Friday, March 28, 2014

A Day trip to Vigan City, Ilocos Sur, Philippines

Plaza Salcedo, one of the main highlights from the city.
In my trip in north Philippines to visit the 9th Wonder of the World, the Rice Terraces, I decided to include as well a trip to Vigan, an heritage city. I was researching in internet (but not much, I have to recognize) and I have with me the lonely planet of Philippines 2011. I saw the pictures of one of my friends, Dohna, and the place looked pretty enough to deserve a visit. However I did a few things wrong that ruin my trip, I would like to explain here to avoid the traveler to do the same.

Where is Vigan?
Vigan is an heritage city located in the biggest island of the Philippines, Luzon. It's part of the province of Ilocos Sur. Luzon is the main island where you can find Manila, Angeles, Batangas, Olongapo, Iba and much more.

Already in the guide, the prices were too high for a budget traveler: 1500 pesos a night? You must be kidding. Ok, the hotels are in the heritage area and build in old houses…But no one had the great idea to build a backpacker hostel?
I decided to take the overnight bus from Baguio to Vigan. They said it was 6 hours. This in Philippines means at least 7 hours and a half. So if the bus was leaving at 10pm, I will be there for the dawn, awesome!
I went to the bus station earlier to ask for the duration of the trip. The reconfirm the timing to me.-Perfect! I would save in accommodation sleeping in the bus…But when I arrived to the bus...It was 9:45pm and the bus already leaving…because they were full! I was lucky to take the last seat, otherwise I would have to sleep in the corridor.
The guy seated next to me had even more luggage to me, so it was pretty uncomfortable to sleep. I didn’t have any dinner (because I was pampering myself in the spa for 2 hours, my fault!:P) but when the bus driver assistant start shouting VIGAN, VIGAN! In the middle of my dreams, I feel I wanted to die. Already? You must be wrong, kuya, it’s only 1:24am…
He wasn’t… We were in Vigan already, 4 hours earlier than expected…Why is there no delay when you need it??
Again, touts jumping on me, offering me ultra expensive rides starting with 40 pesos (In a 300 metres street, excuse me?)and basically, I couldn’t hire a tricycle because I didn’t know where to go…
I checked some places, they were super expensive. The most affordable one, Vigan Hotel, where the single room was 395 pesos, they only have 900 pesos worth room. Dammit! And the receptionist didn’t understand that I just need it a place to crash for a few hours until dawn, the chair was fine…

A dark hole in the wall. Not recommended at all!

At the end, I found a place for 500 pesos, probably the most horrible room I ever stayed and the most expensive one too… At the Riverside Hotel. They wanted 1000 pesos good for two (but I am only one! Why I need a room good for 2?) At the end, after negotiating and coming back, I could “enjoy” the room for 12 hours only, 500 pesos (The old Australian next to me told me he was paying that per day anyway, so it wasn’t any deal!)

Honestly, I have no idea how did I ended up paying 500php for such a shitty room...
I asked in the tourism office and found another budget accommodation called Casa Teófila Lodge (Pantay Daya, Vigan City Tel: 722-2607 or Smart: 09206905999) where the ordinary room starts from 450 fan room double and dormitory 200php). It is not very far from Quezon Avenue! Good to know for the next time!

Discovering the city
I woke up to explore the city, and it is really beautiful. You will feel you are back to colonial time with very well preserved building. Venture yourself to get lost in the Mestizo District (They are still some mestizos there, maybe you can spot some!) and get lost in Bonifacio and Crisoforo street. Plaza Salcedo is pretty and amazing, but do not have any expectation from Plaza Burgos. St. Paul Cathedral is right there and by the mestizo bridge at the mestizo river there are some interesting statues.

In Plaza Burgos there are some ladies selling delicious empanadas with vegetable, egg and meat for 30 pesos (you can request yours to be made vegetarian or vegan for 25php).
Making the empanadas.
They were quite yummy.

Horse, kalesas and colonial building mixing up with people dressing with modern clothes, silver trycicles. 
A horse ridding kalesa encountering a blue track on a crossing.
Lots of photo opportunities for the photography lovers!

Definitely Vigan is a city to enjoy, but small enough to do it in a day trip. You can also take the first bus from Baguio at 5:00am, to be here by 10am and then taking the bus at 4.30PM back to Baguio to arrive around 9. The price of the bus one way with Partas bus company is 334 pesos.
Bus schedule from Vigan to Baguio (April 2013)
Alternative, book cheap accommodation on advance before. 

Can I travel to Vigan after or before visiting the Rice Terraces? 

Unfortunately, going to Sagada or Banaue from here to see the rice terrace is virtually impossible. I tried asking everyone, but not even stopping at Tunedin and waiting for the bus to Sagada there. The buses don’t go to Tunedin, they go to Cervantes only. Also have in consideration that the last bus to Sagada departs at 2:30pm from Baguio, so you might go stacked at Tunedin without accommodation.

But don’t waste the opportunity to visit Vigan! It won’t disappoint you!

For my Filipino readers (or maybe other foreigner traveler with better memory than me), I have a request. I bought this delicious dessert at the bus terminal, but I can't remember the name! it taste like sticky calamay with some banana, coconut flavour. It was delicious and it is such a shame for me to have forgotten the name!

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