I was on my way down from the Cordillera Mountains in Northern Luzon with a couple days to kill before heading back to Manila. I had just arrived in Baguio, but wasn’t really feeling the noise and hustle of a city quite yet. I knew I couldn’t go too far with so little time to spare, but I’d read about a small town 6 hours north. A place to relax with a slow pace and nothing on the agenda. Vigan sounded perfect.
Baguio is a bit of a transit hub, whether going further into the Cordilleras or north to some of the coastal cities as I was. Known as the city of flowers, it makes sense that the market would be one of the most colourful in the country. One of the most bustling I experienced as well. Never wanting to miss an opportunity to stroll around a market in a foreign land, I made sure to make time before by bus to Vigan. Grabbed some breakfast at a small stall so full of locals I had to wait for a stool, checked out the produce on offer, walked through the intoxicating flower lanes and bought some confectioneries for the ride. Following the coastline with a couple obligatory food stops as usual in Asia, before I knew it busy staring out at the tide coming in we arrived in Vigan.
Vigan was a blast from the past. The most preserved city from Spanish colonial times, I almost felt as if the bus had somehow transported me to another country. Missed by the destruction of World War Two, the architecture held true. It was a city of an era gone past, not to be simply forgotten. Restoration was in progress on some of the buildings degrading more than others with the time gone by. The cobblestone streets maintained with the disallowance of motor vehicles on the majority of them. Horse and carriage instead offering rides for families or romantic couples throughout the area.
I spent my couple days here at a very relaxed pace, which is easy to do here. Strolling the cobblestone from café to café for the majority of it and simply watching the streets as my entertainment. People passing, the horses trotting. I was like an old man in his rocking chair on the porch. I knew Filipinos loved to travel, constantly exploring there wonderful country and I had discovered where many come. The main street was filled with local tourists (very few foreigners here, which I enjoyed), restaurants and shops selling souvenirs. In between these café sits, jacked up on more caffeine than necessary, I decided to check out a couple of the museums. Something I don’t do enough of anymore. The Crisologo Museum had a lot of war relics along the bottom floor giving an insight to the war in Northern Luzon, while the top floor was set up like an old Spanish villa with colonial artifacts. Donation based, it is worth a walk through.
Picture missing… Somehow I walked away from Vigan without a photo of the Empanadas, even after eating well over a dozen in two days. I guess that just says how good they are.
The cuisine here had a couple local staples unique to Vigan. Well more than a couple but the two that stood out above the rest was the Vigan Longganisa. A Filipino version of chorizo it is flavoured with indigenous spices. Succulent little bites as they tend to be smaller sausages. Above everything though is the famous empanadas. There was establishments and many of them dedicated to them. Built around them, the empanada was their foundation. I sample at least half a dozen locations and a phrase I haven’t used in a while, same same but different. All consisting of the same ingredients, local loganisa, shredded cabbage and/or papaya, egg folding in a rice flour dough and fried, generally served with a rice vinegar based sauce. Ultimately it was how it was put together. Some had a thinner crispier dough, while some had more meat opposed to cabbage/papaya. The deciding factor for me was whether they poured in beaten egg or simply cracked a whole egg on top before sealing the delectable parcel leaving it runny after frying. The latter won me over. This and the dipping sauce were the two keys to a winning one for me.
My two days here quickly came to an end. I’m surprised how fast time still passes when I was merely lounging my hours away. Nevertheless it was time to head back south to Manila and await my flight I wish I could avoid out of the country. I crammed another four empanadas into my gullet, trying to get my fill and made my way through the age old streets towards the bus station. It’s always sad to leave a new place even though it happens constantly while travelling, but here I had got what I came for. Some peace and relaxation at the end of a fast paced few weeks.