La Union Special – that was the theme of our program’s episode.
It was years ago when I worked as a Segment Producer on a main TV station in the Philippines. During that time, my show was a Public Affairs program helping the community through the influence of some well-known people and celebrities.
We were 3 teams. All of us traveled to La Union with our own story and segment to produce. I was assigned to shoot at a local community in Pugo, La Union. We gave out school supplies and slippers to the kids.
It was a fulfilling and productive day. But for me personally, I was stressed running around making sure that the program went well while coordinating with my researcher to make sure that everything will be fine.
After 6 hours of land travel, I was back at the office. My team of cameramen and researcher bid goodbye to finally rest in their own homes. Me? I stayed at the office overnight to write the script and go on for 3-day editing until the segment aired.
That was my life.
My work enabled me to travel, but was that really travel? When I left the job and took a different career path, destiny led me to not give up writing. The routine of the corporate 9 to 5 can make someone insane especially if you’re the “creative” type. So I took charge of my life and created this blog.
After a few years, I was back in La Union, and it was so much better that the first time.
Back in La Union
La Union or ELYU for millennials (like me LOL!) is the surfing capital of the north. It is a coastal town perfect for weekend warriors and travelers who clamor for some relaxation from their busy. It’s just 6 hours from Manila and has become a major surfing spot in the country.
But as I discover more about this province, La Union is definitely more than its beaches and waves. Other towns in the province offer far more than the usual surfing, and I am truly excited to share this with you. So let’s begin.
1. TANGADAN FALLS
It was 5 AM when we arrived at the municipal hall of San Gabriel, La Union, the spot where we met our guide going to Tangadan Falls. Yes, you read it right there are waterfalls in La Union and Tangadan is the one getting a lot of attention now from travelers and millennials posting on social media.
We waited for more than an hour, because registration will start at 6:30 AM, and it is not allowed to travel there when it’s dark because of the steep roads which I fully understood when we started the travel.
It is recommended to rent a jeepney going to Tangadan Falls. Tangadan is located at the heart of the forest surrounded by mountains. Good thing that the local government was able to construct a road going there maybe because there are people living in that part of the mountain.
But man, the swerve and steepness of the road is unbelievable. I mean I understood why travelers need to rent a jeep going there because it really needs a high-powered vehicle to be able to endure those roads that seemed like mazes in the mountains.
Jeepneys there are huge and can endure those roads even with full passengers. Don’t dare to go there in a sedan or a van especially if you have many passengers. There have been a lot of travelers who have insisted on taking their own vehicles there and ended up being rescued because their car stopped in the middle of those very steep roads. Believe me when I say the roads are very steep, and listen to the locals.
The Hike to Tangadan Falls
There is just a certain spot, the farthest place the vehicles can reach then after that, all must walk or hike going to Tangadan Falls.
The hike was pretty bearable for hikers and fit (you know what I mean). But if you know that you’ve never had any physical activity for a while, please prepare for this walk because this can be difficult for you.
After about 30 minutes of walking, we started hearing the gush of water, the sign that we were approaching the waterfalls.
Tangadan Falls is simply nice to look at. It’s huge and majestic. Waterfalls really have this charm that can make you relax and feel better.
The good thing about Tangadan, its rock formations are somewhat perfect for a good view of the falls. Eloi and I went down to the lower parts of those huge rocks to have those perfect photos.
We spent more minutes there, just sitting and enjoying the place until we decided to go back.
The hike back going back is a lot tougher because most of the trail is going up, but by just taking it slow and taking your time, you can do it! It’s even a nice exercise.
When we reached the town of San Gabriel, we decided to have our early lunch at a nearby karinderia. We were all tired after the hike to Tangadan, so we decided to eat and chill first before going to our next destination.
How to get to Tangadan Falls
From Manila, ride a bus going to La Union. Bus companies like Viron, Partas, and Philippine Rabbit have daily trips to La Union. Travel time is about 6 hours with a fare of Php 400. Drop off point is San Fernando, then ride a jeep going to San Gabriel. The fare is Php 20 and the travel time is about 30 – 45 minutes. Register at San Gabriel Municipal Hall area and get help for transportation going to Tangadan Falls.
If you’re going to Tangadan via private vehicle, I suggest that you park your car at the San Gabriel Municipal Hall, then ask for help for your transport going to Tangadan Falls. If you are a big group, rent a jeep. It is not advisable to use your car going to the jump-off point to Tangadan, the roads are very steep and you need a high-powered vehicle for that either a big jeep or pickup truck/car. You can risk your car going there if you only have one passenger, but if you’re a group like family or barkada and the car is full, not advisable. Titirik kotse niyo!
2. PEBBLE BEACH OF LUNA
Our next destination was supposed to be the Balay na Bato and the Stone Hand Art Gallery. Unfortunately, the Bahay na bato was closed, and opted to check out the Stone Hand Art Gallery. I’ll give you a detailed story inside this Art gallery but right now, I’ll share with you our experience when we got out of the gallery and just wanted to kill some time.
Eloi and I walked near the shore until we saw this beach that instead of sand, full of pebble stones. Amazing!
The waves are huge and it creates a humongous sound as it crashes through the stones. This place is for advanced surfers only and a board that can really take a beating. It is not advisable to swim there, so we just relaxed and took some photos.
This pebble beach is located in Luna, La Union. We saw some kids picking and sorting some colorful stones. This is one way of living for locals. I’m just concerned that this activity can affect the foundation of the beach. What happens when they run out of stones?
Near the Pebble Beach is the Luna Watchtower or Baluarte. It’s a slanting spherical fort built by Spaniards to prevent threats from pirates at that time. This is another good side trip when you visit Luna, La Union.
How to get to Pebble Beach in Luna, La Union
From Manila, ride a bus going to San Fernando, La Union. Bus companies like Partas and Viron in Cubao have daily trips to La Union. Drop off point is the San Fernando bus terminal, then ask around and ride for the jeep going to Luna. Travel time is about an hour.
Once you arrived at Luna town proper, look for St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish, then you’ll see a road going to Pebble beach. You’ll see some sacks of pebbles along the road for sale, it’s a sign that you’re near the beach.
Via San Juan, La Union
If you happened to be in San Juan, La Union surfing and you want to do a side trip going to Luna, the DIY style, just go to the main highway and wait for those ordinary or aircon buses going to Vigan or Laoag. Tell the konduktor or bus attendant that you’re going to Luna, the drop-off point is Balaoan. From there, ride a tricycle going to Luna.
3. SURFING IN SAN JUAN
It was past lunchtime when we arrived in the beaches of San Juan, so just imagine the scorching heat of the sun. This is the major surfing spot of San Juan, Urbiztondo Beach.
Huge waves surprised us. There was this warning that swimming is not allowed, but you know this is a surfing spot so maybe it is just a reminder for non-surfers to take precautions when swimming.
We were so obedient, we didn’t swim hahaha! We just sit there watching the surfers do their moves and best of all, we took a lot of photos.
How to get to Urbiztondo in San Juan, La Union
There are bus companies in Cubao or Pasay that have daily trips to La Union. These are Partas, Dominion, and Viron. The fare is about PHP 450 and the travel time is The drop-off point is in San Fernando. From there, ride a jeep going to Urbiztondo Beach or San Juan, La Union.
Where to Stay in San Juan, La Union?
If you’re planning to stay overnight or for a few days in San Juan to further enhance your surfing skills (hahaha), there are a lot of options for accommodation from budget hostels to high-end hotels.
The most popular and affordable hostel is the Circle Hostel at Urbiztondo. The Circle Hostel is perfect for those who want to meet new people and friends like young backpackers and travelers. They have dorm-type rooms to solo rooms, but the best part about this hostel is their common areas where guests are having the chance to connect and talk with other travelers.
4. MA-CHO TEMPLE
There was a lot of waiting time when we were at the beach, so imagine our “siesta” feeling when we went to our next stop.
It was already late afternoon when we arrived at Macho Temple. This is located on a hill that is about 70 feet above sea level. Ma-cho temple is a Taoist temple built by the Chinese community of San Fernando, La Union. Although a Taoist temple, everyone is welcome to visit the place. Its colorful and intricate design is something everyone will enjoy and appreciate.
How to get to Ma-Cho Temple, La Union
If you’re from Manila, ride a bus going to San Fernando, La Union. Bus companies like Partas, Dominion, and Viron offer daily trips there. From San Fernando, ride a jeep going to Ma-Cho Temple.
If you’re from the Surfing Spot in San Juan, just ride a jeep going to San Fernando, then ride a tricycle going to Ma-Cho Temple.
5. LA UNION GRAPE FARM
We were in a hurry! Just to make sure that we arrive at the grape farms of Bauang with sunlight. We parked along the highway. We arrived at ED’s Grape Farm just in time, a few more minutes before sunset.
I’ve read a lot of articles online about the proliferation of grape farms in La Union. Of course, I was convinced that there are these farms in the province but it is a different case when you see and experience it by yourself.
It was the last week of January when we were there so grapes are not yet ready for harvest. I tasted one, and I agree the staff said that it would still take months before harvest season.
Aside from the fruits, they are also selling wines.
Bauang in La Union has been the home of numerous grape farms in the country. It all started in 1972 when the so-called “Grape King” Avelino Lomboy started the Lomboy Farms. Then over the years more and more farms were built like Gapuz Farms and ED’s Farms.
How to get to Grape Farms in La Union
Ride a bus going to Bauang, La Union. Bus companies like Partas and Dominion have daily trips to Bauang. Tell the bus attendant that you’re going to the Grape Fams because most of the fams are located along the National Highway like EDs and Lomboy Farms.
6. BAHAY NA BATO AND STONE HAND ART GALLERY
If you are the “artsy” type, this is for you. Just after we experienced Tangadan Falls, we traveled for more than an hour going to Luna, La Union for the Stone Hand Art Gallery and Bahay na Bato.
Unfortunately, Bahay na Bato was temporarily closed, so we settled for the Stone Hand Art Gallery.
Just upon entrance, those huge stones and carved as animals and other creatures will welcome you. Then inside the structure are galleries of paintings and other art forms. Eloi really liked the butterfly paintings on the wall which was really nice for any photo opportunity.
READ: Best Hostels in La Union
How to get to Bahay na Bato and Stone Hand Art Gallery
From San Juan, La Union, Ride a jeepney going to Luna for PHP 30 and ride a tricycle going to Balay na Bato (Stone House) for PHP 50.
There you have it. There are still a lot of tourist spots in La Union that deserve to be explored like Pugad Pugo Adventure and Tapuakan River in Pugo, La Union among others.In time, I’ll be able to visit there and discover more of La Union!
7. THUNDERBIRD RESORTS AND CASINOS
Okay. We weren’t able to get inside the resort when we were there because we had no time. And the 150 pesos entrance fee that would let you go inside just to take some photos is something that all debated if worthy or not. LOL!
Seriously, it was just a few more minutes before sunset and we were left with one dilemma choose between the Grape Farm or Thunder Bird? And obviously, the Grape Farm won.
Outside the resort, one could really feel the Greek and Mediterranean inspiration of the structures. It’s actually a high-end resort with pools, restaurants, and casino. It would be nice if time and budget permit you explore this resort as a legit guest. You know what I mean? And not just be there for a photo op. Honestly, I was happy that we chose Grape Farm over this, but it doesn’t mean that Thunderbird if something that you need to miss.
If you have the money, go and experience this luxury.
How to get to Thunderbird Resort La Union
If you’re from Manila, take a bus going to Vigan or Laoag. Bus companies like Florida, Dominion, Farinas, Viron, and Partas have trips bound there. Tell the driver or bus attendant that you’re going to Thunderbird Resort and the drop-off point is at the Poro Poro Point, San Fernando. Resort is just near the place. In case you’re at the San Fernando proper, it’s just a 10 minute jeepney ride going to Poro Poro Point.
[READ: Top 10 Beach Resorts in La Union]
Take the NLEX or North Luzon Expressway and SCTEX or Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway. Then go to the route of the National Highway going to San Fernando. Once you get to San Fernando, turn left to Pennsylvania Avenue. The landmark is the Monument of the unknown Soldiers. Go straight until you reach and enter the Poro Point Freeport Zone. Just a few more minutes, you’ll reach Thunderbird Resorts. Gate is on the left side of the road.
Note: First published in 2018. Updated for 2022