. We were the first ones to go inside the place once it opened again.

The palace's main hall.

Staircase leading up to the second level of the palace.

Seats outside the palace. I bet this area would be a nice place to relax.

The Paoay Lake is behind the palace. Beautiful.

Seats at the second level of the palace.

Still at the second level.

A bed fit for a king.

I can imagine the former leader holding meetings here in this area.

Good thing we were the first ones who entered here. The tour group was just chaotic. Some of the members of the group even ignored the rules of the mansion, there were people lying on the beds. They even had someone to act as a lookout, tsk.

The room where these mannequins were in was a bit scary.

That tricycle brought us places! Again, there's no handle for a back-riding passenger since it's prohibited in Laoag.

Majestic Paoay Church. The church is absolutely beautiful.

Inside Paoay Church. Pity about the ceiling, it would've been nice if the ceiling was a bit more grand.

The Ferdinand Marcos Presidential Center. It's basically a museum dedicated to the achievements of the late strongman. His body is stored in the structure next to it.

Inside the Presidential Center.

Our last stop was the crypt of the late Ferdinand Marcos. Taking photographs are not allowed inside the crypt so I have no photos from there.

We headed back to Laoag after our tour. We asked the driver to drop us off at the public market since my sister wanted to buy linens which are made in Ilocos Norte. I did some pasalubong shopping there. We went to Dap-Ayan again to have some more Ilocos Empanada after.

Chichacorn!

Ate empanada. I interviewed her a little while she was cooking our order.

Our flight back was late in the evening so we technically had a whole day for sightseeing. We decided to head to Pagudpud to see why people are singing praises for the beaches there. We wanted to see the Bangui Windmills as well but we felt that we didn’t have enough time to go on a side trip there.

We researched about how we could reach Pagudpud from Laoag. Thankfully, there are many do-it-yourself itineraries online which helped us in finding a way to reach Pagudpud. How? Bus ride!

We went to the Laoag Bus Terminal and hopped on a bus that would go to Pagudpud. The trip costs 60 pesos and it would take around two hours and a half to reach the place. The bus we rode to Pagudpud was far from comfortable, the rows of seats were too close for each other. I’m not that tall but I had difficulty in finding a good seating position.

Cramped seat. My knees were in contact with the seat in front of me.

Inside the bus.

Still, that’s part of the adventure. I just wish that there are air-conditioned buses going to Pagudpud. I actually wanted to pay double so that I’d own the seat but that would be very inconsiderate of me, especially that there were passengers who ended up standing.

The scenery going to Pagudpud was breathtaking. I was gazing outside the window all throughout the trip. The greens, the mountains, the vast expanse of fields left me in awe. The sky was blue and there was a strip of clouds separating the mountains from the heavens.

As seen from the bus window, haha.

Rejuvenating view, I must say.

Interesting, a gym in a gas station in the middle of nowhere. Haha, I wonder who works out here?

Public Market of Bangui.

It was half past twelve noon when we arrived in Pagudpud. There was a blanket of rain clouds hovering above us when we reached the beach but it drifted away after a few minutes.

We first visited the Municipal Beach Park of Pagudpud since there were stalls there selling novelty items such as magnets and whatnot. For a public beach that only charges a twenty Peso entrance fee, it isn’t too bad. Actually, the place looks nice and decent.

Municipal Beach.

Merchandise were being sold inside Municipal Beach. My sister bought some magnets here.

A nice little house at the beach.

Waves of Pagudpud.

The beach was good. The sand isn’t powdery white like what they say about Boracay’s but it was nice. It had this golden sheen to it and it wasn’t too coarse. The water looked clean as well.

So, since we were in Pagudpud, you’d think that we took a dip and enjoyed the cool water there? Nope. Why? We forgot to bring towels. Talk about epic fail. I had my board shorts, extra clothes, toiletries, and sunblock in my bag but no towel. Same thing goes for my sister. Still, we chose not to let that ruin our day. We simply went to Saud Beach and had a sumptuous lunch by the beach.

Entrance to Saud Beach

I really like paths lined with trees. They have this soothing effect on me.

I could lie there all day, listening to the waves and feeling the nice sea breeze.

Nice beach.

I was tempted to swim even if I didn't have a towel. Haha.

Coconut tree. Haha, okay.

Buttered prawns! The prawns were very fresh and delicious. Mmm.

Sinfully delicious Bagnet. This was better than the one we tried near the Malacanang of the North.

Paradise found!

The ambiance of Saud Beach's restaurant was good.

There were ducks in this pond. Quack!

SO, we went all the way to Pagudpud just to have lunch. It was already half past 2 in the afternoon when we finished our meal and the travel time back to Laoag is two and a half hours. In short, we weren’t able to squeeze in the Bangui Windmills side trip. It was okay since we were able to see the windmills on the way back, just not up close. We hailed a tricycle and asked the driver to bring us to the main road where we could catch a bus back to the city.

It's a rainbow!

The bus we rode back to the city was way better than the one we rode to Pagudpud. Comfier seats! Also, a movie was being shown. Still not air-conditioned though.

I can see a windmill, yaaay!

What's better than a windmill? A line of windmills! (nyek)

We got back to our hotel at around 6:20 in the evening. I immediately packed my things since our flight was roughly an hour and a half away. We checked out of the hotel then headed to the airport.

Laoag was a pleasant surprise. I honestly didn’t know what to expect there before since the only things I hear about Ilocos Norte is Pagudpud. I really enjoyed our short getaway there and I seriously want to go there again someday.

—————

p.s. This entry was supposed to be published way back in December. I couldn’t find the time to finish the entry due to my busy schedule.

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