06 Oct Our Mountain Retreat in Sagada
After our exhausting trekking adventures in Banaue and Batad we were searching for somewhere to relax for a few days before leaving the Philippines. Luckily, we found the perfect place in the peaceful mountain town of Sagada; in fact, we loved it so much we didn’t want to leave – here’s why.
Falling in Love with Sagada
The six-hour bus journey from Batad to Sagada was a treat in itself. A cool breeze filtered in through the open windows of our bus while goats occasionally stamped on the roof (yes, there were goats strapped to the roof) and we climbed higher and higher along twisting roads into the mountains, assaulted by spectacular scenery at every turn. We tottered precariously on the edges of deep, tree-lined valleys and sped through small towns and rice fields surrounded constantly by towering mountain peaks, until finally we arrived in what became our favourite place in the Philippines – Sagada.
As we walked along the one main street past school kids and ever-present colourful jeepneys we discovered dozens of appetising restaurants with names to makes our mouths water; The Lemon Pie House, Strawberry Café and The Yoghurt House. We checked into a cute wooden lodge where, for lack of guests, they gave us the biggest room in the entire place with three double beds overlooking a gorgeous view of the mountains and pine forests.
For the first time since we’d hit Asia we didn’t need or want air conditioning; the weather was cool, breezy and prone to rain, reminding us of home. I loved being able to nestle down in fleecy blankets in my own double bed and slept deeply every night. During the few short days we stayed in Sagada we got into a routine of eating all our meals at the Yoghurt House, which served absolutely delicious bowls of granola smothered in yogurt, vegetarian rice dishes, home-made cheese straws and huge hikers’ breakfasts of fruit pancakes and eggs – I was in heaven.
An Unexpected Tour
We headed out to explore Sagada on our second day and somehow got lost looking for the church. As we stood in the middle of a field squinting at our map three local boys came racing towards us: “Where are you going?” they asked in perfect English, “We will guide you for 50 Pesos each!”
*Update: since our trip to Sagada we’ve learned that it’s not a good idea to hire children as guides and we do not recommend this practice. We live, we learn and we want to pass this information on to other travellers so they don’t make the same mistake we did.
We agreed and our enterprising 11 year-old guides took us on an unusual tour up to the church, stopping to show us some ‘Crazy Plants’ which snap shut when you touch them. As we took pictures of the old church, which was bombed by the US during the Spanish occupation, its clock began to chime. “Wait here, for the evil spirits to pass,” our guides warned, stopping still.
The boys led us further up the hill, the shyest of the three stopped along the way to cut me some flowers with his trusty knife (every little boy in Asia has one…) and then find me a stick for support when I slipped on some mud. Crossing the cemetery the boys paused to show us the grave of a three-day old baby who recently died. “His mother cried a lot,” they explained somberly.
This stop seems less morbid when you consider the next place they took us; to the hanging coffins in Echo Valley. Although the practice now seems to have died out, for thousands of years the local custom in Sagada was to bury people in wooden or stone coffins attached to mountain sides. This kept bodies from wild animals, protected them from floods and supposedly made it easier for their spirits to reach heaven. I found the coffins an eerie sight and couldn’t help imagining people dragging bodies all the way up the valley and sealing them into these cliff-side tombs.
Hiking in Sagada, Philippines
There’s plenty of hiking to do in and around Sagada to nearby waterfalls, a lake and acres of UNESCO rice paddies. Even after our tough trek in Batad we were keen to get out and discover more of Sagada but sadly we just didn’t have time to see everything. However, as well as spending a scary and exhilarating day caving, we also managed to visit a small local waterfall. To get there a young girl led us to a dirt path which cut through a field of waist-high plants to a river. We followed the path downstream and emerged at the waterfall which was crowded with local boys playing and swimming in the sun.
Inspired by this, we also took a two-hour walk out to the Bomod-ok (big) waterfall only to arrive near dusk and find we’d never make the further trek down to the base of the waterfall and back up again before dark. The walk there and back was more than worth the effort though and we enjoyed trekking along mountain paths through tiny villages past rice paddies and old women permanently doubled-over from years of working in the fields.
Sagada is the one place we’ve been to on this trip so far that I truly didn’t want to leave. If it weren’t for our visas and the fact that we had family and friends meeting us in Thailand we might just have stayed there for weeks, trekking through the cool hills and relaxing in our mountain retreat. On our last evening in Sagada we watched the sun set over the mountains all purple and pink – like a beautiful bruise – and we promised ourselves that we’d return here before we leave Asia.
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)Posted at 05:32h, 07 October
Though we didn’t make it to Sagada (this time!) we actually felt very similar to this when we reached Pai in Thailand. We were there in low season which I think makes all the difference, but it really felt like such a chilled out retreat from the world and every day I woke up there feeling so happy. It was wonderful to explore and immediately felt like home. Even though we showed up thinking we would probably hate it and likely only spend 1 or 2 days, we wound up spending 2 weeks! 😀
AmyPosted at 06:27h, 07 October
Funny you should mention Pai, we were there just last week and loved it too; there are definitely many similarities between the two places. It was quiet when we visited both Sagada and Pai, which made our experiences even more special; Andrew and I have definitely discovered that we’re mountain people rather than beach people so far on this trip!
PattiPosted at 05:55h, 09 October
Sounds as if you’re really enjoying yourselves, I’m so happy for you! When I saw your photo of the hanging coffins, all I could think about was what would happen after a number of years and the wood started to rot and fall apart?! Yikes! Another great post Amy. You’re visiting a part of the world that most likely we will not see so I am enjoying it through your journey.
AmyPosted at 06:03h, 09 October
Thanks Patti, we are really having a blast now that we’ve adjusted to life on the road and gotten over our teething problems; I’m sure there will be more tough patches ahead but we’re much better able to deal with them now (or so I hope!). The Philippines was so amazing, we can’t wait to go back to Sagada in April; glad you’re enjoying the posts. We did actually see bones through the cracks of some hanging coffins near another cave in Sagada and it was pretty creepy!
Simon LeePosted at 06:18h, 09 October
Hi Amy, dropping by for the first time and glad that you and Andrew could make a big change in your life and live the way you love!
I am from Malaysia, but never been to PH even it is so near to us. Me and my wife love peaceful environment and i think Sagada could be a good place for both of us to really relax and enjoy. Hope to visit this beautiful place some day.
BTW, are you coming to Malaysia? If yes, give me a shout and maybe we could catch up, i am living in KL and Penang (occasionally).
AmyPosted at 06:24h, 09 October
Hi Simon, thanks for the kind words. If you like peace and quiet you’d love Sagada, we certainly can’t wait to go back there! We visited Malaysia in June for three weeks, spending most of our time in Borneo and we absolutely loved it. We hope to go back there one day, we’ll make sure to look you up if we do!
Simon LeePosted at 07:06h, 10 October
Hi Amy, Borneo is definitely a good place to visit, which part of Borneo did you visit? I am sure you will love the islands surrounding Sabah:)
AmyPosted at 10:58h, 10 October
We went to Sarawak, including Batang Ai National Park, as well as Sabah – we absolutely loved it!
MaddiePosted at 04:17h, 10 October
Oh how I miss the Yoghurt House, I think I ate the hikers breakfast every day we were there! We felt the same as you, after being in humid Asia it was weird and wonderful to have clean, fresh air and nice cool temperatures. I fell head over heels for Sagada, so glad you had a great time too.
AmyPosted at 11:03h, 10 October
Hi Maddie, great to hear from another Sagada and Yoghurt House fan; I long for the hikers breakfast and the cool, clean mountain air!
AnnePosted at 10:03h, 25 April
Hi, it’s my first post here to say that I like your blog especially the writing and neat photos; it felt like I’m enjoying the experience with you (or more like, traveling vicariously through you!) I’m also relieved and glad you enjoyed our country (not everyone has kind words like you do), then again it’s probably because you went to the provinces and not in the metro. Also the ‘crazy plant’ you mentioned, I think, (if my childhood memory serves me right) is called ‘makahiya’ and that translates to ‘shy’, so it’s basically a shy plant 🙂 Lastly, I’m not much of a traveler in my own country but if you have any questions feel free to ask. God bless and have a safe trip in your future travels!
AmyPosted at 11:45h, 26 April
Hi Anne, thank you so much for reading and commenting, it’s amazing to hear from a Filipino! We absolutely love your country and its people, you are all so sweet and welcoming. We’re currently volunteering in Leyte and are having such a great time meeting all the local kids and helping homeowners clear their land of debris. Thanks for the insight about the plants too 🙂
laicaPosted at 22:02h, 15 October
This place is amazing. I’ve been to Sagada 3 times in 2 years and I still plan on coming back. Definitely my favorite place in the Philippines.
AndrewPosted at 03:16h, 16 October
It’s such a peaceful and relaxing place Laica! We love it. 🙂
DouglasPosted at 17:48h, 06 January
hi amy and andrew. i happen to be looking for articles about sagada (my hometown) to show my friends (i’m bringing them there this month) and i stumbled on your blog. I read your article, also the one about your caving adventure and I just can’t help but to love your enthusiasm and appreciation and love for the place! It’s heart warming.
i did guide a lot of tourists around sagada back in the day when i was a child. it was fun.
it had always been foreign travellers like you who really show appreciation and respect to the place and who truly go there for adventure.
God bless and may you have more exciting adventures come your way
AmyPosted at 18:48h, 06 January
Hi Douglas, thanks so much for reading and sharing our article and for taking the time to write us a message. You have a truly beautiful hometown! We loved Sagada and I dream about returning there again one day. We love the Philippines! Best wishes to you 🙂
tidgePosted at 05:50h, 23 June
Been to Sagada too, and yes the Yogurt House, I loved their spaghetti its all natural… My wife and I promised to go back there and definitely try the connecting cave.
Then Coron, locals there are so warm, beautiful beaches and corals to see, so many diving spots to visit specially ship wrecks of WWII, my wife said to me that I belong to the Sea lol.
Hope to see more of your blogs about my country…
AmyPosted at 09:03h, 23 June
I love the Yogurt House, such delicious food! I like the sound of Coron; we don’t dive but we do love snorkelling so I’m excited to check that out in the Philippines.