5 Things to See in Vigan Aside from Old Houses

The Chosen Juan discovers some of Vigan’s hidden gems

By Dave Agbayani
April 12, 2016


After my Ilocos Norte expedition, I went to its southern counterpart Ilocos Sur, where I stayed in its capital, Vigan City.

Everyone knows that Vigan is an awesome place. Almost everything here is throwback to the Spanish colonial period. Popular to many is the historic street, Calle Crisologo, and the clattering hooves of horses that each pull a kalesa along its roads lined with ancestral homes built centuries ago. But after my stay, I realized that there is so much more in this city that preserves its heritage aside from the old structures and cobblestone streets. Here are 5 things you need to see to appreciate Vigan even better.

1. Burnayan
When in Vigan, a visit to this place of pottery called pagburnayan or burnayan by the locals is a unique experience. Upon entering, you will be greeted with clay pots and jars of different types, shapes, and sizes. Kuya Dim, one of the potters there, said that the clay used in burnayan is from a mixture of sand trampled on by carabaos. But seeing the impressive molded creations was just the tip of the iceberg because the fun is with literally getting your hands dirty. After giving me a crash course on pottery, they let me mold a small jar (cue “Unchained Melody”). It was really tough! Instead of a jar, I ended up creating something that looks like a deformed ashtray. In the end, I only have nothing but respect for the people who painstakingly create these elegant creations, which also made me appreciate this traditional craft a lot.

2. Tinubong
After molding a jar (or at least trying to), a vendor carrying several pieces of bamboo approached our group and offered us tinubong. We had no idea what it was until he took a bamboo, cracked it open to reveal some sweet surprise! This Ilokano delicacy is usually made with sticky rice mixed with coconut meat, coconut milk and sugar cooked right inside the bamboo itself. We all have our favorite sticky rice dishes but tinubong is something I recommend for you to try. Just look for the bamboo with the red foil at the tip.

3. Loomweaving
While we were looking for Abel Iloko, I thought that Abel was the person who pioneered the loomweaving tradition in Vigan. But it turns out that Abel is the Ilokano word for weave, and I just had to try it when we reached Marissa’s Loomweaving in the heart of the city. They taught me first how to operate the foot-pedal loom, which is as complicated as it looks. As I struggled with weaving three rows into the fabric, they told me that it takes them only around two weeks to finish 33 dozen woven table mats. That's almost 30 a day!

4. Pinakbet Farm
In case you’re wondering, pinakbet is a dish made from vegetables such as string beans, eggplant, bitter gourd, okra, and many more. It is cooked with shrimp paste, while some versions are mixed with coconut milk. Situated in Caoayan, a town not too far from Vigan, Pinakbet Farm is a lovely restaurant that makes use of fresh ingredients straight from their own backyard. Their pinakbet is made more unique by serving it in a huge bamboo stalk. You won’t get utensils so you need to eat it with your bare hands. Pinakbet Farm is an interesting place where you can experience Ilokano dishes with the breezy atmosphere. While dining, you’ll even get serenaded by a traditional Ilokano band.

5. Arce Mansion
Part of our itinerary was a visit to Arce Mansion, but it was closed when we went there. I did hear interesting things about it from our guide, though. What sets this place apart from all the other ancestral houses in Vigan is that you can wear costumes while you're there. Arce Mansion’s wardrobe is big enough to turn you into anything you want to be in the colonial period: from an ilustrado or doña to a prayle. Surround yourself with capiz windows and some antique furniture and you can recreate historic scenes or pretend like you’re an acquaintance of Dr. Jose Rizal himself.

Hearing stories about Vigan has always fascinated me, but now I can say that the place is way better than expected. Visiting the different parts of the city helped me understand its culture, which is undeniably more than just old streets and structures. I’ll definitely come back to Vigan, hungry for more throwback experiences like no other.