Itinerary Travel

A Weekend Solo Travel Guide to San Juan, La Union

I knew I wouldn’t be having a party on my 18th birthday so I asked my parents if it’s possible we celebrate it at least at Max’s Restaurant; they laughed at me. My father just gave me a few hundred bucks to shut me up. It did, but it still made me sad. I promised myself that when I finally start earning my own money I would celebrate my birthday every year. I started by organizing a party on my 27th birthday just to make up for a childhood frustration. Years passed and I have quickly lost interest in balloons, booze, and karaoke. Now I just want to travel and the tradition began just last year when I rented a small island to celebrate my 33rd birthday. This year, I wanted to do it alone so on the weekend after I hit 34, I took a bus that goes to La Union.

Sundang Island: Your Island for a Day

Getting There

At around 6AM, I went to Partas bus terminal in Pasay and paid PHP 665 (USD 14.29) for a seat on a first class bus that goes to Laoag. The price nearly gave me a heart attack considering the information that I got from my friend whose province is La Union. She told me that bus fare is only around 400 bucks.

Later on, I realized she may be referring to Partas Cubao station, in which case it would be understandably cheaper. When I saw the layout of the seats inside the bus—the seat is big, comfortable, with wide leg space—it made me feel okay that I had to spend a little bit more. At least I got my money’s worth. The bus started moving at 6:42 and I was happy to be seated by the window because it made sleeping easier. Travel time took 6 hours with three rest stops.

Flotsam and Jetsam

I booked an overnight stay at Flotsam and Jetsam Hostel located at San Juan. You can see it on the side of the road along McArthur Highway. I assumed that the bus drivers know where it is based on some blog posts but it was not the case on the bus that I got on. Thankfully, my phone’s network works well in San Juan so I was able to rely on Google Maps. I suggest that you use it if the driver or the conductor is not familiar with Flotsam and Jetsam, or you can look on the left side of the street when you reach San Juan. Just watch out for the hostel’s signage.

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Flotsam and Jetsam is called an art hostel and indeed there are some art pieces on display in their in-house restaurant, but to call it as such seems inappropriate to me. In my experience, party hostel is more a fitting description with all the noise that they made that Saturday night. This doesn’t mean I hated the hostel, well I won’t go as far as say that I loved it but it was okay. I liked the ambiance and the fact that it is quite close to the beach.

Booking.com

Check-in time is 2PM, I was about an hour early so they told me that I could hang out and wait in their restaurant. I did, I went ‘round the back and found the restaurant that faces the beach. My friend who went to La Union recently met new friends and hang out a lot there. He described the crowd as young and hip, the rich kids from the city. When I saw them I realized what he was talking about. They looked to be around their teens or early 20s, with beautiful skin, and speaking either in English or Taglish. Most of them drove with their own cars and they didn’t sleep in the kubo dorms but in the building with air-conditioned rooms.

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I stayed at the kubo dorm (PHP 780 – USD 16.76) that has four bunk beds. Towel is provided and there is also a locker where you can keep your personal belongings. Each bed has a pillow, a blanket, and a mosquito net. There are also some mini fans to use if it gets too hot. It was comfortable enough for me that the only thing that ruined my sleep was the noise coming from the party that night.

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If you stay at the kubo dorm you can only use the shared bathroom and toilet. I didn’t mind because they were clean and spacious. You can buy from the reception for toiletries but I suggest that you just bring your own bath essentials to eliminate unnecessary expenses.

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There is free breakfast from 7-10 AM. It’s basically just coffee, banana, cereal with milk, and some toast or pandesal with different kinds of spread, such as butter, peanut butter, and fruit jam.

Nice Eatery

I didn’t buy anything from Flotsam & Jetsam’s restaurant because the menu is ridiculously expensive. I don’t mind indulging a little but this is not one of those times. I talked with some locals and they recommended this bulaluhan place that is cheap but offers delicious food. I went out some time in the afternoon to search for it.

Nice Eatery is a no-frills restaurant on the side of the road whose patrons are mostly the locals especially the jeepney and tricycle drivers. It offers home-cooked meals and there are a lot to choose from. I ordered bulalo because it’s what I came for. Admittedly, it was not the best bulalo I’ve ever had but for only PHP 50 (USD 1.07) I had a hot-filling meal so I’m not complaining.

El Union Coffee

There is a hip café in San Juan that the surfers frequent and it’s called El Union Coffee. The best thing about it, they serve specialty coffee so you can be sure that their coffee drinks are of quality.

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When I came to the bar I saw a familiar face, it’s Chloe, a barista who was in the coffee cupping event that I attended recently. I went over to say hi and told him that we went to the same event. He was nice and warm though I bet he didn’t really remember me. I didn’t know which drink to order so I asked for his recommendation. I wanted a cold drink, he suggested dirty horchata.

The Coffee Journey – From Crop to Cup – Cupping with Entreps

Horchata is a cold drink with rice milk, cinnamon, almond essence, and vanilla extract. They call it Dirty Horchata when it has espresso. There is something unique to the taste of this drink that separates it from any of the iced coffee drink that I had before. It was nice but could use more espresso. Somehow the rice milk dulled the coffee flavor. But it was refreshing, which is just what I needed that hot afternoon.

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The grilled cheese came with Sriracha sauce. Why would anyone put this red hot sauce in a cheese sandwich?! Beats me, but I tried it anyway to see if they are on to something and apparently, they are. For some reason it works, the sauce did something to enhance the taste of the sandwich that I finished the sandwich in no time.

At night I went back to El Union after realizing I didn’t want to get wasted at Flotsam & Jetsam. I ordered flat white and contemplated about buying their bestseller, s’mores but eventually decided against it.

San Juan Beach

After a restless night due to much noise that was coming from the all-night partying at the restaurant, I got up at around 6 for a morning stroll by the beach. The sand in San Juan beach is of dark gray, coarse grained, but not rocky. I spotted a few tents by the seashore, apparently, camping is allowed.

The waves, though not that strong had enough force for a sole surfer to play with. I watched him ride the waves several times, but the waves weren’t so impressive, it didn’t allow him to get that far. I tried surfing in Baler a few years back, it was fun but not something that I would want to do seriously. It was just one of those things I had to try at least once in my life. Hence, I was just happy watching the others do it, I had no plans whatsoever to go surfing in La Union.

There are a few cottages by the beach available for rent. It was still too early I guess for anyone to use it so I was able to stay there for half an hour without being required to pay. I like to describe myself as a beach appreciator than a beach lover in a sense that I just love staring at the sea and the waves, but not really swim in it. In those few hours I had the peace stolen from me last night by the party.

Final Thoughts

Before this, La Union, was just two things to me: one of the best surfing spots in the country and the province you pass by before reaching Baguio. Today, I have found a better appreciation of it; the kind people, the good food, and the quiet beach made quite an impression on me. All in all it has been a lovely birthday weekend.

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Comments (49)

  1. MICHAEL SORIANO
    MICHAEL SORIANO

    San Juan La Union is great place to unwind and party.. haha. 🙂 The waves when I went there some time in 2016 is quite strong and the surfers are all around; the tourists including the kids who are enjoying the waves. I love watching those local kids surf because I have no courage to do it. haha 🙂

    Reply
  2. Elisa
    Elisa

    Never heard about San Juan (la Unión) before reading this post but it seems like a cool place to spend a birthday. Look that you can celebrate your special day doing what you like most, traveling! A nice view and a good coffee are a plus 🙂

    Reply
  3. Thelittlelai: Beyond limitss
    Thelittlelai: Beyond limitss

    We have the same childhood frustrations, but it’s time to take our bag and travel. Anyway, I didn’t know La Union is one of the best surfing spot in the Philippines maybe because I’m not a beach lover or anything, but I love the serenity of the place though, it really appeared on how you write and on your photos as well. I’ll surely penned this on my bucket list.

    LaiAariel

    Reply
  4. Mohit Agarwal
    Mohit Agarwal

    Solo travelling is the best one can do in their life. I must say your decision of giving travelling as a birthday gift to yourself is something others should learn from u

    Reply
  5. Amanda - Curly Sue Review
    Amanda - Curly Sue Review

    I love reading a about new and interesting place like this. It makes me want to travel more! The beach looked lovely; the perfect place for your early morning walk.

    Reply
  6. Jeane Louise Mainit
    Jeane Louise Mainit

    Thank you for providing another spectrum of life in La Union, Marge. 🙂 I am actually wanting to get to LU before the year ends but then again, it seemed that I wont be able to do this due to some constraints. Anyway, I really loved how you chronicled your journey. Will definitely go there, soon! 🙂

    Reply
  7. Me-An Clemente
    Me-An Clemente

    I still haven’t tried traveling solo, but now I’m inspired. It looks fairly easy to go to La Union with the Partas bus. I, however, don’t think I can sleep at Floatsam & Jetsam if they hold parties at night. I’m a light sleeper so I would have to look for another accommodation. Thank you for this guide. It certainly is helpful.

    Reply
  8. Kat
    Kat

    I went in La Union 2 years ago with highschool friends. We really didn’t do much, just ate seafood and drink beer at the beach while watching people surf. Back then I didn’t know about all these hip resto and resorts.

    Btw, I’ve always admired the way you write and how you don’t sugarcoat things. 🙂 I feel that’s rare in travel bloggers nowadays, who more often than not build up hype rather than tell their experience like how it really is.

    Reply
  9. maikel
    maikel

    What an amazing travel guide! In my opinion solo traveling is such an amazing thing to do. It really brings you closer to yourself. I think its amazing that you push yourself to meet new people and explore new things. The pictures in this post are gorgeous!

    Reply
  10. Bea
    Bea

    I’ve never been to La Union but your blog made me want to go on weekends na haha. Flotsam is really a art hostel before but I don’t know what happened, it turned into a party hostel. And El union Coffee should never been missed by LU visitors. I heard their smores is the best. Why did you go against it? 🙁

    Reply
  11. Jan Michael De Guzman
    Jan Michael De Guzman

    This made me think of doing a road trip to La Union. I have done roadtrips to further and nearer provinces than La Union but i am not really sure of what else to do and how to appreciate this province. At least this post gave me some hints. Thanks

    Reply
  12. Christina
    Christina

    Hey Marjorie, This looks like a lovely spot that doesn’t get a lot of press. I was a bit confused as to which country it was located until you mentioned PHP. Then I realised it’s in the Philippines. Which part of Philippines is it in?

    Reply
    • Marjorie Gavan
      Marjorie Gavan

      Hi Christina, La Union is on the island of Luzon, Ilocos Region.

      Reply
  13. Indrani
    Indrani

    Great place to spend your birthweekend 🙂
    Very informative post on the place, adding it to my list just in case I get to that part of the world. The eatery pics are most tempting.

    I am curious how you added the slide show of 4 pics in the blog at several place.

    Reply
  14. Louiela
    Louiela

    Traveling solo to celebrate birthdays makes your day more special, glad you made it…
    Belated happy birthday 🙂
    Didn’t know much about La Union, thanks for this post… Though I only know how to speak their language-Ilocano.

    Reply
  15. Emily
    Emily

    Sitting quietly on a peaceful beach sounds like heaven to me! I’m also done with partying, although I’m sure in my 20s Flotsam and Jetsam would have been a great stay. A very informative post; I’m glad you’ve been objective about what you experienced 🙂

    Reply
  16. Shaira Habon
    Shaira Habon

    This is a very informative (and inspiring) travel post! Bookmarking this for my next trip! I believe that El Union Coffee is one of the best places in LA Union! Thanks for all the tips!

    Reply
  17. Sam Coronado (@followyouroad)
    Sam Coronado (@followyouroad)

    Hi Marge! It’s great that you went to LU. I’m itching for the beach as well. La Union is one of those places where I can also go alone. The surfing, the vibe is just awesome. It almost feels like a community already.

    Reply
  18. Mica de Leon
    Mica de Leon

    Wonderful! I’ve always wanted to try travelling alone but with my zero sense of direction I might just encounter a lot of problems…. and well I ain’t got budget yet, but even if I do I’d still be scared. I’ve never been to La Union, even though I have relatives living there… The place you stayed looks cozy and homey. Looks fun too. Thanks for the photos.

    There’s More to Mica // http://www.micadeleon.com

    Reply
  19. Ferna
    Ferna

    I haven’t visited La Union, although was able to have a super quick stop last two years ago but never get the chance to stroll the place. I like the Filipino ambiance of Flotsam and Jetsam, shouldn’t be missed then when I will have the chance to visit La union. And of course, I noted about El Union coffee, I’m a huge coffee lover.

    Reply
  20. Darlene
    Darlene

    I used to want to go to Flotsam and Jetsam but after reading your post, I’m having second thoughts haha. I will surely also eat in the restaurants you mentioned especially El Union coffee. Looks like they’re definitely worth the try!

    Reply
  21. Ginoel Orejo
    Ginoel Orejo

    Seems like a nice place to travel to. I will definitely consider going there on my next trips. Travelling the Philippines has always been a dream of mine. This will definitely be on my bucket list.

    Reply
  22. Arni
    Arni

    It’s definitely a great way to celebrate. I have always wondered what La Union is like since it’s the next attraction after we drove down to different parts of Pangasinan. We didn’t make it past Bolinao. Reading your post makes me want to travel up north again one day and spend a few days in La Union.

    Reply
  23. Loveleen
    Loveleen

    Oh La Union! It’s another good place to discover in the northern part of the country. Awesome beach! It’s a nice place to visit for beach lovers. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  24. Christina
    Christina

    I have not heard much about La Union. Sounds like an easy enough place to get to if you want a beach adventure. Too bad about all the noise. It is so hard to enjoy your vacation without having a good night’s sleep. Sounds like you made the most of it though and had a great birthday anyway.

    Reply
  25. Jen Bave
    Jen Bave

    La Union. I watched Drew Arellano’s BWD program that featured the place. It’s a must visit place indeed and knowing how you went there alone, is one of the best part, for me. I love the Kubo, it’s so province.

    Reply
  26. Vyjay
    Vyjay

    La Union is another lovely place that you have introduced. It seems to be unique and have its own character. So one more place to add to the already huge list of lovely places in the Philippines.

    Reply
  27. Melai
    Melai

    Great tips and recommendations in La Union. I’ve only been to Ilocos but a lot of my friends are raving about La Union and the laidback feel of the province. I wish I could go one day. 🙂

    Reply
  28. ROBERT LEE
    ROBERT LEE

    I went there couple of years ago and had intended to use some great sunset pics I took while there. I didn’t stay in the same place as you did though. I just sort of drove around and wherever I fancied, I stayed. I spent a few days soul searching so San Juan will always be a part of my rebranding as a person.

    http://www.amazinglifedaily.com #AmazingLifeDaily

    Reply
    • Marjorie Gavan
      Marjorie Gavan

      The place is indeed, conducive for reflection. The beach is peaceful.

      Reply
  29. Berlin
    Berlin

    Havent tried that kind of kubo accommodation. Must be fun and really something new to try. Been to La Union twice and both were so memorable. Youre right, La Union not only prides itself with its surfing waves but of its amiable locals, delightful delicacies and beautiful landscape.

    Reply
    • Marjorie Gavan
      Marjorie Gavan

      True, that’s why I want to go back and explore more of the province.

      Reply
  30. Sheena
    Sheena

    I loved how you started your post with a personal story from a past experience that I think many people can relate to, it made me want to keep reading. The Phillipines is one of the only countries I’m missing from Asia so I’m planning on rectifying that soon – I’ll keep San Union in mind, the food, transport & accommodation is definitely in the budget range I travel in. Thanks & Happy Birthday 🙂

    Reply
    • Marjorie Gavan
      Marjorie Gavan

      Thanks Sheena. Hope you get to visit La Union too. 🙂

      Reply
  31. Stella the Travelerette
    Stella the Travelerette

    That sounds like a great way to celebrate your birthday. I’ve sometimes gone away for the weekend on my birthday–to Boston or Washington DC and it’s been fun. I would most like to try that hipster cafe. The cheese sandwich sounds delicious!

    Reply
  32. Angela
    Angela

    Funny how our thoughts and wishes change with age to a certain degree. We reevaluate where we find happiness and it seems us with wanderlust find it while traveling! Sounds like a perfect solo birthday weekend. Happy Birthday!

    Reply
    • Marjorie Gavan
      Marjorie Gavan

      You are right Angela. It also amuses how I used to obsess about some things when I was younger but now they no longer mean anything. Thanks!

      Reply
  33. Nilyn
    Nilyn

    I’ve never been to La UNion before. And to be honest, just like you know knew a few things about it before, I have to say I know nothing about La Union. I didn’t even know there’s a beach there, that’s really cool! I wish I could visit La union someday, with my loved ones.

    Reply
    • Marjorie Gavan
      Marjorie Gavan

      The beach is not white sand but it’s beautiful nevertheless. The waves are strong so it’s a popular surfing spot.

      Reply
  34. Maria
    Maria

    Made me feel that urge to travel once more! Yeah, I have to agree with you that I only know La Union because it’s a province you pass by if going up North (e.g. Baguio or Ilocos). Plus, I haven’t visited it for quite sometime now. Plus, what I love about traveling to provinces is that the vibe is always different depending on the area. For me, I see traveling alone as a milestone and I admire you for doing it. Congrats!

    Reply
    • Marjorie Gavan
      Marjorie Gavan

      Maybe that’s the charm of La Union really, is that people are familiar with it but they don’t really go there and once they do the fall in love with it.

      Reply
  35. Carola
    Carola

    Great trip. the coffee bar looks very nice! I love coffee. Just had a nice special mocca banana coffee yesterday. The Horchata sounds very nice as well. I love to go to the beach. Beautiful pictures.

    Reply
  36. Teresa Dumadag
    Teresa Dumadag

    Visited La Union last when I was still single. Went to that beach also. I had nice memories in that place. El Union Coffee is owned by my friend Martine’s brother.

    Reply
    • Marjorie Gavan
      Marjorie Gavan

      Ooh, I think I’ve seen the owner although I can’t be too sure. Did you see him in the video that I put here?

      Reply
  37. Pia Dysangco Villamor
    Pia Dysangco Villamor

    I sincerely enjoyed reading this post. Great work! 🙂 I used go to La Union a lot when I was still limber and had energy to surf. It definitely changed a lot since then, but I’m glad to know that people are still friendly and the vibe is still laid back. Congratulations on traveling solo! Recently took a solo trip myself (mine was in palawan though) and it was pretty awesome. 🙂

    Reply
    • Marjorie Gavan
      Marjorie Gavan

      Yeah, I travel solo sometimes, and I find it to be much more fulfilling than traveling with a group.

      Reply

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