There is something alluring about places and things that were unmoved and unscathed by modernization. I see beauty in their silent awkwardness and blatant incongruousness in an era defined by five-star hotels, condominiums, skyways, and skyscrapers. I speak of the antiques, the old houses, and roads that survived the passing of time and remain to be standing to this day. There is such a place in Ilocos Sur, Philippines and it has always been one of my dream destinations. In December 2009, I gladly wrote it off my bucket list after finally earning the privilege to visit the historic city of Vigan.
The remarkable opportunity arrived when former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had a presidential engagement in Ilocos. Back then, I was still working in Presidential Security Group and when my former female boss asked me if I wanted to come along, a surge of enthusiasm rippled through me. Finally, just the chance that I’d been waiting for.
It takes an 8-hour (with pit stops) land travel from Manila to get to Vigan. The PSG had its own mode of transportation so I did not have to worry about it, but for those who have been meaning to get there, you may take a bus from any of these bus stations:
- Philippine Rabbit Bus Lines – Rizal Ave., Manila/EDSA, Quezon City
- Partas Bus Company – Aurora Blvd., Quezon City
- Maria De Leon Transit – Dapitan cor. Gelinos Streets, Sampaloc, Manila
- Dominion Bus Line – New York St., Cubao, Quezon City
We stayed at the rest house of Gov. Chavit Singson at Baluarte, an 80-hectare property famous for its mini zoo. It means I did not have to worry about this part of the trip too.
Points of Interest
Baluarte is one of the best points of interests in Vigan and I recommend you visit the place especially if you’re traveling with kids. There, you will enjoy the sight of different kinds of animals, some roaming freely on the vast land, basking under the sun. It also has a Butterfly Garden that houses a variety of butterflies of different colors and sizes.
What I liked most about the Baluarte is the chance to see animals that are not common in regular zoos. They have turkeys, deer, the oh-so-cute miniature horses, civet cats (alamid), bear cats, and the real star of the zoo, the camels. They also have different kinds of birds like Rufous-Necked Hornbill, Sun Conure, Blue Gold Macaws, Umbrella Cockatoo, doves, peacock, etc. Of course, there are Singson’s favorite pets, the tigers, which are safely locked up in their cage.
Baluarte zoo is open as early as 7AM and closes down at 6PM. It has no entrance fee, even riding horses is free of charge, now isn’t that cool?
Metropolitan Cathedral of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle
Also known as Vigan Cathedral, this church was built in 1641. Vigan Cathedral owes its beautiful structure in its Earthquake Baroque style. I didn’t get to go inside the church, but I did not pass up the chance to photograph its façade. It looked old like the rest of the buildings along Plaza Salcedo.
We sampled the best Ilocano gastronomy in Café Leona, a small restaurant and coffee shop in Crisologo Street. The interiors kept up with the old antique feel of the whole town. It is low-ceilinged, soft lighting, with old wooden chairs and tables. The buffet area was placed opposite a wall bedecked with old bottles of liquor.
When ordering you can either pick from their menu or choose from any of the food served on the buffet. When we went there for lunch we had roasted chicken, seaweed salad, bagnet, and squid salad. I have not committed to memory how each meal was priced, but I think they were roughly about PHP 100-300 ($2.12- 6.37). [Read: A Little Taste of Ilocos]
Every food that we ordered was a delight especially the famous Vigan bagnet. According to one of the locals though, you will find the best tasting, freshly cooked bagnet from the public market along with the equally well-known Vigan longganisa.
You haven’t been to Vigan until you’ve set foot on its central point of attraction, the Heritage Village. Going to this place is without a question, the best part in this whole Vigan experience. There are simply no words to give justice to its exquisiteness. I was completely mesmerized by its beauty; made me feel like I had been sent back in time.
The old buildings and houses built in the Spanish area had been well preserved. No wonder it gained the honor of being included in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. It’s beautiful even at night but is more splendid under the morning light.
Horse-drawn carriages (calesa) roam about the cobbled-stone lane of Mena Crisologo. Souvenir shops that sell bargain books, antique pieces, bags, accessories, and other curious finds lined up the street. Feeling hungry? The street has bakery, cafes, and small restaurants.
While wandering around Heritage we saw an old man selling bamboo sticks. We soon learned that they weren’t merely sticks but containers of this Ilocano delicacy called tinubong. It is a type of a tidbit, or what we call in Filipino as kakanin. It is made up of glutinous rice, coconut milk, sugar, and coconut meat. Eating is extra fun because it entails cracking the bamboo open to get the sweet delicacy. It goes for PHP 100 ($2.12) per 3 sticks.
For your pasalubong needs, do not leave Vigan without dropping by Marsha’s Delicacies, which can be found along the town of Bantay. It’s not hard to miss since it sits on the side of the highway leading to Manila. I recommend that you get Marsha’s Royal Bibingka, which is the by far the best bibingka I have ever tasted in my life.
My Vigan adventure went beyond my expectations. I had always thought it great in pictures, which began a fixation and fueled the wanting to see the place for myself. I found out that the photographs are but a prelude to a beauty that awaits anyone who would find time to make the trip. The drive may be long, but I swear to you it is worth the effort.