Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Sagada’s Lumiang burial cave, Sumaguing cave, Hanging Coffins of Echo valley

Date: 19th April 2011

The whole of today morning was spent in a jeepney – first from Banaue to Bontoc, and then again from Bontoc to Sagada. After checking-in to George’s Guesthouse, I went downstairs for lunch.

Sagada chicken curry rice San Mig beer lunch

The George's Guesthouse restaurant had Filipino curry and it was the first time I saw curry in a menu here. I had to try it! It was quite spicy, mostly because of the pepper. Not bad.

I sat at the table and had a slow lunch (even though I couldn’t honestly afford to). My plan was to try and see if I could finish seeing Sagada’s famous caves and hanging coffins by end of day. Both attractions were among the “must see” sights for me on this Philippines trip.

Today was a Tuesday and I had to be in Angeles City at the most by Thursday, because on Friday, I needed to be in San Fernando town for the Good Friday activities. Trouble is, I was really worried about the Holy Week national holidays and all the talk of everything shutting down as Good Friday neared. So I wondered if I could finish seeing everything by today evening and then leave for Angeles City tomorrow itself, just to be safe.

Sagada village downhill road kids on kart

At 2:30pm, I decided not to waste anymore time and decided to begin my tour

Sagada kids playing on kart

The perks of living in a hilly village

Sagada Guides Aassociation office philippines

I went to the guides' office because I read that you are not allowed inside the caves without a guide!

Inside the office, I speak to the guides and I tell them what all I want to see first. They told me the caves are doable but I may not be able to see the hanging coffins by sunset — nor the church (which wasn’t high up on my list of things-to-see anyway). I told them I needed to be in Angeles City by Thursday and the guides informed me I first would have to go to Baguio city and catch another bus from there to Angeles City.  It was going to take an entire day, and if I had to see the church or the hanging coffins, I would have to do it before the last bus to Baguio leaves in the afternoon.

I thought to myself about the journey to Angeles City and realized I would be cutting it a little too thin if I left Sagada in the afternoon (and I may have to spend the night in Baguio if I miss the last bus from there to Angeles City!)

So I decided not to waste any more time ‘thinking,’ hired a guide and told them I’ll try to see everything I wanted to see today itself. The other guides were pessimistic, but I was quite adamant.

Sagada curve road

The guide and I walked down the road towards the caves

Limestone rocks hill Sagada Philippines

Jason, my guide, pointed to these limestone rocks and asked me if I could spot the hanging coffins

Sagada hanging coffins limestone rocks

There they were. (By the way, these are not the main hanging coffins site)

Jeepney locals Sagada road

Way to Sumaging cave Sagada village

Sagada village concrete road

I was impressed by how clean and neat Sagada village was

Way to Sumaging Lumiang caves Sagada Philippines

After 10 minutes of walking, Jason asked me to wait here while he went inside the store to get his lamp

Sagada old beetle car

Sagada trail to Lumiang cave trees

Jason led me up the path to Lumiang burial cave

Sagada way to Lumiang cave guide

It was a short walk

Sagada limestone hill near Lumiang caveSteps to Lumiang cave Sagada Philippines

Going down to Lumiang cave Sagada

We slowly climbed down

Lumiang cave ancient burial coffins Sagada

Lumiang burial cave

Lumiang cave guide tour Sagada Philippines

...and this is what it's famous for

Lumiang burial cave wooden old coffins Sagada

Hundreds of coffins which have been placed here for more than 300 years, the last one being in 1986

Lumiang burial cave pine coffins Sagada Philippines

The coffins are made of pine wood and have stood the test of time quite well

Lumiang caves Sagada panorama

(Panorama comprised of 8 shots)

For more on the Lumiang burial cave, check out this video.

Steps up Lumiang cave guide Sagada

We climbed back up

Trek to Lumiang caves Sagada

Walked back out to the main road

Sagada village coffins near Lumiang

Jason pointed out to me coffins buried below here as well (bottom right)

I sat a few minutes for a breather. As it turned out, my body hadn’t fully recovered from its abused state from yesterday.

Road to Sumaguing cave Sagada Philippines

But I couldn't afford to sit around for too long, as I was the one who told the guide I wanted to see as much as possible by sunset

Sagada rice terraces hills Philippines

It only looked like the views were going to get better on this tour

Sagada trek road to Sumaguing cave

Walking these neatly paved roads, all I could think of was: "Wow, a village here has such nice roads where as many Indian cities don't even have them!"

Tall trees Sagada Philippines Trekking trail to Sumaguing cave Sagada

Sagada rice terraces trees

Looked beautiful even through these trees

Sagada rice terrace farm Philippines

Wow

Sagada rice terrace farm green fields Philippines

Even their rice terraces are prim and proper

Sagada rice terrace Panorama

Panorama comprised of 8 shots

Sagada steel house Sagada road to Sumaguing cave treesSagada rice terrace farm green hillAnother 10 minute walk later, we reached the entrance to Sumaguing cave.

Entrance steps to Sumaguing cave Sagada

Steps down to Sumaguing cave children

Down we went again

Sumaguing cave entrance panorama

This was the big one (Panorama comprised of 3 shots)

Stepping down into Sumaguing cave Sagada

First step: Take a lot of steps down

Inside Sumaguing cave stalactites limestone rock

Preparing to enter Sumaguing cave with guide Sagada

Second step: Wait for guide to light the lantern

Sumaguing cave guide lighting gas lamp

Waiting

Sumaguing cave guide lighting kerosine lamp

Okay, I guess we're ready

Going inside Sumaguing cave guide with light

Final step: Descend into the darkness

Inside sumaguing cave rocks guide holding light

I used the lantern as the point for the camera's auto-focus to lock on to

Inside Sumaguing cave guiding light

Jason told me from here on, it's best that I walk barefoot -- and be prepared to get all dirty

Inside Sumaguing cave guide holding lantern light

Visitors are advised to walk barefoot because the grip is better

Inside sumaguing cave bat shit covered rocks

As for the getting dirty bit, the rocks at first are all covered in bat droppings (a.k.a bat shit)

Inside sumaguing cave slippery limestone Stalactite rock

The bat shit-covered rocks eventually give way to the smooth limestone rocks

Inside Sumaguing cave going down

We kept descending further

Inside Sumaguing cave slippery limestone rock

The rock surface is super-smooth... and wet, with water dripping from above

Inside Sumaguing cave dinosaur foot rock water

Jason would stop at places to show me unique formations inside the cave. Guess what this looks like?

Inside Sumaguing cave dinosaur foot imprint

And it's highly unlikely that a T-Rex dinosaur took a stroll through these caves

Inside Sumaguing cave darkness tourists

We still had more darkness to cover

Inside sumaguing cave limestone rocks water

Inside Sumaguing cave limestone rocks flash photograph

One of the few photographs taken using flash. Most of the photographs I took using the tripod and on long exposures -- and some even hand-held. (Most were shot at f4-4.5 and exposure ranging from 1/10 to 1 second)

Inside Sumaguing cave limestone rocks guide smoking

Jason helped carry my tripod so my hands were free to climb down (the camera was on the neck strap)

Inside Sumaguing cave limestone rocks water pool

Be prepared to get wet too

Inside Sumaguing cave limestone rocks shadows

It was quite chilly inside and you could see vapour every time you breath out or speak. Even the rocks were cold and walking on them felt really soothing.

Inside Sumaguing cave limestone rock pond

I got this blur-free shot after six attempts

Inside Sumaguing cave clear mineral water

Even the chilly waters felt therapeutic, don't know if it was the minerals or not

Inside Sumaguing cave limestone rock formations Mithun

This is for those asking why there isn't one single photo of me in these posts

Inside Sumaguing cave limestone rocks with flash and without

Here's an example showing you how the caves look with flash and without. See how the characteristics of the cave differs?

Inside Sumaguing cave limestone rock formations panorama

A formation that resembles molar teeth (Panorama comprised of 4 shots)

Inside Sumaguing cave limestone rock teeth formation

Inside Sumaguing cave limestone rocks guides lights

Yes, there was more going down to do

Inside sumaguing cave limestone rock craters

Inside sumaguing cave limestone rock other tourists

There were few other tourists/visitors inside the caves as well, mostly Filipinos

Inside Sumaguing cave limestone rock Sagada tourists

The guides all knew each other

Inside Sumaguing cave limestone rock Sagada Philippines

Another shot which took up to five attempts to get right

Inside sumaguing cave limestone cave rock

Inside Sumaguing cave visitors swimming water pool

You reach all the way down when you get to this pool of water, in which you can swim if you wish. Given how cold the water was (and given the lighting conditions), I chose not to.

Inside Sumaguing cave limestone rock water panorama

It was time to head back (Panorama comprised of 2 shots)

Inside sumaguing cave limestone rock massInside sumaguing cave limestone rocks smooth surface

Inside Sumaguing cave limestone sharp tooth stalactite rocks pointed

One of the most photographed rocks from inside Sumaguing cave

Inside sumaguing cave limestone rocks foggy air

The moisture in the air when you breath out inside this chilly environment. Amazing thing is, despite the chill factor, you don't shiver one bit!

Inside sumaguing cave guide sitting limestone rock

Jason, my guide, isn't much of a 'smile' person

Inside sumaguing cave limestone rock teeth jaw shape

Inside sumaguing cave limestone rock jacuzzi

There was water inside this, making it a jacuzzi of sorts (minus the bubbles)

Inside sumaguing cave limestone rock filipinos

The obligatory "Hey foreign guy with DSLR, take photo of us" shot

Inside sumaguing cave limestone rock gap

Tried a shot without flash on long exposure before this, but all I got were the people in the back

Inside sumaguing cave limestone rock Mithun climbing up

That's the only way to go back up

Inside sumaguing cave limestone rock flash photo

Inside sumaguing cave limestone family kids

It must be a challenge to visit this cave with family

Inside sumaguing cave limestone cave familyInside sumaguing cave limestone rocks in water

Inside sumaguing cave limestone visitors heading back

Jason suggested we wait for other groups to go first

Inside sumaguing cave limestone rock people going back out

It was our turn now

Inside sumaguing cave limestone rock shape

I can't remember what this rock shape resembled but Jason did say it looked like something (a hippo?)

Inside sumaguing cave limestone rock guides lanterns

The stars align

Inside sumaguing cave limestone rock guides Sagada

Oh look, Jason is smiling

Sumaguing cave darkness Sagada Philippines

Back up to bat shit territory

Sumaguing cave bats Sagada Philippines

I know using flash would be wrong (and Jason reminded me not to do so) so I tried my best to try and capture the bat clusters using long exposure. I wasn't in a position where I could set up the tripod well.

Inside Sumaguing cave going back Sagada Philippines

Sumaguing bat cave Sagada Philippines

Another attempt to capture the bats (ignore the large shadow, that's me). The bats weren't flying about inside. Maybe they were camera shy.

Walking out of Sumaguing cave opening

And then there was light...

Steps leading up Sumaguing cave Sagada

We had spent nearly 2 hours doing the Sumaguing cave part of the tour

Steps out of Sumaguing cave Sagada Philippines

But the reason why it takes that much time is because you have to tread very carefully! This is why they insist you hire a guide, because they know the caves and the trail to follow.

Steps up from Sumaguing cave Sagada

I had never been inside a cave like this before so this was quite an amazing experience!

Sagada Cave Man Inn Philippines

This is an Inn just outside the caves (thus the clever name)

Sagada rice terrace surrounding hills

Shot this at 5pm

Sagada trekking trail evening sun Philippines

Sagada is a truly beautiful place to visit

Sagada trees Philippines

These trees are everywhere here in Sagada (Are they a type of pine trees?)

Sagada trek road trees evening

I can highly recommend Sagada as a pleasant trekking destination

Sagada rice terraces green trees

Had to stop and get one final look of the rice terraces as we walked past it again

Sagada rice terrace farms evening sky Philippines

Really beautiful

Sagada evening dog on road

Sagada Blackberry lane Philippines

Pff, so outdated

Sagada evening grey skies Philippines

As we walked back to town, I asked Jason if there was anyway we could go to Echo valley and see the hanging coffins today itself as I didn't feel like staying back another day just to see them -- and I REALLY wanted to see them!

Sagada concrete road house Philippines

Jason, took a pause and said: "Sure". I told him I wouldn't mind walking a bit faster, and then he told me there was a shortcut we could take.

Sagada shortcut to Echo valley

So I followed my guide, through small alleyways and past village houses

Sagada house near limestone rocks Sagada steps to open groundsSagada grounds evening PhilippinesSagada playground children playingSagada open grounds PhilippinesSagada path to echo valley church

Sagada church forest Philippines

This is the famous church. You normally come here through another path from the village center.

Path to Echo valley Sagada Philippines

We were near

Steps to Church cemetery Sagada

Sigh, I officially hate climbing now

Sagada church cemetery burial ground Philippines

This is Sagada's main cemetery, where they bury people nowadays

Trek to Echo valley Sagada Philippines Way to Echo valley Sagada village

Sagada echo valley Philippines

After 15 minutes of 'speed walking,' we were in Echo Valley

Echo valley earned its name for obvious reasons. You could see visitors shouting to hear their echoes in return. Though, I’m not sure the dead who were laid to rest here really wanted to hear “I love Justin Bieber” and the equally famous “Justin Bieber sucks”. I’m not kidding, Filipino kids were having a blast shouting it out.

See, even the dead aren’t spared from the Bieber.

Sagada Echo valley hanging coffins limestone rocks

Jason pointed to the coffins... and if you can't spot them...

(takes out the 70-200mm zoom lens…)

Sagada hanging coffins Echo valley zoomed in

There!

Sagada hanging coffins echo valley

The lens was at 200mm

Sagada limestone rocks hills coffins

There were a few older coffins a bit further away

Even after witnessing the hanging coffins from up here, I still felt ‘incomplete’. I knew I would feel like this unless I went all the way to the coffins and took photos from up close, because that’s how I saw them online. And I wanted that.

I asked Jason if we could get a lot closer. He sighed and asked me if I was willing to climb down (he knew I was a bit tired). I told him that I had come this far already, no point in coming back tomorrow just to go up close to the coffins.

And down we went, to get a closer look at the coffins. Took just 5 minutes.

Sagada hanging coffins echo valley Philippines from down

Eerie as it may sound, I felt much better coming down here

Echo valley hanging coffins closeup Sagada

Even though this is originally a centuries-old Chinese tradition, it isn't practiced anymore. Despite that, the brown coffin was the most recent addition as the person insisted on being laid to rest here, along with her ancestors.

Sagada hanging coffins tradition Echo valley Philippines

The rest are decades old, some even centuries old

Sagada hanging coffins cliffside echo valley Philippines

Because it was getting dark, I set the camera on the tripod and shot these at f4, 1/2 second exposure to absorb as much light as possible

Shaky cam falling down photograph

And this is what happened when the camera nearly fell to the ground after I clicked

Sagada hanging coffins hillside Echo valley Philippines

If you are tall enough, you could touch the lowest hanging coffin (but that would just be disrespectful)

Sagada hanging coffins Echo valley Philippines

It was nearing 6:30pm, so we had to head back before it got too dark

Sagada hanging coffins Echo valley night shot flash

Took this using flash so that you get an idea of just how dark it really was

The climb back up was tough for me, simply because there were no proper steps. I found myself panting for breath, but in some ways, I now felt ‘complete’. I had accomplished everything I wanted to see in Sagada.

We walked back, a bit slower this time…

Sagada village homes at night dark

... and this is how dark it got by the time we were out of the woods

When we got back to the main road, Jason said he would be heading straight home from there. So I paid him the ₱700 ($16/€11) guide fee, plus a ₱100 tip, and thanked him — for putting up with me and my demandsrequest to see everything I wanted by the end of daylight.

Sagada wooden house at night lap post

Took this photo from where we got down to the main road

Sagada Goerge's Guesthouse at night

This is George's Guesthouse... at 7pm

Back in the room, I rested my feet briefly, took a hot shower to cleanse myself of all the bat shit, and then stepped out again for dinner, because Sagada (like Banaue) has a 9pm curfew.

I had read a lot of good recommendations for a place called the Yoghurt House, so I went there for dinner just as it was winding down for the night.

Yoghurt house apple ham sandwich Sagada Philippines

I had the apple ham sandwich...

Yoghurt house banana yogurt Sagada Philippines

... and the banana yoghurt with granola topping. It was alright. Cost a total of ₱180 ($4/€3).

On the way back, stepped into a souvenir store, bought a neat-looking ‘I Survived Sagada’ t-shirt (₱180) and some biscuits to have tomorrow morning as I was going to be waking up really early to catch the first bus to Baguio city.

Back at George’s Guesthouse, even though the doors were shut, men were drinking and having a jolly time proving that despite the 9pm curfew, the night doesn’t end early for the locals. I copied over today’s photos from the camera to my laptop and made the most of the wi-fi to make bookings for the coming days.

Today was yet another stupendous and memorable day for me. Like yesterday, despite how tired I was trying to see as much as possible, I felt glad at end having accomplished everything I came to experience. Sure, Sagada has some famous waterfalls too, but the trek to the waterfalls was surely not possible today and I had no regrets about missing it either. The main attractions on my Sagada checklist were Sumaguing cave and the Hanging Coffins of Echo valley. And I couldn’t be more pleased with the photographs I took of both the places.

Sagada makes for a perfect weekend getaway for Manila’s residents but even as a foreign tourist, I would still recommend one make the effort to come all the way here.

I was tired, sure, but with nothing else to do in Sagada’s chilly nights, I cuddled up and went to sleep satisfied. Only  dreaming this trip would keep getting better.

Previous posts:

Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Banaue town; heading to Sagada via Bontoc

Philippines 2011: Day 2 – Banaue rice terraces; trekking to Batad village

Philippines 2011: Day 1 — Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Fort Bonifacio

Philippines 2011: Flying over South China Sea for the first time

Other posts in this series:

Philippines 2011: Leaving Sagada for Baguio, and arriving in Angeles city (Days 4 & 5)

Philippines 2011: Day 6 – Good Friday in San Fernando, San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites

Philippines 2011: Day 7 – Leaving Angeles City for Manila, Mall of Asia

Philippines 2011: Day 8 – Manila tour: Rizal Park, Intramuros, Manila Cathedral, China Town

Philippines 2011: Day 9 – Cebu: Fort San Pedro, Basilica of Santo Niño, Taoist Temple

Philippines 2011: Day 10 – Bohol tour: Chocolate Hills, Loboc river cruise, Tarsiers, churches

Philippines 2011: Day 11 – Arriving in Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 12 – Puerto Princesa Underground River tour, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 13 – Puerto Princesa to El Nido by bus

Philippines 2011: Day 14 – El Nido island hopping tour A and sunset at Las Cabanas beach, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Back to Manila, shopping, and my final thoughts about the country  (Last post)

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  • Aimee

    iLove iLove iLove this post!!!!

    [Reply]

  • Sweatha

    Good job! very intersting, photos r excellent

    [Reply]

  • http://www.escapeislands.com dong ho

    great choice of sagada for your visit in the phils. it’s nice to see a familiar place from a perspective of a foreigner. thanks for visiting the philippines.

    [Reply]

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    You are welcome! :)

    [Reply]

  • http://thetravellingfeet.com/ doi

    when you visit the country back, try spelunking in the Sumaguing Cave next time! :-)

    [Reply]

  • http://www.chyngreyes.com chyng

    you take really good shots. ive been to lumiang and sumaguing too but i admit that your shots are way better. =)

    [Reply]

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Thanks, I’ve been checking out your website too. Your photos aren’t bad at all.

    [Reply]

  • http://marxtermind.blogspot.com marx

    Thanks for visiting Philippines!

    I love your photos…

    [Reply]

  • Styre

    only 100 for a tip? man, if i were the guide i would have pushed you down the hill.

    [Reply]

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Luckily the guide wasn’t as greedy as you are and never asked or demanded more. He thanked me, and wished me well.

    [Reply]

  • Trahtur

    Thank u so much for detailed (step-by-step) information about this trip!
    Have more and more interesting trips!

    [Reply]

  • http://www.facebook.com/jshaley John Shaley

    love your photos

    [Reply]

  • Remrick Patagan

    I love Sagada! As for the trees you mentioned, yes, they are a type of pine tree. Benguet pine, if I’m not mistaken.

    By the way, you mentioned that the hanging coffins were a “Chinese” tradition. As far as I know, it’s a native practice by the mountain tribes. Well, you could call it “Chinese” if you believe in the theory that all Austronesians are Southern Chinese in origin.

    [Reply]

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    When researching “hanging coffins,” I read they were largely practiced by mountain tribes in China. That’s why I stated as such.

    [Reply]

    Remrick Patagan Reply:

    I see, I didn’t know they had the same practice in China… And if you look at the local folk of the Philippine Cordilleras, their features do resemble more of the ethnic groups of Southern Chinese origin in Indochina (such as the Tai-Kadai) rather than the lowland Malays in the Philippines. All of which kind of lends credence to the theory that the Austronesian expansion started in Southern China to Taiwan, the Philippines, and the rest of Southern Asia and Oceania.

    [Reply]