Home Philippines Ilocos Ilocos Day 05: Laoag – Old Churches, Thrilling 4×4 Adventure, and the...

Ilocos Day 05: Laoag – Old Churches, Thrilling 4×4 Adventure, and the Other Side of the Marcos Story

Just like that, we were on the last leg of our vacation in Ilocos, having just come from Pagudpud the previous day. Our flight home was scheduled for the next day. The holiday would be over and we’ll return to our responsibilities and resume work. With those thoughts in mind, we were more determined than ever to make this day in Laoag a success.

Our guide/tricycle driver for the day was Kuya Wawie, Kuya Arnel’s brother in law. He too is passionate at what he does and like Kuya Arnel, he too loves Ilocos, Laoag in particular.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that we’ve hired a tricycle driver/guide wherever we went in Ilocos. That’s because that’s the most practical way to do it considering we had time constraints plus we were inexperienced travelers and, though I hate to admit it, I have very poor directional sense. Since this was a holiday, a time for us to relax and just enjoy and worry about as little as possible, having guides was a really great idea. Tricycle drivers/guides also proved to be the less expensive choice for my friend and I compared to hiring a car or van with driver/guide. If you are traveling in a group of 5 or more people though, a van with driver is the better option.

Museo Ilocos Norte

After breakfast at Balay da Blas, Kuya Wawie picked us up and we immediately went to Museo Ilocos Norte where Laoag’s history was showcased in full glory. Entrance fees are as follows: 50 (adults), 20 (college teachers and students with ID), 15 (high school students), 10 (elementary students), free (children aged 0-6). The museum is opened on Mondays to Saturdays 9AM-12PM, 1PM-5PM and on Sundays 10AM-12PM, 1PM-5PM.

Inside the museum you will see all sorts of old tools used by our forefathers. I also learned there that the tobacco industry used to be really big in northern Ilocos. The museum was basically a tribute to tobacco.

Sinking Bell Tower

There’s a bell tower in town that is literally sinking to the ground. Before, a man on horseback can easily ride through the entrance. Now, the tower is so buried, all that remains of the entrance is a chest-high hole. Due to the instability of the building, no one is allowed to go inside it anymore.

the sinking bell tower in Laoag, Ilocos
The bell tower that is slowly sinking to the ground

St. William’s Cathedral

After marveling at the sinking bell tower, we then visited the nearby St. William’s Cathedral. This was another huge white church with gigantic pillars supporting its framework. This is definitely another great piece of old architecture in the Philippines and just imagining the work that went into this structure filled me with awe.

St. William’s Cathedral in Laoag, Ilocos

Ilocos Norte Capitol and Tobacco Monument

This building is just walking distance from St. William’s Cathedral. The capitol, like in any major city in the Philippines, is the seat of government in Laoag. It was an impressive enough building, the style of which gives a nod to buildings in the Spanish colonization era.

Ilocos Tobacco Monument
The Ilocos Tobacco Monument is that tower-like structure behind the fountain

Just across it is the small town square where the Tobacco Monument proudly stands right next to a fountain. Once again, it was brought home to me how much of a tobacco country Ilocos Norte really was. The people even built a monument for the industry.

Paoay Sand Dunes – Woohoo!!!

The Paoay sand dunes are really interesting for us Filipinos because it is an effin desert! We are a tropical country and we just don’t find deserts anywhere you know. However, that’s all I knew before I got there. I thought we’d just see it and that would be it. But we were really in for a surprise, a surprise that we enjoyed thoroughly.

jumpshot at the Paoay Sand Dunes
The Paoay Sand Dunes in Laoag definitely deserves at least one jump shot

When we got there, there weren’t much to see. Turns out the desert was still some distance from the entrance, which was near the highway. At the entrance was a small hut where several men were lazing about. There were several 4x4s parked nearby. Okay, so we have to ride a 4×4 to see the sand dunes, fair enough. So we asked how much. We were quoted Php 3,500 for an hour of 4×4 ride plus sand boarding. I nearly lost consciousness upon hearing that amount and V’s face had “ridiculous” painted all over it. I tried to bargain but all I achieved was a reduction of Php500. The Php 3,000 was still a high amount to pay, even if split between V and I.

But in my head I was like, we came all the way here and we haven’t actually been on a 4×4 before… On the other hand, should we really pay that much to just see a pile of sand? After the deliberation participated by the different voices in my head, I decided to go for it because why the heck not? I convinced V and he agreed.

us riding on a 4x4
So we got onto our 4×4 ride for the next hour excited to see and feel the sand dunes

5 minutes into it and we were shouting all over the place in pure delight! The driver really made sure we experience the dunes by driving us up a high one and then accelerating all the way down the other side and repeating that over and over again. It was an awesomely thrilling experience and the anxiety we had over the cost became inconsequential.

the Paoay Sand Dunes
Here we are at the Paoay Sand Dunes. There were definitely sand all over and it was such a novel experience for us.

Then we had the sandboarding. We got on top of a high sand dune, we were given a board that pretty much looked like a skate board, we got on, and off the edge we went! V, despite never trying this, did not fall even once while the sand and I got intimately acquainted with each other through my multiple falls in all directions haha.

V excelling at sandboarding. Naturally, I envied the skills he didn’t even know he possessed…

Suffice it to say, the Paoay Sand Dunes were the highlight for us during this day. Our experience there was amazing!

weird ship structure in the dessert
Oh and we passed by this interesting structure in the desert during our 4×4 ride. I think it’s part of a movie set…

Paoay Lake and Paoay Church

After all that rush, we proceeded to the Paoay Lake to relax a bit. Then we continued on to Paoay Church. If I was to select the most beautiful-looking church in all that we’ve visited in Ilocos, I would choose Paoay Church. Its bell tower is made from corrals! If you take a look at the side of the structure, you will also come across huge buttresses that are, for me, superb works of art and engineering.

We then had lunch at Herencia café just across the church. We’ve had nothing but Ilocano meals the past few days and although those dishes are delicious, we were kinda missing some western food so we ordered some pasta carbonara.

bell tower made from corrals
Corrals were hauled to this site to make this bell tower a few hundred years ago
Paoay Church buttresses
Tthe huge buttresses of Paoay Church, which for some reason I find marvelous
Paoay Church buttresses
Paoay Church

World Peace Center (Marcos Photo Gallery)

After lunch, Kuya Wawie took us to the Marcos Photo Gallery. It is basically just a sizable building with its interior walls covered in pictures of Marcos and Imelda and the many moments in their lives. You will see images of when they were still young, when they got married, when Marcos became president, and when Imelda entertained visiting dignitaries from all over the world. There are also photos there of Marcos’ grades at law school (he topped the bar and was considered a really intelligent person). There were also copies of documents highlighting the fact that the peso was at par with the dollar during his presidency. That was when I realized that many people in Ilocos, our guide Kuya Wawie included, if not loved then highly respected Marcos.

That realization was a profound experience for me because growing up, I was only exposed to how corrupt Marcos and Imelda were and how scary the martial law was. I never really thought much about it, but there are actually lots of people in the Philippines that up to this day are pro-Marcos. Now I’m not going to start a political analysis here. Let’s just say that it is up to you what to think of Marcos and his regime, but it wouldn’t hurt to view the other side of the story and open your mind to many Ilocanos’s point of views. It would be a learning experience for sure.

Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos
Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos

Ferdinand Marcos Presidential Center

Our next stop was this museum dedicated to, yes you guessed it, Ferdinand Marcos. The displays are basically a collection of clothes, shoes, hats, etc. used by Ferdinand and Imelda. You will read there too the courtship between the two. For me, it was an interesting read, amusing in some parts in fact.

article detailing Marcos’ courtship of Imelda

Ferdinand Marcos Mausoleum

This is where the preserved body of Ferdinand Marcos is kept. The Mausoleum is within the same grounds as the Presidential Center. Cameras are not allowed inside so I’ll do my best to describe here what I saw in there.

It was dark inside, the air was stale and smelled of incense and perfume combined. A few steps into the room and you will come across a platform where Marcos’s body lies in eternal repose. His body is encased in glass and in its preserved state it looked, for lack of words to describe it, like a wax mannequin. The platform was surrounded by artificial white flowers with tiny light bulbs at their center. The same decoration can be found on the entire lower edges of the room, those light bulbs providing the only illumination in the room. Since the walls, floors, and ceilings were black, the lighting was just really a muted glow. Everybody who gets inside the mausoleum is expected to show respect and not make loud noises.

Marcos’ body is kept there because his family want him buried nowhere else but at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) but considering he is viewed as a tyrant by many Filipinos, a lot of outcry will happen if the Marcoses force the issue. They are not losing hope though so that’s why Marcoss’ body will remain at the mausoleum in the foreseeable future.

Farewell Ilocos

Kuya Wawie then took us back to the city. We were supposed to go see Fort Ilocandia, a really high-end hotel in the area, but we skipped that since we wanted to buy souvenirs instead for our family and friends back home. So Kuya Wawie took us to the market and we purchased shirts and delicacies we could take back as pasalubong.

Ilocos souvenir pasalubong
This is one of the pasalubong we got; it’s called tinobong and is basically a sweet dessert inside bamboo tubes

We rested early that night and we went back to Cebu the next day. Since we couldn’t bring the umbrellas we bought from Vigan and carried to Pagudpud and Laoag with us, we left them with Kuya Wawie and told him to lend them to his future passengers who might need them. It was an emotional moment parting with those umbrellas because for sure like V and I, they’ve absorbed so many memories of our whole Ilocos trip.

All in all, we super enjoyed our 5-day holiday and will forever be thankful to all the Ilocanos who took good care of us and helped us while we were there. If you are looking for your next holiday destination in the Philippines, Vigan, Pagudpud and Laoag are highly recommended!


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