The trip took all of twelve hours, on a seemingly endless stretch of road from Manila but the experience was worth the arduous ride.
Visiting Ilocos region in the north is both a visual journey and a gastronomic adventure.
We left Manila before the crack of dawn to go back to the summers of my childhood. My parents used to bring us to Ilocos when my siblings and I were kids.
I could hardly remember those summer adventures until my recent trip. Memories of the famed Ilocos Empanada, longganisa and the hand woven Iloko blanket all came back as we reached Laoag some twelve hours later.
As soon as the sun rose the following morning, we left for Vigan, Ilocos Sur for a journey back in time.
Vigan is a place of old Spanish-era houses and cobblestone streets. There are quintessential horse-drawn carriages or kalesas that take tourists around the city and there are so many places to see.
Our ride started at Plaza Burgos, to the Bell Tower for the first stop. The Bell Tower is more than just a backdrop to the late Fernando Poe Jr.'s Panday movies. It is quite an experience to climb up.
We then stopped at the pottery place to buy some souvenirs but the best stop for me was the very relaxing Hidden Garden, an oasis tucked away just a short distance from the Plaza. It is a huge garden, filled with wild plants, dish gardens, flowers in full bloom, bonsai and your choice of freshly made fruit shake to cap the visit.
How can one go to Vigan without seeing Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson's Baluarte?
The Baluarte or bailiwick is filled with horses, ponies, birds, ostriches and Singson's favorite pets -- his tigers.
One can eat the famed Ilocos Empanada while going around in the kalesa or eat a sumptuous dinner of Ilocano dishes after.
The next day, we were off to Pagudpud but not before stopping first at Cape Bojeador or the lighthouse, which is more than 100 years old.
The journey to the beaches of Pagudpud isn't complete without another stop, this time at the Kapurpurawan rock formation -- good backdrops for photos.
Then we finally hit the beach, which is nothing like Boracay or Palawan's pristine white sand beaches but enticing just the same.
We capped our afternoon swim with fresh buko drinks.
The last stop of our Ilocos trek saw us at the Malacanang of the North or Malacanang ti Amianan in Paoay, Ilocos Norte. It is a reminder that once not too long ago, the Philippines was under martial law under the reign of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his First Lady, Imelda.
There's also the Paoay Church and the Marcos museum and the usual curio shops for great Ilokano finds such as the intricately woven blankets, colorful foot rugs and native bags.
All told, the Ilocos region is a place worth visiting, not just for history lessons but for the gastronomic delight.
Photos by me