since i went there to learn surfing three years ago, the place has become so close to my heart. though my surfing has not vastly improved (through my own doing), i keep coming back.
true, san juan doesn't have the powder-white sand beaches of boracay, nor the loud bars of puerto galera. the resorts you'll find are pretty spartan, the beach is riddled with rocks, but ask me to go, and i will definitely go with you.
the place has a charm of its own: the people are friendly, fun, and laidback, the resorts clean, and the water quite perfect during the cold season (it's pretty warm!).
and of course, there's the surfing. it's probably one of the closest places (to manila) to learn surfing in, aside from zambales. the waves are pretty stable, and there are lots of instructors on hand. board rentals can be found in all resorts.
how to get there
i've mastered the commuting route to san juan, as it's actually quite a breeze. i even find it more fun than driving there, plus the stopovers serve pretty good food!
i usually leave friday night, so i can get enough waves over the weekend. i choose from the 9pm, 11pm, and 12mn trips at the partas bus terminal in aurora boulevard. you can take any of the following routes: vigan, laoag, and even abra, as all these use the highway that passes through la union.
when you're already at the ticket booth, don't forget to tell the guy at the counter that you're getting off at san juan, la union. otherwise, you'll be charged for the entire journey. you should only pay P396 for a one-way trip.
partas buses are clean and comfortable, not to mention fast. some drivers are daredevils on wheels, but i've never encountered an accident in my three years of shuttling back and forth. their conductors are also pretty friendly. don't forget to tell your conductor that you'll be getting off at se-bay (pronounced sea bay), so he'll anticipate this stop and even wake you up should you doze off during the trip. he'll even help you with your bags at no additional cost!
where do i sleep?
so the bus has sped off and left you at the side of the street. the sun has barely risen. now's the time to wake yourself up, as you'll be crossing the two-lane highway. look left, then right. no cars? then cross.
that side you crossed to is lined with resorts. behind them is the beach. yes, the sea is just right there. you can choose among the resorts in this area so you can rest. face the waves after about two hours.
my favorite resort among the lot is surfer's inn. it's simple, clean, and affordable. they have three townhouses that serve as inns. bedspace is at P250/person/night. for that, you get a clean bed and access to a clean bathroom that you may share with other guests. i've stayed here many times, and have never seen the bathroom filthy. if you'd like to try this place out, contact viva olalia at 09285588265. she can also organize surf lessons for you!
another resort that's quite popular with foreign tourists is san juan surf resort. they have bigger bedrooms with air conditioning. i've had quite a few not-so-pleasant experiences with them already, but i'm not completely scratching them off. you may contact them at: (072) 7200340. like surfer's inn, they offer surf lessons and board rentals.
waveriderz is another option. i've only stayed here once, and the room we got could fit in about 10. so this is pretty good for big groups who don't mind staying in tight quarters. the room we got contained a pretty run-of-the-mill bathroom. try contacting lemon at 09197650702 for reservations.
and finally, there's little surf maid (photo). this one's more on the expensive side, especially for la union, but i assure you, you'll get your money's worth! if you feel like pampering yourself after getting battered by the waves, this is the right place for you. the resort is quite new, it just opened last january. i have no complaints at all about the service--from check-in to check-out, everything was superb. if you want to see photos of the place, click here. a room for two costs P2,000 to P2,500. just give omar a call at 09106870548.
my stomach's grumbling.
aside from the surfing, another reason i keep going back to la union is the food. grub from the nearby eateries, such as aling norma's (just cross the highway again), costs about P28 to P40 per meal. that already includes rice, ulam, and a bottle of cold softdrink.
se-bay also serves bulalo (it's pretty ordinary, though), arroz caldo, and other dishes for about P60-P100 per meal.
but la union's best-kept dining secret has got to be midway grill. it's definitely pricier than aling norma's, but you'll definitely not be disappointed. you can feast on grilled blue marlin (photo) for just P120 (with garlic rice and buttered veggies), babyback ribs for P220, midway slam (breakfast meal of pancakes, ham, scrambled eggs, sausage, and bacon) for just P98. they serve breakfast all-day long!
to get to midway grill, go to the highway and hail any jeep going in the direction of manila. the jeeps usually have a sign that says "sn. fernando" on the windshield. inform the driver that you'll be getting off at midway grill. landmarks to watch out for are the flying v gas station (this means you're about 2-5 minutes away), or the shell gas station (this means you just passed midway. sumigaw ka na ng "para!").
okay, now what?
so you've surfed. you've stuffed your stomach. now what? nothing, actually. la union doesn't have much of a nightlife. if you're with a bunch of friends, you can ask the locals to build you a fire. you can all gather round and drink the night away as you listen to the huge waves crashing against the shore.
if you're more adventurous and have already made friends with the locals, you might actually get an invite to one of their nightly get-togethers. these usually entail either videoke singing, or just hanging out on the beach and drinking. whatever happens, you'll definitely have fun.
which way is home?
you've had your fun, and now you want to go back home. you can either hail any bus bound for manila on the highway, or if you want to take the partas bus again, hail a jeep bound for san fernando instead. tell the driver to drop you off at the partas bus terminal. from there, you pay for your ticket (p396), you wait for your bus, and you ride it back home.
thanks for visiting la union!
summary of contact details:
partas bus company
aurora blvd. cor bernardino st., quezon city
tel. nos.: 7251740; 7251256; 7257303; 7249820
tel. no.: 09285588265 (viva olalia)
san juan surf resort (surf camp)
tel. no.: (072) 7200340
tel. no.: 09197650702 (lemon)
little surf maid
tel. no.: 09106870548
visit manila surfers' association for more details on surfing events.