Monday, March 2, 2015

La Union Photodiary: Surf, Sun & Vitamin Sea

I woke up today with an aching back, sore arms and legs, not to mention scraped knees and elbows. My back is also terribly itchy and sunburnt, and to make matters worse I am unable to reach back to thoroughly scratch it.

And then it dawned on me, I am back in the big bad city after spending 2 days in La Union. I've never felt so happy, rejuvenated, fresh. It's only been 2 months into 2015 and I've already been to 4 beaches (Balesin, Subic, Amontayan, La Union), and I have 3 more planned in the next few weeks. There's something about being in the water that makes one forget about all the worldliness and just focus on the sun, sand, and fellow (hunky!) surfers.

While in bed, I kept thinking about this particular scene in "You've Got Mail" where Kathleen Kelly ponders on her life and writes:
"Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life - well, valuable, but small - and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave?"
Whether it was changing careers, opening up myself to new relationships, or trying out surfing for the first time, I vow that this year will be my year. To be braver, to be more receptive to new things, and to generally just be the best version of myself. That said, I'm glad 2015 is off to a great start. I am truly grateful (and blessed) for all these opportunities to travel and grow as a person. 

What a long introduction to my adventures in La Union! Perhaps it's because I'm really, truly happy now, with everything just falling into place. So how did I end up in the surfing capital of the North? It all started when I received an invite to stay at The Circle Hostel La Union for 2 days. I immediately said yes because a) I have never been there, b) it was a great opportunity to get a tan, and c) I wanted to try surfing at least once in my lifetime. 

So come Friday evening, we endured the 6-hour drive to La Union and arrived at Circle Hostel 4am of Saturday (February 28). It's a surf hostel for beach lovers and surfers: they have 1 bunk room with 45 single beds (at Php 550 per day), 35 hammock spaces (at Php 450 per day), and a relaxing common area where you can sleep on the floor with pillows or sit back in a hammock. All the sockets are in the common area to encourage all the guests to mingle. It's a very effective strategy because we ended up having so much fun with visitors from Europe :)

the common area where everyone hangs out
the shower/changing area
Shim saying hello to Basti while brushing

How hipster is this?? You can rent the hammocks for Php 450 per day.

Use of the lockers are free, just remember to bring your own padlock though the place is relatively safe as you can leave your belongings near your bunk beds without worry. Additionally, you can leave your mark everywhere, too -- just pick up a brush and paint.

I was initially not too keen on staying in a hostel (it's my first time) because I'm rather prissy. But, you have to roll with the punches and eventually I got the hang of everything. Circle Hostel is very charming and endearing, I am already missing it as of writing. 

After some quick introductions, it was time to surf! The best thing about Circle's location is the beach is just 200 meters away! Or to be more accurate, a quick 5-minute walk from the hostel.

Our surfing lessons were compliments of Surf Star, it's P200/per hour for the instructor + Php 200 per surfboard. That's a pretty good deal since all of their instructors are hands-on and will teach you the basics of surfboarding and safety before they "let you loose" on the ocean.

there's so much to do! here's a group playing volleyball

I just have to say, the water in La Union is impressively pristine, even clearer than the waters in Balesin when I was there last January. My first instructor was Alan, he was helpful and amidst so many wipe outs, I was able to stand up on the board and ride the waves. And boy, it was so exhilarating -- it felt like flying! 

After 2 hours of swimming/surfing, we were set to have lunch in the popular Riverfarm Seafood Restaurant. Located along the banks of Baroro River, they offer freshly-caught, homegrown tilapia and other seafood options. If you're allergic, they have beef and pork dishes, too. 

honey-cured tuna, shrimps, and seaweed
Another famous place you definitely should visit when you're in La Union is El Union Coffee. The hype around this coffee shop is all worth it as they serve the most delicious, robust, and chocolatey coffee along with a slew of mouth-watering desserts. Our favorite is the Indoor S'mores which we ended up eating the whole night and even while on the way back to Manila.

Rafa Oca of Circle Hostel with Kiddo Cosio of El Union Coffee
Hot Mocha Coffee

I love their coffee so much, I brought a bag with me home. In the photo above I'm with surfer Camille Pilar of El Union Coffee. Isn't she the cutest?

In between swimming sessions, we'd hang out in the common area and charge our phones. It was a delightful respite from the heat, and it was nice to be able to connect to the world through Instagram and Facebook. WIFI is free in Circle Hostel, btw. 

with Jenn's little one, Basti 
Circle Hostel also prides themselves in creating an atmosphere where #therearenostrangers. Everyone is encouraged to mingle with other guests -- we played Jenga, drinking games, and other random/weird games to pass the time and get to know each other. All while gorging on 2 pans of Indoor S'mores which we got from El Union. You could say, we were all a little bit hyper that night :P

we had a S'mores party!
And before I knew it, I was asleep on the floor. I woke up surrounded by the other bloggers Apple, Jenn, and Issa who were busy tinkering with their mobiles. I think it was about 2am, I was woozy and so sleepy. When it dawned on me that I was still in the common area, I got up without saying a word, wobbily walked to our sleeping area and slumped back onto bed. It's a huge beauty no-no but I was so tired, I forgot to wash my makeup and sunscreen off (!).

Issa, Jenn, me, Apple before I dozed off. LOL
The next day, we were up bright and early so we can catch more waves. We had a quick breakfast of taho, pandesal, and bananas, and get this: freshly brewed lemongrass + mint tea which was homegrown in Circle Hostel.

I want to stay this golden forever
And then we were off to the beach!

Basti (Jenn's cute Shih Tzu) tries to get a tan
I was a little unsure about surfing again this time as the waves were more aggressive, but in the end I threw caution to the wind and just did it! Surf Star recommended Black Mamba as my surfing instructor this time.

And boy, was she as tough as her namesake. Apparently she's been watching me since yesterday and firmly mentioned that the reason why I wasn't able to ride more waves was because I wasn't focused enough on my stance and balance. She was actually a little pushy (which is good), and I'd feel bad whenever I'd fall off the board. Her determination made me want to work harder, and so after a couple of tries I was able to ride the waves! 

The moment I got off the board, she swam to me, gave me a high-five and said, "Galing mo!" To which I replied, "Galing ng coach ko e!"  That in itself was pretty awesome :)

It was also during this second attempt at surfing where I encountered numerous scenarios, like having a board almost come straight at me because of the strong waves, getting smashed in the face by a wave that I wasn't prepared for, falling into the water chest-first and scraping my knee on the sand as I landed (ouch!), and having a board bump my head while underwater. Surfing is serious biznez which is why Black Mamba always reminded me about safety -- safety from my board and from the other surfers.

Rafa from Circle Hostel, Issa, Apple, Me, Jenn, and Basti
the people at Surf Star -- you guys rock!
Now it's a must that you stay by the beach and watch the sunset. It's one of the most gorgeous sunsets I've seen, and the dark amber color it casts on everything is just magical. 

So what was the takeaway for me last weekend? First, always be open to a lot of things. I was placed in a situation where I didn't know the people that I was going to spend the weekend with, and normally I'd clam up and just not talk to anyone (because believe it or not, I am an introvert and I value personal space). I also didn't think much of Circle Hostel at first. This was my first hostel ever, and I wasn't really used to not having warm showers or walking around barefoot. But, it's character-building and I just took it in stride without any complaints.

But the best learning for me is to be brave. I didn't know shiz about surfing and I was nervous during my first few moments on the board but since I was there already, I pushed myself to do it -- if I failed, at least I gave it a shot. Towards the end though, I couldn't wait to get on!

A huge thanks to Rafa Oca of Circle Hostel and Aldous for this awesome experience! I will love La Union forever because of this :)

To book at Circle Hostel, visit or email


  1. This post makes me happy! And I'm so happy of you! You're rocking 2015 darling-keep it up!

  2. Yay! So happy with all the opportunities to travel! Ang bilis mo mag-comment ha. I made some edits pa above :D

  3. Actually nagulat nga ako that you went to The Circle Hostel because I had the same thought (you ARE prissy)! But I'm so proud of you for surviving it and wow you really enjoyed. I had the same feeling and I'm so glad I went to La Union for the first time to celebrate my 30th as well. Nakakakilig that one of my friends also had the same experience (babaw).

    I forgot my instructor's name, but he works for the hostel as well, and even had his super chatty wife be my teacher the next day. They're all super serious and strict about surfing no? Which I found to be really cool, kasi their attitude will also rub off on you and keep you safe while you're still a noob.

  4. LOL. I think with every [barefoot] step, my insides were cringing. Hehe. But surfing was so much fun! And surfers are the nicest people ever. The whole time I was thinking, I've been hanging out at the wrong places. I really like their vibe <3

  5. So happy I got the chance to see this post, Miss Kira! Makes me miss LU more. You can try Luke Landrigan's San Juan Surf Resort next time too. You'll be delighted kasi he has dogs who also know how to surf! :)

  6. Hi, Eunice! How have you been? :) I'll definitely keep Luke Landrigan's Resort in mind for next time! I can't wait to go back :D

  7. Looks like so much fun! I am just like you, very prissy and stranger-wary, and I cannot imagine doing this alone so props to you! :D

  8. Haha, so hard for us prissy people to adjust to certain, um...situations :D But the entire experience was so fun, can't wait to do it again!

  9. I'm so excited for our trip!!!! Sana sumama si Anne!!!! <3