The sun is high, school is out and it’s the Holy week, these can only mean one thing, summer is here! And what better way to spend summer in a tropical country than going to the beach! So, a couple of friends and I decided to go to the surfing capital of the north, La Union (also endearingly called Elyu = L.U. = La Union) to try surfing (of course) and explore what the province has to offer. When I was young, when we travel to Ilocos Norte, we often just stop over some beach in Elyu for lunch or a quick break so I really never had the chance to roam and experience La Union so I was really excited for this trip. Also, it would be my first time to try surfing! In this entry, I will try to impart some tips and ways to go about Elyu and hopefully be somewhat helpful for those planning to visit Elyu soon. Hope you can also learn from our mistakes (we made a lot) haha!
LA UNION: OVERVIEW
La Union is a province in the Ilocos region (Region 1) with 19 municipalities and 1 city. It was named La Union because it is made up of 9 towns of Pangasinan, 3 of Ilocos Sur and villages of Eastern Pais Del Igorotes (now Benguet) in the Cordilleras which were unified under the royal decree issued by Queen Isabella of Spain on April 18, 1854. La Union is known as the ‘Surfing Capital of the North’ because it is blessed with great waves especially during its peak seasons in July to October (South Swell) and November to March (North Swell). Aside from surfing, La Union boasts of different attractions and activities across the province. You can trek and cliff dive at falls, visit historical places and churches, appreciate art and architectures, pick grapes at vineyards and more.
PLANNING THE TRIP
We had our trip last Thursday (March 15) til Saturday (March 17). We had originally planned to go there on the weekend (Fri-Sun) but accommodations were fully booked especially for Sat-Sun.
(Tip#1 Book early! If you’re planning to go on a weekend, book a place early especially if you want to stay at some popular places in Urbiztondo, San Juan)
It took us a while to finally found a place to stay. We found a resort just outside Urbiztondo (which I didn’t realize until we got there LOL), which is perfect for the tita in us who just wants to enjoy the beach and the province in peace with good bath and toilet facilities haha! But, if you are the type who wants to be in the crowd and at the center of the happenings, you should book a place in Urbiztondo area. San Juan offers accommodations from shared rooms in a hostel to resort private rooms to transient houses for as low as 600-800php/night/person.
(Tip#2 When looking for places to stay, check out the location on Google maps to estimate distance to Urbiztondo beach along Mc Arthur highway where the cluster of restos and surfing schools is located)
Here are some of the popular places to stay along surf town in San Juan:
- Flotsam and Jetsam Artist Beach Hostel (www.flotsamandjetsamhostel.com)
- San Juan Surf Resort (www.sanjuansurfresort.ph)
- Urbiz Garden Bed and Breakfast (www.facebook.com/urbizgarden)
- Kahuna Beach Resort and Spa (www.kahunaresort.com)
- Little Surfmaid Resort (www.littlesurfmaidresort.com)
- Isla Bonita Beach Resort (islabonitabeachresort.com)
- P&M Final Option Beach Resort (finaloptionbeach.com)
Across the street:
- Vessel Hostel (https://vesselhostel.com)
- Circle Hostel (launion.thecirclehostel.com)
- G Hotel (www.facebook.com/ghotelsanjuan)
- Yang House (www.facebook.com/yanghouseph)
Planning an itinerary for 3 days and 2 nights wasn’t that easy because there’s a lot to see and do with so little time and money haha! Taking inspiration from travel guides across the web and taking into consideration our budget, we have come up with this sort-of-kinda-vague-but-will-do plan:
Well~ it was a rough plan and we are really not the type to follow an itinerary down to the last second but if you want to maximize your trip and do as much as your time and budget allows, you can create a more detailed and researched itinerary. Especially if you’re planning to do DIY tours, research as much as you can with regards to transportation and such.
(Tip#3 If you make a plan, stick to it)
Here are some of the useful travel guides we looked at:
Traveling to La Union is easy especially with the TPLEX. If you have your own car, you can drive up to Elyu from Manila in about 5 hours but if you don’t have your own car or if you’re not up to driving (and no one would drive you there) there are a lot of bus lines that would bring you to La Union in about 6-7 hours. The only bus that has direct travel to San Juan is the Partas Bus line in Cubao which recently offered direct trips to Sebay Resort in Urbiztondo, San Juan so the usual options for travelers is to board a bus bound to Laoag, Ilocos Norte and get off at Urbiztondo or a bus bound to San Fernando, La Union and from there ride a jeep going to Bacnotan then get off at San Juan. Bus lines that are Laoag bound includes Partas (Cubao/Manila), Fariñas (Manila), Dominion (Cubao), Viron (Cubao/Manila), and Florida (Manila). Most of the bus lines in Manila do not offer early morning trips unlike in Cubao where they have trips at 12 midnight and every hour thereafter. It is best to check out the schedule of their buses in their website or by calling them directly to inquire.
We went with Florida Bus in Manila since it’s the most practical for us location-wise and among the bus lines in Manila they have the earliest departure time at 3am which is just right because one of us can only leave after midnight and the other got caught in overtime from the 2p10p shift at work. Although, when we inquired they said the first trip would be 3am but the bus just arrived at 3am and we ended up leaving around 4am. We got to San Fernando, La Union by 10am.
DAY 1- SAN FERNANDO
By the time we got to the capital of La Union, San Fernando City, it was already 10am so we decided to get food first before exploring since we didn’t really had breakfast yet. We alighted at the city’s plaza and decided to look for Halo Halo de Iloko Balay restaurant for brunch. This restaurant is famous for their, of course, halo halo and is highly recommended in all the guides and articles I read so we decided to try it ourselves. We searched for the place through Waze and walked up to the restaurant. It was quite a distance but it’s possible to walk from the plaza to the restaurant, just prepare a cap or an umbrella when you walk in the middle of the day. It was situated in the middle of a residential area. You can actually just get a tricycle to take you there. From the entrance you can tell that it’s a very artsy place and once you get inside you will be greeted with colorful, indigenous and antique decor. It has this homey feel and at first I thought it was just a small space but there are more seats at the back.
We were ushered to our seats and browsed through their menu. They have a wide selection of Filipino dishes but some are not yet available, to the dismay of Corazon. The prices are mid-range (honestly, a bit pricey for our taste) but they said the serving is good for sharing. Since I don’t eat rice anymore, I let my friends choose their main and they went for Fried Bagnet (Crispy pork belly) with KBL and I ordered Okoy (deep fried shrimp and vegetable fritter). We also ordered Pancit en Grande good for 2-3 persons and of course we need to try their famous halo halo so we ordered Buko Halo Halo.
After filling our bellies, we went off to explore San Fernando. We headed to Ma-Cho Temple, a Taoist temple built by a group of Filipino-Chinese devotees of the Chinese goddess of the sea, Mazu. We hopped on a tricycle (2 persons in 1 trike) just outside Halo Halo de Iloko Balay and paid 50php for each trike to take us to the temple. The temple is built on top of a hill, 70ft. asl and can be found in the middle of a neighborhood. The temple is open from 7am to 5pm with no entrance fee and they have parking space if you have your own car. The driver of our tricycle got shocked when the one before us, with our friends in it, decided to take them to the top. I don’t understand Ilokano, but I’m pretty sure our driver shouted to the other driver “Why do you have to go up?!?”. Of course he had to follow suit. But at the middle of the steep road, his trike kinda gave up. Yeah, I know, my fault. So, I stepped out and just told the driver to keep going with just my other (smaller) friend and our bags. I walked the rest of the way up (ｰ ｰ;).
The temple was actually big, which you can’t tell from the main road. The temple had a great view facing the West Philippine Sea and you can still climb up to the pagoda for a higher viewing point. I really appreciate how well kept the temple is and how the colors of the temple are still vivid, unlike others that faded with time. It is decorated with statues of Chinese Saints, dragons, lions, and other Chinese motifs. There’s even a fun surprise, Ronald McDonald was there! XD Of course, we wouldn’t pass a photo-op with him haha!
Interesting fact on Ma-Cho Temple: The temple is open to worshippers and non-worshippers especially Catholics. The Roman Catholics believed that Ma-Cho, the goddess of the sea, is a counterpart of the Virgin of Casaysay in St Martin Basilica of Taal, Batangas. Every year in September (21-26) Mazu’s image would be in procession to the Basilica and back to San Fernando, La Union. The devotees of Ma-Cho and the Virgin of Casysay come together in a celebration that fuses both religions’ tradition.
We still have time before checking in at the resort in San Juan so we went for a quick look at the Pindangan Ruins. It was a bit far from the Temple and located deep within a neighborhood, quite the distance from the main road, so we hailed another tricycle to take us there for 25php each person. We paid 100php for the 4 of us as entrance fee. Honestly, there’s not much to see there. It is an old ruin of a Church with the statue of the Virgin Mary still standing at what supposed to be the altar of the Church. I wanted to at least read the history of the place but I couldn’t find any inscriptions or something. I asked the lady who greeted us at the entrance and she just said it was bombed during the Japanese period.
It was a nice place for pictorial and we were fortunate to be the only ones there at that time so we posed all we want haha! The Ruins is also adjacent to a Church so you can pray or light a candle if you like. The only problem of going there on a not so crowded/busy day is the way back. It was noon, it was so hot, we had all our bags, and the main road is far away. Good thing another visitor arrived so we got to have the trike they were in, but it was only one so only 2 of us went ahead first and when we got to the main road; our driver looked for another tricycle to fetch our friend and we met up at the town plaza.
DAY 1- SAN JUAN
After touring San Fernando City, we rode a jeepney going to Bacnotan which passes through San Juan. We were then dropped off at the market place in Ili Norte, San Juan where we walked the long way to the resort because a stranger pointed us that way (there was a shorter route which we only discovered when we rode a tricycle out of the resort). We got into the resort, checked-in and got some rest. We were supposed to surf after resting and when the sun is not so blazing hot anymore but we were too tired to go to Urbiztondo beach where the surfing schools are so we just went to the resort’s beach front and play until sunset.
We stayed at Isla Bonita Beach Resort located at Velasco St. Ili Norte, San Juan. We booked a room for 4 (max occupancy 6) for 3,700php/night that included free breakfast and we just had to deposit 30-50% of total bill to secure the reservation either by bank transfer or paypal. It was quite the distance from the center of surf town (every time we go out to Urbiztondo, we had to call for a tricycle and pay for 20php each) but it has a lot of nice amenities. It has wifi, swimming pool, game room, videoke, and beach volleyball all of which they offer for free. The room we had was by the courtyard and adjacent to one of the pools. It was very spacious with a living room and kitchen area. The room is air-conditioned and they have cable flat screen tv, mini refrigerator and hot shower. I brought my eHD and played some movies and music during our stay. They also provided us with towels and basic toiletries. I really liked the resort; it was clean, quiet and just perfect for a quiet retreat by the beach. This is perfect for families and friends who want to enjoy surf town away from the hustle and bustle of Urbiztondo beach.
DINNER AND WHERE TO EAT IN SURF TOWN
After washing up, we went out to Urbiztondo beach where the strip of restaurant can be found. I found a lot of recommended restaurants on line that I wanted to check out but unfortunately our wallets were not prepared LOL. Most of the places are a bit pricey and we are kinda running on a limited budget. So we picked a place recommended by my cousin who’s friends with the owner haha! The shop is called Tagpuan sa San Juan and they serve Filipino rice bowls, mami, lugaw and more. It has this carinderia vibe with a unique set up. They only have this window where you place and get your order and then help yourself with the seats lined outside. They also practice the ‘clean as you go’ principle. Since I don’t eat rice anymore (don’t judge), I got their noodle soup with pork and egg (Combo 3) for 60php while my friends tried their Tapsilog (95php) and Pares (90php) bowls. After dinner, we looked for a place to chill and catch up with each other over some drinks. We found this texmex place called Olas Banditos just along the highway where they serve cocktails in pitcher and well, texmex food. We got a pitcher of Sangria and paired it off with their cheese nachos. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m tired and lacking sleep but the Sangria really got me. After just about 3 small cups, I felt sleepy already haha! Apparently, it wasn’t enough for my friend so we got Smirnoff at a sari-sari store to bring back to the resort. We wanted to have it placed in a plastic bag, to go soft drink style, but the store keeper just couldn’t understand us plus they didn’t have that type of plastic bag. So we emptied one of our mineral water bottles and poured the alcohol inside hahaha! We continued the drink and chat at our room until I don’t know which point of the conversation I drowsed off.
There are many other restaurants you can dine in Urbiztondo. They offer different cuisines like Texmex, American, Greek, Thai, Vietnamese, etc. Most are located along the highway so they’re easily spotted. Some of the popular spots in surf town include:
- Surf Shack
- Gefseis Greek Grill; Tagpuan
- El Union Coffee
- Mad Monkeys
- Flotsam & Jetsam + Makai Bowls La Union
- Banditos; Surfer’s Grill
- Sea Nymph Surf Café
- Coast Call Kitchen and Bar
- Seawadeeka food truck
- Beach Bum Food Park
DAY 2- TANGADAN FALLS
The second day of our trip and we started with our complimentary breakfast at the resort. My friends got the silog meals and I ordered their continental breakfast. For me it’s the most sulit among their breakfast options because it has 6 pcs of French toast, butter, fruit jam and a nice serving assorted fruits. Unlike the others on the menu where you just choose between coffee and juice, with the continental breakfast you can have both! Anyway, we enjoyed our breakfast and got a little comfortable that we kinda forgot about the time. We were supposed to start our agenda by 8am but we ended up leaving the resort at 9am.
We were supposed to have a D.I.Y trip to Tangadan falls but we can’t seem to find a jeepney going to San Gabriel. And since it’s already getting late, we got into this tricycle that offered to take us to the jump off point for 250php. While on the way to the falls, I bargained with the driver and got us a deal where he would take us to the falls then fetch us after we’re done trekking and tour us in Luna, La Union where the Kamay na Bato and Baluarte Watch Tower along the pebble beach are found. I got the deal for 1000php for the 4 of us.
(Tip #4 Tricycle drivers at San Juan offers tour to different parts of La Union. 1 trike can handle up to 6pax. You can haggle for the price and ask around to get the best deal. For me, it’s an efficient way to go around since most of the tourist spots are far from San Juan. If you’re travelling in a group it’ll be cheaper when you split the bill. If you’re really tight on budget, you can ride a jeep going to San Gabriel and tell the driver to let you off where you can take a tricycle to the jump off point. Jeepney fare is 19php and trike fare is 50php/trike/2pax according to travel guide)
After about 30 minutes of tricycle ride, we arrived at the jump off point for trekking to the falls. Tangadan Falls is located at San Gabriel, La union. There are 2 options in going to the falls, by foot or by car (if you have your own)/ motorcycle (habal-habal). If you’re going to trek, you’ll have to get a guide for 500php and walk to the falls for about an hour. If you’re riding a motorcycle up, you’ll be taken to a different jump off point and pay the rider for 200php (if you’re petite, you can share ride with another petite friend). You will be taken to the top of the falls where you only need to go down a flight of stairs to get to the falls, so no need for tour guide. For either option, you need to pay 30php at the falls for environmental fee.
(Tip #5 Bring water and snacks. There are stores at the falls and along the trek but the prices are more expensive. But remember to be a responsible traveler and leave no trash)
Our trike driver arranged a guide for us as we arrived at the start of the trekking trail. It was a relatively simple trek. There are minor assaults and you’ll have to cross some rocks over the river. At the middle of the trail, there’s this mini falls where you can cliff jump. You can rent a life vest for 50php but our guide has this old life vest and my friends who wanted to jump knows how to swim so we didn’t rent one. Our guide brought us to the 10ft. diving spot where he jumped first then my friend excitedly followed. My other friend needed a few moments to calm her nerves because apparently she’s afraid of heights but likes to do this type of activities lol. I, on the other hand, got so anxious and was like contemplating while screaming if I should jump for God knows how long. Everyone was encouraging me but I was so scared. I’m not really scared of the height but I’m scared I will not surface once I hit the water and drown haha! A lot of times I asked our guide to promise me he’ll pull me out of the water. My friends kept telling me there’s no need to worry because I’ll automatically float back up. After much coercion, I decided to jump and as I hit the water, eyes closed, I waited for my body to resurface and I swear it took about 10 seconds before I felt the air on my head! I reached for the life vest to use as floater and shouted at my friends “Sabi nyo lulutang ako agad?!?” (You said I’ll float back up immediately?!?) And they were laughing and told me I wasn’t that long in the water ( ˘･з･). Anyways, my friends got to jump twice but because it took me so long to jump, I only got to do it once.
Major fail in this trip, we didn’t have a footage or even picture of the cliff dive! Ugh! My stupidity/bad luck strikes again. I was supposed to record our jump with my friend’s camera. As we head down to the jumping point, I opened the camera but I swear I haven’t pressed the record button yet. It turned out the cam was already recording so when I was ready to record, when I hit the record button the recording stopped. I couldn’t see the red light which indicates if the record function is on because it was too bright. We didn’t realize this until we shared the data from the cam on the last day. (╥_╥)
After the cliff dive, we continued our trek to the falls. We spend about an hour there, taking photos and enjoying the refreshing cold water of the falls. There are two falls but we didn’t get to go to the other one, just at the back of the falls where we were. After chillin’ at the falls we decided to take the habal-habal down. And boy, did we regret our decision. We didn’t know you had to climb this steep stairs up to the parking lot where the motorcycles are. It felt like we trekked again, and because it’s an all stairs, I think I got more tired going this way. And we thought we could save time by riding the motorcycle down but it was a long ride and when we reached the end, our guide was already there! Amazing! And he insisted he didn’t run all the way back. We should’ve trekked back instead (・´з`・).
(Tip #6 Get started as early as you can. Best time to start trek is 8am so by 9am you’ve reached the falls then back before lunch. And it’s less hot trekking early in the morning.)
(Tip #7 If you’re trekking up, trek down. Even if you take the habal-habal back, the guide’s fee is the same, then you have to pay for the motorcycle ride separately.)
(Tip #8 There are shower areas at the falls where you can wash up and change clothes.)
DAY 2- LUNA
Luna, La Union is known as the Pebbel Capital of the North. Unlike in San Juan where the sandy beaches are perfect for surfing, Luna’s pebble beach is calmer and, as we saw, more clear. We first went to Baluarte Watch Tower in Baranggay Victoria. This 400 year old tower was built during the Spanish era to serve as watch tower for pirates. In World War II, it was used as a temporary airfield post for USAFIPNL. It was recently restored last 2017 hence the two-toned bricks.
We then went to Stonehand (Kamay na Bato) Art Gallery in Baranggay Nalvo Norte. The art gallery features work of Korean sculptor and painter Bong Kim. They have interesting sculptures made from trees and stones and walls of 3D art where you can have fun posing for photos. The gallery is open to public for an entrance fee of 20php. They have a souvenir shop inside that also sells refreshments and Korean products. Outside, just at the entrance you can buy vases made of pebbles for as low as 30php depending on size. Just beside the gallery is the Bahay na Bato owned by Dr. Edison and Dr. Purita Chan-Noble. The house is made up of pebbles and adorned by sculptures of Bong Kim. We didn’t get a chance to explore the house because we had to be back in San Juan by 4pm for surfing and Luna is about an hour away.
DAY 2- SURFING
We went back to the resort and prepared to go surfing. The resort can call and arrange a surfing lesson but you still have to go to Urbiztondo for the lesson. Unfortunately, they couldn’t connect with their contact so we went to Urbiztondo to look for a surfing school. My cousin recommended Surf Star surfing school which is owned by their friend. We were supposed to look for that school but because for some reason we thought going to Urbiztondo from Isla Bonita resort by walking along the beach is a great idea, we just went for the first surfing school we can find. We found this surfing school outside FlotJet and 2 of us signed up for a lesson. An hour cost 400php inclusive of board. The other 2, because we didn’t get to eat lunch, left us to find food and didn’t even leave the action cam with us; and so we don’t have pictures of our actual surfing. Anyway, it was a fun experience even though I didn’t really get to the stand on the board haha! I had a hard time balancing while standing up and since the sea was getting deeper, our instructors couldn’t place us further out and when I try to stand before I knew it I was at the shore already haha!
DAY 2- DINNER
We had a quick bite at Lugaw Republic after surfing because we’re really hungry since our last meal was the free breakfast at the resort. But it didn’t really hit the spot, so after washing up we went out to eat at Beach Bum Food Park. They have a variety of food stalls that serve Filipino, Korean, Japanese, Texmex, steaks and more. They also have a live band to entertain diners. After checking out the shops, we went for the steak at Rustic Box. We had their make your own steak where I chose the T-bone steak with truffle butter rub on a side of caesar salad.
Ater dinner we went to Olas Banditos again for some night cap. This time we tried their mojito and I am woke af. Unlike with sangria, this one didn’t let me sleep even though I’m supposed to be tired from the day’s activities. And so we spent the night talking and discussing the “Psychology of Cheating” haha! I’m not sure how we ended up having an argument regarding cheating but that’s what we were talking until 2 in the morning haha!
DAY 3- GOOD BYE ELYU
Our last day at Elyu! We don’t have anything to do on our last day until check-out so we just enjoyed our last free breakfast and fix our stuff then by 12nn we checked out of the resort. We went to Urbiztondo for lunch and ate at Mami King where I lost my denim jacketL. After lunch we had coffee at Coffee Library and check for souvenirs at the souvenir shop across the street. We could have waited for a bus bound to Manila along the highway of Urbiztondo but my friends wanted to look for food souvenirs. We rode a jeep to San Fernando and looked for a Pasalubong shop. After much walking and looking around we ended up buying pasalubong at the store beside the Partas bus station. We boarded the bus going to Pasay and planned to get off at Camachile. My luck strikes again, I got the defective seat. The back of the seat goes down when I lean my back. The whole ride I tried to not lean on the back rest =,=. We arrived in Manila at around 10pm hungry; we we’re fortunate that the Jollibee at Cloverleaf was still open.
Overall, we enjoyed our adventures at Elyu. It was supposed to be a relaxing kind of trip but we ended up going extreme. Nonetheless, the experience was worth the sore muscles! Still, we could have been more prepared in terms of itinerary and budget. But there are still more places to visit in La Union and I still need to succeed in standing on that surf board. I will definitely come back! (＾ω＾)
Breakdown of expenses:
- 425php florida bus
- 260php brunch halo halo iloko balay
- 025php trike to macho temple (50php/2pax)
- 025php trike to pandingan ruins (50php/2pax)
- 025php entrance pandingan ruins (100php/4pax)
- 025php trike back to plaza (50php/2pax)
- 014php jeep to san juan
- 1850php 2 days accomodation Isla Bonita (3,700php/day/4pax)
- 020php trike to Urbiztondo
- 060php dinner combo3 tagpuan
- 119php olas banditos
- 050php smirnoff
- 020php trike back to isla bonita
- 250php trike to falls and luna (1,000php/4pax)
- 125php falls guide (500php/4pax)
- 030php environmental fee falls
- 200php habal habal
- 400php surfing
- 120php lugaw republic
- 020php trike back to isla bonita
- 020php trike to beach bum
- 350php steak
- 119php olas banditos
- 020php trike back to isla bonita
- 020php trike to urbiztondo
- 080php mami king lunch
- 178php coffee library
- 120php ref magnet
- 011php jeep to San Fernando
- 200php chichacorn pasalubong
- 436php partas bus to manila
total = 5617php