I had learned that there are no misadventures in travel; only adventures that turn out the way you didn’t expect them to. In the end, these always make for good storr telling.
Last month, as our year-end trip, Hali and I joined a group tour going to a Sagada-Maligcong trip. It was sunny back in Manila, but when we arrived in Mountain Province it had turned cloudy with occasional rains.
When our van got to the main highway, we noticed numerous similar vans parked on roads that it had become difficult for our ride to navigate through the roads. A lot of buildings were in construction, and I guess these are future commercial spaces and accommodations.
I had read about how Sagada had become a favorite tourist haunt in the past several months due to its cold climate and natural attractions (and also due to the many hugot travelers who would like to shout “Walang forever!” in the mountain). However, I did not expect the crowd to be so huge.
Echo Valley: A walking tour in Sagada
We made a short stop at Clairence’s Inn to drop our backpacks and then headed to Sagada’s nature trail, Echo Valley. Accordingly, in Echo Valley, a small whisper can echo in the mountains.
Going to the Echo Valley entails a long walk into the mountains. We passed by a cemetery, where a guide explained how the locals do not light up candles for the dead but instead celebrate through the Pinag-apoy Festival.
After that, we trekked toward the famous hanging coffins. As I’ve said though, there are too many people that trekking felt more like going in line in a theme park. We would frequently stop because the trail is too narrow for the people coming and going. Perhaps the redemption is the view from the trails, which features numerous pine trees and thick flora.
The hanging coffins is one of the most photographed spots in Sagada. In the old times, upper-class natives do not bury their dead but instead hang them up in mountain walls. Why? Well, apparently it’s a symbolic practice that keeps them up the ground, where poor people farm.
There is another set of hanging coffins in the mountain across this one, which is difficult to see unless someone specifically points it out to you. If you happen to see this without anyone telling you, well congrats. *wink*
After stopping to listen to local stories, we continued trekking toward an underground cave, which doesn’t have a name. The cave has a tragic story. Several years ago it became the sewage system for housing and the smell was so strong the local government decided to close it for a few years.
Our tourist guide also told that the story of how an Irish tourist was found and rescued inside the cave. Apparently the tourist was exploring other old coffins and fell through what turned out to be the cave’s ceiling. I asked the guide if the tourist had broken bones when he was found. Our guide said, “No, his corpse was rescued.”
Flash forward to the present… With flashlights and headlights, we entered the cave and passed through a low river that went up to our shins. Most of the stalactites had been dead, but there are still a few glittering formations remaining.
We exited the cave and followed the course of the river. The water level was low but the boulders were slippery. Two of our companions had their slippers broken. Some were complaining about their rubber shoes getting wet. Which reminds me, if you’re going this route, please wear durable trekking sandals instead.
The trail ended in Bokong Falls, with its two cascades of water. It is located beside an old shed, which used to be part of a funfair in the area. Up ahead Bokong Falls, there is an area filled with wild flowers, which I loved. It was already sunset when we started to (painstakingly) walk back to our inn.
In our original itinerary, exploring the Echo Valley should only take us 3 hours, but with the crowd of tourists and time for picture taking, it took us about 4 hours or more.
Kiltepan in a foggy morning
It is said that, if you’re in Sagada, you shouldn’t miss seeing the sunrise in Kiltepan. I guess around 200 people followed this advice because it seemed to me we were that many in the area. I’m bad at estimating numbers, so there’s a chance the number is actually higher.
It was a bit rainy and very cold. Most of the tourists were huddled in the cafe restaurant, and the line for coffee was moving slowly. It was difficult to find a decent spot in the floor to sit.
Due to the weather, we missed seeing the sunrise but was instead greeted by a wide expanse of fog. I would have loved to see Kiltepan’s famous sunrise, but the weather also gave us a different view.
Kiltepan is eerily beautiful in this weather condition. The trees in particular look like they came out of art masterpieces. You can see the gradual fading of colors as the fog shifts. We stayed for a while even after most had gone to admire this different view of Kiltepan.
Bomod-ok Falls: A towering water cascade
Our visit to Bomod-ok Falls is probably my favorite part of our short tour in Sagada. The late morning was brighter than the previous day. At the briefing area, we were given walking sticks by the guides. I urge you to get one as well, you’ll be thankful once you have a cane to support on on the way back.
Update: Thank you to Andrew for pointing out that the the correct name is Bomod-ok Falls, not Bomok-od Falls. Apparently this is a common mistake. If you google Bomok-od Falls there isn’t a correction offered, and there’s even a Tripadvisor account with this misspelled name.
Trekking back and forth to Bomod-ok Falls, according to our guide, takes about 2 hours, though I think 3 hours is a more appropriate estimate.
All throughout the trail we were granted with a view of terraces. Our guide for that day told us that the rice produced in the terraces are not sold but instead used for personal consumption by the villagers.
We went across the village and our guide showed us a few viewpoints, including the storage houses for rice, the open house used for harvest rituals and a tramline used to deliver harvests to and from the village.
In the middle of our trek, we passed by numerous sunflower plants lined up beside the trail. Our eyes were not left wanting for delightful things to see. In addition, the trail is mostly going down, so it wasn’t very tiring (going back is a different story though).
Bomod-ok Falls is a towering waterfall, especially in comparison to the relatively midget-sized Bokong Falls. Indeed, it is called the Big Falls, and the latter, the Small Falls. The basin below was a deep green and very cold. Boulders of different sizes are scattered from the basin to the water trail below.
Hali wanted to take a dip but since we had scheduled to proceed to Maligcong after lunch time, we simply stood close to the falls and took turns taking photos.
Short guide: How to get to Sagada
Coda buses in HM Transport Cubao terminal has a daily schedule to Sagada at 9PM. An alternative is to go through either Banaue or Baguio via bus. From Banaue, take a van to Bontoc and then transfer to a van bound to Sagada. From Baguio, take a bus bound to Sagada.
Travel time from Manila is approximately 12-13 hours.
Appreciating Sagada in the modern times
I think it’s safe to say that Sagada, which used to attract people who are soul searching or looking for a quiet place for vacation, is no longer a virginal destination. As Hali said, hopefully Sagada wouldn’t become another Baguio, a mountain town that used to be famous for its thick pine forests but whose lands had now been overcome with hundreds of residential and commercial units.
Still, these recent additions as well as the huge crowd of tourists in the area couldn’t hide the natural beauty of Sagada. When we were looking for a breakfast eatery, we spotted a thick clump of trees blanketed with fog. We stopped to appreciate this view. To Sagada residents, this is probably an ordinary scenery.
We still hadn’t explored Sagada fully. We hadn’t been inside Sumaguing Cave, for instance, and I was told that there are other areas, such as caves, not yet opened to the general tourists.
Will I go back? Probably not, unless we’re sure we wouldn’t encounter the same huge crowd. A friend of mine has been here a few weeks prior, and his experience wasn’t as bad. As you can probably tell from the kinds of places we visit, Hali and I prefer off-the-beaten finds.
Related Read: Let’s talk about overcrowding
Would you still recommend going to Sagada? Why or why not?
P.S. This is part of our Sagada-Maligcong trip. Check out our next destination in Benguet: Mount Kofafey and Maligcong rice terraces.
Here’s our year-ender video featuring Sagada-Maligcong! 🙂