Lakbay Norte returns for another year of exploring and discovering the up and coming destinations in Northern Luzon. For this year, the Northern Philippines Visitors Bureau took us around La Union and Pangasinan.
But first, a stop to check out the NLEX facilities at the Balintawak Toll Plaza. The NLEX Traffic Control Room has a wall full of closed-circuit televisions, where they can keep track of vehicular traffic, accidents, and stalled cars from the 126 cameras they have installed along the whole stretch of the expressway.
We were also given a close look at the toll booth operations, which can only be accessed via a steel catwalk that spans the distance from the NLEX offices to the Balintawak Toll Plaza and the toll booth annex.
It was smooth sailing in NLEX, with a lovely burst of colors from the flowers on the island in the stretch along San Fernando, Pampanga. We had a short stopover at the PTT SCTEX for a quick toilet break (so grateful for clean restrooms with an adequate number of stalls!) before proceeding with our drive to La Union.
What to do in La Union
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Many tourists visit La Union to surf, but if you’re not into that, there are still plenty of things that you can do!
See the crypt of the Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Charity
Agoo, La Union
The Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Charity is a historical church in the town of Agoo. Founded in 1578, the original church was just a simple structure made of nipa. Throughout the centuries, the church was destroyed and rebuilt several times due to earthquakes. The current structure was rebuilt after the 1990 earthquake, with only the bell tower remaining from the 1893 construction.
The Basilica has an impressive facade with a huge wooden door, carved with the Ten Commandments in Hebrew. The interiors and the altar are also quite magnificent. Visitors can also check out the crypt under the altar. Access is through the side entrance, going down two flights of stairs. The crypt has a small chapel and a small exhibit of religious relics from saints from all over the world. Of course, there’s also the tomb and crypts for Agoo’s prominent residents, like Jose D. Aspiras and Manuel Luna.
Be one with nature at Agoo Eco Park
Sta. Rita, Agoo, La Union
A popular picnic spot for locals, the Agoo Eco Park is a developing ecotourism destination, and it’s already looking very promising! You’ll be greeted with agoho trees that line both sides of the road as you enter. The agoho trees, also known as aroo, are very similar to pine trees, and give a nice shade and are spaced evenly, so you can also hang a hammock in between. It’s a short walk to the beach, where they are still constructing facilities.
Ask for guidance at the Ma-Cho Taoist Temple
Quezon Avenue, San Fernando, La Union
Whether you’re in need of a guidance or not, a believer or a skeptic, you can still enjoy the Ma-Cho Temple. A Taoist temple dedicated to the goddess Mazu, it sits atop a hill and faces the Lingayen Gulf. It’s an impressive structure, and has a really great view from up there, so that alone is worth the stop.
Pick grapes and sample wines at Uvas Cafe and Lomboy Farms
68 MacArthur Highway, Bauang, La Union
Lomboy Farms is the pioneer in grape farming in the Philippines, and it’s only recently that they have started delving into winemaking. At Uvas Cafe, you can sample the wines made from their grapes, as well as wines made from other local fruits like guapple. You can sample these wines with fruits, nuts, crackers, and cold cuts as you look out at their vineyard.
Learn about the pawikan mentality at the CURMA Community Center
Great Northwest Compound, Urbiztondo, San Juan, La Union
Found inside the Great Northwest Compound, the CURMA Community Center hosts a number of activities, including Acu detox, guided relaxation, music meditation, and of course, learning about their pawikan advocacy. Coastal and Underwater Resource Management Actions (CURMA) is a program of SIFCare (Science of Identity Foundation’s Community Assistance for Responsible Existence), and has released over 12,000 sea turtle hatchlings since 2010.
Discover local artists at Ciano Umok
Palugsi-Limmansangan, Bauang, La Union
It’s a bit out of the way, but Ciano Umok is worth the detour, especially if you’re an art lover. This gallery cafe is the brainchild of Cesar Dumo, who wanted to bring the arts close and accessible to the people. The house, turned gallery is home to his own art, as well as works by other local artists. When you visit, you must also try their one-of-a-kind halo-halo!
What to do in Pangasinan
There are plenty of things to do in Pangasinan, but if you want to go beyond the usual, here are some ideas.
Get up close and personal with the animals at Farm Cradle
San Raymundo Barangay Hall, Balungao-Santa Maria Rd, Balungao, Pangasinan
If you love animals, or if you’re a family with young children, a visit at Farm Cradle is highly recommended. The farm has a huge variety of animals: goats, cows, camels, alpaca, water buffalo, horses, rabbits, chicken, ostriches, geese, and peacocks. Apart from the animals, there are also ATVs, bicycle zipline, and obstacle course inside the farm.
Bar hop in Dagupan
- Mint Kitchen Bar: 2/F Metroplaza Dagupan, AB Fernandez Ave, Dagupan City
- Ugly Daddy: 409 Tapuac Rd, Dagupan, Pangasinan
Dagupan has a lively nightlife scene, and if you’re up looking to unwind, try out these two local favorites. Both have great cocktails and great food. Ugly Daddy Restobar has live music, DJ, and occasionally hosts an open mic night. Mint Kitchen Bar also have live music and an exclusive karaoke room.
Ride an ATV at Lingayen Beach
Pangasinan Provincial Capitol Complex, Lingayen, Pangasinan
The Pangasinan Provincial Capitol Complex has been a usual stop for all trips to Lingayen, but Tol ATV Rental brings in something new: ATVs that you can drive up around Lingayen Beach. Right now, they are still finalizing the routes for their future tours, but you can experience driving and riding the ATV right there at the beach.
Hoard bagoong isda at the JB Bagoong factory
238 Don Claudio, Lingayen, Pangasinan
There’s no better place to stock up on good quality bagoong isda (or patis) than getting it straight from the source. JB Bernal Bagoong Factory in Lingayen offers different classes of bagoong isda and offers them wholesale for really cheap prices. If you’re also looking for sea salt, you can purchase a 1-kilo bag from here for only Php 30.
Try spelunking for the first time at Nalsoc Cave
Bgy. Colayo, Bani, Pangasinan
Nalsoc Cave offers beginner spelunkers a very easy and safe introduction to the activity. The cave spans a distance going all the way to the next town, but the only areas available for tourists are only up to the start of the moderate trail.
The local government strongly recommends registering with the barangay officers, and they can connect you with a trained guide and a tricycle driver (if you don’t have a vehicle with you).
Watch the sunset from the Redeemer’s Cross or Surip Beach
These are two great vantage points to see the sun as it sets. The Redeemer’s cross offers a great view from above, but it gets dark quickly after the sun has set, so mind this if you are driving from here. Surip beach down by the coast also has great views, and interesting coves to explore while waiting for the sun to set.
Learn about organic farming at Our Farm Republic
Torre 2nd, Mangatarem – Urbiztondo Rd, Mangatarem, Pangasinan
Our Farm Republic offers training in organic farming, but if you’re not into that, you can drop by to visit and explore their farm. They have a pick and buy system, where you can get a basket, pick the veggies and fruits you like, and have it weighed to bring home your fresh, organic produce to enjoy at home.
Lakbay Norte is an annual media familiarization tour made possible by the NLEX Corporation in cooperation with the North Philippines Visitors Bureau and sponsored by the Department of Tourism – Region 1, Victory Liner, Belo Medical Group, PTT Corporation, Café Amazon, UNILAB, Locally, and Klean Kanteen.
Watch: NLEX Lakbay Norte 9: Best Things to do in La Union, Philippines