Action-packed, kid-friendly Ilocos adventure
Ilocos has always been one of my favorite regions. Aside from it being my grandmother’s province, I truly enjoy my visits there. I tell myself that the children would have a great time there, so I should bring them soon.
Upon realizing that a long weekend was coming up, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to take the children on an impromptu trip—as spontaneous as you could be when traveling with three children.
Amazingly, everything worked out better than I imagined. A simple phone call to ask if a friend would be in the area turned a family trip into a laughter-filled adventure for six families.
Having other people was good for my children, but even without their friends for company, I was sure that my kids would have enjoyed the trip nonetheless. If you’re looking for a local destination to spend some quality time with your family, this is how we spent our weekend.
There are many ways to get to Ilocos. There are daily buses from the major terminals.
You can drive up. The recently opened TPLEX (Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway) makes the trip significantly shorter—you can be in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, in about seven to eight hours, and Laoag, Ilocos Norte, in 10 to 12 hours.
You can also fly to Laoag and be there in an hour, but you will have to make arrangements to have a car upon your arrival. You can either have someone drive your car ahead, or perhaps arrange in advance to rent a car.
I wasn’t keen on the idea of an all-night car ride, so I booked plane tickets for a trip from Manila to Laoag for our family to be there after lunch. We were in Laoag by 3:30 p.m. and immediately proceeded to the Paoay Sand Dunes Adventure Zone, which was less then 30 minutes from the airport.
Hanging on for dear life
In the government-run Adventure Zone, you pay for the jeep, rather than per person. This means that the more people in the jeep, the cheaper it gets per head; though, of course, the facilitators will decide how many to allow per vehicle.
You can choose to pay for 30 or 60 minutes. Initially, we thought 30 minutes would be enough, but opted to extend when we saw how much fun the adventure was.
Our jeep accommodated four children and four adults. My mom and our companion stayed in the jeep with my three-year-old son, while my friend Ging and I, with three of our children, stood outside the pickup and hung on for dear life—but it was great!
The driver went at a thrilling but reasonably safe speed that had us screaming and laughing at the same time.
He would stop every now and then to direct and take Instagram shots of our party, while pointing out spots where scenes from popular movies and TV shows were shot.
Just when we thought it was over, we were brought to a particularly high sand dune where, surprise, sand boards awaited the brave!
Some courageous souls tried sand boarding on one side while our party opted to go “sand sledding.” Seated on the board, there was no chance of falling and getting hurt, but it was still a delightful experience.
Once the children got over their fear, they went up and down over and over again, and it took quite a lot of convincing to make them stop.
We proceeded to Paoay Church to learn a bit of history, and eat the best pizza in Ilocos. With Paoay’s bell tower on one side and a sky filled with colors only a master painter could imagine, it was easy to get the children to appreciate the half century-old church. But it was no sweat to make them enjoy the pizza at Herencia Restaurant across the church. While the kids happily nibbled on their cheese pizza, we adults feasted on the bagnet and pinakbet pizza.
We had the option to go further up north to Pagudpud for an overnight stay and beach fun in the morning and to see the Bangui windmills, but we chose to head down to Vigan to meet up with the rest of our group.
I purposely selected Hotel Felicidad so the children could experience the traditional bedrooms, complete with “Ah Tay”-style poster beds and dressing tables. One large suite for our group was equivalent to two regular rooms, big enough to accommodate our party of six.
The next day was spent on the beach in Sinait, Ilocos Sur. The beaches of Ilocos do not have the fine white powder sands of Boracay and Palawan, but they have something even better—waves! I had almost forgotten how much fun it is to jump over waves and have them carry you to shore. The last time I did it in La Union was probably 25 years ago. But this time, constant vigilance and being an arms’ length away from the children were a must, for safety.
Sunday Mass was in the Cathedral. And then there was a lively 30-minute giant dancing fountain and light show in the plaza to entertain locals and tourists. I had to stop my sons from joining the other boys who were soaking wet as they danced in the smaller pavement fountains.
You need not worry about dining options in Vigan, as Calle Crisologo is teeming with restaurants—that is, if you still have tummy space after feasting on local specialties such as empanada and bagnet.
After dinner, we took a
calesa ride through the town center. Riding through the old cobblestone streets amid the heritage buildings was like a trip back in time. The only thing missing was Maria Clara strolling through the streets with her beloved Crisostomo Ibarra.
In the morning, we had to move quickly to make it to our itinerary of activities. First was a short stop at the Baluarte to see the famous tigers of Ilocos Sur’s main man Chavit Singson before heading to the Vigan Adventure Zone. But we were delayed and had to skip the zipline in Vigan. The rest of our group were able to find another Adventure Zone in Narvacan.
My family and I decided to head down to San Juan, La Union, reaching the surf town in two hours. The children slept through most of the trip as it was nap time, and arrived recharged and ready for action at Kahuna at 4 p.m.
I thought an hour and a half would be enough for a mini lesson and basic introduction to surfing, but I was wrong! The kids could not stop getting back on their boards and trying to stand. No amount of falls could deter them and their efforts were rewarded by a few successful attempts to surf the baby waves.
My children were hooked, and have not stopped asking for another trip to La Union for more surfing.
Meanwhile, I tried it once but unfortunately encountered jellyfish. We learned our lesson and will now make sure that our next trip will be in the morning, when the waves are stronger and the tide higher, conditions which minimize the risk of being attacked by jellyfish.
Dinner was with my aunt and cousins at Surf Shack, and then we made our way back at around 8:30 p.m. Thanks to TPLEX, we were home safe and sound within four hours, with all of the children blissfully knocked out from their surfing experience.
It was just three days but with all the things we enjoyed doing, it felt like the most sulit weekend we’ve ever had. We could not have chosen a better place! Now we are happily researching other local destinations for our next adventure, because it really is more fun in the Philippines!
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