Friday, March 20, 2015

That Place Called Sagada: Reminders and tips on how you can best enjoy your Sagada Trip

I’m sure most of you have watched the film “That Thing Called Tadhana” where 2 characters by the name of Mace and Anthony traveled to Sagada to find healing for her brokenness. One of the film’s most popular scenes was when Mace poured her heart out at Mt. Kiltepan by shouting and crying at the top of her lungs. Since the film became a hit, there have been a lot of Filipinos wanting to go to Sagada and do just the same or at least say that they have been to Sagada. Unfortunately, not everyone will experience the same scene especially when you’re side by side with 200 other people at Mt. Kiltepan also wanting to do what Mace did.

The current reality of Sagada as a destination for lonely hearts and soul searching wanderers is now far from being ideal. Traffic along the roads and inside the caves, long queues in restaurants, water problem in hostels are just a few realities during holidays, long weekends, and summer weekends in Sagada. With the great number of tourists going to Sagada, chances are, you will encounter your ex-lover and the new boy or girl during your trip.

Here are some facts, reminders, and tips on how you can best enjoy your first or maybe nth time Sagada trip.

1. Choose a date for your trip that doesn’t fall on a holiday or a long weekend. Sagada is best experienced with less tourists and more locals. That way, you will not be challenged reserving for a hostel and getting a place to eat. The best vacations are those spent with yourself, a few friends, or family and not with 1,000 other tourists. It may be difficult to choose a date  without including the weekend but if you really want to have that perfect vacation, you have to MAKE TIME and PLAN for it.

2. Research on Sagada’s culture and history before doing the trip. Getting to know a little about places and its people will prepare you how to act, dress, and speak in a place different from yours. There are certain rules that must be followed to avoid offensive encounters with locals. Wearing scanty clothes are offensive to locals especially the elders so dress appropriately. Caves and mountains are sacred burial places so treat it with utmost respect by not shouting or singing out loud inside. Know and be aware of Sagada’s indigenous practices and beliefs and use this to better understand the people and their culture. Learning a new culture will make you a better person.

3. Take the bus! Imagine 1,000 other tourists thinking of bringing their private vehicles or joining a van full of tourists through travel agencies in a place where there are no wide roads and parking areas. These private vehicles and vans owned by travel agencies are Sagada’s biggest problems nowadays. Sagada is just a small town that cannot accommodate so many vehicles. Sagada has been known as a walking town. Visitors used to walk and enjoy the landscapes and the different local scenes along the way. Nowadays, tourists bring their vans just to go to a restaurant that’s only 100 meters from the center of town. Walking to the caves or even to the lake is a meditation and an experience of Sagada. The walks may be long but the scenes are breathtaking with its cool pine scented breeze. Make sure you don’t miss this part of the trip. If you are disabled or with a group of senior citizens who cannot do long walks, you can hire jeepneys at the center to bring you around. If you are alone, it will be a good opportunity to join other travelers and share the ride. It will be nice to meet new friends. Hiring local jeepneys bring in money to drivers and their families. Bringing vans or joining travel packages with vans simply don’t. So in that case, where does your money go? Definitely not to the locals.

4. Ask a local guide and take the roads less traveled. Sagada is known as the mecca of cave spelunking in Luzon. Tourists visit this place to try out being adventurous and ticking items from their bucket list. The most popular site is the Sumaging Cave also known as the big cave. According to the local government of Sagada, there are 300 tourists at a time going inside the cave during peak season. So if there are 5 batches of tourists going in, that would be a total of 1,500 tourists per day and a total of 4,500 tourists during a long weekend of 3 days. Sagada offers so many places to see and explore. You can be adventurous by hiking through 3 villages and crossing through breathtaking rice paddies. If you’re lucky, you can even try out rice planting with the locals. Ask a local guide and they can give you more than a hundred ways how to enjoy Sagada. Their stories are much more interesting and accurate than those of scripted non-local guides.

5. Be a “visitor” and not a “tourist.” Being a visitor in Sagada means respecting what the locals can only offer and not demanding your own personal needs. Remember that you are a visitor and not a local resident. Ask and never demand. Sagada is a small town 5th class municipality and cannot handle the needs of people from Manila or other big cities. When you demand to have water for bathing, it also means taking some water from the villages for their daily use. Their restaurants are small kitchens and can only handle a few meals. When they say, they don’t have food anymore, it means the stock they bought during the market day have already run out. They don’t serve food frozen from weeks or months ago. To get better service, order your food at least 3 or 4 hours before your meal. That way, they have more time to prepare your food and serve it as soon as you arrive in the restaurant. Having a “visitor” mindset will allow you to learn to adjust your ways and be considerate of others and sparing yourself from being frustrated from undelivered wants and needs.

So if you’re already planning your trip to Sagada this Holy Week or other long weekend holidays, THINK AGAIN. You might just be wasting 12 hours of road trip only to experience another EDSA in the mountains. Think also of how the community feels when more than a thousand tourists are disrupting their peaceful daily lives. Put yourself in their shoes. It’s not all about the money that tourists bring in to their community but mostly it’s about having a peaceful sleep, clean water to drink, food for the family, safety of their environment, and clear roads to walk on. If this is what you’re bringing in as a visitor of Sagada, then you are most welcome to visit. If not, THINK AGAIN and ask yourself why?

Make your trips and your vacations as meaningful and memorable as it should be, both for you and the community. It’s about time you take a different kind of journey to that place called SAGADA.

This post is by Tracey Santiago, Secretary of ICOMOS Philippines, who is spearheading coordination efforts for stronger measures to ensure sustainable and responsible tourism in Sagada, Mountain Province.

We support sustainable cultural tourism projects in the Agusan Marsh and Ifugao Rice Terraces.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Tamchoe Monastery in Paro, Bhutan

Between Paro and Thimphu in Bhutan is the Tamchoe Monastery. Also know as the Tachog Lhakhang, the monastery built on top of a small hill beside the Paro River dates back to the 15th century.

The temple, together with its iron-chain hanging bridge that crosses the Paro River, was established by Thangtong Gyalpo, a Buddhist architect and yogi, who was also known as Chakzampa or the Iron Chain Maker. Born in Tibet in 1385, he built iron-chain bridges in Tibet and Bhutan to help Buddhist pilgrims visit holy places.

Tachog or Tachogang means temple of the hill of the excellent horse. While here, Thangtong Gyalpo had a vision of the spiritual horse Balaha, the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara who turned into a flying horse to rescue merchants who were shipwrecked and fell into the hands of ogresses at the island of Lanka. His vision made him decide to build the temple there.

This is among the first temples visitors to Bhutan see upon their arrival since its on the way to Thimphu from Paro Airport.

We didn't get to walk up to the temple itself. But we crossed the iron-chain hanging bridge for the experience. For more Bhutan photos, follow @ivanhenares on Instagram. To visit Bhutan, you need to book a tour with a travel agent. If interested, e-mail me at
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