Tinglayan, Kalinga

February 2019 - Tinglayan, Kalinga // 

Experiencing Kalinga is sweeter the second time around. Two years ago, I took the long and winding road to Apo Whang Od, the living legend and popular 'mambabatok' of Butbut Tribe. It was a nice and pleasant journey that I promised myself to come back. (Mambabatok: traditional Kalinga tattooist)

Now, the time has come. It was our Chinese New Year holiday break from work, so my office friends and I casually decided to go to the northern mountainous region of the country. Since, I had already been to the Cordilleras several times before, we did not have to do a lot of research and preparation for the trip. We just booked our bus tickets 4 days before departure with Coda Lines and then I contacted Kuya Gilbert for our guide and homestay. I was very excited for Mich and Xian to get their first 'batok'! (Batok: traditional Kalinga hand-tapped tattoo)

We had the night trip to Bontoc at 8pm. Coda Lines bus' destination is to Sagada via Banaue from Metro Manila. Coincidentally, a blogger friend was also onboard the same bus. Joane and her 2 friends were bound to Sagada but I also invited them to come and visit Buscalan with us. They were a bit undecided at that moment, so, we just left it to fate. LOL.

Me and Joane of JoanePong.com (Photo: Joane Pangilinan)

The 11-hour bus ride was smooth, pretty comfortable, with 4 stopovers, and I was not able to sleep well, of course. We arrived in Bontoc at around 7am, the weather was cold and foggy. We walked up to the bus and jeepney station located at the side of Mountain Province State Polytechnic College, to check with the trip schedules. All bound to Tabuk, the jeepney leaves at 8am and the bus at 9am, then a jeepney bound straight to Buscalan at 2pm. We finally resolved to eat our breakfast at an eatery nearby. Afterwards, we went to Bontoc Museum. Taking pictures inside the museum is prohibited. We were only allowed to take photos or videos outside where the traditional i-bontoc houses stood.

L-R: Mich, me and Xian at the Bontoc Museum

Afterwards, we headed to the market to buy some meat and vegetables for us to cook and share. We were all set and done by 9ish and we’re hoping to get on the 9am trip. Unfortunately, the bus already left. So, we didn’t have a choice but to wait for the jeepney ride at 2pm. We waited patiently and excruciatingly for 5 hours, lol. The jeepney was fully-loaded with goods and stuff to be delivered and as passengers, we had to squeeze in ourselves with our backpacks. 

The long and winding road to Buscalan from Bontoc

We left Bontoc at around 2:30pm and reached Buscalan exactly at 4:30 pm. Basilia (Kuya Gilbert’s relative) was already waiting for us and after a very short introduction we started the trek up to the village. The trail was new to me, according to Basilia due to a recent landslide the old trail was inaccessible, so they had to clear up a new path way. I must say that the new trail is more challenging! LOL. Naturally, we made several halts to rest and catch our breath. In an hour, we reached the village and we paid for the environmental fee at the registration post. Then, Basilia led us to our homestay, we were welcomed by Kuya Gilbert and ate Belen with hot cups of Kalinga coffee. We were already hungry but we were also exhausted and our legs were sore because of the hike. We rested for a while before preparing our own meal. (We cooked our own meals there but the rice and coffee were offered free.) We had sautéed ‘pechay’ for dinner that night. And after cleaning up, we retired for the evening. The next day, we woke up at 6am to prepare ourselves for the tattoo session. We agreed to get the tattoo designs from Renalyn Palicas, one of Apo Whang Od’s grandnieces. Then later on, get the signature from Apo, for both Mich and Xian. We all did our toiletries and breakfast then Basilia fetched us by 7am and brought us to Renalyn’s hut.

Charcoal and Pomelo thorns

We were third in line. We patiently watched and waited, hearing the sounds of tapping. When it was our turn, Mich volunteered to go first and chose to get the sun and moon tattoo on her back. It only took 15-20 minutes for Renalyn to finish the tattoo. Then, Xian was next, she asked for the ‘standing eagle’ tattoo on her right shoulder and the ‘scorpion’ tattoo on her left thigh. For both tattoos, it only lasted for 10-15 minutes, like a flash! I had my nickname e-ka spelled in Baybayin on my left wrist and it was quickly done in 5 minutes. I loved how gentle and speedy Renalyn was. She works fast but accurate.

Renalyn tapping the baybayin 

Subsequently, we went to Apo Whang Od’s tattoo station for the signature. However, we were told that she’s a little sick and won’t be able to do sessions in the afternoon. So Basilia accompanied us to their house for a visit. Apo welcomed us with a beautiful smile and allowed us to take photos with her, YAY!

Wayu Ercao, Apo Whang Od! SARANGHAE, haha

Half of the day was pretty much our free time! We cooked our food for lunch, we ate, had a chit-chat and idled the rest of the afternoon. We played a little with the local kids and went for a walk in the rice fields. Danced and laughed hard, haha! We decided to have our dinner at a friend’s house, I promised her that! LOL. Selma owns a homestay and the only eatery in the village. When we got there, we were instantly comfy and relaxed at her place and we were served boneless ‘bangus’ over coffee. I also missed feeling Selma’s vibrant and high spirit, you can feel it all over the place, she jokes around and is a very happy person.

with Binibining Buscalan, Selma! (Photo: Joane Pangilinan)

Unexpectedly, my blogger friend, Joan and her friends were also having their dinner there. It was fate, they made it to Buscalan! LOL. We considered drinking altogether but given that we were staying at different areas in the village, we didn’t. Back atop, before going to sleep, Mich, Xian and I had a few beers and enjoyed the Buscalan vibes amidst the cool and chilly night breeze. We also organized our stuff that evening. The next day, even with leg injuries, we were all ready and set to trek down the mountain. We took the 9am jeepney trip to Bontoc and arrived at our destination at around 11am. We had our brunch at Wingman's Grill, I loved the buffalo wings there! Then, Xian and Mich did a little shopping at the market for 'pasalubong', afterwards we headed to Cable Cafe and waited for our bus ride to Manila by 3pm. I was a bit sad leaving Cordillera but I am sure it won't be the last time I'd be there.

My baybayin tattoo, E - KA


Coda Lines Bus Tickets (Manila to Bontoc and vice versa) - 1,450
Breakfast at Bontoc  - 80
Bontoc Museum Entrance Fee - 70
Food/Market Contribution - 100
Snacks at Bontoc - 50
Jeepney ride to Tinglayan (Bontoc to Buscalan and vice versa) - 200
Buscalan Guide Fee - 500
Environmental Fee - 70
Homestay - 600
Baybayin Tattoo - 200
Buscalan Magnet/Souvenir - 100
Dinner at Selma's - 100
Lunch at Wingman's Grill - 125
Snacks at Ifugao - 60
*CR Fees - 25
Transpo/Others: 200

TOTAL: 3,930

Additional Info:
Contact Gilbert - 09287184000
Guide fee: 1,500 for a group of 5 per day
Homestay: 300 per day (unlimited rice and coffee)


  1. Places so far away that make me fly with imagination and warm my heart. Thanks for letting me travel though I'm locked in the house with the flu;)

  2. This sounds like such a fun trip, and the backpacking would be so enjoyable. Thanks for sharing your travels with us!

  3. Can't wait to tick off Kalinga off my bucket list! I'd love to meet our very famous apo whang-od as well! This place is so rich in culture and history. Thanks for the travel expenses breakdown. Now I have a rough idea on how much to save for Kalinga :)

  4. I love all the pictures! Was the tattoo painful?

  5. These pictures make me want to visit this place that I have never heard of before. I do enjoy the breakdown that you did b/c it helps one to know what to expect as far as expenses and you can decide what is necessary and not.

  6. Oh my, this look like a really fun trip! And you've got a tattoo, wow! It's funny how you met your blogger friend there, I am always surprised on how small this world is, that we can unexpectedly meet somebody we know from home although we've traveled far away.

  7. This is a beautiful place to visit. The view in the photo is stupendous also the trip cost is reasonable.

  8. I have never been there but I would love to be there. Such a lovely place. Seems you had a great time.

  9. It looks like you had an amazing trip for Chinese New Year. But I don't think I could do an 11 hour bus trip! I converted the cost into UK pounds and it is a cheap trip to take.

  10. Always good to know something was even better the next time around. Makes me more interested for sure. I will have to look into taking a trip there.


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