Weekend in Vigan: 12 things to do

Pia Ranada

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The World Heritage City is the perfect weekend getaway

WAKING UP. Calle Crisologo looks magical in the early hours of the morning. All photos by Pia Ranada/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – If you’re looking for a weekend getaway, a trip that won’t require filed leaves or missed classes, Vigan is perfect.

The tiny city in Ilocos Sur is just right for a two-day, one-night vacation. My companion and I took a night bus from Metro Manila that left at 9pm and arrived in Vigan at 4am. Those who want to save even more time can take the one and a half-hour plane ride to and from the renowned UNESCO-declared World Heritage City.

You can fit many of the must-sees and must-do’s in Vigan in two days. Because Vigan is a small city, the sights are only a few minutes away from each other by tricycle or on foot.

Here are some suggestions to make your weekend in Vigan just as memorable as longer trips:

1. Explore Calle Crisologo at dawn

Calle Crisologo (Crisologo Street), the cobble-stoned street in Vigan with Spanish period ancestral houses left and right, puts on different faces depending on the time of day.

Dawn and the wee hours of the morning are particularly magical times. All the souvenir shops and restaurants are closed, the street is empty save for the random sleeping kalesa driver or early morning jogger. 

At this hour, you can experience a quiet Calle Crisologo with none of the hustle and bustle of tourists and shopkeepers, sidewalks stripped bare of colorful wares.

Photographers will relish this time when the light is soft. The gradually lightening sky makes for a good background and even time lapse.

2. Have Vigan longganisa for breakfast 

BREAKFAST OF CHOICE. You can't leave Vigan without tasting the city's famous longganisa

One of the simple pleasures of travel is discovering hole-in-the-wall restaurants or hunting down eateries frequented by locals. Of these, Vigan has plenty. 

Café Leona near Plaza Burgos is a Vigan cuisine restaurant at the ground floor of an ancestral house. It takes its name from Leona Florentino, a poetess, satirist and playwright who lived in the house in the 19th century.

CAFE LEONA. The home-cooked Vigan and Filipino cuisine and cozy interiors make this restaurant a must-visit 

Café Leona’s genuinely chipped walls and hard wood furniture take you back in time while the aroma of its food, laid out temptingly on silver platters, will get your stomach rumbling.

To take home a taste of Vigan, you can visit Tongson’s, a shop favored by many locals that sells Vigan longganisa by the dozen or by kilo. Tongson’s is right beside Café Leona.

3. Visit the Syquia Mansion

GRAND. You can imagine President Elpidio Quirino hosting celebrations with illustrious Filipinos in this grand dining area

Elpidio Quirino, 6th President of the Philippines, is just one of the illustrious characters who hail from Vigan. He once lived in the Syquia mansion on Calle Quirino, the ancestral home of his wife’s family. The mansion is a must-see not just for its historical significance but for its beauty. 

High-ceilinged rooms with hardwood floors are decorated with whimsical wood carvings of pageboys, country lasses, antique wooden furniture and oriental porcelain. 

MODES OF TRANSIT. This carriage is parked at the ground floor of the mansion

Paintings of Quirino, his wife and family members gaze solemnly at visitors. One is by Fernando Amorsolo.

4. Go on the heritage river cruise in Mestizo River

MESTIZO RIVER. This river winds through Vigan's history

Vigan’s rich history began way before Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo named it Spanish territory. The winding Mestizo River traces this history back to pre-colonial times when Vigan natives traded with the Chinese who moored their boats on the riverbanks.

Cruise-goers literally travel through history by travelling through the river. The boat takes them to various points where life-sized dioramas stand, depicting important events in Vigan’s history. A recorded voice then narrates the story.

The riverbanks are also the perfect exhibit of Vigan’s rich biodiversity. You’ll catch a glimpse of the bigaa plant from which the city supposedly takes its name.

5. See abel weavers in action

ARTISTRY. Abel loom weavers at Rowilda's Loom Weaving focus on their work

Abel cloth is a traditional woven product in Vigan known for its durablity and beauty. Many families hand abel cloth down to younger generations as heirlooms.

Seeing abel weavers busy at their craft in shops like Rowilda’s and Cristy’s is a mesmerizing experience. The cotton or sagut yarns descend, ascend and crisscross one another in the loom in hypnotic movements.

THREADS OF CULTURE. Abel cloth is made of woven strands of cotton

Along the stores’ walls is kaleidoscopic arrangement of jewel-hued abel cloth cut as shawls, blankets, table napkins, place mats and even blouses.

6. Visit Father Burgos’ house

HOME OF A HERO. Father Jose Burgos grew up in this bahay na bato (house of stone)

A bahay na bato near the Ilocos Sur Provincial Hall once housed one of the greatest names in Philippine nationalism: Padre Jose Burgos of the Gomburza trio. Along with fellow priests Mariano Gomez and Jacinto Zamora, Burgos was sentenced to death for a false charge of rebellion against Spanish colonizers. 

Their death would later on inspire national hero Jose Rizal who dedicated his novel “El Filibusterismo” to their memory.

VINTAGE WRITING IMPLEMENTS. Imagine Father Burgos writing letters on this desk found in his room

Today, Padre Burgos’ childhood home is a museum for all things Vigan. Here you’ll find old farming and weaving implements, photos of prominent Bigueños and more. 

Stand in Padre Burgos’ bedroom and imagine him writing letters on his desk, complete with antique writing implements.

7. Indulge your sweet tooth at Leila’s Cafe

SPOT OF COLOR. Leila's bright door welcomes guests cheerfully

After all the salty and sour Vigan viands, go for dessert at the whimsical and quaint Leila’s Café on Calle Luna. 

Its sky-blue interiors, bright white French windows and quirky decorations are sure to put anyone in a good mood after a hot day of running around Vigan. 

THE NUTTY ONE. This French toastwich is packed with crushed ChocNut and drizzled with chocolate syrup

Their French toastwiches are a must-try (take a bite of Edu Mansanas, a toastwich made of apple and cheese!) while their pancake sandwiches are a clever mix of flavors (try Ube Muscovado).

8. Climb up Bantay Bell Tower

GUARDIAN OF THE CITY. The Bantay Bell Tower has witnessed so much of Ilocos Sur's history, from revolts against the Spaniards to atrocities of World War II

Bantay Bell Tower is a glorious brick edifice that stands lonely on a green hill overlooking Bantay, a municipality northeast of Vigan. 

Enterprising local guides help visitors get the most of the picture-perfect scenery by choreographing poses in which the visitors appear to be leaning on the tower, carrying it with their bare hands or even forming a heart shape using their arms. 

You can then climb the winding staircase up to the top of the tower where the enormous main bell which dates back to World War II (it has bullet marks to prove it) hangs. Smaller bells surround it in a protective ring.

The bell tower stands beside the St Augustine Parish, also known as the Sanctuary of the Nuestra Señora de La Caridad. It is one of the oldest churches in Ilocos Sur and, according to our guide Bro Francis, was where Diego Silang imprisoned priests during his 1763 revolt against the Spaniards. 

MASS AT THE RUINS. A chapel adjacent to the main church still welcomes the faithful

The imposing church was once in the shape of a cross if viewed from above. Ruins are all that remain of the two wings of the church that formed the arms of the cross. In an eerily beautiful tribute, mass is still held in one of the ruins.

9. Have a sip of sinanglaw near Plaza Burgos

SINANGLAW. The soup dish is sour with a hint of bitterness

A favorite pulutan (beer match) among locals, sinanglaw is a soup dish made of beef and beef innards flavored with garlic, onions and ginger. Kamias gives it a distinctly sour taste with a hint of bitterness.

It has been compared to pinapaitan and is even dubbed “Vigan pho.”

The place to go for sinanglaw is the cluster of stalls beside Padre Burgos, perfectly situated near St Paul’s Cathedral to accommodate early morning mass-goers looking for breakfast.

10. Take a bite of empanada

DELICACY. Some of the best empanada and okoy are found in the cluster of stalls near Plaza Burgos

Recommendations for the best empanada in the city vary from Bigueño to Bigueño.

Some will suggest Evelyn’s stall near Plaza Burgos, others will insist it’s Irene’s on Calle Salcedo. The main difference between the two is their empanada dough. Irene’s is soft and chewy while Evelyn’s is crunchy.

Take your pick (or eat both) and enjoy!

11. Hunt for antiques and furniture

STREET OF SOUVENIRS. Vigan miniature furniture is found in almost all souvenir shops along Calle Crisologo

VINTAGE JEWELRY. Precious and semi-precious jewelry, many of them former heirlooms, are sold in Lucy Chan's Antique House

With pages and pages of Vigan history, no doubt the Lara Crofts and Indiana Joneses out there will be able to dig up treasures from the antiques and curio shops scattered all over the city.

Lucy Chan’s Antique House — once a shop for horse-drawn carriages during the Spanish colonial times — sells antique pendants, earrings, old coins, clothes and even an antique bath tub. 

Calle Crisologo is an esplanade of furniture and home decoration. Miniature furniture remain a favorite.

12. Munch on malunggay pan de sal

TASTE OF HEAVEN. Malunggay pan de sal is crunchy and then chewy

Looking for something to munch on while walking through the sights? I discovered a treasure when, while walking down a street in search of a non-existent spa, my companion and I got a whiff of something just out of the oven.

Durong’s Malunggay Pan de Sal is smaller than your normal pan de sal with a crustier and more powdery shell. Bits of malunggay leaves are mixed in the dough.

Make sure you wait until a fresh batch of pan de sal pops out of the oven. You want your pan de sal to be finger-pricking-hot to get the shell at its crunchiest and the inside at its chewiest.

The unassuming street-side stall is a just a few minutes’ walk from the bus station. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.