Sagada – Bontoc – Banaue – Manila

Oh these sandwiches…. Strawberry café we love you!
The 7 o’clock beep of the alarm clock rang. We dropped by at George’s Guesthouse to look for the Filipino girls, who were with us the day before during an underground cave hike. They weren’t there so we decided to look for some breakfast instead. Strawberry café looked very appealing so we went there to try their food. Strawberry café is kind of hidden, you will probably notice the place only by its colourful sign.
Strawberry cafe welcome sign Strawberry cafe
Nevertheless, we sat down and ordered a three-decker  sandwich. One with chicken and one with tuna (P 70 / € 1,41* each). These sandwiches, oh they were so good. Mouth drooling, nose appealing but simple looking. We’re not sure if it was because we hadn’t had sandwiches in a while (which is pretty rare when you live in the Netherlands) or if they were really so good. Anyway, recommend recommend! (Tripadvisor review here) We decided to order one sandwich more, a mountain tea (P 20 / € 0,32*) and a strawberry pancake with jam (P 100 / € 1,62*).

Their name has the word strawberry in it, so it must have something to do with good strawberries we thought. And indeed, they served homemade strawberry jam, which was a delicious as the sandwiches. The food gets even better when you look around, the serenity of Sagada on the one hand, and the colorful cafe on the other.
The family running Strawberry cafe, was very nice towards us and being very friendly! We want to thank them again for making us feel at home, and for the nice sandwiches of course.

Echo Valley
After a photoshoot with the ‘strawberry cafe’ dog, we went on our search for the Echo Valley. The reason why Echo Valley is called.. well.. Echo Valley is pretty obvious. It’s a cliff where people (tourists) come and shout to hear their echo. Echo Valley is also a place, a memorial cliff, where hanging coffins can be found.

Hanging coffins, Sagada

Reasons for these practices are diverse. Some say it is because people in Sagada prefer not to bury the deceased underground. It is said that how higher the coffins are, the closer the deceased are to heaven and the better they’re protected from natural disasters such as floodings.
Echo valley Inn & Cafe

The second story is that only highly respected humans can be buried in the air. This means that wise people in the community, or people who have done a lot of good things can be remembered like that. We didn’t have a guide though to tell us the story, do you know more about the hanging coffins? Comment! Echo Valley is not hard to find, but if you walk around please be careful:

”One important thing to stress out is that tourists need to be very careful when walking around. While most spots around Sagada require you to be with an official guide, the Echo Valley is so accessible, it’s easy to forget that you’re walking on a cliff side. In 2005, a tourist fell off a cliff while taking pictures and was killed on the spot.” (, 2014)


A guide touring his group around warned us several times to be careful. But the only adventurous thing we did after they left was climbing over some rocks to take pictures from a different angle, which could be dangerous anyway now we’re thinking about it. With my (Johanna) flip-flops…. Expert much? It would have been nicer to check the coffins out from close, but we didn’t have that much time left unfortunately. (Another reason to come back!!)

Bontoc – Banaue
On our way back from the hanging coffins, we stopped by the Yoghurt house to taste some more yoghurt (Tripadvisor review here). Banana-Strawberry yoghurt was an odd flavour though. We didn’t like it that much and it actually made us feel slightly sick. But that didn’t stop us from buying last minute souvenirs to always remember Sagada!

We said goodbye to Nathan ( and we really hope to stumble upon him again. In the jeepney to Bontoc we did stumble upon some other people, the boy and girl who we had met the day before while looking for the underground caves. They were also leaving for Banaue. The jeepney ride was about 45 minutes to Bontoc and do-able. Although Vincent was really stressed at times because of the creepy roads and turns we took. Not surprising, since you’re driving next to a cliff full-time… And where we live, it’s totally flat. With the exception of some hills and the highest is 322.7 meter… So you can imagine we were blown away by the mountain range.

The jeepney ride was P 80 / € 1,28* for two persons. As soon as you step foot in Bontoc, people will come at you and yell for your attention. This is how we found a mini-van to Banaue. People were pointing and yelling at it, so we figured that’s the one we need.. The trip to Banaue in a comfortable mini-van was going to cost us P 150 / € 2,41* per person. Johanna went to the other foreigners and asked them what they were going to do, they told us that a jeepney was also P 150 per person. So they went with us since a mini-van is more comfortable.

Way to Banaue

Maybe you’ve read it before  in our other posts, but we were very low on cash because of the lack in ATM’s in the province. So we told the driver that he needed to stop at the ATM in Bontoc. After 10-minutes he said ‘Shoot! I forgot about the ATM’. So we drove back again. Vincent went to the ATM, but we had to wait for a long time because the people in front of him didn’t seem to get what was going on with the ATM. We waited there for a long time and concluded that the ATM wasn’t functioning.

While I (Johanna) was waiting in the mini-van I felt a little bit stressed because I was worrying about the people in the mini-van. I mean, this is my automatic western response I guess.. that they were going to be all ‘ahhh, pff , ahh’ you know those sounds. But then I realized all these (local) people didn’t care that much. Some even went to get some food and drinks or went to sleep.

I realized that I was in the Philippines. It struck me that I was surrounded with another culture, with other people. I began to appreciate the patience, that sense of ‘don’t worry that much, it won’t do you good’. This lesson learned from the northern Philippines, will stay with us for the rest of our trip and we did bring it back as much as possible. Whenever I’m seduced to be stressed or worry about stupid things people here worry about, I try to think of the people in the Philippines. I really admire the culture and sometimes I try to be more like it.
A Filipino jeepney experience
The guard at the bank finally told us that there was also an ATM in Banaue, so we just went on.

Summary how-to get from Sagada to Banaue via Bontoc
Get on a jeepney in Sagada, ask for departure times at the tourist office or just ask around.
It is probably the same spot where you entered Sagada, near the tourist office.

Jeepney Sagada to Bontoc
45 minutes – P 40 / € 0,64* per person

In Bontoc, it will become quite obvious where to go. Or you could always ask around where jeepneys or mini-vans are leaving for Banaue.

Jeepney or mini-van Bontoc to Banaue
2 hours – P 150 / € 2,41* per person

Banaue – Manila
10 hours – P 450 / € 7,22* per person

Our first impressions of Banaue were very different from that of Sagada. Tin houses are abundantly rising between the rice terraces. The people seem to be more ‘creep-moused’ than a few hundred kilometers before. Of course we don’t want to generalize the people, but the overal character was just less than in Sagada. We didn’t feel as much, maybe that’s the right way to put it. Our stay in Banaue was only for a few hours, so we can’t be really objective here.
Banaue, rice terraces

Chewing moma
One of the things that we noticed was the red colours everywhere on the street of Banaue, the red colouring people’s mouths and teeth. People chewing and spitting. What was that? It is called moma. We were told it is something like chewing tobacco. Men, woman and children enjoy this ‘delight’. They use it to keep themselves warm and to feel energetic.

‘In the Cordillera, moma chewing is very much attributed to the Ifugaos. The folks usually have their taluwan with them which would contain all or one of the following – a piece or two of moma (areco nut), some sheets of hapid (betel leaf), a tabayag that holds the lime powder from burned aggudung (a kind of shell), and sometimes tuhlab (stem of the betel leaf), puduh (fruit of betel plant) and tobacco. In the yard of a typical Ifugao abode, the areco palm is eminent and the vine of the hapid might be climbing on a tree somewhere near it. Folks would usually share ingredients when they meet while staking a conversation.’ (, On Chewing Moma, 2012)

Moma on the streets

Our time in Banaue
We would have wanted to stay longer in Banaue and visit the rice terraces in Batad, but we we’re just so low in money and tired that we decided not to do it. So we bought two tickets for a bus back to Manila again (P 450 / €7,22*). We we’re quite lucky because there were only 2 seats left. Unfortunately in the back… in the middle… Oh no, this was going to be a nightmare for me (Johanna). 10 hours of bus-sickness in the worst seats ever. The middle seat, it doesn’t have anything. No window to lean on, not a seat in front to lean on. Nothing. The backseat also means a hot journey since the engine is smoking hot under the back seats. Oh well…. Enough complaining, I’ll be sick fine.


Not surprisingly, we set foot in Banaue and a seducing man came to us and tried to hook us up with a mini-tour. But we didn’t take it and went ‘downtown’ instead. In our search for the ATM the bank guard told us about, we concluded that he meant a local ATM. There are no international ATM’s in Banaue. So we ended up at Sanafe Lodge where we ate pancit, rice and chicken. There we rested for a while, enjoyed the view and made some pictures. After a long staring-session at the mountains and rice fields heritage, we went to exchange some of the last Euro’s (cash) we had. € 20 was about P 1100*. Just to make sure we had enough money for the travel, the way back and in Manila.




While waiting for the bus to depart, we played with some kids and their spinning tops. These weren’t just spinning tops, these were the old skool ones. The ones our parents played with, the ones carved from wood and even more old skool: the stones categorized to spinning tops. It’s just wonderful that even we don’t speak the same language, we can still understand each other by playing.
Kids playing with their spinning tops

We wish to have been in Banaue longer, just to understand Banaue and its people better.

Have you been to Banaue, how did you experience it? Please tell us! We’re sure to come back one day and check the whole place out. Suggestions? Please tell us!

– Vincent & Johanna

* Note: all the prizes are according to the exchange rate at the time of traveling


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