Full Itinerary: Ilocos Region

Day 1

  • Calle Crisologo (at night) Vigan, Ilocos Sur
  • St. Augustine (Paoay) Church Paoay, Ilocos Norte
  • Gulili Point Paoay Sand Dunes
  • Marcos Museum
  • Malacañang of the North
  • Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
  • Kapurpurawan Rock Formation
  • Bangui Windmills

Day 2

  • Blue Lagoon Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte (half-day activity)
  • Bantay Abot Cave
  • Patapat Bridge
  • Paraiso ni Anton
  • Trekking to Kabigan Falls

Day 3

  • Juan Luna Shrine, Badoc Ilocos Norte
  • Bantay Bell Tower
  • Baluarte Vigan, Ilocos Sur
  • Burnayan Pottery Making
  • Calle Crisologo (daylight) Vigan, Ilocos Sur
  • Quirino Bridge

Travel Tips When in Ilocos

  1. Travel by land when you can. Book for a package tour or at least for a van transportation in Manila. According to our driver/tour guide, rentals are available in Ilocos for tourists who opted to travel by air, however, for much bigger costs.
  2. If you’re not into museums that much, opt for historical places with free admission. This can save time, effort and money.
  3. In Kapurpurawan Rock Formation, look for tourist aides roaming around for photo ops assistance.
  4. It’s best to enjoy Blue Lagoon beach in the morning as it can get pretty crowded in the afternoon. Seafood paluto is available for lunch option. Upon arrival to the resort, take your picks as early as you can as orders are on a first-in-first-out basis.
  5. Donation boxes are present almost everywhere. It’s not mandatory but you can put a few for hardworking locals.
  6. Famous places for eats can get really crowded during peak season. Come early or eat during non-peak hours to avoid hassles.
  7. Young locals offer assistance for photo ops in tourist spots. They’re savvy and very much aware of the good spots for photos. Little tips for these kids are much appreciated.

Good Souvenir Spots

  • Cape Bojeador, buy souvenirs outside the lighthouse for cheaper costs.
  • Bangui Windmills, for little and big windmills keepsakes.
  • Paraiso ni Anton, for good quality Pagudpud shirts.
  • Other pasalubongs well-known from Ilocos: suka (cane vinegar), sibuyas at bawang tagalog, longganisa, cornik, banana chips, camote chips.

Don’t Skip

  • Paoay Sand Dunes 4×4 ride. Wear sunblock, cap, and sunglasses for the ride. Pick a vehicle with handles covered with foams for good grip and less strains.
  • Ilocos empanada in Pagudpud rather than in other places. Stores are near Pagudpud plaza.

Recommendation

Kuya Ogie from Malakas Tours was really our ticket to our commendable Ilocos trip. He has been going back and forth Ilocos as a tour guide and driver since 1997. He knows where the best places are for eats and for pasalubongs,  best time slots for activities and, hidden gems of Ilocos. He even is our promo code for discounts in various places.

For further information:

Malakas Tours
Cresta Bonita Vienna St. Block 10 Lot 5 Salitran
Dasmariñas City Cavite
Look for: Mr. Godwin Alindayu (Agent)
0908-599-4961 / malakastours@gmail.com

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Beginner’s Guide to Japan

One of the many reasons why I love visiting a new country is the challenge of dipping my feet into a new culture. I don’t just go for the tourist attractions but also for the people and their customs. This is why I prefer organizing my own itinerary, to maximize my exposure in a new place I find interesting.

Of course, this includes a pretty good amount of planning time. The number of available resources online can get overwhelming especially with the variety. That said, here are noteworthy things I learned from my stay in Japan that I did not manage to reach during my research

Purchase a Japan Rail pass wisely. JR pass is a special pass especially made for tourists enabling unlimited travel in areas accessible by JR railway. This includes unlimited ride to Shinkansen (bullet train) for Kodama and Hikari trains.

Based from my experience, this can be maximized in two ways:

  • Ride the Shinkansen multiple times especially if you’re going around Japan a lot for a period of time. There’s a lot of places you can visit in Japan. If you want a bang for the buck in purchasing this tourist pass, plan for an itinerary where you can maximize the places accessible by JR pass.
  • JR Pass is recommended for alternative trips. Itinerary is an effective guide to anyone’s travel plans but a little spontaneity won’t hurt. JR pass is beneficial during change of plans scenarios. I was able to squeeze in some additional places during my stay for this privilege.

Request for seat reservations in bulk. Though there is quite a number of JR offices where seat reservations can be made, a bulk request is most recommended to avoid trip interruptions. Date and time rescheduling is also allowed until hours before departure. Plan accordingly.

Purchase a visitor sim upon arrival. There are actually several options for internet access in Japan: pocket WiFi rental, mobile phone rental, international mobile internet services (depending on your network provider), free WiFi in stores and train stations. But the most affordable option is to buy a visitor sim especially for a week-long stay. All you need is a sim-free (open-line) smartphone and a visitor sim.

There is a wide variety in Akihabara (Yodobashi-Akiba) depending on your needs. Staff is also very willing to offer assistance in setting-up the sim. If you’re not fluent in Japanese like I do, come prepared with how-to’s information since most people do not speak English. Search for the list of supported models compatible to the sim as well to avoid inconvenience.

Google Maps is your Japan railway buddy. Transportation system in Japan is very efficient. You can get around mainly by train alone provided the right tools to help you do so. Fortunately, it’s in the name of Google. All the details you need can be found in Google maps: fare amount, time and route. Time details are also highly reliable. Train arrives by the minute so you can even plot a timeline for the day.

Always select the English option first before using machines. Aside from vendo machines, ticket machines and coin lockers are also rampant in Japan. Remember to switch machines to English first before any transaction to avoid confusion.

Coin lockers can be used for safekeeping in train stations. Costs depend on the size of the locker in use. Sizes were made to fit various types of objects. This can be helpful in storing shopping bags and luggage for the day. For reference, I was able to fit my luggage with dimensions for a 30 kg weight in just 700 jpy. This can be good for a couple of days depending on the rules. Never lose the claim ticket dispensed by the machine.

Use a luggage you’re prepared to drag everywhere. Taxi rides are pricey in Japan beside the fact that anyone can go to almost everywhere via train. I’ve reached three huge stations in Japan: Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. Prepare to drag your luggage in and out of trains, up and down the platforms using escalator and stairs. Otherwise, use a luggage you’re most comfortable with. Elevators are available but this is a convenience tip that may come handy.

Navigate your exits using train maps. This is an important tip to avoid getting lost in finding your destination on foot. There were days when I roamed alone and navigating to the closest exit to my desired location sure helped me avoid detours. There are multiple exits in a station leading to different places. Use the maps strategically located nearby gates for reference.

Register for free WiFi service. Hotspots are abundant in Japan. This can be a good alternative if you don’t opt to purchase rental service or visitor sim cards. For one, I was able to connect for a free service in Kyoto needless of a registration. For some, free membership registration is required. You may check here for more options.

Always bring your passport wherever you go. This is a basic tip that should be followed in Japan for security and for perks too. It’s best to carry this all the time in case any authorized person requests for a proof that you’re a tourist. This is also necessary in tax-free shopping and free WiFi service in malls applicable for tourists alone.

When all else fails, go to a tourist center/information for guidance. Not a lot of people in Japan can speak English. For assistance, go to a tourist center in train stations or to a tourist information in malls. For the record, I’ve encountered more English-speaking Japanese in areas where temples reside.