Jun 6, 2011

Vigan, A Slice of Spain

According to UNESCO’s website, there are currently 911 listed ‘natural and cultural global sites of importance and distinction’.  We’ve had the privilege to have visited quite a few in our travels, both past and present, and after leaving Bontoc, we set our sights on another in the Philippines:  Vigan.  However after we finally arrived, we had to reassure ourselves that the pro’s really outweighed the cons that went along with visiting a World Heritage Site.

Vigan is located on the northwest coast of the island of Luzon.  It was a laborious journey getting there from Bontoc without first backtracking through Baguio City as most people we talked to indicated that we had to do.  By chance we met a local guide on our last night in Bontoc, Francis Pa In (who’s actually mentioned in the Lonely Planet), who ‘showed us the way’.  We first had to take a 2.5hr jeepney ride out of the mountains (our jeepney’s front wheel almost slid off the road at one point of this crazy dirt-track of a road), then change to a minivan for another 2hrs to get to the coast, where we would have to transfer to a northbound bus for the final 2hrs to Vigan.  All in all, it was another 10hr travel day, including transfers.  We arrived around 6pm, but it was already dark as we searched for accommodation.  Then to make matters worse, the heavens opened up and it bucketed down on us.  After being driven around by tricycle to 3 places, we reluctantly settled on the lesser of the evils—they were either too expensive, too far away from the centre, or not that ‘fresh’.  Accommodation is proving to be the ‘bane of our existence’ here in the Philippines!

Our jeepney leaving Bontoc

The road from Bontoc to Cervantes

Our jeepney's right front wheel almost skids off the road...
Then we had to cross this bridge by foot before actually able to change to our next mini-van...

but first we had to get on this tricycle....

Continuing on our mini-van--another landslide ahead.

The downpour soon after we got to Vigan (the kids are stuck inside the tricycle).

The next day, we wondered around the historic city and could not help but appreciate its beauty and charm.  Vigan’s claim to fame is the fact that it is one of the only cities in the Philippines not to have been bombed by the Japanese during WWII, hence it was able to retain many of its historic 18thC Spanish-influenced old town, complete with cobblestone street.  We hired one of the many horse-drawn carriages for a 1hr tour around town—touristy, yet so cheap at P100/$2.50USD.  The horseman was quite informative too about local history and his horse was so cute!

But aside from the obvious ‘UNESCOness’ of Vigan, we could never get away from the inevitable ‘touristy’ side that such a designation seems to bring to many of its sites.  The hotels and restaurants were all geared to a higher-end tourist market that these sites seem to attract, with no many budget options.  There were groups of tourists, although mostly Filipino ones at this time of year, snapping pictures everywhere, yet we didn’t find people here to be as friendly as in other parts of Philippines that we’ve been to so far.  The tricycle drivers also were the least honest that we’ve come across so far in the Philippines.

Needless to say, after 2 nights and 1 full day of wandering Vigan’s streets, we were off again, this time in search of a beach destination where we could relax for a while, that was family friendly, and that was affordable for us.  Hmm, will we find such a place in northern Luzon, Philippines—stay tuned!

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