Buscalan, Kalinga is an unusual travel destination in the heart of the Cordilleras that is gaining popularity because of Apo Whang Od, the last mambabatok (traditional tattooist) of the province. Just last February 2016, I visited Buscalan for two days and one night (2D1N) to get a bâtok (traditional tattoo). read my travelogue
In this travel guide, I will share to you how to get to Buscalan, Kalinga and get your bâtok even when you are on a limited budget. I’ll give you a travel guide that will cost you more or less PHP 3,000.00, all-in-expense.
How To Get To Buscalan, Kalinga
There are several ways to get to Buscalan, home of the Butbut people and home of Apo Whang Od:
- Manila-Tabuk-Buscalan Route
- Manila-Baguio-Bontoc-Buscalan Route
- Manila-Banaue-Bontoc-Buscalan Route
My friends and I traveled from Manila to Banaue, Ifugao via Ohayami Trans. We left Manila at 10 PM and arrived at Banaue around 7 AM (average travel time MNL-BANAUE is 10 hours). We had a one-day side trip going to Sagada, but if you opt to go straight to Buscalan there are vans that can take you to Bontoc. From Bontoc, ride a bus bound to Tabuk that passes through Tinglayan, the town where Buscalan belongs. From there, you could walk all your way up. However, we opted to ride a habal-habal (motorcycle) until the Turning Point since it was raining when we arrived and the mud were foot-deep. Beyond the Turning Point, there is no other way but to trek your way to Buscalan.
Route | Cost | Travel Time
MNL-Banaue (Bus) | 450.00 | 10 hours
Banaue-Bontoc (Van) | 150.00 | 3 hours
Bontoc-Tinglayan (Bus) | 80.00 | 1 hour
Pro-tip: Book your ticket at least one week before. Buses operating in Banaue (or even Tabuk) have limited number of trips and often gets fully booked during weekends.
Where To Stay In Buscalan
Homestays are the only accommodation available in Buscalan. Many families re-purposed their houses to accommodate guests. The price is fixed at PHP 250.00/person/night, this includes cooked rice and unlimited local coffee. There are stores around Buscalan where you can buy food but the choices are limited. So, if you are really picky with food, I suggest that you bring canned goods.
We stayed on a second floor of a house that is only a minute away from Whang Od’s workshop. It was clean, offers privacy, and has a spacious porch. Plus, it is near a sari-sari store.
Pro-tip: Get a local guide beforehand. It will save you a lot of hassles, they will arrange everything for you from accommodation to side trips to your queue for your tattoo.
Contact our guides, Gilbert and Rustom, through 09084792012.
Sample Itinerary (2D1N)
Day 1: Travel Day + Waiting Day
- 0700: Arrival at Banaue
- 0900: Depart for Bontoc
- 1200: Arrival at Bontoc | Depart for Tinglayan
- 1330: Arrival at Turning Point | Trek
- 1430: Arrival at Buscalan | Lunch
- 1500: Free time
- 2000: Dinner
- 2100: Lights Out
We arrived at Banaue around 7 AM, decided to take our breakfast there and depart at around 9 AM. Our first day was a side trip to Sagada but for the benefit of those who want to go straight to Buscalan, you can travel to Bontoc, catch a bus bound for Tabuk and alight in Tinglayan. Be mindful that the last trip of Tabuk-bound bus in Bontoc is 12 noon.
After an hour of trekking from the Turning Point in Tinglayan, we reached Buscalan, we had our (late) lunch and rested a bit. Rustom, our guide, informed us that we were scheduled to be tattooed the following morning. That meant we have the rest of the day to roam around and do whatever we wanted. I decided to visit Whang Od, Grace and Elyang (Whang Od’s granddaughters), and watch them tattoo other visitors. Afterwards, I decided to just rest and bum around. My friends, on the other hand, decided to visit Palan-ah Falls and Hot Springs in Tulgao West.
Pro-tip: Instead of bringing candies, which has been the practice, the village is requesting guests to bring school supplies, fruits, and dental equipment instead. Children are having dental problems from too much sugar.
Day 2: Tattoo Day + Departure
- 0600: Wake-up | Breakfast
- 0630: Queue for Tattoo
- 0700: Tattoo Session (We were the first for the day!)
- 0800: Done | See Rice Terraces of Buscalan
- 1000: Lunch | Prep for Departure
- 1100: Start of Trek
- 1200: Depart to Banaue
- 1600: Arrival at Banaue | Free time | Dinner
- 1830: Departure to Manila
- 0400: Arrival at Manila
Pressed by time since I already booked a flight 8 AM the next day, our guide asked us to come early to the workshop. Whang Od normally starts tattooing around 7 AM, we were there by 6:30 AM. Luckily, I was the first she tattooed that day (except for those asking for her three dot signature • • •). I decided to have the design of a crab – symbolizing safety for travelers.
Pro-tip: Remind Whang Od to change the thorn. Oftentimes, Whang Od forgets to change the thorn every after session, remind her. She’s cool with it. Also, bring wet wipes. Whang Od usually uses a single cloth to wipe the blood, but if you bring your own wipes, she’ll be happy to use it instead. It’s better safe, than sorry!
After I had my tattoo, I decided to explore the village while waiting for all of my friends to finish with theirs. Our guide brought us to the upper part of Buscalan and showed us their rice terraces. We arrived in time when their women are about to plant rices, two of my companions decided to join!
Pro-tip: As much as possible, plan your trip on weekdays to minimize the crowd, this serves as a breather for the village as well. If you go on a weekend or holiday, don’t expect to get a tattoo in just two days. Be ready to spend at least three days and two nights (sometimes, even more).
By 11 AM, we were on our way down and on our way home. Buses bound to Bontoc pass by Tinglayan everyday at 9 AM and 12 PM. You must be mindful not to miss them as you’ll have to spend another extra night or rent a van that cost three times.
Pro-tip: Buy some of their organic coffee as souvenirs. It only cost PHP 100.00 per pack, ask the locals for preparation instructions. Their coffee was one of the best coffee I had tasted.
Budget (per person | group of 6)
Transportation (round-trip) | PHP 1,360.00 + 100 habal-habal (optional)
Food (brought canned goods) | PHP 300.00
Accommodation | PHP 250.00
Tattoo | PHP 500.00 (average)
Environmental Fee | PHP 75.00
Guide | PHP 200.00
TOTAL | PHP 2,685.00
Watch: The Tattooing Process
Pro-tip: If you really want to minimize cost travel on a group of five or more. In case that you don’t have friends who are interested, try to tag-along with other groups. You can visit the Facebook group Tattooed by Apo Whang Od to find other who are planning.
Most importantly, read through the page to learn the issues concerning Buscalan now due to the “commercialization of the batok experience”. Let us learn to respect their culture and their way of life.
If you plan to get a bâtok from Apo Whang Od and have questions or concerns, feel free to leave a comment. I’ll try to answer them as best as I could once I am available.