Never underestimate the power of having a friend at your destination.
I love to travel and whenever the opportunity arises, I always take it.
In fact, my first job right after graduation involved travel, which is why I said “Yes” without hesitation when my former instructor asked me to join her team to conduct field research for a project she was handling. I traveled and got paid to do it. However, after the project ended, I needed to go back to Baguio City, my place of residence, and I tried doing office work for a while until I decided to go back to school for graduate studies.
Between the hectic life of graduate school and housework, I traveled back and forth whenever I had the chance. However, one of the most amazing adventures I had for May 2014 was finally witnessing a breathtaking sunrise at Mount Pulag in Kabayan, Benguet. This would never have been possible if my friend Lesley, a local resident, had not invited us there and arranged the whole trip. Originally, we only planned to hike up Mount Pulag. We ended up doing more and doing some of the most amazing things.
Now I will have to apologize for not being able to provide guidance on how to arrange the journey there because as I said Lesley arranged everything for us as one of them felt that being local there she could get us a decent price for transport, which will take us to the starting point of Mount Pulag, and secondly, we didn’t have time to do it ourselves. Everything went well for us.
Okay, so I apologized. Can I just please, please, please tell everyone how damn amazing the things we were doing in Kabayan, Benguet right now, with no more excuses? So good.
Here is my list of amazing things to do in Kabayan, Benguet
Take a motorbike ride on your way to the ranger station, the starting point of your trip to Mount Pulag
Good. I would like to put this first because I will just take it for granted that if you go to Kabayan, Benguet, you never miss the chance to hike Mount Pulag. It is the third highest mountain in the Philippines at 2,992 meters above sea level. You’re going to experience a lot, and that’s my number two. But you will also enjoy this trip by riding a motorbike to the starting point rather than the usual jitney. If you’re anything like me, you’ll love the thrill of speed. Fair warning, but motorcycles aren’t exactly new, so if you have reservations about going full Motorcycle Diaries adventure, I’d advise you to take the jitney. You won’t be able to drive the motorbikes yourself as the locals who offer rides will do the driving themselves, which is safer by the way as they know the terrain. Also, if it’s raining and foggy and you don’t know the terrain at all, you’d do much better to trust the locals. They offered us a ride for PHP 200.00 each (about US$4.50).
Experience Mount Pulag
According to our guide, you can do it in two ways: either you go up the Akiki Trail (the longer trail) and you go down the Ambangeg Trail (the shorter trail), or vice versa. The first option will take you about three days and two nights to reach the top, while the second option will only take you a day and a night to reach the top. We chose the second option because we felt we couldn’t fully commit to a three-day to two-night climb because we’re not really that athletic. We decided to take the shorter route first and then take the Akiki Trail down and maybe do it the other way around next time. It was still amazing! I’m telling you, many times you’ll stop to take in the breathtaking views you pass and even forget to take photos because you’re just mesmerized.
Witness the sunrise at Mount Pulag
Let me tell you at this point that you will not be allowed to set up camp on the summit. The closest you can camp is at Camp 3, which is at least 30 minutes to the summit. It took me almost an hour because I’m not an athlete. In fact, I almost cried for salvation as I crawled to the top. But I’m glad I braved the 4am alarm clock and the freezing temperature to witness the sunrise. It. Was. Ostentatious. Now some may not be so lucky to witness the sunrise as it can be cloudy, which some travelers say happens during the months of November to January, but from what I’ve heard the cloud cover is just as spectacular.
Visit four lakes
Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit all four because our legs hurt and it would take some more climbing to complete the visit to the four lakes. We did this after our descent from Mount Pulag and a night’s rest at Lesley’s house in Kabayan. Some locals offer homestays for travelers who want to rest after all their adventures on Mount Pulag before visiting other destinations such as the four lakes. There are four lakes Lake Tabeo, Lake Ambulalacao, Lake Letepngeposand Lake Incolos. Since Lesley’s place is the closest to Lake Ambulalacoa, it was the only lake we could visit. It was amazing though because the way there was a short climb from the main road and it looked like a setting from a fairy tale movie or some sort of gateway to a secret garden.
Visit the ancestral burial ground at Tinongchol Cave
Kabayan, Benguet is home to the Ibalois, an Indigenous Peoples (IP) group in the Philippines. I am primarily interested in this because I majored in social anthropology in my undergraduate studies. The Ibalois are known for mummifying their dead in the past, but some, according to Lesley’s grandmother, who was born and raised in Kabayan, still practice mummification. This was confirmed by Lesley’s father and uncle who assisted in some of the burial processes of the mummies. You will be surprised. I promise.
When we got to the burial ground, we saw a large rounded stone. Lesley’s father pointed to it and said, “That’s the burial ground.” Our jaw dropped. A part of the rock hangs from the ground, yet they managed to make a hole in it to put the coffins. We were careful to be very respectful because we know we were in a burial ground, a sacred one, so we kept our voices to a minimum and shot from a close-up angle so we wouldn’t accidentally or intentionally move anything. We also asked careful permission from Lesley’s family to photograph the partially exposed bones on the burial rock closest to the ground.
Last but not least, get to know the locals
People always interest me. People always have stories to tell. A travel destination will always be more memorable and charming if you get to know the culture and stories of the people who live there. For example, Lesley’s parents have an interesting story about how they met. Her father used to be a member of the former Philippine Constabulary who was assigned to Kabayan. He met her mother and that was the beginning of his journey to become part of the Ibaloi culture. He is from Pangasinan but has lived in this place so long that he can now speak Nabaloi (the Ibaloi language) fluently and occasionally guides tourists to Mount Pulag.
And Lesley’s grandmother, her beautiful, radiant, wonderful, energetic grandmother, was just wonderful. She kept taunting us in Nabalaoi for being so weak that we couldn’t climb the fence that blocked the stairs on the way down to the lower ground in the burial grounds. Her handy self has even demonstrated twice how to climb a fence over 70 years. We just fell in love with her at that moment.
So that’s it, that’s my short list. Now go and have your adventure in Kabayan, Benguet. I’m sure you can add a lot more to it if you visit Kabayan. Make your list longer. Discover more than we have. Ask other travelers for recommendations, ask locals for recommendations, read other blogs with recommendations. Just. Do. It. I can guarantee you will love this place.
About the writer
April Bangcayawan. I am a daughter of the Philippine Cordillera with my roots in Sagada, Mountain Province, another popular tourist destination in the Philippines. I would love to travel all over the Philippines first, then Asia and then the world. But first, I have to finish my graduate studies and then pass the exams. Until then, I remain the happy and curious casual traveler that I consider myself to be.
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