Apo Whang Od is famously known as the last mambabatok of the Kalinga. Batok is a form of traditional tattoo given to warriors with unprecedented achievement during the early times. Today, travelers not just from the Philippines but all over the world visit her just to have this traditional tattoo as a form of lifetime and meaningful souvenir. But visiting her place is quite challenging.
Last March 2017 we visited her on a 2D1N trip and this is our comprehensive travel guide to Apo Whang Od’s place, Buscalan Village, Tinglayan, Kalinga, Philippines. If you want to read our travel story for this spontaneous trip, here’s the link: https://blaineislost.com/2017/05/11/meeting-apo-whang-od/
Day 0: From Manila
HOW TO GO TO BUSCALAN TOWN PROPER IN TINGLAYAN, KALINGA
Visiting Apo Whang Od is quite difficult and it took us a total of 17 grueling hours just to reach their village. There are two routes to choose from:
- Manila to Bontoc, Mountain Province to Tinglayan, Kalinga or;
- Manila to Tabuk City, Kalinga to Tinglayan, Kalinga
We are going to show the directions for the second route (Manila to Tabuk City, Kalinga to Tinglayan, Kalinga) because this is the route that we used for this trip.
Bus from Victory Liner Kamias to Tabuk City – (9 hours)
This is the first part of the trip. We took a bus from Victory Liner in Kamias, Quezon City going to Tabuk City, Kalinga. The fare is ₱700 for Deluxe Class and the bus leaves at 1900H (7:00 PM) every day. There are only two bus class for this trip – deluxe and first class.
The First Class Bus costs ₱820 and leaves at 2030H (8:30PM). We chose the deluxe class because it is cheaper.
TIP: Always purchase your tickets in advance!
We purchased our tickets the day before our trip. There are many passengers going to Tabuk City every day and it is better to purchase your tickets in advance than say sorry later on.
Day 1: Arrival in Tabuk City, Kalinga
We arrived in Tabuk City at 0400H (4:00 AM) and alighted in front of St. William’s Cathedral. The next step is taking either a jeep, van or minibus going to Tinglayan, Kalinga. The problem is the first trip will start at 0700H (7:00 AM).
We stayed in the nearest police station for the next three hours of the trip. The police station is located in front of St. William’s Cathedral. Just ask permission to the police on duty before staying in their terrace. You can also stay in a sari-sari store in front of the cathedral as well where you can buy snacks or sip some brewed hot Kalinga coffee.
There’s a Mister Donut just beside St. William’s Cathedral. This is where we had our breakfast at 0630H to refuel ourselves for the upcoming trip ahead.
Tabuk City to Tinglayan, Kalinga – (4 hours)
There are three options available going to Tinglayan, Kalinga:
- Take a Van – there are vans available located a few meters away from St. William’s Cathedral and the Police Station. These vans will go directly to the turning point. (The TURNING POINT is the starting place of hike going to Buscalan Town Proper). The fare costs at ₱150.
- Take a Minibus – you can also stay in front of St. William’s Cathedral and wait for a minibus bound to Bontoc, Mountain Province. The fare costs at ₱130. Just tell the driver that you will alight in Barangay Bugnay in Tinglayan.
- Take a Top Load Jeep – if you want to be adventurous, you can also ride a top load jeep bound to Bontoc, Mountain Province. Just tell the driver and conductor that you will alight in Barangay Bugnay in Tinglayan. The fare costs at ₱130.
For this trip, we took a jeep and ride on top load for 4 hours from Tabuk City to Barangay Bugnay in Tinglayan, Kalinga. Top loading is a common form of transportation here in the north and it is not suitable for the faint-of-heart.
WARNING: The route from Tabuk City to Tinglayan is considered perilous because of its tortuous highways, roads with absent guard rails and deep canyons waiting for a vehicle to dive into. Just look into the photographs I took during our top load ride.
The experience is both a mixture of fear and amazement. Without minding the danger, I just enjoyed the view of towering mountains, endless forests and cool winds brushing off our body.
FRIENDLY REMINDERS FOR RIDING A TOP LOAD JEEP
- Always stay hydrated! The top load ride from Tabuk City to Tinglayan is a total of 4 hours. Make sure to have adequate supply of water to keep yourself hydrated.
- Protect yourself from the sun! This type of transportation is also a form of respect. The passengers staying inside the vehicle are designated for women and elders. To protect yourself from the scorching heat of the sun, I advised wearing sunscreen or clothes with long sleeves.
- Stay alert! Always stay alert during the top load ride. Do not fall asleep or you might fall into the waiting cliffs of Cordillera mountain range.
- Bring snacks with you! The 4-hour top load ride is a no joke and bringing a snack will give you a quick fix for a rumbling tummy. However, there’s a stopover available in Good Samaritan Restaurant in Tinglayan, Kalinga. Only a few kilometers away from Good Samaritan Restaurant then you will reach Barangay Bugnay.
Take a Habal-Habal from Barangay Bugnay to Turning Point
We arrived in Barangay Bugnay at 1100H (11:00 AM). From there we met our guide Bulut (cousin of our contact guide, Oliver). It is a must to have a contacted guide before heading for this trip. We contacted sir Oliver a week prior for this escapade.
Oliver – 09397741477
Please be patient when contacting sir Oliver or the other guides in Buscalan because the signal reception in their area is incredibly weak and expect delays in text messages. Rest assured that these people are very accommodating. Without them, our trip will not be possible.
From Barangay Bugnay we took a habal-habal up to the turning point. The fare costs ₱100. That’s the advantage of taking a van as I mentioned earlier in this post. These vans will take you directly to the turning point. Since we are feeling adventurous that morning we opted for a top load jeep instead.
Hike from Turning Point to Buscalan Town Proper (1 hour and 30 minutes)
This is the last part of the trip going to Buscalan Town Proper. The total hike time from the turning point to Buscalan Village is a total of 1 hour and 30 minutes, depending on your pace and fitness level.
TAKE NOTE: Every traveler needs to hike starting from the turning point because the path going to the village is inaccessible by any land vehicles. This hike is not designed for people with certain medical conditions and physical disabilities since the trail is utterly dangerous.
FACING THE BUSCALAN CLIFF
Part of the trail of this hike is the Buscalan Cliff. Yes! You need to climb down a cliff and it is the only way going to the village. Always be careful while stepping down in this cliff. There are no available guide ropes in the area to hold on. See the pictures of our hike down in the Buscalan Cliff.
The cliff is very steep and one wrong move you’ll fall into the deep ravine. Keep it slow, take your time and do not rush. Your guide will be there to help you in this hike.
TAKE NOTE: Always keep yourself hydrated during the hike to prevent heat exhaustion. You can rest for a while during the hike to restore energy and prevent fatigue.
Finally! We reached the village! We arrived at 1230H (12:30 PM) and went to our accommodation at Vista Resthouse. This resthouse is the home of our guides, Sir Oliver and Sir Bulut. They converted a part of their home into a relaxing rest house for travelers like us. The accommodation fee is at ₱250 a night per person.
Our tiny bedroom is made up of wood and it can accommodate up to 2 persons. There’s a thin bed mattress on it with pillows and blankets provided.
Part of our accommodation is the unlimited Kalinga coffee and free rice. For the meals, we just brought our canned goods adequate for our whole stay in Buscalan Village.
This is the highlight of our trip and your guide will help you sign up for the tattooing session. Receiving a tattoo either from Apo Whang Od or Grace (Apo Whang Od’s grandniece) is both an honor and a humbling experience. This is your reward after that long travel going to this village.
You can choose a design presented in this piece of plywood or let Grace or Apo Whang Od choose a design for you.
TAKE NOTE: Before receiving a tattoo, I recommend taking a bath first. Our guide told us that you are not allowed to take a bath after the tattoo session to prevent the ink from being washed off.
The price of your newly inked tattoos depend on its size and complexity. It can range from ₱100 to ₱2,000. My tattoo was a hawk design which means a messenger and freedom. It costed at ₱500.
TAKE NOTE: Please do not haggle the prices. Apo Whang Od will determine the price of your tattoo. The price provided is just right and it’s also a way of helping the community of Buscalan.
OTHER ACTIVITIES IN BUSCALAN TOWN PROPER
- Socialization with the locals and other travelers
- Picture taking of the amazing mountainous topography of Buscalan Village
- Play basketball in the nearby court together with the locals
- Try farming with the locals
- We also donated school supplies to the children of Buscalan. – I highly recommend this activity.
Day 2: Going Back to Manila
Tinglayan, Kalinga to Bontoc, Mountain Province (1 hour and 30 minutes)
We woke up around 0600H (6:00 AM) the next day, had a quick breakfast and packed our things. Before hiking back, we paid sir Bulut for the guide fee (₱1,000 good for 2-4 people). We started our hike back to the turning point at 0800H (8:00 AM). From the turning point, a minibus bound to Bontoc, Mountain Province is waiting for us.
We took the minibus bound to Bontoc, Mountain Province and once again we ride on top load again.
The route from Tinglayan, Kalinga to Bontoc, Mountain Province offers a more beautiful view than the route we took the previous day. Though it’s more scenic, the path is also more dangerous because some roads are positioned at the edge of a cliff.
The bus fare costs at ₱100 and we arrived in Bontoc, Mountain Province at 1100H (11:00 AM)
From Bontoc, Mountain Province to Manila
We had our lunch in Bontoc, Mountain Province in one of the available eateries in the area and made our reservations for a bus bound to Manila. We took the Coda Bus Line and the fare was ₱685.
TAKE NOTE: Make sure to contact Coda Bus Line for reservation first. Their contact number is 09159596377. The bus will leave at 1500H (3:00 PM) and their station is located inside Cable Cafe and Restaurant after crossing Samoki Bridge. It’s just a few meters away from drop off point of the minibus so you could walk from it with ease.
TRIP EXPENSES (excluding food)
|Bus from Victory Liner Kamias to Tabuk City||₱700|
|Top load jeep from Tabuk City to Brgy. Bugnay in Tinglayan, Kalinga||₱130|
|Habal-habal from Brgy. Bugnay to Turning point||₱100|
|Minibus from turning point to Bontoc, Mountain Province||₱100|
|Bus from Bontoc, Mountain Province to Cubao, Quezon City||₱685|
|Accommodation: Vista Resthouse||₱250/night|
|Guide’s Fee||₱1000/2 persons = ₱500/person|
|Tattoo – Apo Whang Od||₱500|
|TOTAL TRIP EXPENSES (excluding food)||₱2,965|
|DAY 0 – 1900H||ETD From Kamias, Quezon City to Tabuk City, Kalinga|
|DAY 1 – 0400H||ETA in Tabuk City, Kalinga|
|0400H – 0700H||Waiting time in Police Station of Tabuk City|
|0700H||ETD from Tabuk City (take either a van, minibus or top load jeep)|
|1100H||ETA in Brgy. Bugnay, Tinglayan, Kalinga (take habal-habal going to turning point)|
|1115H||ETA Turning point and start of hike to Buscalan Town Proper|
|1230H||ETA in Buscalan Town Proper|
|1300H||Lunch and wash up|
|1400H – 1700H||Meeting Apo Whang Od and tattoo session. Socialization with the locals and other travelers.|
|1700H – 2000H||Early dinner and free time|
|2000H||Lights off (Sleeping time)|
|DAY 2 – 0600H||Wake up, Quick breakfast and pack up|
|0800H||Start of hike down to turning point|
|0930H||ETD Turning Point (take a minibus going to Bontoc, Mountain Province)|
|1100H||ETA Bontoc, Mountain Province (lunch and free time)|
|1500H||ETD Bontoc, Mountain Province|
|0000H||ETA Cubao, Quezon City|
Come and visit Buscalan Village and experience an unforgettable adventure. Learn about the culture of Butbut tribe and their way of life. Get a tattoo from the last mambabatok of Kalinga – Apo Whang Od and bring a meaningful mark that you will carry for a lifetime.
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