The busy and congested streets of the Laoag can’t compete with Vigan’s historical core when it comes to aesthetic appeal, but there are a handful of things to do and see in Laoag including one of the country’s best museum. The city also makes an excellent base for exploring the beautiful coast at nearby La Paz and Suba or touring sights associated with former President Ferdinand Marcos.
Laoag is a first class city in the province of Ilocos Norte, Philippines. It is the capital city of Ilocos Norte, and the province's political, commercial, and industrial hub. It is the northernmost city in the Philippines and the location of the Ilocos region's only commercial airport. According to the 2010 census, it had a population of 104,904 people. The municipalities of San Nicolas, Paoay, Sarrat, Vintar, and Bacarra form its boundaries. The foothills of the Cordillera Central mountain range to the east, and the South China Sea to the west are its physical boundaries.
Long before the coming of the Spaniards, there already existed an extensive region consisting of the present provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra and La Union renowned for its gold mines. Merchants from Japan and China would often visit the area to trade gold with beads, ceramics and silk.
In 1571, when the Spanish conquistadors had Manila more or less under their control, they began looking for new sites to conquer. Legaspi’s grandson, Juan de Salcedo, volunteered to lead one of these expeditions. Together with eight armed boats and 45 men, the 22 year old voyager headed north. On June 13, 1572, Salcedo and his men landed in Vigan and then proceeded towards Laoag, Currimao, and Badoc. As they sailed along the coast, they were surprised to see numerous sheltered coves (“looc”) where the locals lived in harmony. As a result, they named the region “Ylocos” and its people “Ylocanos”.
As the Christianization of the region grew, so did the landscape of the area. Vast tracts of land were utilized for churches and bell towers in line with the Spanish mission of “bajo de las campanas" or 'under the bells'-a proclamation by King Philip's 1573 Law of the Indies. In the town plaza, it was not uncommon to see garrisons under the church bells. The colonization process was slowly being carried out. The Spanish colonization of the region, however, was never completely successful. Owing to the abusive practices of many Augustinian friars, a number of Ilocanos revolted against their colonizers. Noteworthy of these were the Dingras uprising (1589) and Pedro Almasan revolt in San Nicolas (1660). In 1762, Diego Silang led a series of battles aimed at freeing the Ilocanos from the Spanish yoke. When he died from an assassin’s bullet, his widow Gabriela continued the cause. Unfortunately, she too was captured and hanged.
In 1807, the sugar cane (“basi”) brewers of Piddig rose up in arms to protest the government’s monopoly of the wine industry. In 1898, the church excommunicated Gregorio Aglipay for refusing to cut off ties with the revolutionary forces of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Unperturbed, he established the “Iglesia Filipina Independiente." Aglipay’s movement and the national sentiment it espoused helped restore the self-respect of many Filipinos.
On February 2, 1818, a Spanish Royal Decree was promulgated dividing the Province of Ilocos Norte from Ilocos Sur. Laoag City, which was then the biggest center of population, was made the capital of Ilocos Norte.” Its ethnic population is overwhelmingly Ilocano. Unlike the rest of the region, however, the Roman Catholic Church does not predominate. The Aglipayan Church which is the majority's religion, Iglesia ni Cristo, and other Protestant groups have strong followings.
The top-six hotels in Laoag per ranking of Tripadvisor (www.tripadvisor.com.ph), a travel website providing directory information and reviews of travel-related content, are as follows:
1. Java Hotel. Bacarra Road. The hotel has simple but modern standard room; the suites make more of the Balinese theme. The Eagle’s Nest restaurant, on stilts and under a nipa hut roof, is popular for its excellent baby back ribs as well as its Filipino dishes. (Php2,273.00 average rate)
2. Fort Ilocandia. On the beach in the barangay of Calayab, 3 km. south of the airport. Built in 1983, this expansive resort aims for classic elegance rather than modern chic. Its casino is a magnet for Taiwanese tourists, while other amenities include a golf course, spa and an array of activities including hot air balloon flights and quad bike rides on the nearby dunes. It’s a long way from the city. (Php3,236.00 up)
3. Laoag Renzo Hotel. Rizal cor. Guerrero Sts. The location of the hotel is great. Very affordable. Staffs are helpful, friendly and accommodating. Rooms are clean. (Php1,192.00 best price)
4. Aurelio’s Mansion. P. Paterno St. Good value for money hotel. Spacious room, ample water supply and cool air-con.
5. Kingscourt Hotel. Brgy. 55A, Barit. Cheap rate for a De Luxe room, Rooms are clean but quite far from the city center. (Php1,578.00 best price)
6. Hotel Tiffany Laoag. Gen. Segundo Ave. Budget glamour is the order of the day; the rooms are simple and candy-coloured, while the common areas are decorated with photos of the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe. The building itself has Art Deco curves and there’s a lip-shaped sofa in reception; the diner downstairs is metal-plated in old-fashioned US style. (Php1,126.00 up)
Other hotels are: Palazzo de Laoag Hotel, Grand Octagon Resort, Northview Hotel, Plaza del Norte Hotel and Rio Grande de Laoag Resort and Hotel. Include also Playa Tropical Hotel Ilocos, a Balinese inspired hotel located in the heart of Currimao which has a seafront view of calm waves and find sand, Gertes Resort, at Brgy. Balatong, and Ilocos Rosewell Hotel, in San Nicolas, which offers 22 air-conditioned guestrooms.
The most interesting attraction in the city is the Museo Ilocos Norte, which provides an overview of the province’s history and culture. Close to the main plaza, it’s housed in a restored Spanish-era tobacco warehouse. Exhibits include vintage costumes, farming equipment and tribal artefacts. There’s even a replica of an ilustrado (educated middle class) ancestral home complete with antiques, and the souvenir shop has some interesting books and gifts.
Close by are the Sinking Bell Tower and St. William’s Cathedral. The bell tower was built by Augustinian friars with a door big enough for a man on horseback to pass through. The tower has sunk so much that today you can only get through the door by stooping. The cathedral, one of the biggest in the Philippines, was built in 1880 on older foundations. The Marcos Hall of Justice, the square white building on the west side of the Aurora Park, was where a young Ferdinand Marcos was detained in 1939 after being accused of the murder of one of his father’s political opponents. Marcos wanted to graduate in law and used his time in detention wisely, swotting for the bar examination and successfully preparing his own defense.
Thirty minutes east of Laoag by jeepney or FX van is the pretty village of Sarrat. Ferdinand Marcos was born here and his former home has now been turned into a museum. It showcases a number of hagiographic displays charting Marcos’s brilliant law career and his ascent to the presidency. Sarrat’s attractive Santa Monica Church was the wedding venue of Marcos’s youngest daughter Irene in 1983. Large part of Sarrat were reconstructed, with houses torn down and rebuilt in the old Spanish colonial style.
Former Pres. Marcos spent his childhood in the sleepy town of Batac, about 15km. south of Laoag, before moving to Manila to take up law. The Marcos mansion is not open to the public, but there is a small museum with photographs, quotations and framed medals. The real attraction is the mausoleum opposite, which contains the former President’s refrigerated corpse. There are rumors that it’s nothing more than a wax model. To reach Batac from Laoag, you can catch a jeepney from Hernando Avenue or a minibus from Gen. Luna corner Lagasca Streets.
A few kilometres west of Batac, Paoay is the location of a UNESCO-listerd church as well as the Malacanang of the North, the opulent mansion where Marcos stayed during presidential holidays. The church is in the town of Paoay itself, and is perhaps the best-known “earthquake Baroque” church in the Philippines. Begun in 1804, it took ninety years to build and has 26 immense side buttresses designed to keep it standing. Nearby a bell tower dating from 1793, which you can climb for views of the area. Malacanang of the North, named after the presidential palace in Manila, is beside Paoay Lake on the road between Paoay and Laoag. The mansion had seven bedrooms, two living rooms, several studies, kitchen on both floors and a private clinic used by Ferdinand in his later years. In 2010 the building was renovated: the clinic became a small museum, and one of the guest rooms is now a souvenir shop. The house is set on a vast estate of gentle lawns and has its own gold course, which is now part of the Fort Ilocandia resort. A trail around the edge of the lake makes for a pleasant 3km-long walk, taking you through quiet lakeside barrios.
The coastline west of Laoag is a sight to behold. More like desert thatn beach, it measures almost one kilometre across at some points and reaches as far as the eye can see, fringed by huge sand dunes. The stretch of La Paz – known locally at “Bantay Bimmaboy” due to the shape of some of the dunes, said to resemble a pig’s back – just 15 minutes west of Laoag. Also impressive are the Suba dumes further south, close to the Fort Ilocandia resort.
Dining and Nightlife
There are some good restaurants in Laoag, while for cheap local dishes you could try the food court tucked away behind a white building close to the Shell stations on Rizal Avenue. The local version of the empanada is more famous than Vigan’s, with a thickier crust and orange color. Laoag has more in the way of nightlife than many other cities in Luzon.
- Cockhouse. Near the bus stations on F.R. Castro Ave. The best bet for live music in Laoag, putting on local bands.
- La Preciosa. The popular restaurant in town (Rizal Ave.), with a sign that proclaims “fine dining” but it’s more relaxed than that suggests. The kitchen prepares excellent Ilocano dishes such as pinakbet (vegatables sautéed in fist paste).
- Papa Pau. Serves some interesting dishes such as binalot (various meat dishes served wrapped in a banana leaf) and crispy sizzling sisig.
- Saramsam. Rizal St. The menu at this informal restaurant includes poque-poque (grilled aubergine with egg, tomatoes and onions) and award-winning pinakbet.
- Macy’s Diner. Gen. Segundo Ave. cor. M.H. Del Pilar St. An American 1950’s inspired restaurant. Serves most of your favorite American, Chineses & Filipino foods.
- Giannis. Along Mckinley St. behind Provincial Capitol. It offers great food, ambiance, music and vibe. Try their baby back ribs with Giannis fried rice.
Having critical infrastructure such as the Laoag International Airport at Gabu and the Currimao Port makes Laoag the port of entry of goods and services complemented by an extensive road and highway system that connects it to other cities. With a 12,747.35m total land area, Laoag City provides a large opportunity for economic expansion. The historic scenic tourist spots, availability of internationally competitive accommodations and facilities, and the presence of supportive national government agencies, makes Laoag an ecotourism center, as classified by the Department of Tourism.
As the provincial capital, Laoag is the center of social and economic activity with almost all major commercial and institutional establishments gravitating towards it. The importance of education in socializing its population is shared by both the local government and the private sector, which has invested heavily in the development of the academic infrastructure. The city is home to public and private schools offering elementary, secondary, and tertiary education programs.
Tourism has become a major economic driver of Laoag City, paving the way for new commercial investments and infrastructure development. A recent surge in Chinese and Taiwanese tourists have been flocking to splurge in the city's profitable casino located inside the only 5-star hotel in the northern Philippines, Fort Ilocandia Hotel and Resort. Other places of interest include a tour of heritage sites featuring Spanish colonial buildings, Philippine-baroque churches, white-sand beach resorts of Pagudpud, and Marcos-era mansions. Laoag City has been recently adjudged as the number one tourist destination in Region I and among the top ten in the whole archipelago.
Laoag International Airport services flights to and from Hong Kong and mainland China, as well as, domestic flights by Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific. Foreign airlines offer direct charter flights to Laoag as part of travel packages with optional excursions to tourist sites outside of the city. Laoag airport is close to the city, just 10 minutes by jeepney.
Several large bus companies serve Laoag City making connections to major and minor Philippines destinations. These transportation services are provided by GV Florida Transport, Maria de Leon Bus Lines, RCJ Lines, RCJ Trans, Dominion Bus Lines, Partas, Philippine Rabbit, Autobus Lines, Sta. Lucia Express and Farinas Transit Company. Laoag is a 10-14 hour drive from Manila.