Meet One of the Creative Minds behind La Union’s Vessel Hostel

Nikki Dela Paz-Libarnes of Vessel Hostel strikes the perfect balance between designing, surfing, and traveling. By Mimi Tiu

Nikki dela Paz-Libarnes with her husband Buji Libarnes

Hailed as the Surfing Capital of the North, La Union–or Elyu–has recently experienced an influx of tourists due to the shorter travel time needed to reach its dreamy coastline and its energized community of laid-back locals and city dwellers turned Elyu advocates. Architect Nikki Dela Paz-Libarnes is one of these converts who fell in love with the surf town after visiting it with her then-boyfriend now-husband, Buji Libarnes.

An avid traveler who gets a rush from exploring new places, Nikki recalls her adventure-filled childhood. “When we were kids, we would always go on weekend camping trips and such. Those definitely made for amazing memories. My parents always encouraged travel and adventure and they’ve always emphasized the importance of experiences, so I guess it kind of stuck. Seeing a new place for the first time is exhilarating and that feeling is sort of addicting.”

Getting to surf San Juan’s perfect waves was also a big draw for Nikki, who shares watching a movie about surfing and badly wanting to try it. “And when I did, the rest is history!” She adds, “Ever since my husband started coming to La Union back in 2000, he’s always dreamed of moving here. So the thought of putting up a business here was always at the back of our minds.”


Photo by Chino Padua

Fulfilling the dream

When fate finally led the couple to a property for sale close to the main highway, they snatched the opportunity to buy the land. Using shipping containers to build a home was a unique idea that came about by chance. “The shipping container was my husband’s idea. When we bought the property, a small 20-foot container was in it, which was eventually used as our house. So when we decided to put up a hostel, Buji thought about using them too. And of course, it’s always a plus when you can repurpose something when you design.”

ALSO READ: Makati: Where to Go for Fun Saturdays

It took about a year and a half to design and construct the four-level structure before Vessel Hostel​ opened its doors in 2017. Nikki and Buji opted for a look that’s “minimal, clean, and natural” as they both deemed simple design timeless. “And since I like to travel, I was able to help design it with a user’s point of view. I tried to incorporate the best features of all the hostels I’ve stayed in into our rooms.” The carefully planned details show in the hostel’s nostalgic-themed amenities and space-saving furnishings.

Photo by Chino Padua


Passion and inspiration

Thanks to her flexible schedule, Nikki gets to pursue her passions regularly—working on current design projects, managing the hostel, chatting with guests, squeezing in surf sessions, and planning and taking trips.

Nikki explains, “Being in nature is the best inspiration for me. I believe traveling and a simple change in scenery can jump-start new ideas.” Though it seems like Nikki’s life is picture perfect, she still dreams of honing her talents, exploring more places, trying new things, and starting a family. She muses, “Everyone is striving for this kind of life. I still am. But I think you should just find whatever makes you happy and do it.”

Photo from Nikki dela Paz-Libarnes

ALSO READ: Mindful Living in the City

Completely settling down in La Union is a long-term plan for the couple, who still drives to Manila regularly for client meetings and site visits. The architect shares why they want to stay in this magical province, saying, “Next to the surf, the best thing about La Union is the community. The true soul of La Union is the locals and we are very lucky to be able to build relationships with them.”

Like Nikki, you can live meaningfully by finding your purpose and doing enriching activities that nourish your body, mind, and soul. Achieve work-life balance by residing in a thoughtfully-designed space that fits your lifestyle. Visit to discover the property that suits you.