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  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 8:06pm

Time travellers' paradise

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 July, 2012, 12:00am

What do China's Forbidden City, the Giza Necropolis, in Egypt, and Vigan City, in the Philippines, have in common? They've all been listed as World Heritage Sites - places of special cultural significance - by Unesco.

Vigan City, the provincial capital of Ilocos Sur, lies on the west coast of the island of Luzon, at the mouth of the Mestizo River.

Once an early settlement of Chinese traders from Fujian province, it was developed by Spanish colonists in 1572.

Today visitors can feel like time travellers - going back to the days of Renaissance Europe - because Vigan City is the best-preserved old Spanish colonial town in Asia.

The architecture of Vigan City combines influences of Hispanic, Philippine and even Chinese cultures - its cobblestone streets and brick houses could easily leave you wondering whether you are actually in a European country.

The charming Calle Crisologo (meaning Crisologo Street) is the perfect place to start your visit - it is filled with a unique mix of flavours.

The banning of motor vehicles there allows visitors to have a relaxing stroll as they soak up the authentic charm and unique European atmosphere. You can take a ride on a calesa, or horse-drawn carriage; the trip, costing 150 pesos (HK$27.60) per hour, for a maximum of three people, is the perfect way to turn back the clock and imagine the city's former colonial days.

All along Calle Crisologo, there are former colonial houses made from thick brick walls covered in red clay, to help survive earthquakes. The units have tiled roofs, which were built mostly by Chinese traders.

In the past, these properties had residential and commercial uses, but now they are used as shops selling souvenirs, furniture and antiques, and as charming cafes and restaurants offering delicious food and snacks.

If you want to try making your own souvenir, you can visit the Pagburnayan Jar Factory, where you can see pottery being made by hand, but also try to make your own.

To learn more about the history and heritage of the place, visit Crisologo Museum.

The museum was set up in memory of both Congressman Floro Crisologo - shot dead in Vigan's cathedral in 1970 - and his wife, Governor Carmeling Pichay Crisologo, in what was the ancestral house of the Crisologos. It includes many interesting items, such as an antique calesa used in past weddings.

St Paul's Metropolitan Cathedral and the St Augustine Church are two other, not-to-be-missed scenic spots. The Catholic cathedral, built by Augustinian friars in the late 18th century, has an 'earthquake baroque' design - a low and wide, thick-walled style that minimises earthquake damage. It has an octagonal bell tower, influenced by Chinese fung shui, situated 10metres south of the cathedral.

As you climb up to the belfry, you can enjoy a wonderful view of the city.

The delicious local foods in Vigan City include the empanada - a crispy pastry with fillings of Ilocos longganisa (the local Ilocos spicy sausage), vegetables and one whole egg. They are always freshly baked, so be careful or you will burn your tongue!

The city's natural attractions include the animals at Baluarte Zoo, and the beautiful Mestizo River, which can be best enjoyed by boat during a Vigan Heritage River Cruise.

If you feel like getting away from the suffocating hustle and bustle of Hong Kong's city life, and wish to travel back in time to savour the relaxing feel of Renaissance Europe - right here in Asia - then Vigan City could be the perfect place for you.

Visa

Hong Kong passport holders can stay for up to seven days without a visa. Those who wish to stay longer must apply for a visa that will be valid for 21 days. For an extension, tourists need to go to the Bureau of Immigration in the Philippines.

Weather and Climate

Vigan City has two seasons: a dry season, from November to April and a wet season from May to October. Its average temperature is 26 degrees Celsius, with highs of about 30 degrees and lows of about 21 degrees. It is usually hit by between seven to 10 typhoons every year.

Currency

The peso is the currency of the Philippines. The exchange rate is HK$1 to about 5.4 Philippine pesos.

Health and care

Tourists should consult a doctor at least four to six weeks before any trip to ensure they have the necessary vaccinations and take medication to prevent malaria.

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