“Here. Just stop here,” he said. The trike slowed, wobbling slightly. To the left was jungle, the only one we found when looking for a hiking trail near Vigan City.

“Here, sir?” The driver asked Jason. He affirmed. 

The driver coasted into a small paved area that formed a notch into what was otherwise jungle by the side of the road. We were roughly opposite Gabriela Silang Memorial Park, which was opposite the Northern Luzon Heroes Hill National Park, south of Vigan. I assumed that was the name of the jungle area.

This was the place we wanted to check out, hoping to find a hiking trail. 

Vigan Plan A: Be Tourists

Since the plan change to Vigan was my idea (the original plan was to explore Batanes), I asked around beforehand for what we could do as a day trip from Vigan on our second day. We felt we would exhaust the things to see within Vigan itself on the first day. 

All the recommendations suggested that we make a day trip north, along the coastline of Ilocos Norte. Play with the dune buggies on the sand dunes, check out interesting rock formations, see the wind turbines of Bangui. I had read this on a couple of Filipino blogs as well. It sounded promising. 

Well, to me, anyway. 

“You mean you want us to go back to Laoag, and past it?” Jason was not impressed.

We had arrived in Ilocos via Laoag airport, and had just taken a bus south to Vigan. “We could have stayed in Laoag, and done Vigan as the day trip.” He griped further.

True. But I reminded him that originally Mayshelle and I had landed on Vigan, because it was a Philippine UNESCO Site that she herself hadn’t visited yet. Jason was grumbly for a bit longer, but did not nag me further. 

So, as we went around to explore the old city, we recce’d options for executing our plans for Day 2. It’s Asia, after all. Surely there would be tourism providers tripping over their feet to give us brochures. 

Charming abandoned house with overgrown vegetation overhang along a street in Vigan old city, Ilocos Sur, the Philippines

Hello, is there any tourism here?

Except there wasn’t. We asked the front desk, some tourism offices we found, and even tried to check out car rentals. Nobody sold a tour. 

You could hire a vehicle and driver for the day (which was surprisingly expensive). That’s because the vehicle is invariably a large, air-conditioned MPV, which is overkill for two people. And besides, it was totally not the style of either of us. We just wanted a local guide, someone who could take us to the sights, and tell us something about it. Somehow, nobody could do that. 

A UNESCO Heritage Site in Asia, that was not overwhelmed with tour companies? Where random people not officially in the tourism industry were not coming out of the woodwork to offer independent guiding services?

We were baffled. 

But we were already in Ilocos, surely we ought to make the best of it! So we asked anyway, what the road trip would entail for the places we were interested in, if we did hire the driver and the massive car. 

A very early start, and a return to Vigan in the evening. It sounded exhausting. This is the itinerary that people normally do from here?? That’s crazy talk! 

Yellow and red trike with Duterte sticker, the default public transportation in Vigan
The default transportation choice in Vigan – not really a day trip vehicle though…

Plan B: Explore

Still, just like in Sibu Island, I wanted to make a go for it. We can do it! But again, just like in Sibu, Jason went lateral, and vetoed the plan.

He suggested a hike instead. Hike where? Hiking had not come up at all in all my research about Vigan.

We pored over Google Maps, searching for clues. There really didn’t seem to be a hiking trail immediately near Vigan. 

So we looked further. There was a large green spot to the south of Vigan, across the estuary, and past a town marked ‘Santa’. Northern Luzon Heroes Hill National Park. 

“There must be hiking there.” I can’t remember which one of us said it, but the other agreed. 

Nobody we asked in Vigan seemed to know how to go for a hike in Heroes Hill, though. It seemed like it’s not a place ‘to go to’. In fact, nobody seemed to know of any other hiking trail near Vigan either. The closest that we could get was a trike driver who thought that perhaps we meant the memorial park opposite. 

Close enough. Let’s do it.

The Hiking Trail Near Vigan

Back at the roadside where the trike dropped us off, we contemplated our situation.

There was the jungle before us, all right. And the paved area might have been intended as parking. Off to the side and up some steps there was a kind of small, generic whitewashed building that looked abandoned. 

But that was it. There was no sign of anyone, nor any kind of entry system.

I tried to decide whether this was, or was not, the start of a hiking trail. 

Jason did not try. He went right in. There was an opening in the vegetation, and apparently that was good enough for him.

Oh well. I followed. 

Possibly a trail into Northern Luzon Heroes Hill National Park near Santa, Ilocos Sur | jungle hiking trail near Vigan in the Philippines
I guess this is a trail

High ground vs stream

Slightly further in, they trail became more passable. I could not decide whether there was in fact a jungle trail that had become a bit overgrown through lack of passage, or if it was more passable simply because we were following the stream bed. 

Well, at least followed by the stream bed, where it was an easier ramble. On either side, the forested ground sloped upward and was more difficult to traverse, causing Jason to have to return to the stream every so often to circumvent obstacles. 

But his difficulty and backtracking suited me just fine. It slowed him down, so I could look around almost at leisure as I hiked. For me, hiking is about the things you might encounter during the hike. Although I prefer the ocean, spiders and insects and fungus and butterflies and all sorts of jungle things still fascinate me. 

Brown polypore fungus on the forest floor of Northern Luzon Heroes Hill National Park near Santa
Lovely russet brown polypores

Spiders on the hiking trail in Heroes Hill National Park

Spiders were relatively easy for me to find – at least the web-spinning ones. Because you’d either accidentally run into a web, and know that there’s more around, or you’d actually see a web glinting against the sunlight.

This trail had spiders. A few were particularly interesting. One had a black and white patterned abdomen, with a red back. Another was a translucent white, and hung against the sunlight on a single strand of silk. 

Collage of three spider images seen on a hike in Ilocos Sur
From bottom left, clockwise: Translucent spider | Spider on a twig with patterned abdomen | Spider spinning in its web

I might have seen more, if Jason had not been so enthusiastic in clearing the path of spiderwebs ahead of me. (Not that I didn’t appreciate it.) 

But the one I remember the most, is the one that was in the middle of its labyrinthine web half within a hollow in the ground. Because when I came upon it, it was spinning! And I don’t mean spinning in the sense of, making a web. I mean, literally spinning. The spin was so fast, it was a blur.

At first I didn’t know what it was, as I had never seen a spider spin like that before. But then it stopped, and I could see it was a spider. Then it spun again, and I tried to take a photo. Too late, it occurred to me to take a video instead. But, as I fumbled with my phone, it stopped. 

Then it just hung there, motionless, and didn’t spin again. I found a YouTube video that shows what the spider was doing, though.

The coolest thing I have ever seen on a hike

But this particular hike was exceptional to me because of one little guy.

I noticed it creeping up a rock as I continued along the river bed. It was the weirdest-looking insect I had ever seen – and I’ve personally seen stick insects in the wild. Once, a leaf insect even came into my room on Sibu Island

The head extended out, pulling part of its body out of a kind of sheath that looked like it was made of twigs somehow glued together. Then, like a caterpillar, the rest of it pulled up – including its twig sheath – and the sheath pulled up to cover its body again, leaving just the head and front legs sticking out. And it did it again, slowly creeping up a bit of rock. 

What is it?? Are the twigs part of it, and just stupendously good camouflage? Did it make the twig house? Then, why is it stuck on so well? So many questions. 

This time, I had the presence of mind to record it. Enjoy!

Video is slowed down, to better appreciate the movements. 

What is this thing?

My entomology is basic at best. I shared this video around, and on a blogging forum someone told me that it is a common insect in Pakistan. But she didn’t know its name, or anything else about it. So I haven’t got anything to go on, to Google it with. ‘Insect with a stick house’ doesn’t cut it. I might send this to an entomologist and see what I find out. 

Because it is there. Or even if it isn’t. 

While I was happily being a naturalist down on the stream bed, my companion seemed to be doing battle with the jungle itself. He would not come down to walk along the stream bed. 

Why not? 

“Why?” He sounded as if the question was preposterous. “How would you find the top if you just stay down there?”

There it was again. This fixation with conquering summits. I remember this from a different hike, earlier in the year. I had taken him hiking in a neighbourhood forest park near Kuala Lumpur, Bukit Gasing. It was a rambling sort of park, and the trails criss-cross each other. 

We had finished exploring a trail or two, before he realised the Bukit Gasing trails don’t really have a ‘peak’, per se. And he was disappointed!

Now, Jason is not by any means the exception. Later that year, I shared an Airbnb with a Frenchman on Easter Island. He, too, had insisted on ascending Easter Island’s highest point, Maunga Terevaka, even though the island is quite barren, and you really could see much of it from other (driveable!) points.

Personally, I would have spent the time he took to cycle up the trails to the top of Terevaka, to see more moai and learn about Rapa Nui culture. But then, I’m not a guy. 

Jason could not really explain it when I asked him why. “It’s high ground!” You must take the high ground. Because. 

Okay

The ascent

I wasn’t sure what he had in mind, but apparently he had sighted a nearby electricity pylon. He would consider the hike ‘successful’, if we reached that point. 

I had already found a weird supercool insect. For me, the hike was already successful, so I was in an agreeable mood. We left the stream and picked a likely path that led upward. Jason picked his way through the jungle, and I simply followed.

Eventually the way did seem to resemble a trail, hugging a hillside. At a particularly steep part of the narrow trail slope, a twisted strand of liana was strung out from the top. I wondered if it was by intention, or was just serendipitous. 

We climbed up the slope with the help of the liana, and eventually met a wall of hill. A bit of slope had crumbled away. The pylon’s base was not far beyond, and looked reachable if we could haul ourselves up. 

It was certainly not a climb that I could have made alone – I was too short to reach the upper tree roots for leverage. Even with help, I had to leave my sling bag at the base of the earth wall, to make the climb. 

But we did make it to the ‘top’. It was covered in flowering shrub, so the view was not really amazing. Nonetheless, we took our obligatory victory photos! 

Back down the hiking trail

Even if I might have figured out how to climb or bypass the vertical slope earlier, I still wouldn’t have done the climb had I been alone. Because, I might not be able to safely come back down. 

Me trying to lower myself down a vertical earth slope on a hiking trail inside Northern Luzon Heroes Hill National Park near Vigan
Undignified scrabbling

It was not terrible. But it was a bit tricky. It took undignified scrabbling about to lower myself down – again, because I’m short. I had to drop down onto a ledge that was itself slightly sloping. Hard to do without looking at it. But, quite safe with Jason below to catch me.

And the rest of the way was just traipsing from rock to rock, boulder to boulder, down the sides of the stream.

Hiking near Vigan >> touristy things?

We emerged back out to the paved area by the roadside. To our surprise, there were now people there, resting. Perhaps they were likewise surprised to see us emerge from the jungle.

They seemed like they belonged there – perhaps there were people posted to watch over the place. Perhaps they were rangers. I couldn’t work it out, from their conversation with Jason. I was busy trying to cut off the sole of my shoe that had come partially off during the hike. When I was done, we flagged down a bus headed up to Vigan, and made a last stop to see Bantay belltower along the way.

As for our day spent hiking? By both our measures, it was a decent hike! And I think we had a much better day than if we had tried to force a long road trip hitting the sights along the Ilocos coastline. 

I keep telling people: often your best trips happen when you bin the plan. And it helps if you travel with someone else who understands this too. 

Carbon offsetting information to the Philippines

A return flight between Kuala Lumpur and Laoag produces carbon emissions of approximately 2,499 lbs CO2e. It costs about $13 to offset this.


Yes, you can go hiking near Vigan! Pin this to find the trail!

8 Responses

  1. neha says:

    It’s really great that you guys chose to go on this hiking trail instead of doing the regular touristy thing that everyone suggested. The trail looks interesting. And I love the fact that the place was not even crowded!

  2. sue davies says:

    Enjoyed your post. This is literally off-the-beaten path. And, the stick insect video was cool.

  3. Josie says:

    Definitely sounds like a better day than hours in a car! I have no idea what that insect is either, haven’t seen anything else like that around before.

  4. Claire says:

    Woah that insect looks insane! So cool! Reminds me of a weird grasshopper we found while hiking near Ohrid, Macedonia…Never learned its name but it was the largest insect I’ve ever seen!