Never throw your flip flop in a cave

The sun finally emerged from behind the clouds just as we getting ready to leave Banaue for the spectacular three hour journey through the mountains to Sagada, giving us the opportunity I’d been waiting for: the chance to admire the scenery unobstructed by riding on the roof of a jeepney.

The rice terraces of Banaue

The ride was every bit as good as we’d been told, as the road wound its way up out of Banaue (and finally getting us the chance to see the town’s rice terraces in all their glory from the viewing point) and through the Cordilleras, passing dozens of beautiful terraces along the way (as well as field of vegetables that looked wonderful thanks to the heart that had been ploughed into its centre). Riding on the roof was pretty fun – but bloody uncomfortable. I won’t be doing that again – not unless I can find a cushion to sit on.

Aw, sweet

Sagada turned out to be a fantastic little village – richly forested, and with pretty houses ranged across the town’s various hills, valleys and atop cliffs. At a slightly lower altitude than Banaue, the climate was perfect too, with glorious blue skies and daytime temperatures that were perfect and without much humidity.

There was one main reason I wanted to visit the village – to see the famous hanging coffins. The people of Sagada have traditionally chosen to place their dead not in the ground, but either inside the many caves that surround the town, or more impressively, by hanging the coffins from the side of some of the huge cliffs in the area.

The Hanging Coffins of Echo Valley

It turned out they were just a short hike behind the church in the centre of the town, down into the valley, to a viewpoint looking right up at the coffins. It’s a truly bizarre sight, and quite impressive – but I must admit at the same time I had a slight tinge of disappointment, as for some reason (I have no idea why) I was expecting to see hundreds of coffins, and not the relative few that we got to see.

A rather unexpected highlight came the next day – I’d heard there were burial caves in town, but as we signed up for a tour, we had no idea what to expect. A half hour walk from the centre of the village took us down to the entrance of a huge cave, which was stacked up with dozens more burial coffins. That was impressive enough, but the best was yet to come.

The guides lead us deeper and deeper into the cave, leading us very carefully through narrow passages, and making us squeeze through some very tight holes as we headed down into the lower caverns. Some of these drops involved some fixed ropes, others required some quite nifty footwork to make our way down – but the whole way the guides were wonderful at making sure we never put a foot wrong.

Quite a tight squeeze

Inside the cave was spectacular – we got to see some massive caverns full of bats, loads of impressive rock formations like stalactites and calcified waterfalls – and the whole process of walking through was pretty fun too, as we switched between tighter passages to wading through pools of water, which caused a few problems for one of our group – instructed to walk barefoot, to get a better grip on slippery rocks, we were told to throw our flip flops to the other end of the cave. Matt threw just a little too hard, and they ended up soaring past the intended landing place, and straight down a vertical drop, never to be seen again.

Weird rock formation inside the cave

Eventually we reached the lowest point, a weird landscape of strangely shaped rocks and beautiful pools, and it was time to head back up – and emerge from an entirely separate cave from the one we’d entered through. We were underground for nearly four hours in total, and it was fantastic fun – I shall definitely be looking out for more caving tours in future.

Emerging into daylight

You can see all of my photos of Sagada here.


35 responses to “Never throw your flip flop in a cave

  1. Amazing photos–looks like some visit.

  2. Seems like a great journey. Wonderful post.

  3. quinntessentiallyme

    Your photos are incredible. The coffins hanging from the side of the cliffs stunned me. Being from Louisiana, where the dead are placed above ground, is something I’m use to but seeing wooden coffins, hanging by rope, to the side of a cliff was some kind of strange.

  4. Nice shots of my country’s pride (Philippines)- the Banaue Rice Terraces. I love to go that place.

  5. Oh Geoff, I think you should take a second year off to continue your journey and show me more of the world from the comfort of my living room. This Philippines chapter is doubly interesting as it’s not somewhere I’ve known other people to have visited although a pal here of Filipino origin was also recently singing the country’s praises to me.

  6. Thank you, I truly enjoyed your blog today. It gave me a break from my status reports . I was able to check out a quirky town for just a couple of minutes. Lovely.

  7. Hi Geoff,
    Delighted to read about a fellow traveler. Thanks for sharing the pictures. I have only been to 22 countries to date. Well, make that 23. I saw your list and I didn’t count Vatican city before!

    Iread about you being on a roof. I rode on the roof of a van/lorry in the Himalayas which was a treat. Sore but they had to pull me down off the roof since I was having so much fun.

    I have a picture of me drinking water from the Hunza river in Northern Pakistan beneath the towering Himalayas. It is on this page of my website. Not a big pic but a great memory.

    My home page is a picture I took from the summit of Needle Peak in BC, Canada

    Happy travelling,

  8. omy goodness these photos are sooooooo amazing. wow, i really like the one with the heart in the green stuff, and it was really weird the coffins hanging, but i thought that was cool too.

  9. I live in the Philippines but I haven’t visit that place once. It’s so nice.

  10. Awesome photos, I loved the little heart. <3 You definitely captured the essence of that little village.

    And the reason why people are buried above ground in Louisiana is because they are below sea level and flooding is a real issue. The coffins/caskets are above ground to ensure that they don't float up to the top in case of flooding if it is buried.

    Some more on that here: if you're interested.

    Awesome blog!

  11. I saw your image at wordpress page and I knew that it is unmistakeably the Banaue rice terraces. I used to live at Bontoc, jeepney ride away from Sagada, which is my mother’s hometown but I’ve never bothered going into the cave. It would’ve been quite an adventure. Beautiful photos and I enjoyed viewing your travel photos in your flickr.

  12. Great description and Nice photographs…Pity Matt….hope the cave didnt have too many sharp stones…:-)

  13. yeah, that’s awesome. Nice post!

  14. nice pic i like the first one the rice terraces look very old culture

  15. I’m glad you took photos, because there’s no way I would be doing that tour.

  16. Great post! Thanks for sharing this with us.We’re planning to visit Banaue and Sagada this year or maybe next year. Your photos and story-telling are amazing.

    Now I have to warn my traveling partner about walking barefoot in the caves because he hates walking barefoot. lol! :)

  17. lookadistraction

    I’ve been wanting to go back to Sagada.
    Being from the Philippines myself, I’ve got a lot of fond memories of this place…

    Gorgeous shots-you do the terraces justice. :)

  18. The rooftop is indeed the best seat in the house, or should I say, the jeepney!

    Looking forward to your El Nido entry, was there a couple of years ago. Hope you had an amazing time like we did.

  19. hanging coffins? never heard of such a thing. I think i found my next unusual place of the month.

  20. great write up and very interesting about the hanging coffins- I’d imagine they’d fall apart after awhile though?
    My favourite part though was the cave of course, I’ll have to add that to my list of places to go.

  21. What a place – would love to cave outside the US sometime. Good story, great pix too

  22. Pingback: My 7 Links: Revisiting some old favourites | Itinerant Londoner

  23. A well-written travelogue with stunning photos! I was in Sagada in June 2011 but alas for just a day but managed to cover as much ground as possible. I am planning on another trip in early 2011. Instead of transiting via Baguio I hope to fly to Tuguegarao in Cagayan Province from Manila and take the bus & jeepney to Bontoc from where Sagada, Barlig, Pasil. Besao, Dandanac & other reclusive villages which have shrugged off tourism. I came to know about unknown Dandanac from Rosita Pinkerton’s novel, ‘An Igorot’s Journey (

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