Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ilocos Trip: 3D/2n ExploreNorth Travel Agency: cost effective package

Ilocos. The northern part of Luzon. I have been wanting to go to this place since the day I heard they made great food: Bagnet, Empanada, and Longganisa. So last March 21, 2014 that "dream" was realized. We decided to book a tour package with Explore North. Our package consists of a 3D2N tour inclusive of transportation, accommodation, and entrance fees. It costs PHP3500 for 10 pax. 
Our contact for Explore North was Jem Gonzales. 
Address: 43-B Kamias Road, Baranggay Pinyahan, Quezon City, 1102
Telephone – 4351453 

Fax – 4265853
Mobile – 09175033713
Email – 

They require a down payment 2 weeks before your departure. Jem was a guy who responds quickly to inquiries via text or call. He can customize the package anyway you want. In our case, I decided to go for their default package since it was my first time and I wanted to do everything. A day before our trip, Jem sent me the contact numbers of our assigned van plate number, driver and tour guide. The best thing about this trip was it only takes 10 people for your trip to be private, by private I mean your own van, room, and time. In case you are less than 10 you can opt to pay for the remaining balance to reach PHP35000. Trust me, controlling your own pace is worth it.

To help you, in summary:

Pros: No need to drive 8 hours, save energy, get into most or all tourist spots in one go, maximize stay, get the best deals locally, feel at home, free photography services, stuff are secure since you know everyone in the van, control where and how long you stay at a place, no problem sharing stuff with one another since its not awkward
Cons: tour guide that accompanied us was not proactive in sharing about the sites we will be going to and their history, you have to ask him about it

So as you can clearly see, the pros clearly outweigh the cons. I really suggest booking an all inclusive package like that from explorenorth especially if its your first trip. I scanned different tour packages and I can confidently say they offer the most cost efficient one. The major difference is that their packages include all entrance fees and you just need to add PHP500 for the sandboarding and sandsurfing for 1 hour. How awesome! So that you can understand what we did better, here is our travel journal.

Day 0 -  Van used was a toyota hiace: no leg room and seats were stiff.Part of our tour mates were picked up at RCBC plaza. Driver Raffy arrived a few minutes late from the agreed 9:30 PM. But they left at 10 PM since some of our friends ate dinner. Poor coordination from both ends since they did not contact each other. (Lesson: provide instructions and contact numbers to both groups to ensure that they contact each other upon reaching the meeting point.) From there they passed by Trinoma to fetch me and the remaining part of the group. We left for Ilocos at about 11 PM. Driver Raffy was insanely fast, he was very skilled but quite dangerous. We had several "I thought I was gonna die moments". But he was really good, we stopped 2-3 times at gasoline stations for bio breaks. The 3rd time was at Pangasinan and Driver Raffy took a smoke and power nap for 30 mins-1 hour.

Day 1 - When we woke up we were at Quirino Bridge 6 AM, this is a bridge made entirely of metal. Went down, stretched a little. Took in the fresh air and spectacular view of the surroundings. 

Quirino Bridge
The river, the hill-like structure, and of course the man made bridge. After some nice jump shots, we rode the van to one of the oldest churches St. Augustine Church and Bell Tower St. Paul. I failed to check out the inside of the St Augustine church since I was too excited to see the Bell Tower. The Bell Tower was small as expected, but it was amazing to see it up close and I was able to ring a tiny bell. Went to Hidden Garden to eat some lunch. This place is a tourist spot by itself, it is a garden and a restaurant. 
Magical bird?
They have a lot of local and exotic plants for sale. They even have some animals for viewing [SHARK!]. But the food sadly was not as good, I ate the Longsilog [Longanisa, rice, and egg]. It was not that pleasant that I had a hard time eating it. After lunch, we went to Chavit Singson's Baluarte to check out cool animals! Many of the animals are harmless and free roaming. I even had the chance to ride a pony, walk underneath a "cloud" of butterflies, and saw lots of tigers. 
Happy animals!
Mandatory Tourist Shot
Rode the van again, and we went to Crisologo Museum next. Saw a bunch of old artifacts and document from one of the politicians from Ilocos, saw the politicians house and his family's belongings. Then off we went to Paoay to see one of the most iconic churches called Paoay church

It was really beautiful on the outside. Great walls made out of corals. Sadly when we got to the inside, it did not compliment its external facade. Hopefully they can also renovate the inside. Next was the coolest part of all, off to the sand dunes. We were asked to sign waiver forms and that is it. We rode the 4x4 off to the sand dunes and our driver showed us around the vicinity. Stopping every now and then to allow us to take photos and stretch. I truly enjoyed the big drops even though I ate a lot of sand. Before the 1 hour was up, our driver drove us to the small slope for sand surfing. We surfed for about 30 mins. I was able to ride twice. First was a trial. Second was the winner. I was able to land with my 2 feet on board. :D 
Me Sandsurfing
Driving around the dunes <I wish>

With all the sand and sweat with us...we went to the Malacanang of the North. There were were shown and introduced to the wonders of Marcos' regime. His projects as well as Imelda's projects. It was a great house/office. [Side story: So i bought and drank a whole buko PHP35. This caused me a very uncomfortable ride since I needed to "go" badly but we cannot find a nearby toilet nearby. So word of the wise, dont drink a whole buko by yourself where there is no nearby toilet.> We went to Marcos Mausoleum to check out his waxed body. No photos was allowed, but I think it would be hard to forget seeing the corpse of a great man. Next stop was the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, but we arrived too late. The gate was already closed so we just took pictures outside. It was still good. This site is actually well known as a prenuptial shoot location. On the way here, we say a lot of windmills being assembled, and wow! It was huge!!!! Last stop was Kapurpurawan rock formation. Sadly the wind was too strong that time, the tour guide did not allow us to go near the rock formation. But we were able to go at the base and took photos with it. So from that jam packed day, we were now heading to Pagudpod to Pearl's Transient Villa. But before that, we stopped by a nearby vendor selling empanada, hotdogs, balut, Chooks to Go and bought some as our dinner. Then upon arriving at Pearl's, it has 3 bedrooms all in all. So the girls, boys, and married couples were divided across. All rooms had 2 beds, 1 toilet. There were no warm shower water, so we had to heat some water from the stove and used that to bathe. So we cleaned up the plates, utensils, and prepared the table. By 9 PM we were all stuffed, clean, and ready to sleep. We all slept and prepared for the next day 7 AM call time. 
Day 1 Summary!

Failed to go to: Juan Luna Shrine; Cathedral Pagburnayan (Vigan Jar Factory)

Day 2 - Wake up call at 6AM, prepared and the group was ready to leave by 7AM.  Drove up north but before that we had stops to buy some breakfast, it was Mister Donut for me. So it was about 3 hours drive and upon waking up we are at the parking lot for the Kaibigan Falls. It was estimated to just be a 30 minute hike one way, but we were too enraptured by the sceneries that it took us 1 hour one way. 2 hours both ways. There were a series of small man made bridges that you had to cross. One of my favorite photo spot is the one by the river with rocks. Its so wonderful, fresh air and just enough amount of walking. This trek is very easy since there is not much change in terrain. Upon reaching the falls, make sure to take shots at the big rock by the falls. Its dangerous but the shots are amazing. 
Awesome falls

After the trek we went to Maira-ira Cove (Blue Lagoon) to settle down our stuff. This is where the inefficiency occurred, we were asked to wait for our room to be vacant. Our tour guide did not even inform us when in fact he asked us to stay in the car. So I had to keep going back and forth from the van to the "reception area". To make it short, we wasted about 2 hours waiting. Me and my friends also took this time to look for some fresh fish caught by the local fishermen so that we can eat it for lunch. It was amazing, we manage to buy a big "salmon" for just PHP150. Word of caution here, do not buy fish from the "restaurants" or eateries here, if you want to save money buy from the fishermen who delivers via the tricycle. You will get your money's worth. Just ask the eateries to cook for you., they can cook it in different styles: grilled, fried, soup base, etc.. So we waited another 2 hours, I managed to take a nap. And when I woke up at 1 PM, our meal was cooked and we ate by a nipa hut. We ordered some coffee <PHP15>, rice, sinigang, grilled fish. It was the best PHP 150 I spent! So after we were done with our late lunch, we asked the tour guide to bring us to other places, so they brought us to Patapat Viaduct to see the road constructed by Marcos. Took shots here. Then went to Bantay-Abot Cave, hiked a bit and took shots on the "hole". 
Then went to Paraiso ni Anton to see the "White Lady" grotto and beside it is the Bagong Lipunan Lodge Ruins
Ruins of Marco's Resthouse
Just took photos all over the place and went back to Blue Lagoon. Upon arriving there, it was night time already. We took some time to relax and watch some TV. By 7 PM, we decided to eat at Hannah's for dinner. It was not a good idea, since the food we ate was quite pricey and was not as good as lunch. Though it was really clean and we managed to save ourselves from eating under the rain. After that we had to rush back, and order hot water to be delivered to our rooms in succession since there were no hot water to use to bathe. Since the reception was closing at 9:30 PM, we had to maximize it and each person to just bathe at maximum of 20 mins. Gladly, they were kind enough to extend a bit to accommodate us. The room was very small and some of our companions decided to book at Hannah's since Blue Lagoon allocated a room for us 9/10 people. So it left us to be 7 people sleeping in one room. It was really crowded and toilet was very small. I preferred Pearl's Transient Villa way much more even though they don't have television. So one by one we settled, and prepared for the next day. 

Day 2: Summary

Day 3 - We had our breakfast at 5:00 AM so that we can all leave by 6:00 AM. We ordered some Hotsilog <PHP 65>, sadly it was not "good". My hotdog tasted like it was about to go bad, so I did not eat it. Paid our whole expenses to the reception. And off we went by 7 AM. We took shots at the Pagudpod arch, this was our way of saying good bye to Pagudpod as we were going to back south <Manila>. Next stop was the Bangui Windmills and Bangui Viewdeck. This was the day's highlight. The wind was strong, the windmills were amazing, the water was inviting. Had such a great time taking photos here. Also this is where I bought my first ever souvenir from the North. Bought 3 windmills for just PHP100. Is it amazing!? On our way back its another3-4 hours drive to Vigan. We went to the Calle Crisologo (Old Houses Vigan). Here we were given about 2-3 hours to buy souvenirs and eat our lunch. We ate at Lampong's Restaurant. Whatever you do, do not order the Yang Chow Fried Rice with Bagnet its just PHP 120 but its not worth it. Its not even bagnet... its just diced pork fat. :( Its good, its tastes good, but I think they over did the dicing and really tasted/felt like a rip off. I will never order this again. So we bought some chichacorn <PHP50 one big bag>, honey jar <PHP200>, chocolate tablea <PHP 75>, Sugar Cane Cane <PHp35 per bag>. Off we went to another pasalubong place: Marsha's Delicacies, but we did not buy anything anymore since its too crowded inside the van. So we left Vigan at around 3 PM and non stop driving until we arrived at manila by 9PM. We arrived an hour earlier than expected since we decided to skip dinner. So driver Raffy dropped us off at trinoma the others at RCBC. IT WAS SUCH A BLAST and one for the keeps! 
Day 3 Summary
Failed to go to: Pasuquin Bakery (Maker of Biscocho)

I recommend you to visit the Philippine's north when you can. Its very different to what we are used to here. Its amazing. Regardless of how you go there, DIY or via an agency... it will not make a big difference. Usually it just differs PHP500-1000 in total. The average cost for a 3D trip would cost PHP 5000. If you get anything near this amount, then you are good. Go visit the north and make sure to bring a good camera. Happy tripping! 

Here is another blog post I have written for you to see their complete Ilocos Package. Take note as mentioned in this blog, it is customizable and you can actually add or remove stuff in this list.