Visiting indigenous peoples communities – how we did it

Tara and I spent some time doing research to really be clear on what we want to accomplish and get for the entire trip.  Tara, being a professional photographer, and me, being a person who loves taking pictures, based our initial list on the images that came up in Google.  We did a search for “indigenous peoples” + Philippines and if a particular picture would catch our interest, we would look it up further.

We also spent time going back and forth with our contacts from these places, found through doing a Google search and through  And, this provided a bit of structure and clarity in terms of our itinerary, but there were a lot of room for spontaneity and adventure, which are both Tara’s and my kind of travelling.

So, two weeks before our scheduled trip, we made up our minds that we would visit the following provinces:

  • Kalinga (3 nights)
  • Mountain Province (3 nights)
  • South Cotabato (4 nights)
  • Bohol (2 nights)
  • Samar (1 night)

We were lucky enough that there was an ongoing Cebu Pacific seat sale when we had pretty much decided on the places we would want to visit for the first two weeks of December.  So, we bought tickets from Cebu Pacific for the following flights:

  • Manila to General Santos:  5:20 AM, 7th of December, 2012 (Php 2,874.56)
  • General Santos to Cebu:  12:35 PM, 11th of December, 2012 (Php 1,571.36)
  • Cebu to Tacloban:  2:20 PM flight, 13th of December, 2012 (Php 1,011.36)
  • Tacloban to Manila:  5:55 PM flight, 14th of December, 2012 (Php 1,459.36)

The flight schedules were based mainly on times of departure and arrival as well on the activities we would want to do at a particular destination.  We also took into consideration the fare prices but were not very much limited by it.

Before our scheduled departure, we also bought our tickets from Victory Liner Kamias for our 7 PM trip to Tabuk, Kalinga (Php 569.00), which turned out to be a smart move (we learned from our guide in Kalinga that there were three other travelers who were going to visit Tinglayan the same day that we were there but didn’t get to because there were no more tickets to Tabuk).

Here’s our itinerary, sort of, and the expenses incurred for each (I did not include those that we could’ve done away with).  And, if you would like to know more about the experiences we had on the places and communities we visited, please click on the links (those texts in orange) or find them all here.

Four (4) nights in Kalinga:  If you’re planning on following how we did it, you will spend around Php 4,079.00.  It’s quite a big amount because the guide fee was split only between Tara and me.  To get a big traditional Kalinga tattoo, like Tara’s, prepare an additional Php 2,500.00 for which.

Getting to Tinglayan, Kalinga

Tara and I took the bus from Victory Liner Kamias to get to Tabuk, Kalinga, the tickets for which we purchased the day before at Php 569.00 each.

We got to Tabuk at around 5:30 AM on November 30.  Upon arrival, we had breakfast and coffee at a turo-turo (Php 50.00).  

We then rode a jeepney to Tinglayan, Kalinga (Php 120.00 each).  Since we were one of the first passengers, we got to sit in front; otherwise, we would’ve been on the roof of the jeepney, which would’ve been a bit uncomfortable given that the trip took about two (2) hours on rough road.

Good morning, Kalinga!

First afternoon in Tinglayan, Kalinga

When we got to Tinglayan, we were welcomed by our guide, Francis Pa-in.  He brought us to his sister’s house, which would be our home for the next few days that we would be staying in Tinglayan.  Manong Francis cooked lunch for Tara and me and also served us coffee.

After which, we freshened up and went around the village and crossed hanging bridges, met tattooed Kalinga women, and witnessed a local pounding coffee beans while singing in their native dialect.  We also enjoyed the view of Sleeping Beauty and of the Chico River.

Tinglayan, Kalinga, Philippines

In the evening, we met our lovely hosts, Ate Concepcion, Ligalig, Bullet, Chavez, and Baron, and had dinner and did yoga with them.

Interview with our hosts and attending a traditional Kalinga wedding

The following day, December 1, we had a conversation with our hosts about their love story.  In the afternoon, we crashed a wedding and had the opportunity to witness the traditional Kalinga wedding dance using gangsa (gongs).

Tinglayan, Kalinga, Philippines

Our breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served by our hosts.  We also had their native coffee anytime we wanted.

Getting to Buscalan, Kalinga

Before we left for Fang-od’s on December 2, we paid our hosts for our home-stay fee.  We gave them a total of Php 1,000.00 each (Php 200.00 per night x 3 nights, Php 50.00 per meal x 6 meals, Php 100 for tip).  Ate Concepcion said that it was too much but both Tara and I knew that what we gave was fair.  We left most of our stuff with them and waited for the jeepney that would bring us to the foot of the mountain, getting to Buscalan.

The jeepney ride to Tulgao, for which we paid Php 20.00 each, was the start of our adventure of getting to Fang-od’s community.  Tara and I rode on the roof.  It was scary at first given that I am afraid of heights and that the locals seemed like they weren’t too comfortable with the load of the jeepney either.  But, when I finally let go of the fright, I got to enjoy the beautiful Chico River and the mountains surrounding it.  The experience would prove to be one of the most amazing things I would encounter for this trip.

Upon alighting in Tulgao, we hiked to Buscalan, where we found Fang-od’s community.

Meeting the Butbut tribe

When we finally got to Buscalan, I felt like we were in a different world all together.  I had planned on just sleeping through most of the day because of the tedious hike that just happened.  But, being with Fang-od, the native houses, the community, the mountains, the air, just washed the tiredness off.  It was wonderful having had this opportunity to visit the village.

Buscalan, Kalinga

Getting inked by the last Kalinga tattoo artist

After Fang-od served us lunch and coffee, Tara got her tattoo.  It was simply amazing seeing the 92-year-old tattoo artist having so much focus and precision in her craft.  Equally amazing would be how candid and cute she was being when we had our conversation with her later that afternoon about life, love, family, and community.

Traditional Kalinga Tattoo

In the evening, Fang-od’s family cooked dinner for us.  Tara also paid Php 2,000 for her tattoo.  Then, we slept on Fang-od’s wooden floor.

Tara getting her last tattoo line from Fang-od

On December 3, our last day in Buscalan, Tara decided that she would get another tattoo line from Fang-od, for which she paid Php 500.00.  So, after breakfast, they went to work.  And, Tara got her complete tattoo by the last Kalinga tattoo artist!

The artist and the canvas

Before we left Fang-od’s place, we gave her Php 250.00 for the overnight stay and for the food that they served us.  We also left matches and detergent soaps for Fang-od.  There was also an eco-tourism fee of Php 50.00 per visitor.

Spending another night in Tinglayan, Kalinga

Then, we went back to Tulgao, waited for the ride to Tinglayan so we could get our stuff from our hosts’ house.  After which, we planned on catching the last trip to Bontoc.  But, because of an unforeseen landslide, we missed our trip. When our ride to Tinglayan finally got to Tulgao, we hopped in and paid Php 20.00 each.

Upon arrival in Tinglayan, we had lunch at our hosts’ place, paid our guide a total of Php 2,000 each (Php 500.00 per day x 3 days, Php 500.00 tip) and spent the rest of the day re-packing our stuff and enjoyed exchanging “pick-up lines” with the kids and re-charged for the next leg of our trip.

Two (2) nights in Mountain Province:  For our entire stay in Bontoc up to when we got to Manila, I spent about  Php 1,402.50.  We didn’t spend anything on lodging because we stayed with our couchsurfing host Russell in Sabangan and Dominika in Guina-ang.

Getting to Sabangan, Mountain Province

Early in the morning of December 4, we rode the jeepney from Tinglayan to Bontoc (Php 20.00).  We had breakfast at the hotel and I paid Php 105.00 for my food and coffee.  There, we also got the chance to charge our phones and camera batteries and, while at it, encountered the creepy man of Bontoc.

Because our host in Sabangan couldn’t meet us until later that afternoon, Tara and I walked around Bontoc and got to visit the Bontoc Museum.  The entrance fee for which was Php 40.00 but it was worth it, if you would really like to learn about their history. They also had replicas of tribal houses, in one of which a couple of couchsurfers we would meet on this trip had the pleasure of sleeping.  We then took a bus from Bontoc to Sabangan and paid Php 20.00 each.

Sabangan, Mountain Province and Russell

When we got to Sabangan, we met our couchsurfing host, Russell.  We visited the house of a lady weaver, who is part of his projects, Trashure.  He also treated us to dinner and he and Tara shared expenses for the chips and  beer for our evening’s conversation about community projects, love, life, travel, and passions.

Russell and some of his recycled creations behind him

On December 5, we had an oatmeal and coffee breakfast at Russell’s place.  Then, we went around the community to look at Russell’s recycling art projects, including this mandala co-created by Russell and the Sabangan kids.

Mandala as a tribute to Russell

We also enjoyed watching kids playing by the Chico River while we were on a hanging bridge and had ice cream (Php 25.00) and buko (for which Russell paid for) while having a conversation with one of the locals and waiting for our ride to arrive.

Chico River in Sabangan

Getting to the village of Guina-ang

We took the bus from Sabangan to Bontoc and paid Php 25.00 each.  In Bontoc, we had lunch at Chico Inn and, from there,  ordered food for dinner (Php 242.50 each).

Because we weren’t sure of how the schedule for the following day would be like, I used the internet and printed copies of our itinerary receipts and boarding passes for our flight to General Santos (Php 50.00).  Before leaving Bontoc, we also bought tickets to Manila with Cable Tours and paid Php 650.00 each.

We took the last jeepney from Bontoc to Guina-ang and paid Php 25.00 each.  Then, spent the night with our lovely couchsurfer friends, Dominika, Piotr, and David, and our wonderful hosts Lola Tayno and Frederick.

Meeting the kids of Guina-ang

In the morning of December 6, we had breakfast at our hosts’ place, cooked by Tara.  We also had wonderful Sabangan coffee brought by Russell.  Then, we got our bags and trekked back to the jeepney terminal.

Before leaving Guina-ang, we got the chance to meet the lovely kids of the village.  When they saw my camera, they just posed in front of me and seemed like they were playing the “I want to be in the picture!’ game.  They were so adorable.

Guina-ang, Mountain Province

Then, Dominika, Piotr, Tara and I took the last jeepney going back to Bontoc (Php 25.00) and rode on the roof of, enjoying the beautiful view of the Bontoc mountains.  We had lunch at Midtown Restaurant (Php 80.00) and, while waiting for our bus to leave, we had coffee at Chico Inn for free!

Bontoc, Mountain Province

At 3:00 PM, our bus from Bontoc to Manila left.  At a stopover, Tara and I had dinner and I paid Php 95.00 for mine.

Four (4) nights in Lake Sebu:  From Manila and for our entire stay in Lake Sebu, I spent a total of Php 1,557.00.  This does not include the money I spent for the pasalubong.

Getting to Lake Sebu

When we got to Manila on December 7, we walked to Tara’s apartment in Scout Borromeo and left some of our stuff there.  We took a cab to the airport and paid Php 150.00.  We, then, flew to General Santos.  We bought the tickets for this a couple of weeks before the trip started, for which we paid Php 2,874.56 each.

When we got to General Santos, we took a multi-cab to (Php 50.00) to Bulaong terminal, had siopao, chips, and water for lunch (Php 70.00), and rode the Yellow Bus Lines to Marbel (Php 85.00)  and then to Surallah (Php 27.00).  The last ride for the day was a van to Lake Sebu, for which we paid Php 35.00.

Meeting the talented T’boli kids of School of Living Traditions

The School of Living Traditions would be our home for the next four days.  Manang Oyog, the leader of the community, and the kids welcomed us.

Gono bong

A few minutes after we got there, the T’boli kids started playing with Tara and me and did their “ugly” faces for the camera.  They also played the drums, sang, and danced for us for the first night.  It was so amazing and a privilege living with a community where everyone’s just so talented and smart!

Kulitan with the kids of School of Living Traditions

We had dinner at Greenbox for Php 42.50 each.

Sharing of art and skills between the Ojibwe tribe of Canada and T’boli tribe of Lake Sebu

The following day, December 8, our hosts served breakfast for us.  We spent the day with the kids, teachers, and dream weavers of the School of Living Traditions.  Tara, being from the Ojibwe tribe of Canada, shared with the kids and teachers of the school how they do their bead work.

Tara sharing how they do it in Ojibwe Tribe

We also got to interview the dream weavers and learned about tinalak.  

Weaving tutorial

We had late lunch at Greenbox (Php 42.50) and, for dinner, our hosts fed us because the store was already closed by the time we got hungry.

Going around Lake Sebu and meeting the rest of the kids of School of Living Traditions

On our second full day in Lake Sebu, December 9, we again had breakfast with our hosts and spent most of the day with the kids of School of Living Traditions.  We played with them and Tara taught me how to do bead work, the Ojibwe tribe way.

Beads and loom

After having lunch at Greenbox (Php 42.50), Tara and I decided to take a stroll along the highway of Lake Sebu.  We haven’t gotten far yet when we saw a couple of the teenage boys from our host family.  They accompanied us in going around, visiting shops selling indigenous products and just laughing through most of the time.  We treated them to dinner (Tara and I shared and spent Php 150.00 each).  By the time we were ready to go home, it started raining.  And, because our cameras were with us, we decided not to risk walking in the rain without umbrellas.  We took the habal-habal (Php 20.00), where the four of us rode on, plus the driver.  Fun but quite scary too!

When we got back to SLT, we were welcomed by the rest of the students of the school.  We had conversations with them and showed them a bit of yoga and how to use the camera.

Photo taken by a kid of School of Living Traditions

Dondon also taught Tara how to do the warrior dance.

Dondon teaching Tara the Warrior Dance

Before going to bed, the teenage boys, Tara and me had a hilarious conversation about some fantasy story Tonton had.

Photo taken by a kid of School of Living Traditions

Meeting more T’boli bead workers and dinner with our hosts, the T’boli way

On December 10, we again had breakfast served by our hosts and lunch at Greenbox (Php 42.50).  We walked around Lake Sebu to buy more pasalubong for our friends and relatives.  There were three kids who invited us to their house, where their creations could be found.  We stopped by several other houses and, in between, a couple of kids gifted me with a bracelet and a purse that they made.  Sweet!

In the evening, our hosts cooked dinner for us and introduced us to the other traditions of the T’boli tribe.  Tara and I spent the rest of our night goofin’ around with the kids and the rest of the family.

Dinner with the whole family

Before leaving the following day, Tara and I paid a total of Php 800.00 each for the four (4) evenings that we stayed in Lake Sebu (Php 200.00 x 4 nights).

Two (2) nights in Bohol:  From leaving Lake Sebu and for the entire time that we were in Bohol, I spent Php 1,987.00.

Travelling from Lake Sebu to General Santos, to Cebu, to Bohol

After saying good-bye to our hosts in Lake Sebu on December 11we took a van to Surallah (Php 35.00) and then a bus to General Santos (Php 83.00).  From there, we took a trike to the plaza (Php 10.00), where we had lunch (Php 100.00) and used the internet to check if there were emails from our contacts in Bohol and Samar (Php 25.00).  We were looking for the multi-cabs going to the airport but not one of those we asked knew where they could be found or if they actually existed.  So, we just took a trike (Php 10.00) to where we could find a cab because, as you can guess, there was no cab in the plaza (weird).  The cab to the airport costed us Php 150.00 each.

We flew to Cebu, using the ticket we purchased a couple of weeks prior to the start of this trip (Php 1,571.36).  In Cebu, my buddy, Therese, picked us up from the airport and treated us to lunch at their restaurant, Casa Verde, in IT Park.  She also treated us to merienda at Casa Verde main.  Both meals were delicious!

Chocolate Cake at Casa Verde Main

Then, she brought us to the port where we took the ferry to Tagbilaran.  We rode Oceanjet and paid Php 820.00, round-trip.  When we got to Tagbilaran, we took a trike to our host’s house, for which we paid Php 10.00 each.  There, we were welcomed and fed dinner by the mom of Malou, our couchsurfing host in Bohol.

Meeting the Eskaya tribe in Duero, Bohol

We left to visit the Eskaya tribe in Duero, Bohol, on December 12.  Our host served breakfast and gave us fried bananas to get us through the day.

Finding the Eskayas was quite tricky, since there were very few write-ups about them and on how to get to them.  We took a trike to the terminal (Php 10.00) from our host’s home.  We then took a bus going to Ubay, which was two towns from Duero (Php 76.00), not knowing if we would actually find the tribe that we so wanted to meet and know more about.  In Duero, we met a store owner who have heard of the Eskayas in the village of Taytay.  He introduced us to his friend, an 8-year veteran habal-habal driver and who’s familiar with the place since he used to deliver bread to the community.  We paid him Php 300.00 each for the trip to the Eskayas and back to town.

Eskaya ya Pilipayen

We spent a couple of hours with the Eskaya tribe and learned about their scripts and their commitment to preserve their culture.  We also got the chance to listen to them sing the Philippine National Anthem in the Eskaya dialect.  It was a privilege.

46 Letters of Eskaya Alphabet

The 10-minute Chocolate Hills Experience

We then left for the Chocolate Hills.  We took a bus to Loay (Php 50.00) and then another one to Carmen (Php 30.00).  We alighted at the foot of the entrance to the viewing deck of the hills.  Since it was already sunset, we were lucky that there was a lone trike that would get us to the viewing deck; otherwise, we would’ve missed the chance of seeing the beautiful Chocolate Hills. We paid the driver Php 30.00 for the ride to and back and paid Php 50.00 for the entrance fee to the deck.

Sunset at Chocolate Hills

Spending the evening with our bubbly host, Malou

We rode the bus back to Tagbilaran (Php 83.00) and alighted at the terminal.  We met our host, Malou, for the first time at a mall near the terminal.  We all took a trike (Php 10.00) to Acacia de Bubu, where we had dinner (Php 95.00) and had a wonderful conversation about life, travel, and adventure.

Tara, Malou, and me

We then headed back to Malou’s place (Php 10.00) and prepared for the next leg of our trip.

One (1) night in Samar:  From leaving our host in Bohol’s place up to the time we got back to Quezon City, I spent a total of Php 1,247.00.

From Bohol to Cebu, to Leyte, to Samar

After saying good-bye to our lovely hosts in Tagbilaran on December 13, Tara and I took a trike to the port (Php 10.00).  Then, we boarded the ferry, the ticket for which we have already paid for when we bought tickets to Tagbilaran.

In Cebu, we took a jeepney (Php 8.00) to Casa Verde main branch, where we met up with Therese.  Then, Therese brought us to lunch at her relatives’ restaurant, STK.  We had awesome scallops, among other tasty dishes.  For the entire meal, we only paid Php 200.00 each.


Therese, Tara and I went to the airport together.  Then, Tara and I paid for the boarding fee (Php 200.00), boarded the plane to Tacloban (Php 1,011.36), the ticket for which we bought a couple of weeks before the trip started.

When we got to Tacloban, we took the jeepney to the town proper (Php 8.00) and then walked to the mall, where we met our couchsurfing host, Fernz.  The three of us took a jeepney (Php 8.00) to the terminal, where we bought bread (Php 20.00) and then hopped on a van that would take us to Marabut in Samar (Php 120.00).  We alighted at French Kiss Resort, where we would spend the night.  We had dinner at a nearby resort (Php 120.00) and spent the rest of the evening having conversations about life and adventures.

Coffee and bread

Swimming on a rocky beach in Marabut, Samar

In the morning of December 14, we swam on the beautiful rocky beaches of Marabut.


We had buko for breakfast (Php 15.00) and then paid for our overnight stay (Php 267.00).

Fernz and the buko

Banigs in Basey, Samar

We took the bus to Basey (Php 30.00) and enjoyed the beautiful creations of the community.

Yoga on Basey Weaved Mats

After which, we visited a church in Basey and admired the old houses.  We had lunch at a turo-turo (Php 75.00) and then took a bus back to Tacloban (Php 30.00).  We said good-bye to our host, Fernz, and then Tara and I took the jeepney (Php 8.00) back to the mall, where we had early dinner (Php 75.00).

Going back home

We took a jeepney to Tacloban airport (Php 8.00).  We waited for about an hour before our plane to Manila (Php 1,459.37) left. When we got to Manila, we took the shuttle service (Php 30.00) from NAIA to MRT Taft and hopped on the MRT to Quezon Avenue (Php 15.00).

The entire trip was a lovely and self-discovering one for me.  If you are looking into travelling through the Philippines and exploring our art, culture, and people, I invite you to go visit the places where our indigenous peoples communities are.  It may not be the comfortable and convenient type of travelling that you’re used to but I assure you that it’s gonna be worth every penny and second of your life. 🙂

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  1. thelighttraveler

    Wow! I’m planning to immerse with indigenous communities too – and you did it north and south of the Philippines. I really believe in ancient indigenous wisdom. Your post makes me want to make my plans a reality all the more.

    Welcome to PTB!

    1. monica

      Thanks, Claire! And, yes, I invite you to visit our IP communities, too! There’s so much we can learn from them, especially how much love and respect they have for their roots. Being with them is like living in a whole new world. The experience was just super amazing. 🙂

      And, aside from the North and Mindanao, we also visited the Eskayas in Bohol. And, I didn’t know they even existed up until we found them while researching for this trip!

      Thank you for the warm welcome to PTB!

  2. This is a long post..
    but made me curious about Kalinga..
    I’ll be visiting them soon, for an outreah trip.
    just after the election this year.
    Normally I don’t research much of a particular place before visiting them, so the anticipation would be heightened.
    Sound like its a great place to immerse in culture..
    Can’t wait to visit them. 🙂

    1. monica

      Haha! Yes it is a long post. The short versions are in other articles in this blog. 🙂

      Glad to know that you got interested in visiting Kalinga! We didn’t do much research about it, too. Just enough to ensure that we’d have a place to stay and get to meet Fang-od. ‘Cos you’re right, it adds to the excitement. 🙂

      I hope you get to visit her! She’s sooo adorable and generous of herself. Worth the hike, even for those unfit as I am. 🙂

      Thanks for visiting my blog! I love your photos, btw. 🙂

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