Unearthing Bliss in Mountain Province, Philippines

After we visited the traditional tattooist Apo Whang-od in Kalinga, the next item on our itinerary was to meet our couchsurfing host, Russell, in Sabangan, Mountain Province.

Table of contents

Sabangan, Mountain Province

Sabangan is a municipality in the Mountain Province, one of the provinces in the Cordillera Administrative Region located in the northern part of the Philippines. It may not be familiar to you because tourists do not frequent it compared to Mountain Province’s more popular destination, Sagada, and its capital, Bontoc. As with many places in the Philippines, Sabangan is quite a close-knit community, and locals will recognize you as an outsider.

How do you get to Sabangan, Mountain Province?

There are a couple of ways to go to Sabangan from Manila. The easiest, based on our research, would be to take a bus to Bontoc and then another bus to Sabangan.

Manila to Sabangan

There are a couple of ways to go to Sabangan from Manila. The easiest, based on our research, would be to:

  • Take a bus to Bontoc. You can take the Cable Tours bus (+63.918.521.6790), which would get you to Bontoc in 12 hours. The bus ride would cost you Php 600.00. You should buy your tickets a few days before your trip to ensure you have a seat on your departure date.
  • Then, take a bus to Sabangan. You can find the terminal near the highway. This would cost you Php 20.00.

Manila > Kalinga > Sabangan, Mountain Province

But if you are heading to Sabangan from Kalinga, after you visit Apo Whang od, you can:

  • Take a bus to Tabuk. We chose to ride Victory Liner Kamias and paid Php 569.00 per person. We took the 7 PM trip and arrived in Tabuk at around 5:30 AM the following day. Two bus lines can get you to Tabuk, Cable Tours, and Victory Liner Kamias. But because I’m used to taking Victory Liner whenever I go to Baguio or Manaoag, Tara and I chose the latter. To ensure, as much as possible, that our trip would go as planned, we bought the tickets the night before. This turned out to be a good thing because, upon arrival in Tinglayan, we learned that three (3) others were also planning to go to Kalinga that day but could not buy tickets to Tabuk.
  • Take a jeepney to Tinglayan. I understand that a couple of jeepneys could take you to Tinglayan. They leave between 8 AM and 10 AM. Since trips to Tinglayan are limited, the drivers usually wait for the jeepneys to be full, complete with top load. We paid Php 120.00 each for the fare.
  • Stay in Tinglayan for a night or a few days to get inked by the oldest traditional tattooist, Apo Whang od!
  • Take a jeepney to Bontoc. There are about three (3) daily trips from Tinglayan to Bontoc. Based on experience, though, there’s no specific time of departure. So, to be more realistic when planning, I suggest you confirm with your guide, the hotel, or the local you’re staying with the schedule of the trips to Bontoc at least a day before your departure. We paid Php 20.00 each.
  • Take a bus to Sabangan. You can tell the driver of your jeepney to Bontoc that you would want to alight at the bus terminal going to Sabangan. Buses to Sabangan leave every hour until about 3 PM. We paid Php 20.00 each.

If you wish to follow how we did it and perhaps experience the things we had the honor of experiencing, from Kalinga, you can take a jeepney to Bontoc and then take a bus to Sabangan.

Meeting our Couchsurfing host, Russell

The bus ride from Bontoc took about a couple of hours, so it was already quite late in the afternoon when we got to Sabangan.

Russell is a Canadian who has been staying in the Philippines for quite a while now. He’s an artist who is very big on recycling and the environment. His house is by the highway, and it is also where you can find a lot of his creations. He had Yakult bottles as legs for one of his tables. He also has chairs, carpets, rugs, and curtains made from recycled materials (some of his works, by the way, were in an exhibit in the Bencab Museum).

Being inside his house is a whole new experience and an eye-opener, especially for someone like me who is a hoarder. This made me explore re-purposing the stuff I have kept all these years into something I could use or give as gifts to my loved ones. Let’s see. 😉


In the evening, we did a couple of rounds of beer and chips. We talked about love, life, projects, and Filipino culture. Russell shared that he found Sabangan because he got lost. And what would have been a miserable experience turned out to be a beautiful one.

Around Sabangan, Mountain Province

The following day, we went around Sabangan for the last time. We crossed a hanging bridge (again!!!) and saw kids swimming in the Chico River.


We also visited one of the houses where we found a mandala co-created by Russell and the kids of Sabangan from broken tiles and bottle caps. Russell shared with the kids what mandalas are and how to make them. When he returned one afternoon to see how they were doing, he saw the “R” in the middle, the kids’ tribute to Russell. Sweet.

To go or not to go to Guinaang, that is the question.

Another one of Russell’s projects is Guina-ang Village School 1Book Blessing. Because we believe in acts of kindness, we brought books donated by a friend (Thanks, Glads!) for the Guinaang kids.

We thought of skipping personally delivering the books to the village because we were cramped with time.

To give you a glimpse, it was already the 5th of December. We were still in Sabangan. We had to be in Manila by 3 AM on the 7th of December because we needed to catch our flight to General Santos at 5 AM. The trip from Bontoc to Manila takes about 12 hours. So, at the latest, we had to leave Bontoc by 3 PM on the 6th of December. It takes a couple of hours to go down from Guina-ang to Bontoc.

So, that meant we had to leave Guinaang by 1 PM on the 6th of December, at the latest. But, no one was sure about what time the last trip from Guina-ang to Bontoc was. Uhm. And, granted that there was an available ride, that would mean that if we got the 1 PM trip to the village from Bontoc, we would have less than 12 hours of stay in Guina-ang. Tara and I asked ourselves, “Are we up for it?”

The thing is, I went on this trip because I wanted to get to know our indigenous communities. I wanted to write about them. I wanted to take pictures of them. I wanted to experience being with them. And, to see who these kids are who we brought books for, even if it meant that we would be doing our version of the Amazing Race, would be all worth it.

A beautiful side trip to Guinaang, Mountain Province

So we went for it. We took the last trip from Bontoc to Guinaang, and it was already dark when we got to the village. There were questions about where we would sleep, but Dominika, our couchsurfer host, confirmed that everything was already settled and that we could spend the night at the house of the family she was staying with.

We did quite a walk going to Dominika’s place. It was a bit scary for me because it was dark and it had just rained, so the steps were slippery. We also didn’t bring flashlights with us, but it was a good thing Dominika came ready and prepared! While we were walking, I was present with how blessed I am that I was doing it with these compassionate travelers.

After about thirty minutes of walking, we finally got to Lola Tayno’s house. We met Frederick, Lola Tayno’s grandson, and two other couchsurfers: Piotr from Poland and David from Canada. We had dinner and an incredible conversation after. It was refreshing hearing their stories about their travels within the Philippines and in other countries, how they do it, and their advocacies. It got me to see how big the world is and inspired me to pursue what I have already started.

Meeting the happy kids of Guinaang, Mountain Province

The following morning, we discovered that the last jeepney to Bontoc leaves at 11 AM. So, we took our bags and headed to the school. Russell offered to switch bags with me so I’d have an easier time doing the hike. I thought that was nice of him, so I accepted the offer. I also knew that if I didn’t, the chances of missing our ride to Bontoc would be higher because, well, I’m slow.We met the grade 5 and 6 students in the school. The grade 6 students were learning about climates, so Russell asked Tara to talk about Canada’s. While she was doing that, I went out and explored the place, hoping to take pictures of the beautiful mountains.

What I got was better than that. When the kindergarteners saw me and my camera, they posed before me, laughing and looking like they were playing the “I want to be in the picture!” game. Precious!

Toploading once more!

We ran to the jeepney, with its driver already itching to leave without us because we were about 15 minutes late. When we got there, I went right inside. Then, Piotr said, “We’re going to be on the roof. You?” I thought, “I think I’m done with the riding-on-the-roof-of-the-jeepney experience…” Then, he asked, “Are you sure?” Okay, let’s do this! Haha!

So I rode on top with Dominika, Piotr, and Tara. It was super awesome! In the middle of the ride, Dominika was banging the jeepney to get the driver’s attention because she wanted to go inside. She was going to get bruises because of the super rough road! But Tara and I stayed on top and enjoyed the awesome view and the experience of having aching butts. Yes, I am now a traveler like that. 🙂

How to get to Guinaang, Mountain Province, from Manila

There are a couple of ways to go to Guinaang from Manila. The easiest, based on our research, would be to:

  • Take a bus to Bontoc. You can take the Cable Tours bus (+63.918.521.6790), which would get you to Bontoc in 12 hours. The bus ride would cost you Php 600.00. You should buy your tickets a few days before your trip to ensure you have a seat on your departure date.
  • Then, take a jeepney to Guina-ang. The terminal is near the market and walking distance from the Bontoc bus terminal. This would cost you Php 25.00.

How to get to Guinaang after visiting Whang-od and Sabangan

  • Take a bus to Tabuk. We chose to ride Victory Liner Kamias and paid Php 569.00 per person. We took the 7 PM trip and arrived in Tabuk at around 5:30 AM the following day. Two bus lines can get you to Tabuk, Cable Tours, and Victory Liner Kamias. But because I’m used to taking Victory Liner whenever I go to Baguio or Manaoag, Tara and I chose the latter. To ensure, as much as possible, that our trip would go as planned, we bought the tickets the night before. This turned out to be a good thing because, upon arrival in Tinglayan, we learned that three (3) others were also planning to go to Kalinga that day but could not buy tickets to Tabuk.
  • Take a jeepney to Tinglayan. I understand that a couple of jeepneys could take you to Tinglayan. They leave between 8 AM and 10 AM. Since trips to Tinglayan are limited, the drivers usually wait for the jeepneys to be full, complete with top load. We paid Php 120.00 each for the fare.
  • Stay in Tinglayan for a night or a few days to get inked by the oldest traditional tattooist, Apo Whang od!
  • Take a jeepney to Bontoc. There are about three (3) daily trips from Tinglayan to Bontoc. Based on experience, though, there’s no specific time of departure. So, to be more realistic when planning, I suggest you confirm with your guide, the hotel, or the local you’re staying with the schedule of the trips to Bontoc at least a day before your departure. We paid Php 20.00 each.
  • Take a bus to Sabangan. You can tell the driver of your jeepney to Bontoc that you would want to alight at the bus terminal going to Sabangan. Buses to Sabangan leave every hour until about 3 PM. We paid Php 20.00 each.
  • Stay in Sabangan for a night and go around the village to look at their recycling art projects!
  • Take a bus to Bontoc. This would cost you Php 25.00.
  • Then, take a jeepney to Guina-ang. The terminal is near the market and is of walking distance from the Bontoc bus terminal. This would cost you Php 25.00.

Liked what you read? Share this post!