Meeting Apo Whang Od and My First Kalinga Tattoo


  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

The Hike to Buscalan

It was 1130H when we arrived in Barangay Bugnay in Tinglayan. The town is sandwiched in two mountains with a rice terrace on one side, and myriad of trees on the other. The sound of water rushing from Chico river can be heard in town. From here, we met Bulut, a handsome lean man with sun-kissed skin and a long facial feature in his mid 20s; he was our guide for this trip.

A week ago while researching for this adventure, I stumbled upon the contact number of a local guide named Oliver. I texted him a week prior to this trip and made my reservations. Luckily, he was available and he confirmed my reservation. Bulut is the cousin of Oliver, and he introduced himself as our guide for this spontaneous trip. “Nasaan si Sir Oliver?” (Where’s Oliver?) I asked. “Nasa meeting sya kasama yung ibang guide sa Tinglayan sir” (He’s in a meeting together with the other guides in Tinglayan sir.) He replied. His voice is in a native Butbut accent. Bulut told us that we need to ride a habal-habal (motorcycle) going to the turning point.

Beautiful Barangay Bugnay in Tinglayan, Kalinga
The view of Barangay Bugnay going to turning point.

Riding the habal-habal was also a fun experience. The road from Bugnay to turning point is like a slithering snake with sharp curves and turns. The view on the other hand is amazing. You can clearly see the small houses scattered all over the rice terraces at the other side of the mountain. Upon arrival at the turning point, we alighted on our habal-habal and paid the fare. From here, we started our 1-hour hike.

Hike from Turning Point to Buscalan Village
Start of hike from turning point to Buscalan Village.

The Buscalan Cliff and Utter Danger

Most people who shared their journey about Buscalan in social media only showed the highlights of their trip. Examples are pictures of their newly inked tattoos and selfies with Apo Whang Od. Little we all know that the path going to their village is utterly dangerous.

While walking a few meters from the turning point, I was surprised that Bulut was out of sight. I found him shouting at the edge of a cliff. He said that, this is the only way going to their village.

Climbing down the Buscalan Cliff
Bulut climbing down the Buscalan cliff.

Shocked on what I heard, I assessed the path that we will be taking. The precipice is too steep, and there are no guide ropes to grip in the area. One wrong move or you might fall and slide all the way to the bottom of the mountain. We relied only on our foot and sense of balance.

Climbing down Buscalan Cliff

Climbing down the Buscalan Cliff

Hiking down Buscalan Cliff

We started to hike down one step at a time. I kept on focusing my thoughts on the path ahead; ignoring the dangerous ravine on the other side. Suddenly, I slipped. Thankfully, I was able to grab a tree stump. I took a deep breath, paused, and started to step down again. This time, I climbed down in a crouching position, and I think it was better this way. A paved trail was waiting for us at the end of the cliff.

Hike to Buscalan

Finally, we made it! Our hearts were running, and I felt elated after climbing down on that dangerous cliff. We started to walked again on the paved trail, and enjoyed the beautiful view as a reward. “Gaano pa kalayo sir Bulut?” (How much farther sir Bulut?) I asked. “Mga kalahating oras na hike pa po sir” (Around half an hour of hike sir) he answered.

Hike to Buscalan

There’s also a waterfall in the middle of the trail. Bulut offered us to have a look and rest in the waterfalls. Since it’s already noontime and we’ve been traveling for almost 17 grueling hours, we continued the hike up to the village. From the waterfalls, there’s a concrete staircase going up to the village. The total climb is around 1500 feet, and it is the final part of the hike. Bulut told us that we should be careful climbing the stairs, because it has no railings on it. Eager to finish the hike, we started climbing the steep stairs.

Hike to Buscalan

Hike to Buscalan

In the middle of the climb, I heard someone; wheezing on my back. It was Randy, tired and laboring. “Okay ka lang Randy?” (Are you okay Randy?) I asked. Randy shook his head. We stopped for a while and gave Randy some time to rest. I offered my water bottle for hydration. “Baka dahil sa init lang ito” (Maybe it’s because of the heat) he said. I told him to rest for a while. He even told us that we should go first and he will follow. “Sabay-sabay tayong aakyat dito” (We will go up together) I retorted.

Rest while hike to Buscalan Village

After a few minutes of rest, we started climbing again. This event repeated for a number of times. I feared that my friend would have a heatstroke on this moment. I kept on telling him to rest until he’s fully recovered.

Resting during the hike to Buscalan.JPG

While resting, we met a number of locals climbing the stairs. They were so fast! These steep stairs were nothing to them, and I admired their acquired strength. In Manila, we kept on refusing the stairs, and opt for the elevator or escalator to make things easier. On the other hand, these people don’t need any lifts or escalators. We even saw an elder, holding a cane made of wood, climbing down the stairway. I think she’s in her 80s, but her knees and legs were still strong. After two water bottles consumed and a long climb, we finally reached the village!

Reaching the village of Buscalan
We finally reached the village!

Next Page: The Butbut Tribe and the Last Mambabatok of Kalinga


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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