After spending days in Baler and Casiguran, my dilemma was where to go next. For the first time, I was traveling without a clear itinerary. I was out of office for 11 days, met some friends in Manila, and went north to Aurora. Four days later, I had to join a group tour to Sagada.
I got three options: 1) spend more days in Aurora; 2) go back to Manila and join the group; and 3) head farther north and meet them in Banaue. I went for the third. It looked easier and more exciting. At the hint of my friend Lester, I spent a night in Baguio and then, the next morning, took a bus to Maigcong in Bontoc, some five hours away from Baguio.
The Long Road to Maligcong
Bontoc is a destination in every sense of the word. Getting there from Baguio means taking a scenic road trip at the Halsema Highway across the Cordillera Central range. The long and winding roads gave me a glimpse of the pristine countryside. Of mountains covered in fog and sparkling rapids tracing down their way to the valleys. Cabbages and greens neatly lined in plots. And wild flowers perched on the rocky slopes of the mountains. It was like that for about five hours.
First impression? I think, to the traveler looking for a low-paced lifestyle, this town is quite easy to call home. The weather was pleasantly cold. It was clean and quiet. Being the capital of the Mountain Province, the town is a busy area for trade. Progressive, not sleepy.
Shortly, I met my host, Kuya Joseph. He was all smiles as we shook hands. After grabbing some lunch at the Midtown Restaurant, the journey to Maligcong started. We had to take a jeepney to the rice terraces, Joseph explained. I thought we would only have some sightseeing somewhere, and then go back to spend the night downtown. Later would I learn that his homestay is right in the village of Maligcong up in the mountains. Whoa!
Giddy and clueless what more surprises were to come, I volunteered to take the topload to enjoy the view of the countryside. That was my first toploading experience. It was not very easy, I realized.
I enjoyed the moment while the jeepney slowly eased its way up the mountains. From afar, I could see the grand Chico River cutting across the valley, and the dense cluster of homes and buildings.
Suddenly, it started pouring rain. We took cover under a tarpaulin until we reached a bend on the road and Joseph declared we had to get down. I hopped off the jeepney and followed Joseph’s lead. At the end of the street was his homestay, a three storey-house with a banner by the entrance. “Welcome to Chen’s Sacyaan Home” it reads.
I was the only guest. Joseph lit the fireplace and brewed some coffee in the kitchen as the rain poured heavily and made the temperature drop to 20 degrees. We have overflowing coffee here, he proudly shared, and then started the long storytelling about the village, their guests, his family, the schedule of jeepneys going up and down the Maligcong…. Before we ran out of stories, the fog has already covered the mountains, and the rain freshened up the greens.
MALIGCONG RICE TERRACES
When the rain stopped, Joseph invited me to take a walk to the rice terraces. My timing was good, he said, because I visited just right after te-er. During these sacred days, village observes rituals in preparation for the harvest season, and no one is allowed to set foot on the rice fields.
The rice fields were still green during my visit. That was July. In a month’s time, the fields would turn golden, a sign for the harvest season to kick off. Then, at the start of the year, the newly planted rice paddies will turn mirror-like flatbeds that reflect the sky. It’s a changing scenery the whole year.
Unlike the terraces of Banaue which are carved steps on the mountains, those in Maligcong have stone walls which make them safer from erosion. Walking around the terraces was also easier because of the concrete pathways. Is it better than Banaue’s? Well, both of them have their own unique appeal. Honestly, I got more captivated by Maligcong’s version of rice terraces. Maybe because I’ve seen Banaue’s so many times the familiarity killed the surprise.
For about two hours, I had a great time walking around the stairways. I got a little dizzy, I thought I would fall to the paddies. The exciting twist, it rained so hard when we were on our way to Fangurao, the nearby village. We finished the tour soaking wet.
MT KUPAPEY & MT FATO
The plan was to climb Mt Kupapey the next morning—as early as 4 AM so we could see the sea of clouds. But when morning came, I woke up numb in the cold. No 4 AM climb, I begged. Joseph and I decided to have coffee first, and then past 6 AM, we started the trek to the viewing deck.
It was supposed to be an easy climb. Level 3 out of 9, according Pinoy Mountaineer. But I’m no mountaineer, so it was only the first part that was piece of cake. As we got deeper into the pine forest, the climb got more and more challenging, and I was gasping for breath.
After one hour, at last, and 10 brief stops, we finally reached the viewdeck. The view was perfect. I was speechless.
While Mt Kupapey’s trail was no-brainer, that of Mt Fato—also known as Mt Parutan—was tricky. We got lost. At one point, we reached a dead end. No clearing at all. We had to trace back our path and, after some guessing game, we found the trail and figured out the way up. Some parts were muddy and steeper, but as we say, all is well that ends well.
Huge rocks, a different view of the terraces, and on some days, great sunsets. At the summit of Mt Fato is a different drama.
Tour Guide Fee:
The following rates are per group of 5. More than five guests, additional fees have to be paid, usually P100 per person. Contact Chen’s Sacyaan Home @ 0956-280-5628 to facilitate your tours.
Mt Kupapey & rice terraces—P600
Sitio Favuyan to rice terraces and Sitio Fangurao—P500
Trek from Maligcong to Barangay Mainit—P800 one way for a group of 5; P1200 two way
Environmental Fee—P30 per tourist
August 2017, a few weeks after my visit, a group of locals collaborated in clearing the path to a nearby attraction, the Liknon Falls. It’s a slender, three-tiered waterfall waiting to be shown to the world. Guide Fee: P500 for 2 guests
HOW TO GET THERE
MANILA ⇒ BONTOC
Take CODA Lines from Cubao to Bontoc.
Daily trips at 8 PM or 9 PM depending on demand.
Travel time is 10-11 hours. Fare is P685 for semi deluxe, P935 for deluxe.
Check more info and book through their website.
MANILA ⇒ BANAUE ⇒ BONTOC
Take Ohayami Trans from Sampaloc to Banaue.
Daily trips that leave at 9 PM, 10 PM, and 11 PM
Travel time takes about 9 hours. Fare is P450.
Then, from Banaue, take a bus (P120, 2-3 hrs) going to Bontoc.
You may also catch a jeepney (P150) which usually leaves at 8:30 AM.
BAGUIO ⇒ BONTOC
Travel time may take 5-6 hours. These are some of the options from Baguio:
1. Take a Rising Sun bus at the Slaughter House on Magsaysay Road
2. Take a GL Trans bus at Dangwa Terminal, at the back of Central Mall (P220, aircon)
3. Rent a van; negotiate the price
BONTOC ⇒ MALIGCONG
There are jeepney trips daily, which you have to catch on schedule.
8 AM / 12 PM / 2:30 PM / 4:30 PM / 5:30 PM
Travel time = 30 mins; Fare = P20 to P25
MALIGCONG ⇒ BONTOC
You can catch the jeepney at the bend close to Chen’s Homestay, or at the junction.
6:30 AM / 8 AM / 9 AM / 2 PM / 4 PM
WHERE TO STAY
CHEN’S SACYAAN HOME
Contact Joseph Peckley ∗ 0956.280.5628
Chen’s Sacya-an Home is one of the few homestays in the village of Maligcong. It’s a decent, three-storey concrete house, which, although unfinished, is well-furnished to make your stay comfortable.
Clean rooms. They have 4 guest rooms with a total of 14 beds, all provided with fresh linen, blankets, and pillows. Some rooms are good for two, others are shared by up to four guests. There are two shared toilet and bath, one on the first floor, another on the second floor. They provide towels for their guests, too. Rate: P350 per bed
Lovely Spaces. As much as you’ll love the rice terraces outdoors, you will also find this home enjoyable for your bonding moments with fellow travelers. They have a sitting area by the fireplace and a guitar for the music lover. At the rooftop, you can also have the best view of the cloudy mountains while enjoying a bottle of beer, a cup of coffee, or a good book.
Wide Kitchen. Chen’s has a spacious cooking and dining area where you can prepare and have your meals. Although they have a small store for basic supplies, guests are highly encouraged to buy their food supplies before going up to Maligcong. On request, they can also cook your meals starting at the rate of P100 per guest.
Local Guides. Chen’s Homestay can help you with your tour guide needs so you can explore Maligcong safely. You can get lost in Mt Fato since the trail is not well-established compared to that of Mt Kupapey. The trail to the waterfall is also a little tricky, you definitely will need a guide.
9 PM —Depart from Cubao
7 AM —Bontoc (breakfast; buy supplies)
8 AM —Jeepney to Maligcong
8:30 AM—Check in at Chen’s Homestay
9 AM —Trek to Liknon Falls
1 PM —Back to homestay; lunch
2 PM —Tour rice terraces and Farungao village
5 PM —Back to homestay
7 PM —Dinner; socials
3:45 AM—Wake up call
4 AM —Trek to Mt Kupapey and Mt Fato
9 AM —Start descent; back to homestay
11 PM —Lunch; freshen up; pack up
1:30 PM—Check out; catch the 2 PM jeep
2 PM —Jeepney to Bontoc
2:30 PM—Kadchog’s Terraces; Heritage Cafe
4 PM —Leave Bontoc for Manila, Baguio, Sagada, or Banaue
CODA Lines (Manila): 0927-559-2197 / 0929-521-3229
CODA Lines (Bontoc): 0947-800-9946
OHAYAMI Trans (Manila): 0927-649-3055 / 02-516-0501
OHAYAMI Trans (Ifugao): 0917-561-7344
Accommodation, Tour Guides: 0956-280-5628
Bontoc Tourism Information Center: 0929-384-1745