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 Painful Night

Our newly inked batok started to swell on the first night. The pain was even greater if the area was accidentally touched. While having dinner in Bulut’s abode, I finally met OliverLike his cousin, Oliver has a sun-kissed skin and a calming face. I greeted and introduced him to Randy, and told him that he was our contact for this spontaneous trip. We also have a Canadian traveler joining us for the night, her name is Kim. Kim learned from Oliver that we just had our batok, and she took pictures of it. We spent the night sharing stories together with Bulut’s family and with Kim.

Around 2000H, my eyelids started to become heavy. I lied on my tummy, shrouded myself with thin blanket, and savored the coolness of the night. In a few of minutes, I am already walking in dreamland.

A Morning of Freedom

The next morning, the sun started to paint the mountainous village of Buscalan. Clucks and crows echoed the whole place, and seeing the majestic rice terraces from the balcony was a great luxury we ever had. I felt like a new person with this new tattoo inked by the last mambabatok of Kalinga. I felt like I’m a free person, and my mind was enveloped with calmness.

Quick breakfast in Vista Resthouse Buscalan Kalinga

After our quick breakfast, we started packing our things. As a form of gratitude, we donated our caps to Oliver and Bulut. I saw their faces shifted to amazement while receiving our simple gifts. Even though this trip was short, it felt like we stayed here for days.

Bulut and his family in Buscalan Village Kalinga
With Bulut and his relative Joyce.

Selfie with the locals of Buscalan Village Kalinga

Hike back to turning point in Buscalan Village, Kalinga
(From Left to Right: Oliver, Kim, Bulut and Randy) – Taking a rest while hiking back to turning point

Hike back to turning point in Buscalan Village, Kalinga

Hike back to turning point in Buscalan Village, Kalinga
The hike back to turning point is easier.

Hike back to turning point in Buscalan Village, Kalinga

Majestic rice terraces of Kalinga

Mini Bus going to Bontoc Mountain Province

From their huts, we started our hike back to the turning point. From the turning point, there was a minibus waiting for our departure to Bontoc, Mountain Province. The ride was for two hours, and the road was also slithering like a snake.

From the turning point we met Kilian, he’s the guy being tattooed by Grace I mentioned earlier. Kilian is a backpacker from Spain, and he’s been traveling around Southeast Asia for months. Kilian saw us climbing the steel ladder of the minibus. I told him that we’re going to ride on top load all the way to Bontoc. Without any hesitation, Kilian joined us. Surprisingly, I saw Kim climbing the steel ladder too. From there, we bid our sweetest farewell to the people of Buscalan.

Mini bus top load going to Bontoc

Randy, Kim, Kilian and I shared stories while riding the minibus on top load. While viewing the endless mountain range, and green rice fields with cool wind rushing through our faces, Kilian told me that of all the places he visited in Asia, the Philippines is the most beautiful. Hearing those words gave happiness to my heart.

Cordillera Mountain Range going to Bontoc, Mountain Province

Cordillera Mountain Range going to Bontoc, Mountain Province

Dangerous cliff going to Bontoc
The scenery from Tinglayan to Bontoc is more beautiful than in Tabuk City to Tinglayan but this route is more perilous.

Not minding the perilous and tortuous road going to Bontoc, we just enjoyed the amazing scenery of Cordillera.

Top loading a minibus to Bontoc Mountain Province

Tinglayan Kalinga

Top loading a minibus going to Bontoc, Mountain Province

The ride from Tinglayan to Bontoc is the most beautiful route I’ve ever seen. The place is saturated with towering mountains, perilous cliffs, tall trees, and the Chico river flowing in the deep canyon. I have no words to express for the beauty we had experience. It was simply amazing

Travelers and Backpackers in Bontoc Mountain Province
Touch down Bontoc, Mountain Province!

We arrived in Bontoc, Mountain Province around 1100H. From here, we expressed our gratitude and farewell to Kim and Kilian.

This trip is truly memorable for me. I will never forget the people of Buscalan. They are all accommodating and friendly. They welcomed us with a full heart, and let us experienced their way of life even just for a day. It is my first time to ride on top load. With it, I was able to push my boundaries, and felt both fear and amazement while viewing the majestic Cordillera mountain range. It is also my first time to have a tattoo, and it is such a humbling experience to have Apo Whang Od inked my very first batok. Amazing, memorable, unforgettable, there are so many words to expressed for this one-of-a-kind trip. Surely, I will visit this place again soon.

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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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