The Philippines is becoming a popular tourist destination in South-East Asia. Travelling around this country of 7,000 islands can be good or bad, depending on the weather. Due to its position in the Western Pacific Ocean, the conditions there make for an ideal typhoon recipe. In October 2016, my friends and I were travelling in the Ilocos province of northern Luzon when we experienced Typhoon Lawin. Despite that, Ilocos had been nothing short of amazing, and I’ll remember the best parts of our trip just as much as the typhoon.
We heard reports that a typhoon was going to hit Ilocos but we just hoped that we would be spared from it. In fact, the first day of our tour in Ilocos Norte was bright and sunny which made us feel confident that the typhoon would come after we had left.
Day 1: Ilocos Norte
In Ilocos Norte, we got to see scenic coastlines, a UNESCO World Heritage church, and a tribal museum.
The Bangui Windmills – “wind farms” of towering wind turbines generating electricity for Ilocos Norte. There are about 100 wind turbines here that Ilocos Norte is known as the renewable energy capital of South-East Asia.
Santa Monica Church is the largest church in Ilocos Norte, and possibly in the Ilocos province as well.
The Taoid Museum features the culture and beliefs of the Cordillera tribes in the neighbouring highlands. The museum gives an insight into the tribes’ way of life and rituals.
During our tour of Ilocos Norte, we stayed at the Fort Ilocandia Resort Hotel.
Day 2: Ilocos Sur
The sunny weather continued on the second day, and we felt even more confident that we would miss the typhoon. From Ilocos Norte, we moved on to Ilocos Sur and spent time sand-duning in Paoay!
Paoay Sand Dunes offers activities such as 4×4 sand-duning and sand-boarding for adventure seekers.
Paoay Church is an eighteenth-century Baroque church especially architected to withstand the damaging effects of earthquakes. The huge structures of stone built against on the sides and back of the church help stabilise it under trauma, and the bell tower was constructed to stand at some distance from the church.
Malacanang of the North was previously a mansion gifted by a former First Lady, Imelda Marcos, to her husband, President Marcos, for his 60th birthday. The mansion was once the official residence of the Marcos family whenever they were in Ilocos. The museum showcases the President’s office, the various projects initiated during his regime, private rooms and family memorabilia.
Day 2: Filipino food and the upcoming storm
We were told not to leave Ilocos without tasting their empanadas which is a popular snack in Ilocos. The empanadas are orange-coloured meat pies filled with portions of longganisa (pork sausages) or bagnet (pork belly). The locals use anatto seeds to make the empanadas orange in colour.
As soon as we finished eating the empanadas, our guide mentioned that a typhoon of Signal 5 would be heading towards Ilocos, thus it was imperative for us to leave the province for Manila the soonest possible. We were disappointed because we were really looking forward to our stay in Vigan, a renowned historic Spanish town. After much discussion with the guide, we decided that it would be better to stay a night in Vigan and leave for Manila the following morning. Furthermore, our driver didn’t have to drive for ten hours through the night and could get some rest in Vigan instead.
Day 2: The storm makes its way out
It was raining we reached Vigan, but we had the opportunity to go on a calesa (horse-drawn carriage ride) through the cobble-stoned streets lined with ancestral houses, some of which were converted into souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes and boutique hotels. Vigan is one of the few Spanish towns in Asia – probably the best preserved and most charming – dating back to the 16th century. After making a short visit to Vigan Cathedral and checking into Hotel Luna, the rain got heavier. Shops closed because of the impending typhoon. Landfall hit around midnight – howling winds could be heard, the rains lashed against the hotel room door and phone network was down. Electricity was cut off but thankfully the hotel was powered
Day 3: The muddy roads ahead
As we drove out of Vigan in the morning and headed further south, we saw all the debris caused by Typhoon Lawin – toppled trees and electric poles, damaged zinc rooftops, and floods. Intense rains made the river overflow, and it looked like a massive brown lake.
We encountered a few problems on our journey back to Manila. Our van could not pass through high levels of water, so we had to take a public bus to San Fernando where water levels had receded. At San Fernando, our guide arranged for a private vehicle to take us back to Manila safely. After nearly twelve hours on the road, we finally reached the Belmont Hotel in Manila, exhausted and yet relieved.
Best time to travel in the Philippines
In view of my typhoon experience in the Philippines, I would advise travellers to take note of their weather, so that you can plan your trip well and have the wonderful opportunity to enjoy this fun and don’t-worry-be-happy country.
Dry season: November to April
Wet season: June to September
Shoulder season: October and May