In 1818, the province of Ilocos was divided into two and the city of LAOAG ("la-wag"), two hours north of Vigan by road, became the capital of Ilocos Norte. Laoag itself is an easygoing city. There are only a handful of things to do and see, but it makes an excellent base for exploring the beautiful coast at nearby La Paz, heading north to Pagudpud, or touring Marcos country. Ilocos Norte is still strongly associated in Filipino minds with former President Ferdinand Marcos. This was very much his patch, and his son Bong-Bong and daughter Imee, both of whom have entered politics, are still popular in these parts: Bong-Bong is governor of Ilocos Norte and Imee is its congresswoman. Many sights around Laoag are associated with the late dictator, who was born south of Laoag in Sarrat, while the family seat was 15km southeast of the city in Batac, where Marcos lies in a refrigerated glass sarcophagus.
In the city, the main sights are the Sinking Bell Tower and St William's Cathedral, both close to Aurora Park. The bell tower was built by Augustinian friars with a door big enough for a man on horseback to pass through. The tower has sunk so much that today you can only get through the door by stooping. St William's Cathedral, one of the biggest in the Philippines, was built in honour of Laoag's patron saint, William the Hermit. It was originally constructed in 1612, but damaged by typhoon in 1640, earthquake in 1706 and fire in 1843. The structure that stands today has the original foundations, but the rest was added in 1880. The Marcos Hall of Justice (daily 9am–4pm; free), the square white building on the west side of Aurora Park, was where a young Ferdinand Marcos was detained in 1939 after being accused of the murder of one of his father's political opponents. Marcos wanted to graduate in law and used his time in detention wisely, swotting for the bar examination and preparing his own defence against a murder charge. In court he wowed the judge with his knowledge of the law and was duly acquitted. He also came top in the bar examinations. Above the room where Marcos was detained hangs a sign that says "Crossroads for a President". The Ilocos Norte Museum (Tues– Sat, 9am– noon & 1–4pm; P20) is the best place for a quick but reasonably comprehensive overview of the province's history and culture. Close to the main plaza, it's housed in a restored Spanish-era tobacco warehouse and is nicknamed Gameng, from the Ilocano word meaning treasure. Exhibits include vintage costumes, antiques from ancestral houses, farming equipment, Spanish and tribal artefacts.