Thursday, January 28, 2010


REMEMBERING my “historic” 2006 visit to Laoag City. Haven’t been there since but would love to visit again this summer or any other time this year. You should consider giving it a thought, too, especially if you haven’t been to this beautiful city. Given its rich history, Laoag is not quite any other place you’ve ever experienced.

And why is it historic? Read on and find out.


MAIDEN voyages have a somewhat scary feel to them, no thanks in large part to the infamous disasters that befell the Hindenburg and the Titanic on their respective maiden trips. Thankfully, modern technology has a way of making things a lot safer for travelers and in the case of Cebu Pacific’s recent maiden flight to Laoag, pretty much uneventful.

It was uneventful in the sense that for one thing, our 45-minute flight from Manila and back to Manila two days later in the airline’s spanking, new Airbus A319 was as smooth as any plane trip can get. It pretty much negated any adventurous illusions of Flight Plan-like heroics that I actually entertained. And no, I did not win anything in the Show Me games this time.

What was actually eventful for our group of lifestyle journalists was the media fam that followed. While there was not enough time to see everything that was included in our original itinerary, what we did manage to check out was enough to leave memories that should last for quite a while.

For starters, there’s the place where we were billeted. Fort Ilocandia, the only five-star resort in the region, is an upper class beach resort that’s popular with foreign expatriates. It boasts of a Spanish-Moroccan inspired architecture and also houses a popular casino where guests can play right away with the complimentary P200 betting coupon included in their room keys. Framed pictures of prominent people, mostly politicians adorn its lobby while the hallway of the second floor leading to the casino are filled with equally fascinating pictures of foreign heads of state including Emperor Hirohito, Fidel Castro and I could have sworn, even Saddam Hussein rubbing elbows with the late president Ferdinand Marcos and the Imeldific former first lady.

You pretty much know you’re in Marcos country when you see these and similar blasts from the past just staring at you in the face. Ferdinand Marcos remains revered in Ilocos Norte. Our tour guides and just about everyone else we talked to still refer to him as “President Marcos.” Incidentally, Governor Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. was also in that same Cebu Pacific maiden flight to Laoag and delivered a brief speech at the airport upon our arrival.

Our Laoag media fam was then kicked off with guided tours of the Malacañang Of The North and the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum. In the first, we got to see the Ilocos resthouse of the Marcoses, a once imposing colonial-style mansion overlooking a lake where the late president and his guests once sailed and water skiied. It is also adjacent to a world-class golf course where they leisurely swung their R and R time back in the day.

The mansion has obviously seen better days and the creaking sound of the hardwood floor and furniture gives it a somewhat eerie feel, especially in the master’s bedroom of the former president that also included a study and a library. The house is a reminder of a not-so-distant past that at the very least remains fascinating for the tourists who get to set foot in it. For my part, there is something about one particular room that were supposedly shared by sisters Imee and Irene that kept me wondering if they and the other surviving Marcoses do drop by from time to time whenever they wax nostalgic about this place. I mean, I certainly would if I once lived here. Turns out they don't come here very often, says the longtime male housekeeper.

In the Marcos Mausoleum, we get to see the former president himself in his famous glass coffin. Preserved in a refrigerated crypt made remarkable by the imposing presidential seal that pretty much frames him when viewed from the foot, he does look more like a wax figure when viewed up close. Our tour guide and the Mausoleum staff that we talked to also believe as much. But foreign journalist Brent Hannon wrote that Eddie Quirino, grandson of former president Elpidio Quirino, insists that this is the real McCoy. “He was embalmed with pure glycerin at 110 degrees, the latest technology,” he says. “If you light a cigarette, he will go up in flames.”

The nearby Marcos Museum was equally fascinating as well. Here, you could see plenty of everything about the late president: statues, figures, news headlines, official nameplates and even his own presidential desk. The most intriguing thing I saw was his biography divided into the different phases of Marcos’ life and political career. There is no mention at all of People Power or Ninoy and Cory Aquino. The only reference to 1986 here is that Marcos was ousted by “a military coup d’ etat.”

And no, I have no idea who that guy who posed in the picture below was.

To be fair, Marcos has done more for the Ilocanos than any other president this country ever had so it is understandable why most of them don't really care how he is now viewed by the rest of the country. Or even the rest of the world, for that matter.

In between our trips to the two Marcos landmarks was a brief stopover at Laoag City Hall where I got a taste of their famous Ilocos Empanada. Nowhere close to the Empanada that most of us are familiar with, the Ilocos variety has a bright orange color similar to that Kwek Kwek street food. Instead of the chicken and potatoes that it usually contains, it has tasty ground beef, vegetables and egg as fillings. Although best taken with the balsamic Sukang Iloco, I tried it with banana ketchup and it goes well with that, too.

As food trips go, buffet breakfasts at Fort Ilocandia’s Garden Coffee Shop were always something to look forward to. Aside from the usual popular choices, it was here where we get to taste the famous Laoag and Vigan longganisas. Dinner at the Palazzo De Laoag Hotel was an affair to remember as well. You haven’t really been to Laoag until you’ve dined at this hotel owned by Nonong Ablan. And you haven’t really tasted Pinakbet and Bagnet unless you’ve tried the excellent “original versions” at this place.

On our last day, we still managed to go to two more stops before packing our bags on our way back to Manila. Some in our group went to the famous La Paz Sand Dunes which is just near our hotel and were thrilled to see the pig-shaped sand dunes that most of us only get to see in the movies they’re often used—most notably FPJ’s Ang Panday series and the recent teleserye it spawned that starred Jericho Rosales.

Another group that included myself shopped for pasalubong at the Laoag Public Market. As I’ve discovered earlier, the Laoag and Vigan longganisas are two different things, in terms of taste and appearance. While I like them both, I prefer the bigger, bulkier and slightly sweeter Laoag variety to its smaller and thinner Vigan counterpart.

All told, it was a weekend well-spent at the very Solid North. Thanks to Cebu Pacific, it now takes only about 45 minutes to get to a place that is otherwise a 10 to 14 hour-drive from Manila. And with the airline’s Go Fares rates, traveling to Laoag or any part of the country (and even beyond, for that matter) has never been more affordable.

For Go Fares ticket bookings to Laoag and other destinations, visit

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