North Bound: Laoag and Paoay

Last January, Yza and I went on a 4-day road trip to Ilocos. Day 1 was spent mostly on the road and ended in Vigan where we spent the night. Read more about it here.

DAY 2. Saturday, January 21

As Yza mentioned in the last post, we were planning to meet up with Chester and friends somewhere in Ilocos on this trip. We decided to do it in Laoag so this was the first agenda in the itinerary for the day.

But before leaving, we had to claim our free breakfast from Vigan Hotel first, Vigan Longganisa!

vigan longganisa

At a rate of Php895/night/2pax in Vigan Hotel, it was already a good deal given the free breakfast (delivered straight to your room!), wifi, aircon and extra ghosts thoughts (diba Yza? haha).

I already got my well-deserved rest (I was ~36 hours awake prior to the Vigan Hotel stop, involving an 11-hour drive… well, not counting the accumulated seconds/minutes I fell asleep while driving. hehe) so I'm ready to hit the road once again.

Vigan to Laoag was approximately a 1.5-hour drive.

laoag city

We arrived in Laoag City at 11AM, met up with Chester and stayed at their hotel lobby for a few minutes while waiting for the rest to finish preparing.


When we were ready to go, we decided to delay lunch and go to La Paz Sand Dunes first. There were 6 of us: Yza, me, Chester, Sally (Chester's girlfriend, but they were still "friends" that time), Beverly (Sally's sister) and Christine (Beverly's friend straight from Qatar).

La Paz Sand Dunes

From Laoag City proper, it was a 30-minute drive before we reached the rocky and bumpy road leading to the sand dunes and another 20 minutes traversing the not-so-pleasant road. With 4 people at the back of my not-for-group-outings car, tightly compressed like sardines in a can (this analogy sounds way better in Filipino or Cebuano. haha. sorry, got distracted, going back), I can't imagine how the ride felt like for them in the backseat with all the humps and bumps.

When we finally arrived at the area, it was deserted (no pun intended... well, maybe a bit). Based on our research, this was the most famous sand dunes. However, it wasn't what we expected -- no Information/Welcome station for visitors, no activities like ATVs, sandboarding, etc, no signs at all, nothing. All we saw was the rocky road where cars can pass by and the sand dunes. Period.

It was a bit disappointing since we were really looking forward to the sand activities. We just made the most of our time there taking pictures, lots of them. It was udtong tutok (expression for "high noon" in Cebuano) so it was scorching hot, both sun and sand. Surprisingly, it was also very windy so it helped us sustain the heat longer than we should. Beverly and Christine went back to the car ahead of the rest while we were taking a few more pictures before we left.

la paz sand dunes

Little did we know that later in the day, we will discover another sand dunes in Ilocos Norte (this time, with the activities we expected) but I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll reserve that story at the tail end of this post. 

Chester and friends had to leave for Vigan to catch the sunset there (they were on the last leg of their trip already while we were still starting to warm up) so we had to go back to Laoag City proper and drop them off for their bus ride.

Before we parted ways, the obligatory group picture first, then we bid our goodbyes.

laoag group picture

Before we moved on to our next destination, we stopped by Robinsons Ilocos Norte to grab some lunch at their food court. We also bought the twisted potato thingies and the mini donuts for "dessert".

robinsons ilocos norte

It was almost 3PM when we finished our late lunch and with a couple more places to visit, we hurriedly went back to the road.

Next stop: the famous Paoay Church.

Paoay Church

Paoay was around 30 minutes away from Laoag. This is where most of the places we want to visit are located, Paoay Church being one of them.

paoay church
Paoay Church (also known as the St. Augustine Church in Paoay) is a historical church located in Paoay, Ilocos Norte. During the Philippine Revolution in 1898, its coral stone bell tower was used by the Katipuneros as an observation post. Paoay Church is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. It currently is a property of the Diocese of Laoag, Ilocos Norte. Construction of Paoay Church was started by the Augustinian friars in 1694. It was completed in 1894 led by Fr. Antonio Estavillo and was re-dedicated in 1894. --- WikiPilipinas
The place was very refreshing. The church, a beautiful sight as it is, was surrounded by a landscape of green grass and colorful flowers. When we were there, the right side of the church was under renovation but it didn't really matter. Of course, we wouldn't let the moment pass without some pictures taken.

paoay church

We went inside the church as well, which was empty and very quiet at that time.

inside paoay church

We probably wouldn't mind spending the whole day there but just because it was already 4PM, we had to move on. At this point, we had to choose between Malacañang of the North or Marcos Museum since they were both about to close and were situated in opposite directions from where we were.

I can't remember what led us to choose Malacañang of the North but it was probably the best decision ever made in this trip (you'll know why in a bit).

So we were on our way to the Malacañang of the North, the same road that will lead you to Fort Ilocandia. While we were driving, looking for signs that we were already near, we chanced upon a sign that says "Paoay Sand Dunes, This Way" and an arrow pointing to a left turn to somewhere. Being deprived of sand activities by La Paz Sand Dunes earlier in the day, we just had to visit this hoping to see what we were looking for.

But before that, Malacañang first, since it will be closing soon but we placed a mental note on that special corner where we saw the sign.

Malacañang of the North

We reached the Malacañang around a few minutes past 5 but we were still allowed to go in (despite the sign saying it closes at 5PM).

malacanang of the north

"Malacanang ti Amianan" is the other term used by Ilocanos to describe Malacañang of the North. This is the official residence of the former President Ferdinand Marcos in Ilocos Norte, built on a high point of land projecting into the sea right beyond the coastline of the legendary Paoay Lake, this enduring structure is now a museum. -- WikiPilipinas
After paying the entrance fee (Php30), we roamed around the 2-storey building. The first floor had a couple of rooms along the side (if I'm not mistaken, for the Marcos children), a staircase going up and a huge belen 
across the floor.

malacanang of the north

Looking straight from the main door, there's a balcony/terrace overlooking the Paoay Lake. The view was breath-taking! It's the perfect place to relax and unwind after a very stressful day, just staring at the lake the whole day.

malacanang of the north

The dining room and the master bedroom were located at the second floor. Picture frames of Marcos and his wife, Imelda, were prominent across the room. There was also a couple of rooms full of Marcos memorabilia and life-size figures of Marcos as well.

malacanang of the north

Before leaving, Yza bought the famous Ilocos empanada and, from the looks of it, I think she loved it. =)

ilocos empanada

Since we skipped the Marcos Museum (by the way, we were still able to visit that on the 4th day on our way back to Vigan, pictures in another post), we didn't have anything left in the itinerary before hitting the road to Pagudpud... except the recently added item in our flexible itinerary, Paoay Sand Dunes!

We drove back to that corner where we saw the sign (this line reminds me of the lyrics of The Script’s The Man Who Can’t Be Moved.. wala lang) and after a few minutes of driving, we finally saw 4x4 jeeps parked on the sides, an Information booth and a group of people, from the looks on their faces, ready for an adventure. The sight of that made me think, "Now this is what we were looking for!" (but in Cebuano because I don't think in English.. haha).

Paoay Sand Dunes

As soon as we got off, we were immediately approached by very friendly manongs offering a package deal of a 4x4 ride around the sand dunes, unlimited picture taking and capping off the tour with unlimited Sandboarding (until you get tired). All this for Php1,500 (up to 4-5 people). We managed to lower the price a bit for us since we were just 2, but even with the original price, it would still have been a good deal if you are 4 or 5 in a group.

These same sand dunes were used as location for a couple of Filipino movies such as Panday, Temptation Island and Himala. The manongs were really proud of this fact. Our own manong even kept sharing stories about how he met the celebrities and all, which scenes were shot at which spots, etc.

paoay sand dunes

The 4x4 ride began with a trail that would require you to hold on to the jeep for your dear life. If ever you get the chance to visit this in the future, make sure you stand at the back of the 4x4 for maximum experience. =)

We stopped in the middle of the sand dunes to take pictures and marvel at the vastness of the sand dunes.

paoay sand dunes
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After some pictures, we quickly toured around the sand dunes. There was a beach / shoreline on one end and more sand the rest of the way (and a couple of cows which, according to manong, were their version of camels. haha).

paoay sand dunes

The last activity for the tour was the unlimited sandboarding. Our guide demonstrated how to sandboard 2 ways -- sitting down (for beginners) and standing up (for advanced users).

paoay sand dunes sandboarding

After seeing how easy it was (or so we thought), Yza was brave enough to go first sitting down, I went next, then we decided to go advanced immediately.

The video below describes what happened to our not-so-successful attempts:

The competitive spirit in me didn't want to stop until I complete this without falling down but it was too dark already! =( I had no choice but to quit and just promise myself to come back some other time to prove to myself that I can do this. Haha. Yza spent all her energy going back up the slope. She would have had more attempts if there was an easy way to go back up (like cable cars in ski slopes we can only see in the movies. haha). But it was so much fun nonetheless, the experience was amazing and we were walking away with smiles on our faces.

paoay sand dunespaoay sand dunes

It was already dark when we finished, around quarter to 7. We had to start driving towards Pagudpud to spend the night there but thought of 2 more stops before the long drive -- the Sinking Bell Tower in Laoag City Proper and to eat dinner somewhere in the area.

Sinking Bell Tower

We already saw this in the morning when we arrived in Laoag City but had to go back (anyway, it was on our way to Pagudpud) and see it during the night as recommended by Chester. This tower is said to be one of the tallest bell towers in the Philippines. It got it's "sinking" name from the fact that it was so heavy and was built on sandy foundation that it consistently sunk a few inches.

There's nothing else to do there, really, so we just had our pictures taken with it in the background.
sinking bell tower

Last stop we wanted to do before finally heading to Pagudpud was dinner since it was already 8PM and Pagudpud is still 2 hours away. We passed by a place called Macy's Diner whose theme was very much similar with Filling Station in Burgos St, Makati City (we wrote about Filling Station here).

macy's diner

Yza ordered their Hamburger Meal (Php110) while I ordered the Grilled Spareribs (Php215). We also had a drink each -- Sunset Dive (lemonade with strawberry syrup) for Yza (Php40) and Macy's Iced Tea for me (Php45). For dessert, we had the Fried Ice Cream (Php75). Overall, the food was above average and we were full, almost bloated, after. It was the perfect meal to kick-off our last drive for the day.

macy's diner

From Macy's Diner, it was the road again for us. We had Vampire Diaries playing in the background with Elena, Damon and Stefan keeping us awake for the 2-hour drive. Although, it wasn't the best idea (we were driving in pitch dark and we were watching a show with vampires and killing and startling scenes), it served it's purpose anyway. 

After an hour and a half, we saw the Pagudpud sign which gave us hope that we are already near.


After another half-hour, we finally arrived at Kapuluan Vista Resort (after turning back a couple of times, asking random people for direction confirmation, etc). The area was really dark, it was around 11PM already, so we weren't able to appreciate the view when we arrived. We just went inside, asked for the keys to our room, settled down and called it a night. We had to put aside exploring the resort for tomorrow.

The adventure continues here.





  1. The Paoay Sand Dunes looks amazing! Hahaha Are kids allowed in the 4x4 ride and sand boarding? anyway, your blog is very helpful! thanks and God Bless! :)