Road Trip to Ilocos Norte 3: “Sunshine City” of Laoag
Let’s clear things up. Laoag is the capital city of Ilocos Norte. Being a capital makes Laoag an economical and industrial hub of the north with numerous international and local banking systems, competitive manufacturing companies (some time in the near future), and popular establishments such as stores, malls, and fast food joints. Laoag City, having its own international airport provides easy access and serves as gateway to both foreign and local travelers journeying up north. It has a 5-star hotel, a sinking historical structure, a 17th-century church, and a restaurant serving the best Ilokano cuisine I’ve tried. Oh, and by the way, Laoag came from the Ilokano term, light or clear. So. Everything clear? No. Let’s see what Laoag can offer in our Road Trip to Ilocos Norte 3: “Sunshine City” of Laoag.
Crossing Laoag River via Gilbert Bridge as we approach Laoag City, a huge structure towering over the city came to view. It was a beacon that mapped out the coordinates of our third to the last stop for the day. That beacon was the massive Sinking Bell Tower.
Surrounding areas have been closed (might be to save the Bell Tower from sinking)
On an average, the colossal Sinking Bell Tower of Laoag City sinks an inch per year due to the structure’s heavy weight and it was built on soft sand. At 45 meters in height, the gigantic bell tower is believed to be the largest “earthquake-proof” baroque belfry architecture in the Philippines, but unfortunately, it wasn’t designed to be “sink-proof”. According to the elder’s tales, a man on a horse could enter the tower’s doors with ease but today, even a vertically-challenged person might need to duck for entry.
Walls of the Sinking Bell Tower.
Opposite the Sinking Bell Tower, just across the two-lane street, is the Italian Renaissance-inspired St. William’s Cathedral or plainly called Laoag Cathedral. Like the previous church, San Agustin Church of Paoay, the belfry, which is the Sinking Bell Tower, is built from a distance to the main structure, and at 85 meters, it’s probably the farthest gap between the church and belfry in the country. Laoag Cathedral has been pommeled by a hurricane, shook by an earthquake, and ravaged by a fire, and it was rebuilt on harder soil so I guess the church would still retain it’s regular height after hundreds of years.
St. William’s Cathedral of Laoag City, Ilocos Norte.
Gilbert Bridge descends on a roundabout that circumnavigates a park. On the other side of this spacious road is the province’s seat of power, the Ilocos Norte Provincial Capitol, with its central section boldly standing on 4 pillars. It may not be a destination for others but for the provincial capitol is also a sight to see (and besides it’s at the heart of town).
Ilocos Norte Provincial Capitol in Laoag City.
Ilokanos placed, not only the province, but the entire region of the Philippine foods map for their well-known gastronomic dishes and an Ilocos adventure wouldn’t be complete without indulging in the finest of Ilokano dishes. We were on a hunt for the best place that will satisfy our taste palettes craving for the authentic Ilokano cuisine. Upon research we stumbled on a popular restaurant in Laoag, but since it was a holiday, the place was jam-packed with customers and they couldn’t accommodate our big group. However, they shared to us another restaurant which was also located in the same street.
La Preciosa Fine Dining Restaurant (yes, it’s a fine dining restaurant)
La Preciosa Fine Dining Restaurant had many diners but not yet full. Before the whole group entered, one asked for the menu and the price seemed a little over the budget for a Biyaherong Barat. We didn’t read any reviews, nor any idea, how the food would taste or come out. Cafe Leona had a mediocre outcome so we were being skeptical. So we had to discuss this. Having many customers is a good sign – it means they have good food. It was referred by a popular restaurant who seemed to know the taste we were looking for. La Preciosa looks like a gamble worth-taking. Again, we got the this-and-that of Ilokano food, and we were surprised what we were about to find out.
Not really a fan of seafood, but might as well try it – I’m in Ilocos. I was surprised it didn’t taste so “seafood-y”
The gamble paid off. After over 30 minutes of waiting, our much awaited Ilokano dishes one by one landed on our long table. First in the line of fire was the Okoy, or Shrimp Patty, shrimps mixed with flour and eggs deep fried to a crisp. Halfway done with our appetizer came Warek-Warek, made from grilled pork, and then mixed in pig’s brain with onions and tomatoes. Poqui-Poqui was our vegetable dish made from eggplant – grilled and peeled – and semi-raw egg.
Finally, an authentic Ilokano, Warek-warek.
Poqui-poqui, egg and eggplant combination but not fried like ‘torta’
And, then there it was, the highlight of my night. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m so proud to give you the Crispy Dinuguan. First, the popular Dinuguan is a nationwide dish made from either pork’s internal organs or meat, simmered in pig’s blood. Dinuguan is a personal favorite, and probably many Filipinos love this dish. But what made this Crispy Dinuguan so special to me is that, instead of using pork offal, they used Bagnet, a sun-dried crispy pork belly which is a also popular dish in Ilocos. Crispy Dinuguan, for me, is a two-birds-with-one-stone must try dish when you’re in Laoag City, and nowhere else to get it rather than La Preciosa Fine Dining Restaurant.
It was a feast. The rest of the night was history.
The highlight of my evening – Crispy Dinuguan.
“Moving Forward” is Laoag’s motto. Being the capital of Ilocos Norte, it is the center of economy, industry, and tourism in Northern Luzon that moves forward with the time. Laoag Ecozone is a proposed industrial park that will cater to manufacturing industries, and therefore, will provide jobs for many Ilokanos. Developments like these will boost growth of the province, and with it, the entire Ilocos region. At the same time, the province could also benefit from the tourism industry with historical sites, tourist destinations, not to mention the oh-so-good Ilokano dishes, which are well in tact. I believe that in Laoag – urbanization, tourism, history, nature, and culture are the perfect ingredients for a city moving forward towards the progress of the province and Ilokanos.
Well, that’s about it. That’s the story of my visit to the Sunshine City. Now, everything clear? Great. Let’s move on to our next stop Bacarra.
Here are some fast facts that may help you on your trip:
1. I think the Sinking Bell Tower was fenced to make restorations and save the sinking bell tower from sinking. I tried to ask permission to go up but no one had the key, or most likely, they don’t want me to go there.
2. You could park inside St. William’s Cathedral and walk to the Sinking Bell Tower, Provincial Capitol, the park in front of the Provincial Capitol. Get around on foot, or in a calesa perhaps. In that way you could also be helping the local tourism.
3. La Preciosa Fine Dining Restaurant is located in Rizal St., Laoag City. (Rizal Street’s are usually main road or probably second road which are easy to find. Don’t hesitate to ask around. People there are nice.)
4. Food budget. We divided our group into 4’s and ordered viands listed above. We spent P200.00 per person. You’re paying for quality. That I can guarantee.
6. Read more about the province in Biyaheng Ilocos Norte.
7. Like Biyaherong Barat on Facebook.
8. Follow @BiyaherongBarat on Twitter
9. Drive safe and happy travels to everyone.