Walking down the cobblestone Calle Crisologo in Vigan is like walking back to the past. The houses you pass by are bahay-na-bato (stone houses) built during the Spanish colonial era. No, you did not wander into a movie set. These houses are for real. And people live in them even now.
No wonder UNESCO has named the city a World Heritage Site. It has also been named as one of the New7Wonders Cities of the world.
Colonial-era stone houses are two-story affairs where the ground floor serves as garage, store and warehouse, and where the upper floor is the family’s living quarters. Sometimes, the kitchen and the toilet are separate structures connected to the upper floor.
The houses, which, for some reason no one can really put their finger on, have withstood the test of time, seem to remind us that the wisdom of vernacular architecture may even beat the vagaries of global warming. Go to Vigan and find out why.
Laoag: Northern Philippines Hub
Laoag City is the northernmost urban hub of the Philippines, complete with an international airport. Lapped by the West Philippine Sea and locked in by the foothills of the Cordillera highlands, this Spanish-era heritage city boasts a bountiful harvest from the sea and the mountains — which the locals celebrate in their kitchens and on their dining tables. The richness of this socio-economic and cultural dynamic is explored mindfully at the Museo Ilocos Norte housed at what once was a tabacalera, or tobacco-processing factory.
Must-try food: Longganisa, a local sausage with a very strong garlic presence. Bagnet, a tasty crispy-fried chunk of pork seasoned with salt and spices. Pinakbet, a stew of local vegetables. Puqui-puqui, a deceptively simple treat of eggplant, tomatoes, and eggs. Empanada, a mix of green papaya, crushed longganisa, and runny fried eggs wrapped in a crunchy orange-tinged ground-rice wrap. Miki, rice noodles swimming in a most flavorful herb soup.
Where to go: Museo Ilocos Norte. St. Williams Cathedral and the Sinking Bell Tower, built by Augustinian friars in 1612. Other baroque churches and Spanish colonial buildings in the nearby vicinity, particularly Paoay Church. Malacañang of the North, a lakeside museum celebrating the Marcos presence in Philippine politics. La Paz Sand Dunes, 85 sq. km. of sandy coastal desert and beach. Fort Ilocandia Hotel and Resort. Side trips: White-sand beaches in Pagudpud. Bangui Windmills. Patapat Viaduct. Cape Bojeador Lighthouse.
What to buy: Abel Iloko, local handwoven fabrics. Chichacorn, crispy corn cracklings in different flavors. Handcrafted bags.
Airport: Laoag International Airport.
See Sample Itinerary