Vigan-Laoag-Pagudpud: Solo Backpacking Up North

Five days and PHP6,000.

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Being on the road, more often than not, is a luxury, but it’s an itch you’ll want to scratch, a thirst you’ll need to quench. Taking time off the corporate grid to shimmy onto adventure—or, at the very least, just hide away—every few months or so is a really a good way to recharge.

I find rugged, off-the-trodden-path adventures therapeutic. And so before getting back to the daily grind few months ago, I embarked on a five-day solo backpacking trip up North.

The plan was to revisit Maira-ira Cove or The Blue Lagoon, a beach on the northernmost tip of Luzon mainland, which I first visited 15 years ago as a teenager. The place is not hard to forget—the unspoiled white sand, clear blue waters, and the grass-covered hills and mountains.

We all know that usually, things don’t go according to plan. While Maira-ira remains the highlight of my trip, I took a few short stops in Vigan and Laoag—all in the spirit of adventure.

 

Vigan early in the morning

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The goal was to work on five-day budget of PHP6,000. After making a list of places to see and possible expenses to incur, I packed the essentials and took a cab to Partas bus terminal in Cubao, bought a PHP700 deluxe ticket, boarded the 10PM bus trip to Vigan and slept the entire seven-hour trip.

Peddlers, vendors and even tourists were already up and about the UNESCO-declared heritage city at around 5AM. Exploring the cobblestone streets at this hour proved to be a good idea. The time of the day highlighted the vintage charm of the not-so-familiar city. That and the sound of walis ting-ting take you straight to a page of a Jose Rizal novel.

The locals are nice and helpful, too. They’ll point you to a clean public restroom and a place for a nice cup of coffee. Suddenly, the months of stress I held in my body floated away. I was in a different world, and the hustle and bustle of the metropolis became something I left seven hours away.

You can get a hearty breakfast of Vigan longganisa for less than PHP200 and a cup of freshly brewed coffee for PHP100 just about anywhere near the town center. After breakfast, I went back to exploring the old city and stayed until noon before going to the terminal to take a bus that would bring me in about two hours to Laoag for about PHP130.

 

Laoag: A nostalgic interim

The city is quite laid back. As laid back as the marriage of modernization and preservation of heritage can take you. The relaxed atmosphere took me back home to Tacloban, where people are divided into two—those who always seem to be in a hurry and those who take the time to savor their morning coffee.

I took a tricycle to La Tabaculera Ilocano Lifestyle Center. The center was right beside Museo Ilokos Norte and the Provincial Capitol. The fare was cheap at PHP10, and I was tempted to ask the driver to take me around the city.

I had lunch at Cheesecake, etc., only because for some reason, the famous Johnny Moon Cafe, the original lunch plan, was closed for the day. After freshening up and changing, I walked across the street to the bus terminal going to Pagudpud. A one way ticket costs about PHP150 and the trip takes around two hours.

 

Maira-Ira: A hidden paradise in the North

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At the municipal hall in Pagudpud, I opted to take a “special trip” going to Barangay Baloi, where Maira-ra Cove is located. You can bargain to bring down the fare—from PHP400, I was able to get it for PHP250.

You’ll catch a sight of the blue lagoon down the newly paved road to the beach about 20 minutes into your ride.

Maira-ira Ira is perhaps an unspoiled version of Boracay, except it’s smaller in size and it comes with a nice view of the mountains. And despite the fact that a huge resort was built in the area, the place remains tranquil and just plain lovely.

I was lucky to have gone on an off-peak season, booking a place to stay was a breeze. I chose to stay at Pia’s Homestay, a newly-built two-story house that offers clean rooms with your own toilet and clean water for P500 a night.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening walking in the beach, teasing the waves and taking in the beauty all around.

For dinner, I walked 20 minutes from Pia’s  to Kapuluan Vista Resort. The food was delicious and the portions were more than satisfying at PHP150 to PHP250 a meal.

I spent the rest of the trip at Maira-ira swimming, walking by the beach, doing some arts and crafts with some materials I brought with me, chatting with the locals, and hiking in the nearby mountain.

Maira-ira is postcard-worthy destination. It’s an excellent place to relax and unwind. It’s cheap and solo traveler-friendly. I even made a few friends, a couple of foreigners who, like me, were looking for a quick hideaway.

EnglishIlocano
Good morningNaimbag a bigat
Good afternoonNaimbag a malem
Good eveningNaimbag a sardam
What is your name?Ana’t nagan mo?
Thank you!Agyamanak
I’m sorryPakawanennak
YesWen
NoSaan/Haan