Sunday, November 01, 2015

The Great Northern Exposure

The Great Northern Exposure

Mid-July up to mid-August is when we are likely to vacation back home in the Philippines.  For the tropics, that is also monsoon season and the rains, heavy winds, floods and landslides are major factors that make us just want to stay home and get bored.  But not this time!  This 2015, with several prayers and wishes for good weather, the gods heard us and granted us fair weather where we decided would indeed be a “wanderful” (and wonderful!) vacation for us.  And so wander, we did! And whereabouts did we wander, you may wonder?  We drove north!

From Quezon City, we started on a bright and sunny Monday, the 20th of July 2015.  Our first stop was Angeles City, Pampanga.  We left our home base at around 8:30am with suitcases full of clothes to last us for about 7-10 days on the road.  Since we were going to be totally dependent on Google Maps for directions, we made sure we had one phone on Globe and another on SMART so we’d always be “connected”.  Some areas had strong Globe or SMART signals so we had to work with one or the other.  A handy car phone charger is also a must in these travels, plus a really long and varied playlist! It also helped that hubby just recently installed an awesome sound system in our car.  On the map, the way pretty much looks straight-forward if left-leaning (see map above). 

It was over 3 hours worth of driving but the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) was smooth and traffic was moving at about 80-100 kms per hour.  I kept a steady 80 kms speed so that we can make good time but also enjoy the view.  We stopped at a gas station for coffee and some snacks at around 10:00am and also took some photos for posterity.   This was taken from the pit stop we made saying that Mexico (Pampanga) is just a kilometer away. 

After another hour, our first stop is the Museo Ning Angeles which is also across the Holy Rosary Parish Church.  This church is next to the Holy Angel University. 

Amber, my 12-year-old daughter enjoyed roaming through the house.  It’s an old house representative of homes in colonial times with marvelous woodwork and ancient pots.  We went back in time to the Spanish occupation and imagined people’s lives back then.  They seemed to have lived simple but sufficient lives, the previous generations who are our grandparents and great-grandparents.

They also had dioramas depicting 18th century life and we had fun browsing through each one.  A few samples below showing slices of everyday life in the barrio.

Across this ancient home is the Holy Rosary Parish Church and the Holy Angel University.  It was a school day and both the church and school looked busy so we just posed from across the street by the window of the museum.  Notice the many school buses in the parking lot.  

It was almost about lunch time and because we’ve heard so much good reviews about this place, we decided to hunt down, Mila’s Tokwa’t Baboy.  Our trusty Google Map did not fail to help us, although it confused us a bit as it looked like this place was not even in the busiest part of town but in a residential area.  Still we managed to get our orders in and in fact, we were one of the first ones to arrive for lunch!

We had the tocino barbecue, sizzling sisig and  tokwa’t baboy with rice, of course.  The price was very good for the amount of food served.  Check out their pricelist.

We were unable to eat all that we ordered so we took the rest to go which came in very handy, especially the tocino BBQ, as it was easy to munch on the road.

The original plan was to go to Zoocobia Park and stay overnight. But, being off-season we got there and found out that they are closed on Mondays!  What a bummer!  The road to the place had patches where it would have been better if we had a 4-wheel drive but our trusty Toyota Corolla managed it well enough.  With the sun still up we decided to just forego this pit stop and continue to the next leg.  Before that we stopped by SM Clark to check out the place. 

After coffee at The French Baker, we continued on to our next destination, Tarlac which was about an hour away.

Just before we reached Tarlac, we passed by a bridge connecting Angeles with the next town.  It may have been the Sacobia River as it led us to the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway or SCTEx and saw this wonderful view of green mountains and plants, a bit of water flowing and the bluest of skies.  We just had to stop for photos!

It was another hour and a half before we reached Tarlac and we stopped for gas.   I put in Php 1,000.00 as we’ll have long to go the next day. 

We stopped by the Robinson’s Luisita in Tarlac for a bladder break and to freshen up.  It was around 4:00pm, and we still had enough time to visit the Aquino Centre and Museum.  It was another piece of history, for us to reminisce and for Amber to learn about.  For Amber, this experience puts into perspective the photos of my family, her grandparents and uncles, with yellow head bands and hands doing the “Laban” sign.  She thought we were going to a minion party or something.  I think it makes her proud to know her older folks did care for her country even if yellow was not really a complimenting color for most of us. 

There was a guide who talked about the family histories of both the Aquinos and the Cojuangcos and showed us around the place.  There were many memorabilia from both Cory and Ninoy.  The cell of Ninoy when he was imprisoned during the Marcos regime was memorable.  We imagined how it was being stuck there indefinitely.  Cory’s simple yet elegant clothes as well as many gifts for her when she was president from other foreign dignitaries was also another point of interest.  Ninoy’s clothes when he was shot also gave an eerie vibe as I remembered that fateful day.   There were many paintings and photos along the walls, and one of a young Kris Aquino looking very much like Bimby was very cute! You cannot take pictures inside the main exhibit halls but outside, in the lobby area, you are free to snap away.  There’s a small souvenir shop with some books about the Aquinos, some even authored by them. 

We wanted to stay near the Luisita Business Park area and we were eyeing the Microtel Inn by Wyndham for our pit stop but for some weird coincidence there was a conference going on and the hotel was fully booked.  Thank goodness for mobile phone apps like which I regularly use in the UAE, we were able to find an alternative stop: the L-Square Hotel (  We managed to snag the 3-bed bedroom as well so, we enjoyed a good night’s rest indeed. 

For dinner, we ate our fill at the Dampa sa Tarlac, a couple of blocks away from our hotel. 

We also tried the hotel’s bar, Amber drinking a mock-tail, of course.  There’s a 7-11 convenience store just across where we got our survival rations for the "midnight munchies". Yes!

With that, we end our first day of our Northern Exposure adventure.

For the budget conscious our expenses for day 1 included: 

Gas (Php 1,000.00) + Snacks including bottled water to go (Php 300.00) + Lunch (Php 700.00) + entrance fees (Php 300.00) + Dinner (Php 1200.00) + Miscellaneous (Php 500.00) for the sum of around Php 4,000.00.  Our L-Square room which had three beds was Php 3,100.00, so that would be around Php 7,000.00 total.  Not bad for day one adventure for three peeps!

Day Two – 21st July 2015, Tuesday

After an early breakfast buffet at L-Square Hotel which was already inclusive in the price of the room during our stay, we set off to our next adventure of the North.  Speaking with a Northern accent like characters from the ‘Game of Thrones’ we set-off towards Our Lady of Manaoag Church. 

We were now on the Tarlac-Pangasisnan Expressway or the TPLex and with good roads, we made it to Manaoag at around 10:00am and had ample time to browse around.  We stopped by to take a photo of the “Welcome to Pangasinan” sign on the TPLex.

Mass was ongoing when we arrived and cars were being lined up for the blessing.  We took some time to go through souvenir items at their shop and queued for them to be blessed. 

We stopped around for photos and after about an hour, we were off to our next destination, Poro Point in Urdaneta, Pangasinan. 

We wanted to stay there but changed our minds.  It was too pricey.  One room was Php 8,000 per night but they didn’t really have that much to offer and water sports were not even an option as the tides were too strong and it was off-season for such activities.  The place though was very beautiful, like a Greek mansion with its predominantly white and blue colours.  We took some photos and took off.

We stopped by at a local mall to grab a snack and get bladder relief.  We had to get some of the famous empanada de Iloko as they were just yummy!

Empanada de Iloko is made from papaya with some of the local longganisa and egg.  It is delicious by itself or you can sip it in vinegar or as in Amber’s case, put some ketchup.  Recipe for empanade de Iloko is found here.

The roads are pretty nice.  We also saw some grains being dried by the roadside and stopped for some fresh buko juice.

Now, we are off to Vigan! It’s almost three hours away so we took off immediately.

Arriving in Vigan we searched for our hotel.  We wanted the Hotel Luna as it had good ratings from and  We found it after several minutes into the city and checked-in. 

Exploring Vigan was what we planned to do and walked a lot we did! It’s still warm in July so we took several stops to eat and drink which was part of the plan anyway.  More empanada de Iloko and cool local refreshments ensued.  We bought some pasalubongs including bagnet, longganisa, some local savouries and souvenir items.  We had to buy a Styrofoam box, filled it with ice and stored our bagnet and longganisa in it. 

At night we continued our explorations and had dinner at one of the nearby hotels, Cordillera Inn.  It was quite late but they were still open and we sampled their Igadu and Bagnet.  

A good day 2 for out trip!  We spent some dosh on our nosh but food is not really expensive.  The most money we spent on was on our hotel which was Php 6,000 for one night but it included a breakfast buffet for the three of us so that was good value for money. The food was also muy delicioso so we are really happy.

Day Three – 22nd July 2015, Wednesday

The next day, we spent a lazy morning tired from all our activities from the day before.  We then set off to Baluarte and had lunch in their restaurant.  We came back to our hotel to check out and proceed to Laoag.
Stopping for gas, we discovered that our car, which carries Petron Blaze, is not common in the North and so we had to settle for Petron XCS whilst there because we stopped at every Petron station there is, which was plenty enough, but there was just no Blaze.   Most towns would have a Petron or Shell gas station as you enter and another one as you leave so there are really no worries about filling-up your vehicle.  Luckily we found a Blaze supplier in Laoag but this was the last one until we returned to Manila and we had to settle for XCS after this fill-up.

We arrived late afternoon from Vigan and so we had dinner at Robinson’s Place: laing and chicken BBQ while Amber had pizza.   Laing is not really a northern dish but it is a distictly Pinoy comfort food. Recipe for laing is found here:

We found a really cheap place to stay, the Northview Hotel which cost us Php 1,800 for a family room.  We just added about Php 150 for breakfast for three.  It was really a bargain but we were first given a really scary room (dank, dark, dodgy sanitation, dangerously bad for you type) and asked if they had another one.  Fortunately they did and we got a spacious room with a large bathroom in another part of the hotel.  We were lucky that it wasn't peak season and the staff were very laid-back as well as accommodating of our requests.

We visited the Plaza de Iloko, the Malacanang of the North and even did a side-trip to the opulent Fort Ilocandia the next day.  It was all in all a good day to be out and about.  The weather was clear, the air was cool and everyone was in good spirits!  

Expenses for Day 3:  Hotel + breakfast Php 2,850.00 /  food Php 500.00 / Petrol Php 1,000.00; so the total is around Php 3,500.00.  Not bad!  Entrance fee to the Palace was Php 30.00 per person which included a tour guide.

Day 4 – 23rd July, Thursday

We drove from Laoag to Pagudpod on this day.  We stopped by Cape Borjeador Lighthouse which is a scary drive up a steep hill that only allows one car to pass at a time.  I had to keep honking my horn to alert other vehicles, in case there was one coming down whilst we were driving up.  I wouldn't know how we would manage except for one to back up all the way up or down the hill.  The road was so narrow you had to be really careful going up as well as going down but reaching the top, you have small stalls with people selling souvenirs and refreshments and several steps up the lighthouse, you can turn around and appreciate the stunning view.  

We then went to the Burgos side of the Windmills to get to the Kapurpurawan Rock formation.  We really enjoyed the view of the sky, sand and sea and the natural rock formations in the area as well as the giant windmills.  They are bulding a road that will connect Bangui and Burgos thru the coast, locals said, so that would be something to look forward to in the future visits as for sure the view from the new coastal road would be breathtaking. 

It was almost lunch time and we were all hungry so off we continued to Pagudpud.  This is the northernmost tip of the Luzon archipelago and a boat ride would take us to the Batanes islands.  Maybe next time, we will take that trip to the northernmost part of the Philippines but for now, Pagudpod it is.

We arrived at around lunch time and we were starving!  The first establishment you see from the gate, where there is a long drive is Hannah’s.  Note: you don’t have to pay any entrance fees at the gate when you intend to stay in one of the resorts further down.  Originally we wanted to stay at Hannah’s which is the largest and most popular resort in the area.  They also have a zip-line if you want to make an unforgettable entrance to the beach from the top of the hill.  But the Mutya ng Pilipinas swimsuit competition is held the next day when we arrived so the whole area is fully booked. 

We decided to have our lunch first, and worry about housing next, so we ate at Hannah’s restaurant out the front facing the beach area.  We had chicken and pork BBQ and some Chopsuey while Amber had some fried chicken.

Not being able to find accommodations at Hannah’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise of sorts as we were referred to a quieter place much further down the road to Kapuluan Beach Resort which had the same amenities but less of the crowd.  It started to drizzle when we arrived but still it was not heavy rainfall and we managed to get some sun, sand and sea time as well as swim in the pool in Kapuluan. 

We had dinner at Kapuluan where we ordered sinigang na baboy, sisig and pork BBQ.  All in all it was a nice drive and we have reached the tip of the north of Luzon.  Tomorrow, we start our journey back to Quezon City but using the Cagayan road, sort of doing a U-turn of the north. 

Kapuluan was Php 3,200.00 per night and the room had a large bed with an upper loft where there’s another bed.  Amber was happy to claim the loft as her own and even made friends with a large gecko with blue markings.   Oliver made friends with a cute puppy from where we stayed named Sarah but he kept calling Jessica.  Amber renamed the puppy Sarah Jessica Barker and it followed them around during our stay. Meals were about Php 1,000.00 for that whole day including drinks and snacks in our stops so a total of about Php 4,200.00 was not bad given the views, the eats and the good night’s sleep we had.  

Day 5 – 24th July 2015, Friday

From Pagudpod we are returning to Manila via the other side of Luzon through Cagayan.  So we set off early after a breakfast of tapsilog at Kapuluan.  It was drizzling again but we are not worried as we are moving away from the rains and not towards it.

We stopped by a grotto of the Virgin Mary by the road.  This stop is just off a long bridge one side against a green, lush mountain and the other a rocky cliff out to sea.  The view is simply breath-taking.

It was lunch time as we arrived in Tuguegarao and the rain appears to be chasing us this time. So we decided to stop for lunch at Greenwich with some carbo-loading action via pizza, spaghetti and fried chicken.  After a quick bladder-emptying action at the busy McDonald’s in Bonifacio Street, where we also grabbed some coffee to go, we are off to the next leg which is Santiago.  We’ve booked at the Dreamwave Hotel in Santiago, Isabela.

We arrived early afternoon and the hotel is just beside a mall which was very convenient.  We thought it had a pool but contrary its name, or maybe actually true to its name, the waves are just part of a dream.  It was more like a businessman’s hotel but the rooms were clean and the price of the room included breakfast which was delivered in your room as they didn’t have any cafeteria.  You choose from longasilog, tapsilog or hotdogsilog.  For dinner, we ate at the Ilonggo Grill just beside the hotel and feasted on inihaw – chicken, pork and fish. We bought fresh ice for our ice box and made sure our eatable pasalubongs are still fine.

The hotel room with breakfast for 3 is priced at Php 2,520.00 our meals were around Php 1,000.00 so a total for Php 3,520.00 for day 5 of our great Northern exposure.  By this time, we are running low on clean clothes.  We joked that line Angelica Panganiban says, "Ang pera ko hindi basta-basta nauubos pero ang pasensya ko, malapit na!"  Well in our care, our clean clothes were running low. The last place where there was a self-help laundry facility was Vigan but by then, we still had more clean clothes in our luggage.  We are also worried for our food stuff fearing they may not make it to Manila if we do not find somewhere that sells ice.  We've passed by roads that are good but very dangerous as they have rocky mountain and huge trees on one side and a drop and more trees on the other!  

Day 6 – 25th July 2015, Saturday

From Isabela, we wanted to reach Cabanatuan to meet up with some friends who have left Al Ain, UAE a few years back to work and live back home.  This was my longest drive and we passed by many towns along the way.  I've asked hubby and daughter to snap photos of the arches we passed by.  Below are some of them.

We had lunch at NE Mall in Cabanatuan thinking this was the meeting place but instead, our friends were at NE Robinsons Mall which was in another part of town!  So after a quick lunch we met them and had coffee and snacks at Starbucks.  By this time the rains look like they’ve caught up on us and there was a huge dark cloud looming over the horizon.  We wanted to stay but feared the weather will turn bad so we decided to head on to our next stop, Malolos Bulacan and keep ahead of the rains.

The heavy downpour caught up with us just as we were leaving Cabanatuan and stayed with us, from there until we reached Malolos, giving me one of the scariest driving experiences in the Philippines ever!  Imagine dark, heavy rain-drenched and slippery roads with a lot of traffic in some areas and eerie rice fields with barely signs of life in others.  I had my fog lights on!

Thankfully it abated somewhere in Cabiao and so we able to drive with relative ease all the way to Malolos.  

We arrived late, at around 8:30 pm and looked for somewhere to stay.  A friend recommended the Malolos Club Royal Resort and so we went there.  One night’s stay was Php 3,000 and being very tired we took the first available room.  Being a weekend, the place was fully booked with a Debut party happening at a ballroom near our room.  We dropped our bags, secured the food that we had with us and went to a nearby Shakey’s for dinner.

The day comes to an end and our total expenses raked up to about Php 5,000.00 as it included meals and petrol refill as well.  Tomorrow we drive back home to Quezon City.

Day 7- 26th July 2015, Sunday

I had to stay in bed for a few more hours to compensate for all that driving.  Thankfully the weather was sunny.  We had breakfast in the resort and then went to the famous Barasoin Church of Malolos.  It was a Sunday so there was an ongoing mass service. 

After checking out from our hotel, we had lunch at the Robinson’s Place in Malolos then headed off towards Manila.  We had some more rains making visibility quite difficult and causing heavy traffic.  The NLEx was also jammed with members of the Iglesia ni Cristo who were having some convention at the Philippine Arena.  Yes, it's that time of year and we totally forgot but slow and steady we went until we reached home at last. Expenses amounted to about Php 3000.00 covering meals, gas and pasalubongs.  

Our North drive looked like this on the map, excluding the last leg Malolos-Quezon City as Google Maps only allows up to 10 destinations.  Yes, Google Maps, why is that?   

We had fun and learned that our country is really beautiful, the food delicious and the people truly kind and welcoming.  That's why it's really more fun in the Philippines.  We definitely will want to try to explore more next time!  Maybe on to the South!  Why not?