Asia, Experience, Itinerary, Luzon, Married Backpackers, Philippines, Travel, Travel Tips

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide

Each year, a dreamer longs to do something of epic proportions. Jump out of airplanes, quit the day job, chase after the one great love, and the list goes on. Mine, however, was an ode to the dauntlessness of my ancestors. Albeit less maverick, it sure carried more weight for me. (way more for the boylove who was dragged into my mission LOL.)

Buscalan was hard to reach, and we only had a couple of days to spare. But it happened, and we went home with the lifetime bragging right of having been marked by Apo Whang-od, the country’s oldest living mambabatok (traditional tattoo artist).


This guide is for fellow corporate rats (and students, maybe!) who only have the weekend– the long weekend, at most– to spare for bucket lists, travel goals, and whatever else you may call making-dreams-come-true.

A Friday night departure, for example, would have you back in Manila by Sunday night and be at work on Monday.

Please note that this is based on the actual trip that we did. There may be other options, and I will try to be as informative as possible. However, if this may come off as inadequate, please feel free to browse other blogs.


Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

TRANSPORTATION

If traveling during the holidays, it is best to book way well in advance to secure seats. We’ve had to book ours a day later than intended as everything else was fully-booked until then.

Reservation is only over-the-counter, unfortunately. For the adventurous spirit, you can embark on the adventure of being a chance passenger. But during the holiday season? I’d rather bungy-jump.

Departure (Kamias, Quezon City)

  • Victory Liner – Kamias Station
    • Fare – 700PHP/person (regular aircon)
    • Departs at 7PM (As we weren’t sure how long the trip would take given the traffic situation, we booked the earliest trip for the night)

Tip: Wear a jacket or get a blankie as the bus’ aircon can get really cold. It’s been said that drivers purposefully turn the aircon up to the maximum to prevent themselves from sleeping on the wheel.

Stopover (Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya)

  • Late Dinner / Midnight Meal – Lugaw (with egg – 40PHP; with chicken – 50PHP; with chicken and egg – 60PHP)
  • Bladder break – free/donation only; very clean toilets

Tip: In the Philippines, you have to bring your own toilet paper when using a public toilet.

Arrival (Bulanao, Tabuk)

  • 5AM arrival – Disembark in front of St. William’s Church (note that this isn’t the final destination of the bus, so be sure to tell your driver in advance that you will disembark in Bulanao)
  • The first trip to Bontoc isn’t until 7am. Whilst waiting, have coffee in a nearby carenderia. Ironically, eateries only serve 3-in-1 coffee
  • HideOut Restaurant – 3-in-1 coffee (10PHP)

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Depature (to Buscalan, Kalinga)

  • 7am – Ride a Bontoc-bound jeep/van/bus
    • All transport– Jeepney, Van, Bus— leaves Bulanao at 7am. We took the Jeepney to Bontoc as it arrived in the terminal first.
    • Fare – 150PHP/person

Tip: Ask locals, as there is no fixed terminal/parking for vehicles bound for Bontoc. It can be across the church or in the corner of the next intersection. (worry not, it’s all along the same main road.)

  • 1030am – Stopover in Tinglayan for Brunch
    • time of arrival in Tinglayan depends on the frequency of stops and road situation.
    • Good Samaritan Restaurant – Tinola and Rice (50PHP)

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • 11am – Disembark in Brgy Bugnay (where your guide will meet you)
    • recommended guide – Kuya Eddie (+639128097578) [EDIT: 0928 402 4973 – New number! Kuya E’s cellphone was stolen] – it is advised that he is contacted in advance
    • Guide Fee – 1000PHP (flat-rate per group)
  • Ride a habal-habal (motorcycle) to the Turning Point (around 10-15mins uphill). Your guide will pre-arrange this.
    • Fare – 100PHP/person
    • Sometimes, there is a Bontoc-bound jeepney that goes all the way to the Turning Point, but there was a landslide in the area during our trip, which makes the road impassable for larger vehicles.
  • Trek to Buscalan (Butbut Tribe Village) downhill and a very steep uphill. The trail is paved most of the way, so you can never get lost.
    • Along the way, you’d pass by the refreshing Tumaniw Falls. A quick dip is in order! 

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

ACCOMMODATION

  • Charlie Knows – homestay (inclusive of sleeping accomodations, meals and unlimited coffee. If you are as lucky as we were, you’d have free grog too! 😀
    • Kuya Charlie – +639397484707 / +639981888697
    • Cost – 250PHP / person / night. (Couples can request for the Fertility Room at no extra charge).
    • GrogRed Horse Beer is deemed “too strong” and is not sold in the village — buy your stash beforehand. The local guides won’t mind a bottle or two of kwadro-kantos (Ginebra San Miguel Gin) though.
    • Meals – Your guide will prepare your meals. They provide unlimited rice and coffee. For viands, you can either have what they cook for you (usually eggs, chicken and vegetables), or have some of the grocery items you brought– canned goods, noodles– cooked for you.
    • Candies / Food for kids – when giving food to kids, please remind them to dispose wrappers properly. There are garbage sacks all over the village that you can direct kids to throw their empty food wrappers to.

Tip: Bring grocery items to share to the locals (canned goods, sugar, salt, medicines, biscuits/candies for the kids, powdered juice, toiletries etc.)

ACTIVITY / OTHERS

  • Lachilad Souvenirs – native necklaces at 100PHP; good idea for pasalubongs (souvenirs to give to friends/family on your return).
  • Kapeng Barako (Native Coffee) – 100PHP / 250g

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • Pasipat – a practice wherein couples who are wanting to conceive go around the neighbourhood elders to ask for their blessings. The elders then tie a beaded bracelet around the woman’s wrist while chanting a prayer. In return, the couple would give the elders a piece of bread (in our case, doughnuts – 100PHP for a bag of 20)

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • Tattoo – it is customary NOT to ask for the price prior to the session. The mambabatok (tattoo artist) will tell you after the session. Prices usually start at 500 PHP.
    • Apo Whang-Od Signature (three horizontal dots) – 100 PHP
    • Design – a design board is available for you to choose; you can also have Apo Whang-Od pick the design for you. She generally does what is requested, but sometimes suggests a better location or design.
    • Other tattoo artists – Whang-Od has since trained other women in the community to keep the tradition alive. (I even had one of the apprentices, Renalyn, ink my back, as I particularly liked how clean her lines were).
    • You can keep the thorn used after your session, and the guides will give you a replica of the bamboo they use in tattooing as a going-away present. (This can also be bought in the souvenir shop at the entrance of the village).

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Tip: Never haggle. Help the community by helping the locals.

  • All of the above can be done in one afternoon, or at the latest, until early the next morning. Tell your guide of your plans and they will do their best to make arrangements in accordance to your schedule. 

BACK TO MANILA

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • 9am – We spent the night in Buscalan and left after breakfast the next day. The trek back to the Turning Point was easier than the one going to the village. We still had to take the habal-habal though, as there was a landslide in the area.
    • Fare – 100 PHP / person
  • 10am – We caught the 10AM jeepney to Bontoc (there were buses due at 11AM and 12NN respectively, according to our guide). Since the ride to Bontoc was only an hour, we went toploading. From up there, the view was twice as epic!
    • Fare – 100 PHP / person
    • Other option – go back to Tabuk instead and go back to Manila from there. I understand this was the shorter/faster route.

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • 11AM – Arrived in Bontoc; disembarked by the gate of MPSPC (Mountain Province State Polytechnic College) and walked to the bus terminal via the overpass. There was a Tourist Police Assistance Desk nearby, where we got information on transport options.
    • Fall in line for the Baguio bus (no advanced reservations available)
    • Departs at 1PM (GL Lizardo Bus) – terminal is near the public market/ central Baguio
    • Fare – 210 PHP / person
    • Can have lunch in Bontoc. We didn’t. (Bottled water – 30 PHP, Softdrinks – 25 PHP)
    • Comfort Room – 3 PHP
    • Other optiongo to Banaue instead and take the Ohayami Bus (overnight) back to Manila.
  • 6:30 PM – Arrived in Baguio (after 2 stopovers)
    • Fare – 455 PHP / person (regular aircon)
    • Approximate travel time – 5 to 7 hours (depending on the traffic situation)

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • Option – If going straight to Manila, the Victory Liner Terminal is just one jeepney ride away (near SM); within a walking distance if you don’t have much to bring)
    • Jeepney – 7 PHP / person (approximate)
    • Taxi – 50 PHP / trip (approximate)
  • Option – if staying in Baguio overnight.
    • Bloomfield Hotel – just beside SM. Clean, new and with excellent customer service.
    • Rates start as 2140 PHP / room (off-peak); 2360 PHP / room (peak)

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust
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Luzon, Philippines, Travel, Travel Fashion

Cabin Bag Flatlay | Manila

Let me let you in on a secret: the secret to sensible packing is photographing what you pack. For hand-carry bags, for instance, it is imperative not to overstuff lest your shoulder is prepared to bear the yoke of overpacking.

So how does photographing helps? Whatever doesn’t look good in the photo, goes.

Genius, right? Right!

cabin flat lay manila
Look, Ma! No check-in luggage!

On a trip home to Manila, I tried this formula (and will prolly start a series after this), and am so stoked it works!


Read: Cabin Bag Flatlay – Bali


(Clockwise from top)

  1. Laptop – Macbook Air (a gift from the boylove 3 birthdays ago); decal is from Typo Shop.
  2. Make-up kit – My Asian skin doesn’t do well with designer cosmetics. I’m happy with just Revlon, really.
  3. Passport Wallet – have I mentioned Typo Shop should start to sponsor me? lol. Also, if you haven’t noticed yet, I am crazy over all things travel-y.
  4. Headphones – Bose wireless over ear.
  5. Journal – Slay 2017 by Typo Shop.
  6. Backpack – All because it matches with my passport wallet; also from Typo Shop.
  7. Eyewear – Clubmasters by RayBan
  8. Book – The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma

FELLOW WAYFARER, WHAT’S IN YOUR CABIN BAG?


Flatlay Manila
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Itinerary, Luzon, Philippines, Travel, Travel Tips

Baguio – Sagada Travel Guide

When asked about my travels, I can only tell stories. How I ate fried grasshoppers in Vietnam or drank my way through Laos, for example. I suck at giving structured information like budget and itinerary.

But here’s an attempt at a Baguio-Sagada Travel Guide that really, is just Sagada. Don’t judge 😛

This guide is based on a backpacking trip I did years ago and is purely experiential. Also, allow me to disclaim that this may not be the most updated information on rates (although I tried my darnedest best to check on latest rates and prices). However, I have provided contact information if you wish to double-check.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust


Disclaimer : When I write about myself drinking beer in the Philippines, I mean Red Horse and nothing else.


BAGUIO

How to get there

From Manila, we took the 1115H Victory Liner bus from the Sampaloc terminal to Baguio. The trip took around 6 hours via TPLEX.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Coming straight from an early flight from Cagayan de Oro, I was exhausted. The comfort that Victory Liner’s first class bus provided was formidable. What with full air-conditioning, reclining seats, free wifi, free snacks and a bus stewardess, it was an experience in itself.

Fare: 455PHP (Regular Aircon); 750 PHP (First Class) | Tickets can be pre-purchased online or in the terminals


Victory Liner Inc. – Manila
www.victoryliner.com
551 Earnshaw St., Barangay 401, Sampaloc, Manila, Philippines
Phone: +63 2 559 7735


Tip: If going to Baguio without prior reservations like we did, seek assistance from the Tourist Information Centre outside the Victory Liner bus terminal.

When we reached Baguio, it was nearly dusk. Thankfully, the men at the Tourist Information Centre were very helpful. Without a hotel reservation, they offered to drive us around the city until we found a hotel that we liked.

Fare: 50 PHP (Van and driver; until a hotel is found)

Where to stay

Our main requirement was a comfortable city-centre hotel that was close to the bus station for Sagada. After a couple of other enquiries, we found Belfranlt. The hotel was a bit dated, but its location, spacious rooms and clean toilets sold us. The hotel also had cable television, hot and cold shower and free breakfast.

Rates: 1650PHP (Double Aircon)


Belfranlt Hotel
General Luna Road, Baguio City, Philippines
Phone: +63 74 442 4298


Where to chill

Remember that acoustic bar in the movie That Thing Called Tadhana? We’ve been there long before the movie was shown.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Perhaps, there was something about Baguio that made unraveling a little less difficult. Bohemian Cafe, for instance, beckoned nostalgia. Dim-lit nooks and alcohol, and the music that filled all the spaces in between.

Price: 100PHP (cocktails) ; 60PHP (beer)


Bohemian Cafe
Assumption Rd, Baguio, Benguet, Philippines


SAGADA

How to get there

Early the next morning, from Baguio, we took the 0700H GL Lizardo bus to Sagada. We were supposed to take an earlier bus but missed it. Hearty breakfasts do that. The trip took around 6 hours via the scenic Halsema Highway.

Fare: 220PHP (Regular Non-aircon)

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust


GL Lizardo Bus Terminal
Rajah Matanda St, Baguio, Benguet, Philippines


Where to stay

We alighted at Sagada Public Market and walked further down along South Road to the SAGGAS (Sagada Genuine Guides Association, Inc.) office. After making initial enquiries, we looked for an accommodation to drop our bags in.

As it was past lunch time and we didn’t have a prior booking (again!), we didn’t walk far. Most of the accommodations near SAGGAS were fully-booked.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Fortunately, we chanced upon Alibama Inn, a small hostel situated above Pinikpikan House. It was okay, except it didn’t have hot shower. I died.

Rates: 250PHP per head (Non-aircon bedspace)


Alibama Inn
pinikpikanhaus@gmail.com
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
Phone: (63) 920 8135797


Where to eat

Famished from half a day on the road, a siomai stall outside SAGGAS felt like oasis in the desert. I devoured an entire serve and downed it with a glassful of black gulaman.

Price: 28PHP(Siomai, 3 per serve); 10PHP (Black Gulaman)


Siomai King
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
(fronting SAGGAS)


After doing the Echo Valley and surrounds tour, we dropped by Yoghurt House for some refreshments. Centrally located and with an instagrammable yellow facade, the Yoghurt House sure was unmissable.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

The menu was on the pricier end of the spectrum, though. But I was all for good food and cozy ambiance, and really, I allowed myself to fall prey to good marketing and pretty interiors.

Price: 99PHP(Lemon Lassie)


Yoghurt House
www.yoghurt.sagada.org
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
Phone: +63 908 112 8430


For dinner, we strolled further into the innards of Sagada, away from South Road. We were checking out souvenir items in a random shop when my nose caught a whiff of the unmistakeable pork binagoongan.

I heeded the call (or smell) of the home-cooked goodness, of course. That, plus plateful of extra rice later, I was solved.

Tip: grab a couple of free Mentos candies from the jar on the counter.

Must Eat: Pork Binagoongan


Homestay Diner
Sagada – Besao Rd, Sagada, Mountain Province, Philippines


Salt and Pepper was best for breakfast. A stone’s throw away from SAGGAS, we went there to carbo-load before the doing the gruelling Cave Connection.

Price: 150PHP (Bislled’s Delight (Tapsilog)), 30PHP (Mountain Tea), 30PHP (Lemon Iced Tea)


Salt and Pepper
www.facebook.com/sagadasaltandpepper
Phone: +63 998 979 8695
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines


After the Cave Connection, we dropped by Sagada Lemon Pie House to supposedly sample their renowned lemon pies. But man, I was starving. Famous lemon pies be damned, I needed rice and a proper meal!

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Price: 150PHP (Spicy Red Chicken and rice meal); 20PHP (Lemonade)


Sagada Lemon Pie House
www.sagadalemonpiehouse.blogspot.com.au
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
Phone: (63) 907-7820360


Where to  chill

“Fcuk Sagada, ang sarap mo!” said the vandal on a hanky pinned on a freedom wall. It stood out from all the trinkets that travellers before us had left in the comforts of Bamboo Bar.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

I fell in love at once; left awestricken by the myriad of stories stuck on the walls of that rendezvous. I could have stayed there and made friends and found love and lost pieces of myself. I could have been the resident storyteller, or secret keeper, or kiss-and-spiller.

I could have been everything; and nothing. And even the latter would have been okay.

Prices: 50PHP(Beer)


Bamboo Bar
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines


What to do

(Rates are based on a 2pax shared tour)

Echo Valley and Bokong Falls

Knackered from the bus ride from Baguio, we settled on an easy activity for the afternoon. Our sampler tour started at St. Mary’s Anglican Church and into the woods behind it.

While hiking, we learned a bit about how faith was the core of the town, and that in many aspects, religion shaped huge part of the town’s culture and history.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

We first reached Echo Valley, where everything you screamed was screamed back at you. It was popular to those who needed emotional release from  romantic shambles. I swore alright; profanities overload.

Shortly after we resumed our hike, we came across a high rock with coffins hanging on the side. “Ah, there you are,” I exclaimed, noting the most recognisable spot in Sagada; the most photographed. The underground river cave was cloaked just behind the hanging coffins.

Further, Bokong Falls hid behind a dense shrubbery. It wasn’t easily visible, but the sound of the cascade lured the water baby in me. Ice-cold but rejuvenating, I couldn’t have thought of a better way to round an intrepid day off.

Rates: 600PHP(Guide)

Kiltepan Peak

Our guide, Anthony, met us outside the SAGGAS office at 4am on our second day. Much to his dismay, we opted to trek Kiltepan, as opposed to taking a hired van to the peak. We promised him a tip though, as consolation, explaining how as backpackers, we didn’t particularly like being herded.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

The trek was relatively short and easy, nothing like the tramps we’ve done in other backpacking trips. Several vehicles ran past us, filled with tourists in identical crocheted bonnets.

When we got to Kiltepan Peak, most have already taken their spots and have set up tripods to photograph the iconic Sagada sunrise. Some have pitched tents right at the peak the night prior, we learned.

I found a spot too, and from there, the sunrise was glorious. There was barely sea of clouds, however.  So really, I didn’t quite achieve the frame I woke up early for.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Determined to still enjoy the moment, I ejected myself from line of disappointed tourists and joined a company of local guides around a bonfire at the back. Someone offered a tin mug of brewed coffee; another, a stick of cigarette. I said yes to the coffee, no to the cigarette.

Rates: 400PHP(Guide)

Cave Connection

Apart from Bungy Jumping in New Zealand, the Cave Connection was probably the bravest feat I have done to date. It was a rightful bragging right, but definitely something I would not allow any of the people I love to ever do.

Imagine going through the mouth of one cave to another– the kind that takes up to 4 hours– with a single kerosene lamp and zero safety gear. Oh wait, we were advised to go barefoot as it was apparently less slippery that way. To slip, by the way, meant 2,500ft down into the abyss of nothingness.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Rendell, though, was awesome. He has been guiding Cave Connection tours for a couple of years, but initially joked that we were his first tour. His familiarity of the route made the whole ordeal a little less daunting. It also helped that he kept saying “eto na yung pinakamahirap, Miss” (this is already the hardest, Miss) each time we get past a tricky obstacle. Only to realise that a more difficult one will come up next.

Including stopovers, we were able to finish the connection in just a little over 2 hours. Rendell, who, towards the end of the tour also identified himself as John, couldn’t stop gushing.

“Sure ka Pinoy ka? Ba’t ang bilis mo? Korean lng ang ganyan kabilis!” (Are you sure you’re Filipino? Why are so you fast? Only Koreans can be that fast!)

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

I could only smile. I got what he meant, but chose not to go there.

Rates: 800PHP(Guide)

Pongas Falls

Probably my most favourite of all, was Pongas Falls. It was a bit away, and was thereby our most expensive activity. But it was all worth it. Our guide, Alder, doubled as a photographer, and was big on candid shots.

We passed by a village to get permission from the local chieftain before proceeding to the falls. On the way, we walk past villagers going about with daily life– women cooking for early dinner, kids on their way home from school and men racing to finish the day’s work before sunset. I saw myself in each one of them, remembering my own village back home.

When we reached the waterfall, we were delighted to find it deserted. We basically had it all to ourselves for the rest of the afternoon.

It was past dusk when we made it back to the main road. Before calling it a day, we shared a beer with Alder, who, at the time, was chewing betel nut to celebrate a day’s worth of hard work.

Rates: 600PHP(Guide); 600PHP(Van Rental)


SAGGAS
Sagada Genuine Guides Association, Inc.
www.facebook.com/saggas
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines


WHAT IS YOUR SAGADA STORY? SHARE IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.


Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust
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Asia, Luzon, Philippines, Travel

The Road to Banaue

Leaving Sagada before daybreak, I tiptoed downstairs to the unmanned reception counter, ridden by guilt from another alcohol-fueled sleep.

Sobriety would’ve reminded me to settle the hostel bill the night prior. But I wasn’t sober, and had to be on the first jeepney to Bontoc before fruit and vege sellers beat me to the terminal.

So I rushed back to the room upstairs, smoothed a crumpled 500-peso bill from my pocket and weighed it down on the table with the hostel room key and a thank you note to whoever found it in the morning.

philippine jeepney

Asia, Luzon, Philippines, Travel

PHILIPPINES | Baguio Overnight

Flanked by the husband and the mother-in-law, I stood at the arrival hall of NAIA 3 to meet up with a guy I met in Bangkok the year prior. We have been keeping in touch and have arranged to backpack Philippines for four weeks. Alone. Together.

Mama wasn’t saying anything but was expectedly having a headache trying to make sense of the situation. My husband, on the other hand, knew that my only aim was to travel; who I travel with was insignificant in the scheme of things.

Insignificant, even if he’s a Dutch boy with blonde hair and blue eyes.

Baguio 2 - Words and Wanderlust

Asia, Luzon, Philippines, Travel, Visayas

Backpacking Philippines

The awakening for Backpacking Philippines happened while traveling Indochina last summer. Whilst I recognised how traveling to other countries afforded me perspectives that I wouldn’t have otherwise felt in my own backyard, I also realised that I was exploring to find experiences that resembled the familiarity of home.

So when Matthijs, a Dutch backpacker— whom I shared one too many bottles of beer with— asked if I was keen to show him around the Philippines, I cancelled all other travel plans and jumped at the chance. What he didn’t know was, I was just as much of a tourist as he was.

BAGUIO – SAGADA

Read: Baguio-Sagada Travel Guide

Our adventure began at a bus terminal in Sampaloc, Manila. From there,  we took a six-hour land trip to Baguio, a city where villages hung on the hips of mountain ranges.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Baguio

At twilight, we strolled around Session Road, cheeks with hints of scarlet from the cold. Amused at the lilt of the Ilocano tongue, we combed the markets for the crowd, chomping on street food in between. As the night deepened, we holed up in an acoustic bar called Bohemian and drowned sorrows, imagined and otherwise, in beer.

A decision borne out of the night prior’s drunken conversation led us to Sagada the next day. Charming and nostalgic, the town beckoned my poetry: I just had to be there.

Happy to be dragged to my exploits, Matthijs gamely trekked the jungles with me— to chase waterfalls, spot hanging coffins and watch sunrises before seas of clouds.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Sagada

But our most dauntless adventure of all was spelunking and abseiling between caves with nothing but ungloved hands and bare feet. Albeit a physical feat, surviving the 4-hour Cave Connection was a real test of courage and strength of character. I, particularly, feel braver since.

BATAD – BANAUE

Read: Batad-Banaue Travel Guide

Riding on top of a jeepney may not be news to daredevils. But riding on top of a jeepney traversing through the deadly Halsema Highway was what we did. Keeping to our YOLO branding, we kept at it all the way to Banaue, and even to Batad.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Banaue

When not avoiding live wires, we revelled in the landscapes: rice terraces, mountain ranges and cliff faces. We were also immersed in a culture so intact, and in a history that stood on the feet of diligence and bravery.

For a few days, we stayed at a 100 year-old hut in a village fronting 2000 year-old rice terraces. There, we tramped through deeper into the woods, and higher into the mountains. We saw more waterfalls and caught more sunsets.

There was no beer, shame. But regardless of the time of the day, there was always an oversupply of rice wine.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Batad

EL NIDO

Read: El Nido Travel Guide

In stark contrast to our week in the hinterlands, an overnight bus to Manila and a morning flight to Puerto Princesa took us to the beaches of Palawan.

Upon learning that a jaunt to the Underground River won’t be possible until the next day, we crossed Puerto Princesa off our list.  But that also meant we had to continue the journey for five more hours to the beachfront haven of El Nido.

Where I got the energy to survive the commute, I didn’t know. But if there was ever such a thing as a power bank for humans, I would have very gladly plugged my whole self in.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - El Nido

El Nido was the lover worth dumping everyone else for. Three days became six, and it still wasn’t enough.

We hopped between islands, snorkelled in lagoons, held picnic lunches in deserted mounds of white sand and drank nights away under the tutelage of French bartenders, who have found home in my country.

In one of the boat trips, a common love for boisterous laughter forged an instant friendship between us and a trio of very fun-loving Pinoys. Eventually, and very willingly so, they shared my honour of entertaining our foreign friends, staging one big showdown of local hospitality.

CORON

Read: Coron Travel Guide

Coron was an altogether different ballgame. Whilst El Nido’s charm dwelt on rock formations jutting out from cerulean seas, Coron tucked entire kingdoms underwater.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Coron

Having had the privilege to snorkel in Kayangan and Barracuda alone was already worth the 9-hour arduous boat ride from El Nido. But to add shipwreck diving and hammock-lounging in a private island to the equation? No price tag could ever be put on that.

The nights, meanwhile, were a class of its own. Traveling with a French couple, we brought the party atmosphere of wild El Nido to sleepy Coron. On one occasion, we got wasted over happy-hour rum coke and donned on a random shop’s mascot costume. We were too drunk to find out if we ever made it to local news, but I remember stopping traffic, running around town as a green gecko.

CEBU

Read: Cebu Sinulog Travel Guide

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Cebu

Just in time for the Sinulog Festival, we flew to Cebu from Coron to cap off our month-long vagabonding around the country. There, we met up with other wayfarers who were also in town for the weekend shindig.

Out of all stops, Cebu was the only place I’ve ever been to before, so I made sure to plate up a generous helping of Filipino hospitality. For four days, we barely slept in the name of fun and mayhem.

By the end of the trip, Matthijs and I felt we’ve out-YOLO-ed ourselves, and spent our last few days in Cebu looking back at our travels.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Sinulog

In one of our conversations, he told me that Philippines should no longer be lumped in general terms (ie., Asians) internationally; that Philippines is Filipino, awesome enough to stand on its own.

“You aren’t even third-world. You have first-world cities and first-world people, where even the most primitive of tribes can speak decent English and even the poorest of communities are happy.”

I sat there, bereft of speech, startled by the reckoning that it was actually me, who have been shown around in my own country.

From the eyes of a foreigner, I saw the Philippines again for the first time. It was beautiful. Perhaps, the most in the universe. As a Filipino, I realise right then and there, that it was my duty to open my country’s doors for all to see.