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Trip to Vigan: A Backpacker’s Guide

When my editor asked me to backpack and gallivant in the beautiful city of Vigan, I tried to do it in style (clad not in a shabby garb, with a carpet bag slung on my shoulder in lieu of a backpack). And why not? Vigan is a safe place for tourists and even backpackers.

Vacationers have nothing to fear because our friends from the north welcome tourists with warm smiles and open arms.

I could have taken the plane going to Laoag, which was about two hours away from my destination, but I took the road more traveled (with pun intended, read: more hours to travel) to experience the adventure. A nine-hour road trip is no joke but it’s not that bad either. It was the perfect time for me to catch some sleep lost due to deadlines. It wasn’t the most comfortable sleeping position, though, but for a one-way fare of about Php550, I couldn’t complain.

Getting there Safely

For this road trip, I headed for the Partas Bus Station, a well-lighted structure located on Aurora Boulevard in Cubao to take the 4.30 a.m. trip. Since it was my first time to take public transport alone, I asked the help of the ticketing officer for directions. The staff was very friendly, helpful, and accommodating. The security guards were attentive and alert. Bags and luggage were carefully scrutinized before check-in at the luggage area.

On the bus, the lady seated beside me is a regular commuter heading for Pangasinan. She says that she never worries about this trips, and has never had any problems. She assured that it was a perfectly safe bus ride. Coming from someone who takes a regular trip, I felt assured. So I dozed off easily…only to be awakened (after about three hours) by an excited voice calling out, “Magandangumaga! Breakfast na!” For a minute there I thought I was in a business class seat of a plane being reminded by the flight attendant. Oh well, I wish! I found out it was a vendor selling pancakes (yes! pancakes, you read it right!).

Home Away from Home

After the long trip, my back was longing for a clean and simple bed where I could stretch out. Much to my delight, I got more than what I wished for. Upon check-in at My Father’s House Dormitelle, I was welcomed with warm and excited smiles by the staff and the personal attention of the management team led by Ate Windy and Ate Thelma. An array of delectable pastries, consisting of Ilocosbibingka and macaroons, was a bonus! The two-storey garden hotel in San Ildelfonso is homey and quiet. The air-conditioned rooms may be modest, but they are definitely clean, comfortable, and more importantly, secured. All the rooms have proper locks. Even cabinets have locks so you can always lock away your valuables. The open-air dining area lets the guests take in the view of nature while savoring the scrumptious dishes of Ate Thelma. Her dinengdeng is the best!

San Ildelfonso is about 15 minutes away from Vigan. Getting there was not a problem at all. Ate Windy provided me with a tricycle for my service. Driven by the efficient Peng, and escorted by Digna (Ate Windy’s office assistant), gallivanting in Heritage Village was easy and fun.

Safe in the Heart of Vigan

Being an old soul that I am, I knew that the moment I laid my eyes on the ancient streets of Vigan it was going to be a worthwhile day for me. There were so many sites to visit with so little time, so we hied off to the Ilocos Sur Tourism Information Center to put some direction in my itinerary. Tourist guides Maribelle Vera Cruz and Jane Palas were both accommodating, and willingly answered my queries.

Since my primary concern was the safety of any Vigan tripper, I initially inquired about the general situation of the place.
Maribelle assured me that Vigan is safe for any tourist, whether foreign or Filipino. Their office, which is under the Office of the Governor, promotes tourism in Ilocos, and closely coordinates with the local government to ensure the safety of everyone in the Ilocos region.

I learned that in Vigan there is a 10 PM curfew for minors. There are very few, if none at all, beggars and street children lying around. The nightlife mainly means a few bars and videoke joints which all close at 12 midnight. There is 24-hour police security, and there are CCTV cameras installed on the quiet streets to deter possible criminals.

St. Paul Cathedral was once a well guarded bastion of the Spanish conquistadors.

Vigan Cathedral

From the tourist information center, I finally hit the interesting sites. There were a lot of places to see but I was pressed for time, so I could only try to visit as many as possible. First stop is the Vigan Cathedral, which is also known as the St. Paul’s Metropolitan Cathedral. It is interesting to note that the fu dogs carved on the outermost doors of the church reflected the Chinese influence in that part of the Philippines. In 1574, Juan de Salcedo built the first Vigan Cathedral. It was reconstructed in 1641. And in 1800, the current baroque style of the cathedral was finally completed.

Arzopispado Nueva de Segovia

according to the guard of Palacio de Arzobispadom, taking pictures of the artifacts is prohibited

Arzobispado Nueva de Segovia is another interesting place to see. It is the museum of the Church where 17th century artifacts are kept.
“The relics in the museum are priceless, hence there is a 24-hour security for the Arzobispado,” according to Rene Pilar, the Property Records Custodian of the Museum.

Among the artifacts exhibited is an original 1872 prayer book, silver and gold chalices from the 17th century, vestments from the early 1900s, a statue of Nuestra Senora de Caridad made of pure ivory, and important documents such as the original Baptismal Certificate of Father Burgos of the Gomburza. I wish I could have taken some pictures of these historical objects, but taking photos inside the Museum was strictly prohibited.

Crisologo Museum

I also visited the Crisologo Museum, the ancestral home of the late Governor FloroCrisologo. The museum showcased antique memorabilia of the Crisologo family, including their very old calesa (which until now is being rented for themed weddings and period movies) and the gorgeous 20-seater dining table, which I really adored.

Pagburnayan — The Art of Jar-making

I had my “Ghost-the-movie-experience” when I took a shot of pottery making in Ruby Pottery, a jar factory that has been in existence since 1922. It was an honor to have met the owner and National Folk Artist Fidel Go who inherited the shop and the skills from his Chinese father. Mang Fidel was dubbed “Manlilikhang Bayan” for the designs of his jars. It was awesome to see the potters of Mang Fidel as they effortlessly did their craft, which they learned from the master.

The library of the Crisologo Museum houses Vigan's colorful history.

Calle Crisologo

Among all the sites, I couldn’t get enough of CalleCrisologo! It’s one of my favorite places in Vigan. Calle Crisologo is a whole stretch of an ancient street lined with stores that sold interesting finds from bags to shawls; and dividers to antique baul (chests). Strolling down the street past the stores was like taking a walk back in time. My heart was racing as I bought pasalubong for family and friends and some antique stuff at reasonable prices. And to top it all, I didn’t have to worry about shoplifters and pickpockets while doing frenzied shopping.

Why Vigan?

So why was backpacking in style feasible in Vigan? Put simply, Vigenos are warm and friendly; the place is simply fabulous; and more importantly, Vigan is safe for travelers.

If my words don’t suffice, let me then quote Secretary of Tourism Ace Durano when I asked him if he would personally recommend Vigan to a backpacker, “ Yes, definitely. In fact, the Ilocos Sur-Ilocos Norte-La Union-Cordillera region circuit is quite popular for both backpacking and road trips.”

Need I say more? •