Laoag is a bustling city nearly 500km from Manila. The Capitol of the Ilocos Norte province also boasts an international airport and a healthy tourism industry driven by historic buildings, and its short travel distance to other tourism centers in the North such as The beach resort town of Pagudpud and Vigan CIty, the location of the only pre-WWII, Spanish style buildings that were spared by Japanese bombs.
This post is just focused on Laoag City and the easily attainable task of seeing it all in just one day, to allow you more time to visit other places in the surrounding Ilocos Norte Region..
You can literally walk everywhere
While the traffic can be a bit overwhelming, I took many opportunities to skip the trike rides to find that a 1.5 km walk is really not very far, even along crowded streets. Tirkes cost 15 pesos (.30 USD) per km, so its not like walking will save you tons of money, but it does allow you to see more of the city at eye level, and avoid a bit of diesel exhaust intake. Also, Laoag is not a large city, so skipping the trikes will not necessarily take up too much extra time. While I do like to support the local economy, this is one case where it (to me) does not make much sense to ride versus walk.
The Heart of town- A multitude of things to see
The traffic circle in the center of the city is, by far, the busiest street in town, so when walking along this area you really do have to be careful because cars are coming over the bridge into the city, and they are usually doing it at high speeds. While there are crosswalks next to the SM Hypermart, it is still very dangerous to cross here. A safer alternative is to walk along the capitol building and cross at smaller intersections, like the streets near city hall.
Just outside City Hall is where you will find an unmistakable installation of much needed, and very colorful, shade producing umbrellas. Getting across here, will place you right in the middle of the large traffic circle/ park, which is home to the Tobacco Marker, the fountain and the Laoag sign, along with great views of the Capitol building.
From this nice little park, you can actually walk just another two blocks (on the reverse side of the SM Hypermart) and visit the Sinking Bell Tower. It is now closed to the public and tough to photograph because of the crowded streets and visible power lines, but is still worth a visit.
Another two blocks away is the Laoag Church. Renovated by the Marcos family as a gift to the city a few decades ago, it is still reminiscent of its historical appearance and is worth a visit to light a candle for your safe travels.
These landmarks make up the majority of the tourist destinations in Laoag City proper, and should only take you a morning or afternoon to visit and photograph, leaving you plenty of time to explore the nearby Paoay. Sand Dunes, Marcos Museum, and more. Laoag make an excellent place to stay as it is affordable and just about as central as you can get!
Different at Day and Night
Laoag does not have much of a nightlife scene beyond a handful of bars, but a trip back to the central part of town after the sun has set should reveal a bright and colorful city.
Starting at the Capitol building, you will find a few magical spots that offer some really GREAT long exposure photography opportunities. In the image above, I experimented with about a half dozen different spots in the town square and actually IN the traffic circle (hugged up against the concrete planters for safety) to try and get the perfect angle of the Capitol building and Ilocos Norte sign lit up with traffic whizzing by. Because this is such a popular photo opportunity, I had to wait out some groups of tourists hanging all over the letters, sometimes even illegally parking in front of them. Luckily, the long exposures helped eliminate the tourists...well most of them.
You can also find some souvenir shopping opportunities at a night market along side the Laoag Church. As usual, you should be more vigilant at night and not venture beyond the market after nightfall. Laoag is generally a safe city, but as always, avoid being an easy target for pickpockets.
Safe travels! I highly recommend Laoag and the Illocos regions as part of your Philippine travel experience.