La Union Philippines is the smallest province in Region I, on Luzon Island, whose bustling industries mark the beginning of what used to be called “Marcos Country.”
It is a lovely stretch of land, shaped like a left footprint, nestled between the calm waters of the China Sea in the west and the vast ranges of the Cordillera Mountains in the east.
La Union –- Spanish term for “the union” or “the unified” -– no other name could apply more appropriately to a province born out of the fusion of towns from the provinces of Ilocos Sur, Pangasinan and Benguet in 1850.
As a province, La Union Philippines has withstood the rigors of wars, first against the Spaniards in order to gain independence from tyrannical rule, then against the Americans in order to defend the hard-fought independence from the Spaniards and lastly against the Japanese in order to redeem and protect the independence promised by the Americans.
San Fernando, the capital city, stretches along a portion of the shoreline of Lingayen Gulf and San Fernando Bay in the west.
The municipality of San Fernando is the culminating point of the Hong Kong-San Fernando regatta, which is held every year. Along the town’s eastern boundaries lie the municipalities of Bagulin and Naguilian. Bauang is in the south and San Juan in the north.
From Agoo, stretching northward to San Juan, the coastline of La Union Philippines is dotted with numerous beach resorts, offering varied types of accommodations and facilities.
Bauang is known for its wide, open beaches and calm waters. Along the highways in Bauang and Caba are grape vineyards, which produce one of the sweetest grapes in the country, while Urbiztondo and San Juan is internationally famous for its year-round surfing waves.
On the other hand, Poro Point, San Fernando and the Bauang Reef are the best areas for scuba diving and snorkeling.
Bagulin, La Union’s highest point at 1,200 feet above sea level, is ideal for trekking and mountain-biking. Nature lovers will enjoy the 10-hectare Botanical and Zoological Garden in Cadaclan, seven kilometers from San Fernando City proper. The upland park features theme gardens, picnic areas, a natural museum and an aviary.
La Union Philippines has 9-hole golf courses at Poro Point and at Camp Oscar Florendo. Poro Point is being developed into a world-class golf course. Lawn bowling, duckpins, darts and indoor games can also be played at many of the beach resorts.
For beach lovers, one can go to San Nicolas Beach, a historical one because it served as an entry point of Japanese traders during the pre-Spanish period.
Other beaches include the Darigayos-Paraoir Beach (Camp Spencer before), a USAFIP-NL headquarter during WW2; Bauang Beach, a stretch of grayish sand beach in barangays Baccuit and Paringao, with lots of resorts while San Juan Beach is famous for its waves which is ideal for lovers.
The Ma-cho Temple is another important landmark frequently visited by tourists. On a hill north of San Fernando town proper, this Taoist temple was built for worship and offerings. Ma-cho is the goddess of the sea and has a special affection for people residing by the sea. It enshrines the images of the Virgin of Caysasay.
Pindangan Ruins is all that remains of the first church of La Union Philippines, which was made of coral stones in 1674. This was the center of the settlement that was to become the capital town of San Fernando.
Museo Iloko is located besides the Agoo municipal building. It houses religious artifacts, antique furniture, porcelain wares and miniature dolls depicting Filipino traditions.
Meanwhile, Museo de la Union is another museum that is located at the west-northwest of the provincial capitol. It showcases archaeological finds in La Union.
La Union Philippines is also noted for her Ilocano blanket (inabel) in Bangar, the pottery industry in San Juan, the exotic basi (Ilocano wine), and the woodcarvings in Naguilian, shell craft in Bauang, brooms in Burgos and Bagulin and bamboo craft in Caba.
Other attractions include the Christ on the Mount. This magnificent landmark stands atop a hill overlooking the town of Tubao, 36 kilometers from San Fernando and also Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, a religious shrine carved out of the mountainside at the end of Dona Toribia Aspiras road.
But no trip to La Union Philippines is complete without savoring the “jumping salad.” Head out to Nuval’s Carinderia where a fresh catch of shrimps waits. “Jumping salad” goes like this. Get a bowlful of live shrimps. Clam a small plate on top to make sure no one escapes. Lift the plate a teeny bit and quickly squeeze on a fistful of native lemon. Shut the bowl while the shrimp writhe in agony.
Grab a handful of rock salt and throw it in, with a plate of basi vinegar at hand. Open the bowl. The shrimp will be dazed. Take one shrimp, pull off its head, soak the rest in the plate of vinegar and plop it into your mouth. That’s jumping salad.
San Fernando can be reached after an eight hour trip north from Manila via any of the Ilocos-bound buses. From Baguio, San Fernando is an hour’s drive via Naguilian road. The Marcos Highway also meets La Union at the Tubao Junction.
Air services (chartered) from San Fernando City airport are also available.
Within San Fernando, the most convenient public transport is the jeepney, although tricycles and a few taxicabs can be hired for short distances. In Bauang, boats can be hired to reach diving, snorkeling, swimming and fishing spots.