san fernando, vigan & pagudpud - Where's Byrne?

san fernando, vigan & pagudpud

14.11.2011 – 15.11.2011 Sunny 32 °C

I’m not really sure why I suggested staying in San Fernando, La Union, for a night. The main activities here are surfing (not today ta) and drinking. The last time I was here there was nothing to do except see a temple thing up one hundred and fifty steps and that wasn’t great but stayed a night we did. One thing we did have to do was get our visas extended. When arriving in the Philippines you are given twenty-one days. If you want to stay longer you have to extend first for thirty-eight days (making a total of fifty-nine) at a cost of 3,030P (£42 – it was £20 in 2008!) then you can apply for every month after that. I can’t help thinking they are getting a bit greedy, cutting your nose off to spite your face etc. The new cost as of November 2011 is 7,000P (£100 – an increase from £20 in 2008) per month you want to stay past your fifty-nine days. I know things go up and the exchange rate has gone down but how is that going to increase tourism? Idiots. It has certainly pissed me off and we are looking to see if we can fly out somewhere on day fifty-nine then come back a week later, as you get another twenty-one days, to catch our flight to Hong Kong at the end of January. A return flight to Borneo is £30 each at the moment.

Back to San Fernando, we went out for dinner (£2) for a chinese including drinks and thought we’d go for a beer but everything was closed up by 10 o’clock. I remember from the last time I stayed here that the nightlife was the best thing about it, but I was travelling alone then and it was a weekend. You meet so many more people if you travel on your todd. If you’re passing through on a Friday or Saturday consider stopping for a party or if you want to catch some waves or learn to surf you could do some time here, otherwise go to Baguio or Vigan.

15.11.2011 – 17.11.2011 Sunny 30 °C

Horse drawn carriages (Kalesa’s), old Spanish colonial buildings and great grub were awaiting us at Vigan. These were my main memory’s after visiting in 2008. Five hours on from San Fan and 200P (£3) each lighter we arrived. It was exactly as I remembered it. We went to check out the Villa Angela where Tom Cruise stayed when filming parts of Born on the 4th of July and where I stayed before but they only had a family room for 2800P (£40). Fuck that. Onto El Juliana. At 900P (£12.50) a night w a/c and Wi-Fi we grabbed it for two nights.

Vigan is a funny place. It whisks you up in its whirl of history and the laid back attitude seems to affect you whether you like it or not (I stayed four days last time) but there isn’t a lot to do here and we found ourselves scratching around on the second day. Luckily I had this to write so I was busy. There is a Cathedral and a Museum, a big market by the Partas bus station (for buses that head north), a very small outdoor shopping mall and every fast food joint you can think of (er except KFC actually). We popped in McDonald’s for a coffee as they do free refills and ended up wasting two hours just people watching. We were amazed how McDonald’s have it so right. No wonder their profits increase every quarter. Their ‘deal menu’ has five or six things for 25P (35p), cheap enough, even hard up Filipinos can’t ignore them. They have the cheeky upgrades to 40P (55p) for a double cheeseburger but they also do small meals for 50P (70p). The Filipinos were lapping this up. One thing by far was outselling everything else though with practically every customer walking away with one, it reminded me of Theme Park, the game where you get the little thought bubbles from the customers when selling them ice cream etc – all these would have been smiley faces! And the item is… a Coke Float. Does that take you back to your childhood or what? It did for me although B said she’d never heard of them – maybe it was an 80′s thing? (It’s Coca-Cola in a cup with a squirt of soft ice cream, topped with chocolate sauce). Coke Floats in small or large were everywhere. They must have sold 100 – 200 in just the time we were there. 25P or 40P. You can’t go wrong. All these fast food joints are probably one of the reasons Filipinos tend to be a bit on the porkier side than their South East Asian counterparts. They absolutely love America and try to emulate them in every way. Having never been to the US I picked up on bits but B who has been a few times confirmed that everything has an American twist on it. It’s a bit sad really, they’re losing their identity. When I first came to the Philippines in 1996, Dagupan had a McDonald’s, a Shakey’s (an American/Filipino pizza chain) and a Dunkin Donut (like the Yanks, they love doughnuts here). Now there is two McDonald’s, two Shakey’s, a Pizza Hut, a KFC, three Jollibee’s (a Filipino McDonald’s), a Dunkin, a Mister Donut, a Greenwich (pizza and pasta chain), a Chow King (a Chinese food chain), a Tokyo Tokyo (a Japanese food chain), two Goldilocks (these used to be just bakers but they now do fast food and have restaurants attached) and many other fast food joints that aren’t chains. You can’t go anywhere without bumping into a Mister Donut stall either – they are everywhere! Dunkin was the dominant chain there but it looks like MD have taken over.

That evening we headed out for dinner and chose Max’s, a Filipino chain that sells chicken and sandwiches but traditional dishes too. I was happy with our choice, until I saw the menu. Twenty six pages of confusing descriptions consisting of only about fifteen choices. The price played a big part too with most dishes 250P+ (£3) – really expensive for the Philippines. We went for a chicken burger which must have had no more than ten percent real chicken in it, it was all reformed rubbish and B’s dish was Adobo flakes with rice and eggs which was two baked up, sitting under a hot light for two hours, eggs, some steamed rice and real flakes of crispy pork which was like eating crispy fried hair. Fantastic. 200P (£2.80) for that crap. It was now getting late. We left and went back to McDonald’s for a 50P meal.

Worth mentioning was a really good dinner we had in Cafe Leona on the second day. Chicken Teriyaki with rice and drinks for 300P (£4.20). Check this place out if you are in town.

On reflection Vigan doesn’t have that much to offer apart from its historic charm. If that doesn’t grab you, you won’t find it very interesting here. Verdict: Worth spending a few days if you are heading north to Laoag or Pagapud or you could swing east to the Cordillera 60kms away.

17.11.2011 – 19.11.2011 Sunny 30 °C

Two hours to Laoag (125P each), a tricycle to the other bus station (15 minutes and 40P), another two hours to Pagudpud (60P each) and another tricycle to Saud Beach (pronounced Sa – ud. 50 Pesos), we arrived. The Tricycle driver took us to Jun and Carols beach resort after telling him we had no reservation. By complete coincidence and not realising until we pulled up, this is where I stayed in 2008. Freaky. There are 10 resorts all next to each other and he brought us to this one. 1200P, I knocked it down to 1000P (£14) a night so we grabbed it for two.

That evening we hung around the beach to watch the sunset, one thing I remember from my previous visit was it being well worth the wait, and it was. Dinner at Apo Ido, one of the resorts, wasn’t great, a Chicken Afritada with rice (a tomato-y type stew with potatoes and carrots and sometimes pineapple). The chicken had carcass attached to it which was a pain in the arse to pick off, more often than not leaving more bone than meat (350P with drinks).

The following day I asked B what she wanted to do, having been on a tour on a tricycle around the regions sites on my last visit I relayed to her what was available; a waterfall, three beaches, a natural spring, a market, paddy field touring and a monument marking where the Japanese first landed in WWII. She chose Saud beach, in front of our resort. OK with me, I’ve already done all that shit. The beach is amazing and you have it all yourself. There was no one there so we stayed a few hours. Dinner that night unbelievably, was  worse than the previous nights. It was so bad we refused to eat it and sent it back. Grilled chicken with dark lemon sauce turned out to be a very skinny chicken leg and two of the smallest wings I’ve ever seen burnt to crisp, served in a bowl. This chicken must have been on a diet or one of the Filipino trolls had a go at it before we’d got it. The stir fried vegetables we ordered showed up after we sent the chicken back and looked like someone had been sick into the leaf-shaped bowl it was served in. Green, yellow and orange cubes half the size of a finger nail were sitting in some sauce. When we asked what they were sitting in, they server told us the chef mixed them in cornflour with spices and ‘that is how they do stir fried vegetables in the Philippines’. I told him we wanted vegetables in their natural shape – how the rest of the world do them and not chunks in a thick yellow sauce. We were not going to eat it so they took it away. They offered to cook us some more chicken and vegetables but by then we had lost our appetite. We were still charged for the boiled rice though.

Some people call Pagudpud ‘the Borocay of the north’. I certainly hope this isn’t true because if Borocay is like this it’s going to be a let down. The accommodation isn’t particularly cheap and the food isn’t even edible despite being really expensive! The main problem is it’s dead. There is no one there, at all. I found it the same back in 2008 so it isn’t a one-off. You could find things to occupy yourself for a few days if you’re on the northern trail like us. The beach is white and the water is blue but a basic lack of ingredients to make it a tourist destination means I wont be going back for a third time.

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