GENERAL Douglas MacArthur’s oft-quoted one-liner “I shall return” has been associated with the massive landing of Allied Forces in Leyte Gulf during World War II.

For to the north, Lingayen Gulf in Pangasinan is one of the country’s most historic bodies of water, where MacArthur made another major, albeit less popular landing, more than two months later.

The legendary Princesa Urduja, Chinese pirate Lim Ah Hong, and Japanese Imperial Army commander General Masaharu Homma made the Gulf their stomping ground across the centuries.

WATERSPORTS at Lingayen Gulf
WATERSPORTS at Lingayen Gulf

Meanwhile, modern day weekend warriors can have a relaxing swing, soak in a refreshing pool or in the sea next to a powdery beach, feast on succulent Pangasinense cuisine.

With the rich seas, undulating mountains and the voluminous waters of the mighty Agno River system, the province is a virtual playground. The Gulf’s long coastline is dotted with beach resorts.

The historic town this body of water was named after is a growing urban center with old world charm.

The first stop is the American-era Provincial Capitol Complex, reputedly the most postcard-perfect in the country, which has been restored to its former glory. The centerpiece of the sprawling government center is the imposing main capitol building featuring a Greco-Roman architectural style.

The landmark is ground zero of MacArthur’s second major Allied troop landing, an event which is immortalized in the Veterans Park which displays vintage photos and war materiel.

Nearby is the Sison Auditorium, the cultural and civic center of northern Luzon, built in the 1930s and restored in 2010. Named after one of the provincial governors, the neo-classical Auditorium can hold up to 1,000 visitors.

Also within the complex is the Urduja House, the ceremonial residence of the governor which is named after the pre-Spanish princess who ruled the vast kingdom of Pangasinan.

At the adjacent Capitol Resort Hotel, visitors can perfect their golf swing at the driving range.

A heritage spot is the birthplace of former President Fidel V. Ramos, which houses his personal memorabilia and provides visitors a glimpse of his humble beginnings.

The Church of the Epiphany is also a must-see with its massive century-old bells on display at the church patio.

Among the places to stay is El Puerto Marina, a beach resort which boasts of cozy tropical-themed rooms. It also has suites accredited with the Resorts Club, Inc. which offers spacious accommodation and home equipment for the family.

Next to it is Aquatica Marina, a beachside water park which boasts of five swimming pools: a giant slide pool, a wave and giant bucket pool, the raging river, a slide pool and a kids’ playground pool.

The resort can provide visitors with surfboards, skimboards and kayaks to tackle the Gulf’s famed waves.

For a back-to-the-basics experience, wake up before dawn and witness the fisherfolk come in with their bountiful catch. Buy fresh fish at rock-bottom rates for a seafood feast.

El Puerto Marina also arranges island-hopping tours to the Hundred Islands Natural Park in Alaminos City, one of the country’s top tourist spots.

Pangasinan also offers foodies a wealth of options: Bolinao’s binungey (sticky rice in a bamboo), Calasiao’s puto, Bayambang’s malangsi (fresh water fish), Mangatarem’s tupig (grilled rice cake in coconut milk) and Balungao’s patupat (sweet sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves).

Tours of bagoong factories can be arranged for visitors who want to see the nitty-gritty of preparing the fermented fish sauce.