One of our goal when we visited the Historic Town of Vigan is to see two other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines: the La Asuncion de la Ñuestra Señora Church in the nearby town of Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur and the Church of San Agustin in Paoay, Ilocos Norte
We had an early start as our itinerary takes us to 3 different towns, one of which is at a different province. If you’re wondering why the title of this article does not make mention of Santa Maria, please read on…
A calesa ride away from Calle Crisologo (Php 100). Bantay Parish or the Nuestra Senora de La Caridad and the separate bell tower are two of the oldest structures in the Ilocos region.
No admission, though there is a donation box at the gate of the bell tower. Views of the Cordillera and the South China Sea from the top of the tower are amazing!
Laoag bound buses passing by the main road (a short tricycle ride from Bantay), are intermittent and usually full. It took a good 20-30 minutes of waiting before we find our seats in an air-conditioned bus (fare to Paoay is Php 200), which we prefer due to the heat and less stop-overs. Travel time is about 2 hours.
It’s more or less a 10-minute tricycle ride (Php 50) from the main road to Paoay church. Construction of Paoay church was completed on 1710, and had been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
Huge buttresses support the sides and back of Paoay church, a style that came to be known as Earthquake Baroque. Apart from the Baroque, Paoay also exhibits Chinese and Javanese influence. Wikipedia states that Paoay church’s architecture is reminiscent to that of Borobudur; come to think of it, those pointed styling of the buttresses remind me of the stupas in Borobudur in Indonesia.
Paoay church, together with 3 other churches, share the distinction of being inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, collectively known as the Baroque churches of the Philippines: San Agustin in Intramuros, Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Miag-Ao, Iloilo and (one we hope to have time to visit later that day) Santa Maria in Ilocos Sur.
For another 200 pesos, the tricycle driver offered to take us to the (Suba) sand dunes, the Malacañang of the North (a Marcos mansion) and drop us off at the Ferdinand Marcos Presidential Center at the town of Batac, where we will also be waiting for a bus back to Vigan and then to Santa Maria.
We sacrificed not seeing the sand dunes as we still have a long day planned, the fact that the sun is almost at its peak also made for an easier decision. It was quite a long drive from Paoay church to the Malacañang of the North, 30-40 minutes, which according to our guide is malapit lang.
I’m beginning to worry that we will not have sufficient time to see Santa Maria. And to put salt on my wound, the Malacañang of the North is closed for lunch (schedule is 8am-11am/1pm-4pm). We arrived there a few minutes past 11, and they are strict with the lunch schedule. Had we not stopped at Paoay Lake (as suggested by our guide), we might have made it. Though I would take a beautiful view of nature over some mansion anytime (sourgraping?).
A different route was taken on our way to the town proper of Batac (just 4km east from Paoay church), one that took even longer. Resigned that we will not make it to Santa Maria before sundown, we decided to make the most of what Batac has to offer. Before heading to the Ferdinand Marcos Presidential Center, we visited Congresswoman Imelda Marcos’ office; hoping, although highly unlikely, that she will be there. There was not a single soul in the building. Perhaps they’re all out for lunch too.
Ferdinand Marcos Presidential Center. The 50 pesos admission will grant you access into the small compound, composed of the Marcoses’ ancestral home turned museum housing various memorabilia, and the mausoleum honoring the former president. The late president’s remains is so perfectly preserved it reminded me of a Madame Tussaud’s creation, cameras are not allowed inside.
Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long to get on a bus back to Vigan; unfortunately, as I have come to expect, we arrived in Vigan with the sun disappearing in the horizon, not affording us time to visit Santa Maria. Bummer!
The red parish of Bantay and its solitary bell tower on a hill are as picturesque as I had imagined them to be, and Paoay church alone would have made my day. The unplanned Marcos trail is a welcome addition, how often do you get the chance to see the preserved remains of a former president (a very controversial one at that) in a glass coffin?
Although we were not able to accomplish everything on our itinerary checklist, it was still a day of much enjoyment. It is also the perfect excuse to head north once more and finally be able to have Santa Maria in the title of the article; better yet, as a separate entry.
Travel Date: November 2011