Ilocos Tour : Vigan and Sta Maria

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I have done the Ilocos region countless times. And this northern tour remains on my Top 5 list of Philippine destinations.

Will share the beautiful Ilocos via photos, and you pick the destinations you want to focus on. Otherwise, prepare to spend 2 weeks moving from town to town.

VIGAN

Vigan is, to some, the essence of Ilocandia.

Vigan is, to some, the essence of Ilocandia.

The moon was full on the night of my last visit

The moon was full on the night of my last visit

Vigan Day 2 + Laoag Day 1 027

Visit a BURNAYAN and be amazed at the potter's skills. And buy a jar or two

Visit a BURNAYAN and be amazed at the potter’s skills. And buy a jar or two

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a calesa ride completes a Vigan visit

the lobby of my favorite hotel. Cordillera Inn

the lobby of my favorite hotel. Cordillera Inn

the coffee shop at the nearby Gordion Mansion

the coffee shop at the nearby Gordion Mansion

Hidden Garden is more of a restaurant than a garden destination.

Hidden Garden is more of a restaurant than a garden destination.

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Bantay belltower, outside of Vigan

Bantay belltower, outside of Vigan

at the Baluarte, the home of Governor Chavit Singson, the grounds are open to the public.

at the Baluarte, the home of Governor Chavit Singson, the grounds are open to the public.

STA MARIA

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Bakas River

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Our friends from Norzagaray tell me that Bakas is a most famous resort destination this side of town. And so we went after our Pinagrealan Cave spelunking.

Our host says that Bakas got its name from legends that there are actually footprints  – – one on the huge stone and another several miles away. Apparently from a giant.

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There are enterprising locals who have built huts and other facilities on the river bank. Families can stay in Bakas for the day and have a picnic in any of the sheds with bamboo tables and chairs. Really idyllic. Restful.

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There is also Bakas Overlooking, a more developed resort. More developed in the sense that they actually have a bamboo house where guests can stay. And a kitchen where they can cook. Plus a toilet where they put a drum of water from a nearby well so that customers can use the water from the drum to flush the toilet. And they also have a videoke on the shed right next to the river.

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Bakas is not for travelers who are looking for city comfort. But this place will appeal to those who are tired of the hustle and bustle of city life. It almost feels like going home to the province and staying with your cousins, aunts and uncles in a small barrio beside a river.

The younger ones in our group went for a swim and later on climbed huge boulders 20 feet high from where they jumped into the water. This, I believe, is the main attraction of the place. As for me, I would be just as happy wading into the shallow part of the river.

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Best to come here with all your provisions, like everyone else who come to the place. No restaurants, not even sari-sari stores. I surmise that the owners of the sheds can arrange for food to be cooked, or for drinks to be served – – – if a group decides to come without provisions.

We have plans to return. And maybe we will pitch tents next time. Maybe right beside where this cow is grazing. By the river.

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HOW TO GET THERE:

Get to Norzagaray and arrange for tricycles to take you to Bakas. I noticed that locals traveled in tricycles. Sorry but I did not inquire about rates – –  we traveled to Bakas in private transportation.

Pinagrealan Cave

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First went to Pinagrealan over a year ago but the big group I was with did not enter the cave as it was merely a part of a full-day itinerary. Last Sunday, a small group from FUNtastic Philippines Fun Group went spelunking, organized by a family from Norzagaray. An adventurous family – – they are all members of our travel-photography group and they were in the same cave just two weeks earlier.

Our group, ready for spelunking

Our group, ready for spelunking

According to the Tourism website:

This cave is a subterranean network of caverns extending more than a kilometer deep. The Katipunero Revolutionaries during the war against Spain used it as a camp in 1896 and again during the Filipino-American War in 1898 as hideout of General Emilio Aguinaldo (the First President of the Philippines). It was also used as a sanctuary by the Japanese Imperial Army when the Philippines was liberated by American Forces.

I will share with you the experience via the photos taken from my mobile phone and from the mobile phone of FPFG member Arvin who handed his phone to our tour guide RJ so we can get good coverage of our cave exploration.

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Helmets will be provided by the guides. Bring your flashlights. Headlamps are excellent. Cameras should be in dry bags. Guide RJ is our “official photographer”

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You will have to wade into pools of water, some chest-high

You will have to wade into pools of water, some chest-high

Getting soaked in water

Getting soaked in water

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we had to line ourselves up at some point to give way to another group on their way out

we had to line ourselves up at some point to give way to another group on their way out

the exciting part is squeezing yourselves into narrow crevices to get to the next chamber

the exciting part is squeezing yourselves into narrow crevices to get to the next chamber

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Relaxing in natural formations, perfect for profile photos

Relaxing in natural formations, perfect for profile photos

HOW TO GET THERE:

We went by private transportation. But Pinagrealan is accessible by public transportation. Get to Norzagaray from SM Fairview. Stop at barangay Bigte. You can hire tricycles from there.

UGU BIGYAN’s Pottery Garden & Restaurant

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This shop is the pride of Tiaong.

First heard of Ugu Bigyan many years ago. Finally went there many years ag=fter, before I even started my travel blog. I thought this should go into my blog, too, so I went there once with my mom and my wife and my camera.

People go to this part of town for two things: well-crafted, one-of-a-kind pottery and excellent lunch. Lunch is via prior reservation. Well, other than those who want to learn the art of pottery from Ugu himself.

The property is interesting and clearly reflects the artist in the owner.

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LUNCH GAZEBO

Lunch is served in the gazebo. No one complains about the cost per pax because everyone truly enjoys the dishes prepared by Ugu himself. Fish, other sea foods, meat dishes, vegetables. We paid then P6,000 for a group of ten, but we all ate like we were going to skip dinner and breakfast. Delicious and sumptuous. (I am not a food blogger and I refrained myself from taking food shots that may not do justice to the dishes, hahaha)

Lunch served here

Lunch served here

POTTERY STORE

If lunch is not your reason to travel to Tiaong, then it must be his pottery. I bought myself a dozen exquisite coffee mugs that up to today are appreciated by my visitors. Here’s more things to buy:

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Ugu Bigyan is located at Quezon Alvarez Village, Tiaong, Quezon. Phone number (042) 545 91.

HOW TO GET TO UGU BIGYAN’S POTTERY SHOP

  1. Take SLEX/ACTex  and exit at Sto Tomas, Batangas. Do not take the Lucena/Sto Tomas exit from Calamba – – go all the way to the SLEX extension called ACTex and exit to Sto Tomas from there.
  2. From Sto Tomas, drive on to Quezon province via the Laguna towns of Alaminos and San Pablo. You will be in Tiaong after San Pablo. There are roads via the town, and there are diversion roads. Take the shorter diversion roads keeping in mind the general direction of Tiaong, Quezon province.
  3. When you hit Tiaong, watch out for the Iglesia ni Cristo after  the Petron station on your right. After these two landmarks, turn left at the next street to your left. It is a small street with the sign Lusacan National High School at the corner.
  4. This will take you to the Alvarez Village. Turn left and you will see Ugu Bigyan’s brick house house ( the first photo above).