Meeting Apo Whang Od and My First Kalinga Tattoo

Updated: September 30, 2017

This travelogue is composed of more than 3,700 words and 5 pages, with amazing visuals to guide you on our tale. It narrates the story of our trip to Buscalan Village in Tinglayan, Kalinga, the hometown of the last mambabatok of Kalinga – Apo Whang Od. It’s a long read, but I assure you this travel story is worth it. Let me share to you the experiences we had in this once-in-a-lifetime trip that I will surely never forget.

If you’re looking for a complete travel guide, here’s our link:


  1. Page 1 – Morning in Tabuk City
  2. Page 2 – Top Loading Kalinga Style
  3. Page 3 – The Hike to Buscalan Village and its Utter Danger
  4. Page 4 – The Butbut Tribe and the last Mambabatok of Kalinga
  5. Page 5 – A New Morning, A New Life

Morning in Tabuk City

The sun was not yet rising when we arrived in Tabuk City, Kalinga, a province located at the northern part of Luzon Islands. We alighted on a nearby sari-sari store and stayed there with the other travelers. A woman on her mid-40s, tending the store, offered their signature Kalingan Coffee at a certain price. I was hesitant since my tummy was quite reactive to hot brewed coffee; especially taken without food. A little bit famished and tired from the 9-hour bus ride, I opened my packed crackers, ate, and stayed for half an hour.

Sari-sari store in Tabuk City Kalinga
A sari-sari store in Tabuk City, Kalinga offering signature Kalingan coffee.

Around 0500H, the cluck and crow of chickens echoed signalling the coming of the morning sun. Randy, a tall well-built man and a friend of mine, invited me for a walk around the city. I stood up lazily, carried my backpack, and sauntered. The sky was still dark, yet a few people were present doing their morning routine. We saw a police station in front of St. William’s Cathedral and stayed there for another hour. I was thankful to the police on duty that morning for welcoming us inside their station.

The Spontaneous Trip

This was an another spontaneous trip. I was scrolling on my smartphone absentmindedly one afternoon when I saw a viral video about the last mambabatok of Kalinga. I knew it was Apo Whang Od. I knew her because of the viral petition posted in social media more than a year ago imploring Apo Whang Od to be a National Artist. It was quite amazing knowing that the Philippines still has a living legend in this generation.

It was quite amazing knowing that the Philippines still has a living legend in this generation.

I was quite astonished about her story, their culture and history. Suddenly, an inner spark kindled. I immediately invited Randy about this spontaneous trip. Surprisingly, he accepted my invite without any second thought.

I was a little shocked to know that Randy has certain knowledge about the people living in the north. He shared stories about their rituals and their way of life. He recommended a documentary aired on Discovery Channel years ago about the Tattoo Hunter, Lars Krutak, who stayed in Buscalan Town Proper for two weeks and lived the way of the Kalingas. Amazed and astonished on the stories, my attention shifted suddenly when I saw the clouds illuminated by the faint morning light. Magandang umaga Kalinga! (Good morning Kalinga!), I thought to myself.

St. William's Church in Tabuk City, Kalinga
Good morning Kalinga!

Next Page: Top Loading Kalinga Style


16 thoughts on “Meeting Apo Whang Od and My First Kalinga Tattoo

  1. Such an interesting read. Philippines indeed seems to have a lot to offer. I am not into getting tattoos but I have friends who are crazy about it. I think I should pass on this piece of information to them


    1. Yes please! Share this story with them, I know they will like this a lot since it’s an interesting type of tattoo.


  2. Wow!! This is always in my list. Though part of my is hesitant with getting a traditional tattoo…but still looks cool.


    1. I was also hesitant at first but I gave in anyway. 🙂


  3. I’m really interested in meeting Apo Whang Od. She’s been all over the media. Even famous people go there to get a tattoo. I hope that tour guides won’t exploit her. It’s sad when the beautiful culture gets commercialized.


    1. Don’t worry Karla, most of the tour guides originate from Buscalan itself and they are committed in preserving their culture and tradition like what most people in the north do. Go and visit her, you’ll surely have a wonderful adventure in Buscalan 🙂


  4. Quite a read that was. I have been reading some amazing posts about the Philippines. I m not a great fan of tattoos but I definitely love any form of art. So, it was a revelation for me to know about the legendary tattoo artist Apo Whang Od. I would definitely love to visit her once- not to get tattooed ( they are not for me 🙂 ) but to witness her revered art.


    1. Yep, you can visit their village and watch her do the tattoos. It was an interesting watch too, you’ll get to know about their culture and way of life.


  5. Wow this is a really interesting post. I had no idea about these tattoo artists. She seems so fit and can’t believe she’s 100 years old :o. Also that tattoo process looks painful but all worth it. And such a beautiful place too!!


    1. Hey Karie, I was also amazed on their fitness level. I saw one elderly, I think around 80s, she still manages to climb that 1000 flight of stairs going to the village without any effort. They’re all amazing. About the tattoo, yes it is painful! Haha. Good thing my pain tolerance is high, I was able to endure it. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is not just long but a very very long; extensive post. The Philippines is high on my list. Your hike seems quite tough and equally adventurous too. I am glad to know about the living legend Apo Whang Od.


    1. Thanks for patiently reading this travel story, together with your family, I think the best place to visit is El Nido, Palawan where you can find the best islands of the country 🙂


  7. Very elaborate post. I have been reading Philippines has numerous varieties of activities.
    Good to know about the living legend Apo Whang Od


    1. Hey Indrani, Apo Whang Od is considered a living gem in the Philippines because she’s the only person who knows the process of batok. Good thing she already taught 2 apprentices, her grand nieces. If you have time, you can visit this place and it is totally worth it!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is a great, in-depth post. I’ve never been to the Phillipines, but one day hope to. The hike you did especially caught my interest, although it sounded a little dangerous. It’s always good to complete a challenge though when travelling.


    1. Hey Tanya! The Philippines is truly rich in culture specially in the northern part of Luzon islands wherein you’ll meet endless mountain range in the horizon. It’s dangerous yep but sometimes, the best adventures and memories are found on the other side of danger. 🙂


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