Why You Should Skip a Trip to Buscalan


Buscalan may just be a sleepy barangay (suburb) up in the mountains in Northern Philippines, but it has been on the tourist map for years. Thanks to the oldest living tattooist in the country, Whang-Od Oggay, Buscalan, which has less than a thousand population, is now on every adventurist’s bucket list.


Whang-Od while tattooing the leg of a foreign tourist

Whang-Od (pronounced as Fang-Od), is 105 years old. Filipinos hail her as a national treasure, being the oldest Mambabatok (Master Tattooist) of the native tribe, Butbut. Batok refers to traditional tattoo making, using charcoal ink and the thorn of a pomelo plant as a needle.

The thorn that serves as a needle for tattooing

If you’re planning to go to Buscalan and get your first traditional tattoo, these are the things you should prepare for:

1. You’ll fall in love with the village

Nature writer Robert Macfarlane said in his book, “Those who travel to mountain-tops are half in love with themselves and half in love with oblivion.” Buscalan, being surrounded by lush green mountains of the Cordilleras and terraced rice paddies, will make you oblivious of how time slips away. It is where instead of staying tucked under the sheets, you’d rather get up at five in the morning to see the sunrise from the rice terraces behind the village.

You could stay still for hours and soak up the beauty around you that’s enveloped by the nippy winds. Even the views along the roads leading to Buscalan will make you stop for panoramic photos that are worth taking.

Panoramic view shot from the uphill road to Buscalan
2. The Buscalan way of life will make you jealous

Women wash their dishes and clothes together from a common water source. Men gather for a little chat before tackling the day’s activities. Elderlies of the community sit on top of the staircases of their stilt houses with thatch roofs. Native pigs and chickens wander around the village. This is just a typical morning in Buscalan.

There’s no mobile phone service in Buscalan but people stay connected. They have little electricity. Beans and rice which are usually offered to tourists, are Buscalan’s staple. Locals gather for supper, for stories, and at bedtime, not for Netflix. Such an uncomplicated living but the envy of many.

A native of Buscalan
3. Kalinga coffee is addictive

Buscalan has an unlimited supply of Kalinga coffee, which they would willingly brew and serve black and free for the unending stream of visitors. Kalinga coffee is sought after by many because of its distinct taste and aroma. One cup is never enough for coffee lovers.

Kalinga is one of the country’s 7th largest producers of organic coffee.

The trail up to
The trail leading up to Buscalan village in Tinglayan, Kalinga
4. Whang-Od’s tattoo bug bites

Whang-Od has a couple of old books and wooden boards full of geometrically shaped tribal designs that one could choose from – designs that have a special meaning to the tribe.

She has a horde of apprentices. Her bloodline successors are Grace Palicas and Elyang Wigan. To say that “getting inked by the master herself is an honor”, is an understatement. Once tattooed, you’ll want more. Tourists who take the hike up to Buscalan for hours usually come back another time.

The author with Apo Whang-Od
What You Want To Know:

*Homestays are sprawling in Buscalan with a fixed rate of Php350/person/night. Just ask your guide for one he recommends.

*There are other tribes in Tinglayan that you could visit namely: Tulgao and Danao; Itongrayan; Sumadel and Bangad; Basao but Apo Whang-Od and the Butbut tribe are in Buscalan.

*All tourists, both foreign and local must register and each pay a Php100 eco-cultural tourism fee

*No tourist can enter without a guide. Guides from outside Tinglayan are not allowed.

*Guide fee is Php1,000 per day for day tour of 1-5/pax; Php1,500 per night for 5 pax.

*It’s smarter to contact a guide at least a week before your visit so he can advise you on your itinerary, pick-up point, side trips, and tattooing schedule.

*Whang-Od decides how much your tattoo costs, but you need not worry, her rates are a lot cheaper than a typical tattoo artist’s fee.

*The extent of pain will depend on your tolerance. If you choose to be inked by the younger artists Grace and Elyang, Apo Whang-Od would still give you her signature ink (three dots).

*Buscalan is a laid-back village and they prefer it that way. Tourists are encouraged to respect its tranquil living and its people.

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