First days in the northern Philippines

Last modified 16.03.2022 | Published 06.05.19851980's, Philippines, South and Southeast Asia, Travelogue

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From the central islands I went back to Manila for a short stop. What followed was my first impressions of the northern Philippines.

This article is part of a diary based travelogue from a six month journey in 1985 to several countries in East and South East Asia: Japan, Taiwan, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand


Monday 29.4.1985, Manila

I had found out that neither sleeping bag, hiking boots nor jacket was necessary to carry around any longer. I therefore got hold of a box and packed all down to ship home. Unfortunately it turned out that the package weighed 4.5 kg and would cost me 305 pesos (17 USD). Very expensive, but I sent it all home anyway.

I also went to the Central Bank on Harrison Plaza to exchange some money. That bank was reportedly giving the best rates, and was the safest in terms of rip-offs.

I met a fellow Norwegian in my own dormitory. I was working here as a kind of freelance photographer making slide series for the UN, amongst others. He had previously been to El Salvador and other places. Not many Norwegians around, we both thought.

Tonight I felt like going out. After dinner I visited the Hobbit House – recommended by many. The place is a mixture of restaurant and pub, featuring live folk music (mostly American) every evening. The most peculiar about the place is that all the waiters and waitresses are midgets!

I took a round of bars later on and met a Swiss in one of them. We toured several more. He apparently had the habit of taking hookers along, judging from how he described the conditions on the islands.


Tuesday 30.4.1985, Manila – Baguio

After a month on the Philippines I departed for northern Luzon today. That was the only place I was going the day I arrived here on the last day of March. Now I took a Philippine Rabbit bus to Baguio, my first step on a tour of the northern Philippine highlands.

The trip took me more than five hours and cost 65 pesos (3.6 USD), apparently no student moderation on Tuesdays. The first four hours in the lowlands were nothing special, but the climb up to Baguio was.

This town is known for its pine trees (!) and to be the “summer capital” as Marcos and many other Philippinos come up here in the heights to avoid the heat in the lowlands. And there was really a very nice temperature, but not cooler than I was still able to wear shorts.

I found the cheapest hotel in town

  • EMARALD INN, Gen. Luna Street near a market. 20 pesos (1 USD=18 pesos) for a single room which was not bad but was directly below the proprietors’ kitchen. Considering how early Philippinos rise in the morning (0500) it was a bit too noisy.

I exchanged some money, and walked around in parts of this city on hills and mountain tops. Especially the market was exiting – lively and big.

I slept for a couple of hours and went out. I had dinner in a restaurant/pub with live music. Makati it is called. There I got in touch with two girls at the neighbouring table, Carry and Grace. We had fun for a long time and went to a disco an hour past midnight. Grace left after a while and I and Carry went for a cup of coffee. We ended up at my place at four in the morning.


Wednesday 1.5.1985, Baguio

My plans were to continue to a little town called Sagada, then on to Bontoc and Banaue before returning to Manila. Now the two of us, Carry and I, figured we could go together, for whatever period of time. She went home to pack and ask/inform her parents. We agreed to meet that same evening.

I went to check out of the Emarald Inn and found a hopefully quieter hotel.

  • GARDEN INN; right by the Dangwa Tranco bus station. Clean and large room with a sink, and nice people in the reception. It was a bit expensive as I had to pay 40 pesos (ca. 2 USD) for a single room. But it was only for a night so it would do.

We went down to Shakey’s and had some pizza, and then on to Makati’s again as there was supposedly a good band playing tonight. Not so.


Thursday 2.5.1985, Baguio – Sagada

The bus to Sagada took us seven hours (65 pesos/3.6 USD). The road was in very bad condition, but the scenery more than made up for it. We climbed ever higher, up to 2300 metres, through pine forests, along rice terraces, deep valleys – offering really nice views.

  • SAGADA GUEST HOUSE, right by the bus stop. Clean, nice, good service, cheap. 20 pesos (1 USD) a person for the first night, then 15. Very good restaurant serving large portions.

We did nothing more that day but eat dinner and relax.


Friday 3.5.1985, Sagada

We went on a little walk in the village. It is very little, quiet, pleasant and with one street. The location is in a valley of pine trees and rice terraces.

As we were walking around a boy came over and asked if we wanted a guide to visit some caves. Yes, we had heard that Sagada had nice caves so we agreed on a price (50 pesos, 2.7 USD). He went to fetch a torch and a rope, and we left.

The cave was really big, we walked for more than an hour among rocks and subterranean rivers, and that was only a little bit of it all.

The next cave was not really a cave, merely a large opening. But it contained lots of coffins, some with more or less dissolve corpses. It was a traditional burial place, nowadays not much in use.

That night we found a pleasant little bar just made for hash smoking, and used as that as well. Sagada is a popular place among travellers not least because of its cheap hashish.


Saturday 4.5.1985, Sagada

We found a waterfall and spent the morning “showering” there. Lovely. The rest of the day we did not do much.


Sunday 5.5.1985, Sagada

Another day for cooling.


Monday 6.5.1985, Sagada – Bontoc

We took an early jeepney to Bontoc (1h, 9 pesos = 0.5 USD).

  • HAPPY HOMES INN; right by the bus stop. Good place, double room for 20 per person and with a sink. There was hot water in the shower, quite unusual in this country.

We went to the post office and then to the local museum, it was recommended. The museum was about the local tribes shown on many pictures, sculptures and with authentic cottages in the backyard. The men in the mountains around here were headhunting right up until 1946. We saw amongst others two photos, one with a decapitated body, the other with a proud warrior with a chopped off head in his hand.

After this we went for a swim in the river below the village.

Bontoc was really not much to see so we decided to leave for Banaue already tomorrow.


Letter to my family

Asia 1985 Envelope-07 Baguio

Still the Philippines, primo May.

Dear family,

A long time has now passed since my previous letter. I had planned to send the next from Singapore as a response to your letter, but the departure from the Philippines has been postponed time and again. Therefore I send this letter from here because I simply don’t know when I’ll be leaving.

The reason for my now one month old stay in this country against the two-three weeks I had planned is first of all my stay in paradise, in other words the island I wrote my first letter from. Besides, and more important is that I on my way from the island have stayed several days extra around.

Because of this I don’t know when I get to Singapore and onward. The travelling route is however the same as in my previous letter. I don’t have much more to tell right now. Have a nice 17th of May. I hope everything is fine with you and look forward to reading letters of a recent date in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Next letter: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


Read more

The introduction to this journey to East and South East Asia.

Previous chapter: Island hopping in the central Philippines: The Eastern Visayas islands of Cebu, Leyte, Samar and back to Manila on Luzon Island

Next chapter: Small villages, wonderful scenery and magnificent rice terraces in the northern Philippines.