Buscalan, Tinglayan, Kalinga

April 2017 - Buscalan, Kalinga - Philippines

Staying in Buscalan is one of my favorite things I did in my entire life! I planned to go solo but then change is the only constant. I went there with a travel buddy, Manuel. We took the 9 pm bus trip from Coda Lines, Cubao, Manila to Bontoc, Mountain Province and tried very hard to sleep through the night. However, it was a long and winding road trip for 9 hours. 

Bontoc, Mountain Province

At around 7 am we were already in Bontoc and looked for the bus or jeepneys bound to Tinglayan, Kalinga. We walked to MPSPC (Mountain Province State Polytechnic College) and there was a bus waiting next to it, bound to Tabuk, loaded with many passengers. The bus conductor suggested us to be on top load but Manuel instantly hesitated and disagreed to do it. I got a little upset in my mind and very disappointed thinking of the time we'll be wasting to wait for the next trip at 2pm. While my companion was all cool and just decided to eat his breakfast at an eatery across the bus/jeepney stop, I was praying to have an alternative route. I called Gilbert, our contact in Buscalan for suggestions. He said if we missed the first trip, we should not miss the next one at 2pm. It's the only way to get there. Several minutes later, the clouds parted, a jeepney driver offered to take all backpackers straight to the Buscalan Turning Point but we had to wait for more passengers, so we did, and passed time watching an ongoing town parade. 

School parade in Bontoc

Waited for almost an hour, so we all agreed to hire the jeepney and share the fare. At around 9:30 am, we were on our way to Buscalan. I thought it was just a short trip but it took us an hour and a half hours of narrow, steep & zigzag roads which on the other hand offers a majestic view of mountain ranges and rice terraces. 

The edge of the road to Buscalan & the majestic sight

Then, I suddenly imagined if we were on top load, it would be scary and dangerous, knowing that the driver was driving fast and furious. LOL. I was becoming sleepy already, all due to the sun's heat and wind breeze, when the driver announced that we're finally arriving at the turning point. It was not difficult to find Gilbert, as he promptly introduced himself to us and his younger cousin, Steve. Gilbert also introduced us to a young couple, a Filipina and a French guy tandem, I forgot their names. 

Buscalan Falls

So we trekked altogether and I thanked God for Steve, he carried my backpack and assisted me through the steep parts of the trail. It was getting very hot at 11 am, right in the middle of the trek, they decided to rest and take a dip in the waterfalls for a few minutes but I didn't want to get my feet wet. Back on the trail up, I rested a few times to catch my breath and drink water. 

Do not underestimate the stairway to Buscalan! haha..

And alas when we finally reached the village, we registered and paid for the tourism & environmental fees and off we went to our homestay. 

Welcoming Buscalan

Steve showed us around the village on the way up to where we were going to stay. The village was quiet at noon. There were faint sounds from pigs and chickens roaming freely around. There were small groups of young and old people sitting together doing their own chores. Steve taught me my first Butbut dialect phrase, "Wayu Ercao" which means "Good Afternoon" and I tried it on anyone I met along the way. I was greeted the same with smiles. 

Mama Piggy with piglets

Reaching the farthest part of the village, we entered a gate which seemed to be the last house. It's like a small cottage that faces a view of the rice terraces and mountains, the sight of it was very nice, peaceful and relaxing. There was a Filipino couple, whom were also our lovely housemates for a few days, greeted us happily. They just finished their lunch and were already cleaning up when we got there. She explained that I can just buy something to cook and there is plenty of rice. After feeding a little boy, they went out to visit Apo Whang Od.

View from the homestay

I was starving already but we did not buy any food to cook from Bontoc, so I just bought some instant noodles, eggs and luncheon meat from the store nearby so that it will be quick to prepare. Steve prepared and gave us Kalinga coffee too.

with Manuel and our guide Steve, everyone's cousin LOL

After we ate our lunch, we lounged and relaxed the whole afternoon at the balcony upstairs, which where we also had our beddings placed with our mosquito net. Steve and Gilbert asked me if I wanted to get inked that afternoon, who I wanted to get the "batok" (hand-tap tattoo) from and which design to put. I decided to have my :batok" done with Apo the next day. I just wanted to chill after a long journey. Steve recommended Selma's eatery for dinner that night. We were very glad to know there's a place to eat in the village! Selma was a vibrant woman of my age. When we returned back to the homestay, our housemates prepared food for dinner and had Grace, (Apo Whang Od's granddaughter and apprentice) and some locals join. We also met our host, ate Josephine, who was a very cheerful woman. That night we had a bonfire set up in the open field near Gilbert's house and enjoyed each others company with story-telling, laughter, getting some irie feel, beer sessions and Kalinga folk songs. Nothing compares with the nightlife in Buscalan!

Whayu Whigwhikat! (Good morning!)

The next day, I woke up early to get ready for my "batok" session with Apo Whang Od and I made up my mind that I was going to get the Serpent Eagle symbol. Steve, of course, was there to accompany me for the queueing. And then, there I was waiting for my turn to be hand-tap tattooed by the living legend. It was around 9:30 am and Steve said I was #5 which meant I had to wait for 4 people in line. However, in between, there were a couple of people asking for Apo' s signature. Manuel did not really plan to have a tattoo, he just wanted to check Buscalan out, lol. So he was still sleeping by that time I was waiting and then he got there exactly when it was my turn already. I was already sitting next to Apo Whang Od at 11:30 am and I was so ready and pretty excited to feel the pain of getting a "batok."  

Getting the batok from Apo Whang Od

The first line tapped on my back was bearable and as Apo started to tap back and forth, along my spine through the bone, I clenched my jaw as I felt the sting of the thorn and Apo's force and pressure when tapping. Although, in pain, I managed to keep a smile on my face because there were many people taking pictures! Why? LOL. Including Manuel, who well-documented this event. I thank you, monkey. 

Serpent Eagle Symbol

The most painful part was her finale, the three-dot-signature. But it was over and done in 30 minutes. The serpent eagle tattoo which symbolizes heavenly guidance and protection, is now on my skin. The long and winding road that leads to Butbut tribe's village was really worth it! Indeed, it was an honor to meet and receive a "batok" (traditional Kalinga hand-tapped tattoo) from the living legend "mambabatok" of Kalinga, Apo Whang Od. 

with the living legend Apo Whang Od of Butbut Tribe

We stayed in the village for 2 more days. I enjoyed playing with the Butbut kids and the bonfire night sessions with the locals and some tourists.

I will definitely go back and right now, I still miss the vibe. 


Manila - Bontoc (9 hours)
Coda Lines = 685 Php

Bontoc - Buscalan (Turning point)
Jeepney (next to MPSPC) = 100 Php
Leaves at 2pm

Guide = 1000 Php/day (5 pax)
Environmental Fee = 75 Php
Homestay (Unlimited coffee and rice) = 250 Php/night
Batok = 500 Php(min)
Meals at Selma's Eatery & Souvenir Shop = 100 Php
*Kalinga coffee = 100

Gilbert (guide) = 09084792012

SIMILAR BLOG POST >> Traditional Tattoo: Apo Whang Od


  1. Love this! Balik ka ditto, sama mo ko! Haha!

  2. Wow your journey to Buscalan sounds amazing. Hand tap tattooing is painful you are so brave. I have a lot of tattoos myself IDK if I could do that.

  3. This looks like such a neat experience! I would love to visit some day!

  4. You are incredibly adventurous!! I think it is so cool that you got a tattoo from Apo.

  5. I've read about Apo before! Apparently she often turns people away so you were lucky she gave you one!

  6. This sounds like a really interesting experience, and a place that really left you with some amazing memories and feelings. The batok is amazing as well.

  7. Wow what a fantastic adventure I hope to experience first hand one day.

  8. This looks like such a great experience! I would love to visit that destination one day!

  9. Wow. Bontok sounds like an awesome place to go to. I'd love to go solo and check out all the great sites you saw

  10. Looks and sounds like a nice place to visit. I am always looking for somewhere new to put on my list.

  11. There is a place called Kalinga in India, Lot of history and culture. For once I thought you are talking about the same place. This one looks equally interesting.

  12. Wow such a beautiful place. I have been to several parts of the world and would love to visit the Philippines some day.

  13. Buscalan Falls looks so ethereal, I want to have a look for myself! Looks like a fun time.

  14. What a beautiful journey! I would have loved to see the school parade of those sweet kids! I agree about the stairway to Buscalan. It looks daunting.

  15. I have never heard of this place before but it looks absolutely beautiful. I would love to be able to see more of the world!

  16. This place looks amazing! Different and refreshing! I would love to visit here someday! Loved the photos!

  17. I can only imagine how worth it would be to make the trip all the way up there. I really does look amazing and would have been worth the hike. Even though your trip got delayed, it looks like the school parade was cute. Those unplanned for things are always the things I love.

  18. What a gorgeous place to visit! I'm glad you ended up having a travel partner, it makes for a much more enjoyable trip.

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