VISITING WHANG OD in BUSCALAN: the long road to the living cultural icon



In today’s travelling community, having a tattoo done by Whang Od herself is a common bucket list activity. Regardless of which route to take, going to Buscalan is a tedious commute. Swarmed by tourists during weekends and holiday breaks, it is best to visit her during the weekdays.

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Our Route

After grueling hours of long commutes, of van, bus, jeepney toploading, we found ourselves at the end of the road leading to the jump off point to Buscalan. There we met our guide, Sir Oliver in full smile along with his comrade, Mike, who met us earlier on our journey to Buscalan.

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This is it, we would start our trek to the tattoo village, so called Turning Point. Alighting from the strong motored jeepney – we started treading the trail, fresh from hours of seeing deep ravines and being on the cloud line, we got a bit desensitised with heights. As the sun starts over the western horizon, the cold wind starts to creep on our flesh. As we turned left to the trail, there we saw right in front us, the Buscalan cliff, were few millimetres from your step is a deep ravine, the best place to not skip a step. What surprised me is portion of the trail has railings installed – this gave a moment of peace of mind. Buscalan village can be seen from here, perched approximately higher than you on the other side – seemingly so near yet so far. Sir Oliver had shown the ascending path we need to traverse before going there – I breathed the deepest I can and silently shouting in my brain – I can do this. Imagine being sedentary in office and home, I could have suffered massive cramps.


As the trail descends to a much steeper angle, I started to control each and every step to avoid slipping. Traversing rice paddies and modest foot bridge, we found ourselves resting on the lower part of the trail. Catching our breath for a few minutes, we took pictures of the surroundings with the remaining sky light available – flashes fired and poses donned. Here we go! The ascending undulating trail to the village.

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Gulping up my remaining wild-berry-flavoured yoghurt snack I bought in Bontoc, I channelled my remaining physical strength to the seemingly never ending ascent to Buscalan village. Turn by turn, I took photos of the changing scenery as I go higher. I pumped up the ISO on my camera to get that almost sufficient exposure.

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Now I can see the roofs approaching, and with excitement boiling inside me, I almost ran to the village entrance. Here I am, I made it!!! With a perfect vantage point of the mountains and rice terraces, this is the best place to be! I breathed the deepest I can and mentally patted myself on the bank – this is the product of your persistence and patience after long, grueling, tiring, tedious, exhausting and strenuous commute.

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Sir Oliver led us to his homestay and moments after, found myself savouring the cool climate, the hammock, and the sweet scent of Kalinga coffee – this is life after the travel-storm.


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The alarm rang and I peeled my eyes, this is my first morning in Buscalan. I stretched my aching body and trod outside exposing myself to the cold mountain wind. As I wore my specs to see what’s out there in the pitch dark sky, I saw seemingly tripled quantity of stars compared I see over the metro in stunning utter clarity.

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Momentarily our guide arrived and led us to the scenic viewpoint to wait for the sunrise. Twist and turns as we crisscrossed the sleepy village of Buscalan and passed by men sleeping in hammocks on a chilly twilight. Armed with our documentation guns, we started taking snapshots as we arrived at the viewpoint. Surrounded by nothing but picturesque rice terraces, graceful mountain ranges draped by undulating clouds and the slow creeping sun.

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As the first rays of the morning sun laying the virgin mountain slopes, the real and actual scenic view unveiled and stunned my vision momentarily. It was one of the glorious sunrise I have ever witnessed in my life.

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As the village started to wake up, locals trod their feet around the town. As we head back to our homestay, the awakening scent of Kalinga coffee lingered making me drooling for another cup. We cooked our breakfast and search for our main agenda, dear Apo Whang Od.

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Seeing her in the flesh was an almost absolute starstruck moment because of her rock star status in the tattooing world. Having a photo of her is one of my most prized souvenir, another moment with a living cultural icon.

Apo Whang Od, a traditional tattoo artist



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After the tattoo session of our travel mate, we head out back to the tiring trail and now we have the opportunity to bathe in cool waters of Tumanniw Falls.


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As the sun continued to its path unleashing its fiery flares, we headed to ascending trail back to jump off point. Since we missed the morning jeepney to Bontoc, we saw heaps of motorcycles for passengers. After a mandatory rest, we individually hopped on motorcycles and seemingly glide on the winding roads. Mind you the panoramic view is ultra breathtaking!

Our ride ended in a store beside the provincial road where will be indefinitely waiting for passing bus or jeep. Hours passed we busied ourselves in viewing the immediate surroundings, drenching our vision with nothing but the utter beauty of nature displaying herself to us.

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Soon as we got a glimpse of the apparently full jeepney, we ran to the sidewalk and wishing our lives for an ample space for a group of seven passengers. Meters from us, the apparent thought is a fact! The jeepney is really loaded, and with the intention of not missing out our set itinerary, we squeezed ourselves over the jeepney top and momentarily, we are on our wildest commute ever back to Bontoc, the topload way!

That short-lived experience in Buscalan with Apo Whang Od is sure “one for the books” in my travel history.


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The “Habal Habal”-Ride-of-our-life route from the Turning Point to the highway (Php 100.000)

(screenshot from Google Maps)

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Route from Bontoc Proper to Buscalan Junction in Red Line via TOPLOAD (Php 100.00)

(Screenshot from Google Maps)

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The two-hour Toploading Experience


Our guide is Sir Olie. You can contact him at +63 939 774 1477

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Me with Sir Olie

Sir Olie’s homestay – two floor house with common bathroom.

Some BUTBUT WORDS I asked:

  • Thank you – MANJAMARA
  • Delicious – PIJA
  • How are you – KUMUSTA A
  • Good morning – WHAYU WHIGWHIKAT
  • Good afternoon – WHAYU ERKAW
  • Good night – WHAYU LAWHI
  • Beautiful – PINTAS
  • Let’s go there – INTAUD ASCHI
  • I love you – WHAYUGWO SIA
  • Faster – KARASOM


12 thoughts on “VISITING WHANG OD in BUSCALAN: the long road to the living cultural icon

    1. We traveled from Dau to Kamias QC to catch bus bound for Tabuk. However, we missed the bus, and took a van to Cagayan valley. We alighted at the Banaue junction and took a bus to Banaue. then from Banaue, we took jeep to Bontoc. then from Bontoc, we took a jeep to Buscalan (1 trip 1pm), not Tinglayan route, then we alighted sa mismong start ng trek.


    2. Gusto po kasi namin kumuha ng tour guide kaso hirap naman makacontact. Try sana kasi po namin mag DIY kesa yung package etc. Ano po kaya magandang gawin? Thank you po.


  1. Paano po namin malalaman if yung tour guide tiga busculan? Then for example po nanakuha kami ng tour guide dun sila na rin po ba bahala sa lahat like habal-bahal etc?


    1. pwde nyo sila ask if they can guide you sa buscalan. if you take the jeepney, once malapit na sa turning point, may mga magtatanong if may magguide na sa inyo. For the habal habal, they are already parked at the turning point for egress. There are many homestays once you are there.


      1. We were supposed to go and explore Kalinga last february. But they stopped tourism activites due to covid 19. Its always nice to stay with the locals and learn from them. Will definitely put this on top of ny list. Thank you for sharing such beautiful photos!


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