As a child of the 1970s, I grew up reading comics. Carlo Caparas’ “Ang Panday,” as serialized in Filipino Komiks, made Flavio the hero whose adventure that most kids like me as would follow week after week.
When it was finally made into a movie in the 1980s by Fernando Poe Jr. or FPJ, we trooped to the movie-houses to see how Flavio’s story would unfold on the big screen. We were not disappointed. FPJ was a perfect Flavio. The last scene played in the desert was already worth the ticket. It was the final battle between good and evil. The evil Lizardo (masterfully played by Max Alvarado) and his supernatural minions made all the people of the village their prisoners and threatened to kill them all. And Flavio had to rescue them all by himself. Flavio was outnumbered, but he has the magic sword. When he pulled it off from the sand, it was brimming with superpowers. I can never forget the fight scene between Flavio and Lizardo. It was played on the sand dunes, with the blue sea on the background and against the sunset. It was a beautifully shot scene. Flavio finally won. But the curious boy in me wanted to see where the sand dunes scene was shot.
Several years later, a friend who worked as a production assistant for movies took me to the same spot where the “Ang Panday” movies were shot. It was in Paoay, in Ilocos Norte. She explained that Paoay was the favorite location of FPJ’s “Ang Panday” series. It was also here where “Himala,” “Temptation Island” and even Hollywood film like “Born on the Fourth of July” were also shot.
It is not only filmmakers who were captivated by Paoay’s magnificent landscape. Several centuries earlier, migrants from India, Malaysia and Indonesia who were mostly fisherman initially settled in the coastal areas where the sand dunes are located. However, they soon moved eastward after discovering the richer soil suitable for planting rootcrops, garlic and tobacco. It was here in the new location that the Spaniards discovered the original settlers and converted them into Christianity at around 1593.
Paoay became an independent Augustinian parish in 1686. The present Saint Augustine Church started construction in 1694 and was completed in 1710. It is said the Indonesian migrants who built the church infused the Javanese design style in constructing the walls and façade of the church.
Paoay became the second home of the Marcoses in the 1970s. Former president Ferdinand Marcos was born in the nearby town of Batac, but they found Paoay more inviting with its lake, sand dunes and picturesque coastal areas so they built the Malacanang of the North there, and initiated the construction of Fort Ilocandia and the Paoay Golf Course.
How to get there
Paoay is 470 kilometers from Manila. The quickest way to reach Paoay is to take a direct flight from Manila to Laoag. Both PAL and Cebu Pacific have daily flights to Laoag. At the Laoag Airport, there are tricycles that can be rented to go to Paoay (about 30 minutes).
Another alternative is to take a bus. Partas Bus located in Cubao has several trips daily going to Paoay. Travel time takes about 10 hours and costs about P800.
Those with private vehicles can drive north via NLEX, SCTEX and TPLEX, exit at Urdaneta and continue to Ilocandia via La Union, and then Ilocos Sur. Upon entering Ilocos Norte via Badoc and then Pinili, turn left either at Currimao junction or at Batac junction to reach Paoay.
What to see, what to do
Paoay’s most famous landmark is the Saint Augustine Church. It is included in the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site as part of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines. It is known for its distinct architecture highlighted by massive buttresses on the sides and the back. The adjacent bell-tower built in 1793 resembling a pagoda was used as an observation post during Spanish era.
The 386-hectare Paoay Lake is the home of the locally-grown tilapia, catfish and mudfish. Its northern shore is where the 18-course Paoay Lake Golf Course is located.
Overlooking the lake is the Malacanang of the North or “Malacanang ti Amianan.” Built by former president Marcos as his official residence in the north, it is now converted into a museum.
The sand dunes of Paoay are now attracting visitors who wish to experience the thrill of going off-road (using four-wheel drive vehicles) or doing sand-boarding. In both Culili and Suba, there are 4WD jeeps that can be rented for P2,500 for 30 minutes for the ultimate joy ride on the sands.
However, for those who wish to reminisce on some of the movies shot in Paoay, the local government has erected the statues of “Ang Panday” and Nora Aunor’s character in “Himala” in Suba beach.
Where to stay, what to eat
Fort Ilocandia Resort Hotel in Suba offers five-star accommodations in Paoay. This resort hotel built on the sprawling seven-hectare beach property has rooms that look like old Spanish quarters.
Located right next to Paoay Church complex is Casa Dona Emilia Bed and Breakfast. This is a good place to stay for those who wish to explore Paoay Church from late afternoon to early evening when bus-loads of tourists have already left.
There are also many accommodations in nearby Currimao and Laoag. Currimao (located less than 20 minutes) has Playa Tropical Resort and Sitio Remedios, while in Laoag, there’s the Plaza del Norte Hotel and Convention Center, Balay de Blas Pension House or Java Hotel.
For dining, Café Herencia located at the church complex pioneered the Ilocano-inspired pizza. Pinakbet, longganisa, bagnet and dinuguan are some of the pizza flavors available in Paoay. The branch of Johnny Moon (or Juan Luna in English) also serves similar pizza flavors.
The sandy soil of Paoay is also best suited for growing and nurturing dragon fruits. Expect to get them cheap from the stalls in front of the church plaza during summer. Or for those who wish to try Dragon Fruit Ice Cream, there’s a vendor who usually stays in front of Casa Dona Emilia that sells them for P20 per cone.
But the best dish that one must try in Paoay is its local version of the Empanada, which is sold in front of the plaza. It is far better and tastier than those sold in Vigan. And they are so good, that even Flavio would sell his sword to get one.