• Wayne Manuel

Kamarinn Cafe: How I Found the Chillest Place in Ilocos Norte During the Hot Summer

Vista Del Lago's own Paoay Lake Viewdeck, located just above the Kamarinn Cafe.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 10mm (EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM), 1/1250 sec., ISO1000, f/4.5.

11th day of April 2018. I am currently spending my summer vacation in Ilocos Norte and I think I have already tried every cozy coffee shop in Laoag City. Yes, coffee - a hot beverage, a pretty unusual craving even when the summer temperatures are climaxing up to 33 degrees Celsius in the Ilocos region during the day. Besides going on vacay by going to the beach and catching hangovers with my friends (I just came out from a 4-night alcohol streak), I am currently reviewing for the Dentistry Boards which I will hopefully take in December - another reason why I needed the daily brewed caffeine fix. My everyday summer schedule goes: 10AM-4PM I do duties at our dental clinic by assisting my mom in performing dental surgeries; the 4PM-7PM timeframe will depend on where I plan to go to run through my general anatomy notes; 7PM will be dinner and, well, I don't even remember sometimes what happens in the "onwards" the next morning.

Today, I decided to be alcohol-free until my vacation ends, hence giving myself more time to find new hangout places, preferably a coffee shop, where I can casually review my subjects. I don't really like settling inside the house to read because there are too many distractions and I don't fancy 3-in-1 coffee, unless I don't have a choice. Clearly, we don't have a coffee press at home so I just rely on coffee shops with my strong caffeine cravings. Don't worry, here in Ilocos it's not that big a deal unlike in the Metro where coffee shops overcrowded with studying students are frowned upon by many (this even raised issues regarding the country's library shortages). Face it, individual studying environment preferences differ case-by-case, so don't bug me with another coffee shop issue.

A screen grab from my Tan-ok ni Ilokano Festival of Festivals vlog contest entry "Siyak Ni Wayne", featuring the Paoay Lake

Shot with DJI P3S, 1/250 sec., ISO100, f/2.8.


Last Sunday, my family looked for a place where we can have lunch. I recommended the Mexican-themed place called Vista del Lago Restaurant along the western shores of the Paoay Lake, for it's been almost two years since I last dined there and it's just a few miles away from our house. While waiting for our orders, I decided to go to the balcony to witness the tranquility of the Paoay Lake once again. After a few, I noticed a new building just beside the resto, which I initially guessed as a sort of an extension to the place. I'm not familiar with the architectural vocabulary, but the building has about three floors with a rooftop in which the third floor serves as an entrance to the then-unknown establishment (reason is because the building was built on a ridge). The lower floors can be reached by going down a flight of stairs outside the building. Moreover, the rooftop serves as a viewdeck for visiting tourists and customers to the place.

The northern view from the Kamarinn Cafe balcony, you can see the Malacañan of the North from afar.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 12mm (EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM), 1/640 sec., ISO320, f/5.0.

A water lily at the viewdeck/rooftop fountain pool.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 35mm f/1.2 7artisans lens, 1/100 sec., ISO100.

Vista Del Lago's own Paoay Lake Viewdeck, located just above the Kamarinn Cafe.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 10mm (EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM), 1/1250 sec., ISO1000, f/4.5.

I got in awe from what I saw from the restaurant's balcony. There were so many antiques and wooden furnitures beautifully displayed inside the building. As someone living in a house designed out of my mom's love of wood and antiques, there will be no hesitations for me in going to places like this for it will somehow make me feel at home. As soon as I saw these and as I heard the soothing instrumental music playing inside, I decided to go out the resto to check out the place.


By the time I opened the resto's door out, it was insanely sunny and hot (it was about 1:30 in the afternoon, btw). I could have stayed inside the air-conditioned restaurant if not for the neighboring establishment's enticing furnishings and music. A garden welcomes you to the place with its several planted pots and ornamental wooden objects neatly arranged on the landscaped grass. A stone walkway leads you onto the staired entrance. At the end of the stairs, a small signage in the form of a wooden picture frame saying "Kamarinn Café" can be seen. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to take pictures of Kamarinn at that time, I didn't bring my camera because the sole purpose of going there was just to have lunch at that Mexican resto. My forgetfulness plus my awe in seeing Kamarinn's elegance for the first time got me decided to come back after a few days with all of my camera gear (and of course, my reviewers).

The Kamarinn Café entrance welcomes you with a wooden picture frame, which can also serve as a photobooth.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 35mm f/1.2 7artisans lens, 1/1000 sec., ISO160.

Pasalubongs can also be bought at Kamarinn. Behind are some antiques that are for sale.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 35mm f/1.2 7artisans lens, 1/200 sec., ISO250.

These wooden sala sets add more 'chill' to the place.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 35mm f/1.2 7artisans lens, 1/640 sec., ISO400.

At this state, the place is still under works. I bet it would look even better after the full-furnish.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 10mm (EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM), 1/60 sec., ISO320, f/4.5.

A sungka is seen lying on a glass table.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 10mm (EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM), 1/60 sec., ISO320, f/4.5.


During my first visit, I noticed that there was some kind of a distinctive artistry quite similar to a hotel in Laoag City that is the Balay Da Blas (House of Blas). That's why upon going inside, I immediately asked the one manning the counter about what the place is about and who owns it (because I already had an idea who). He told me that it is a coffee place and a pasalubong/antiques shop as well. And I guessed it right: the owner and manager of the place is Ilocos Norte Businessman Samuel Blas, who also owns the aforementioned Balay Da Blas Pensionne House and the Saramsam Ylocano Restaurant in Laoag City.

My current Facebook profile picture, shot in Kamarinn Café. (c) Marlo Manuel

Shot with Samsung Galaxy Note 8. 6mm, 1/170 sec., ISO25, f/2.4.

How did I guess?

Seven years ago (2011), I first learned the basics of photography from a workshop conducted by Professional Photographers Mike and Ameer Lawan. This was a two-day event held in Balay Da Blas. Sir Sam was there, in fact I accidentally shot a photo with him in the background (see below). I was just 15 y/o at that time, but I really wanted to learn how to properly take pictures. So as soon as I heard about the event, I borrowed my mom's DSLR (Canon 550D) and immediately went to Balay with two of my cousins. After a thorough lecture about the technicalities and manipulation of SLRs and DSLRs, they held a contest for all participants. We got just an hour to get our best shots in relation to the theme "Lines and Shapes." I got my "best" just 5 minutes before submission time. The shot involved carrying a heavy banga, carriage wheel, mortar and pestle into place. I was even lying down on the wet ground (it was raining) and timing Balay's entrance (so many people passing through) to get the perfect shot. Results followed the next day and my piece (see below) placed second out of about 20 participants. Explained what my photo was all about and Sir Mike, Sir Ameer, and Sir Sam awarded me after.

The workshop made me look at Balay Da Blas' architecture and design somehow extraordinary. Using both of these made me come up with a piece that tells a story - an Ilokano story. So ever since then, I have always been an admirer of Sir Sam's unique and exquisite taste of wood and antiques. That's why I can say, without having to ask, that he was the owner of Kamarinn Café.

The Balay Da Blas stairwell. Here you can see Sir Sam's exquisite taste of design and architecture. (2011)

Shot with Canon 550D + 25mm (EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS), 1/125 sec., ISO800, f/4.5.

Wood and antiques play an essential role in his establishments. A shot I didn't intend Sir Sam to be included in. (2011)

Shot with Canon 550D + 18mm (EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS), 1/125 sec., ISO800, f/3.5.

One of Balay's wooden/antiques displays as seen on the way to the balcony. (2011)

Shot with Canon 550D + 18mm (EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS), 1/125 sec., ISO800, f/3.5.

This piece won 2nd place at the contest, the theme was "Lines and Shapes". It shows Balay Da Blas' genuine Ilokano touch (2011)

Shot with Canon 550D + 20mm (EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS), 1/125 sec., ISO800, f/3.8.


As I promised myself, I went back to Kamarinn after a few days. This time I would bring my whole camera gear (including my drone) and my reading materials. It was around 4:30PM when I arrived. Sir Sam was busy with guests by the time I came in, so I just took a few shots of the place. As I was clicking on the pasalubongs, Sir Sam happened to approach the counter and then I introduced myself. He may not have remembered me for it was 7 years since our last encounter and I was still so young. He was so approachable and kind enough to show me around his new business which, according to him, just had its soft opening last Holy Thursday (March 29, 2018). When asked why it was named Kamarinn, he said it was because the place looked like a bodega or storehouse.

The view from where I was seated.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 10mm (EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM), 1/60 sec., ISO320, f/4.5.

Sir Samuel Blas showing me around the viewdeck.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 35mm f/1.2 7artisans lens, 1/2000 sec., ISO125.

After touring me around to take pictures, Sir Sam attended to other guests while I decided to have a sip of their brewed Italian coffee and tried their own Longanisa quiche - another great Western and Ilocano culinary mix.

Brewed Italian Coffee served with brown sugar + Longanisa quiche.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 18mm (EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM), 1/125 sec., ISO640, f/5.6.

After I had coffee, I casually studied my notes in Dental Anatomy. The buzz from the coffee plus the soft music plus the fresh air made me forget about the time I put on studying. The place is a perfect relaxation area, since it's far away from the urban areas and nature seems to be all around you. Whether you're planning to do your thesis, or to just hang around with your friends - this place is something you should consider going to. Kamarinn is not the place where time can be killed, rather it is somewhere you can make memories at.

The Paoay Lake and the Kamarinn Café at sunset.

Shot with DJI P3S, 1/250 sec., ISO100, f/2.8.

A fish-shaped sandbar seen just outside Kamarinn. A lone fisherman taking a rest from a hard day's work is also seen.

Shot with DJI P3S, 1/120 sec., ISO800, f/2.8.

Dinner dates? Don't worry, Kamarinn at night looks as phenomenal as it is during daytime. Sir Sam even told me that there will soon be a bar opening at the viewdeck, so you can enjoy the starry night sky while drinking your preferred booze. The menu is still under construction so if you happen to visit, just ask the staff about their selection of quiches, pies and drinks. For now there are still no certain operating hours, according to him.

The beautifully-lit entrance at night.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 10mm (EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM), 1/50 sec., ISO1000, f/4.5.

They are serving quiches and pies as of the moment, more on the menu soon.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 10mm (EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM), 1/40 sec., ISO1000, f/4.5.

Imagine going on date nights at this place, phenomenal.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 10mm (EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM), 1/40 sec., ISO3200, f/4.5.

Several vases and antiques lined up for display.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 10mm (EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM), 1/40 sec., ISO3200, f/4.5.

The place is very well-lit at night. Some bigger lights will soon be installed.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 10mm (EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM), 1/40 sec., ISO3200, f/4.5.

The café at night. You can watch the stars from this area.

Shot with Canon EOS M6 + 10mm (EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM), 1/50 sec., ISO3200, f/4.5.

Out of his kindness and generosity, Sir Sam made me taste their bizarrely delicious Igado pie and a glass of sweet dragonfruit wine from Bangui. Had quite a conversation with him, his brother Sir Manny Blas, and Architect Rex Hofileña (I even showed them my short Tan-ok vlog: watch it here) before I left at around 7:45PM. Thank you sirs!

L-R. Architect Rex Hofileña, the author, Sir Manny Blas, Sir Sam Blas.

Shot with an iPhone 6.

There are owners of businesses who don't even come to the place they own, let alone entertain their customers. Sir Samuel Blas is definitely not one of them. He manages this place with his own style of being approachable and kind-hearted. As a customer, I was given the best service they had to offer and their owner gave it to me first-hand.

The food alone impressed me with its Ilokano mixes, the coffee buzzed me up into a caffeine-high, and the ambience was extraordinarily relaxing. This is the perfect place to study for the next few months. For these and a countless more reasons, I am undoubtedly labelling Kamarinn Café as the chillest place in Ilocos Norte, by far - even on a hot summer day.

Kamarinn Café is located at the Laoag-Paoay Road, Paoay, Ilocos Norte. Just beside the Vista Del Lago Mexican Restaurant.