Loop through Northern Luzon

old man with hatNorthern Luzon by Motorbike – Part 1

I have traveled a bit by motorcycle in the Philippines but never ventured north of Manila with my bike.

This was one of the last frontiers for me, the time was right, my girlfriend and I needed some space so here I am in Tinglayan by the Chico River writing this. It is a huge relief as you head north and leave Manila way behind you.

Peaceful rice terraces in northern Luzon.

North Luzon Rice Terraces

For me this northern Luzon trip began at the historical town of Vigan on the west coast.

Heruitage Village Vigan

Vigan historical district

Vigan has  a heritage village in the historic district that is well preserved and quite a large tourist draw. Renovated buildings have been turned into hotels and it is a classy little place.

I felt a bit closed in downtown and it is likely out of my price range  so I stayed at the Ja-Ja inn about 5 kilometers outside of town.

They had a great wi-fi connection, friendly staff, and I could park outside the door under cover and wait out a typhoon that was passing through.

Vigan horse buggy

I was surprised at how many horse drawn buggies are used for transport in northern Luzon, not only in tourist centers like Vigan but in almost every small town along the way all the way around to Tuguegarao.  

youtube – horse and buggy video

Laoag sand dunes

There is a large stretch of sand dunes on the way to Laoag. A lot of the sand was covered by vegetation but it was quite beautiful to see desolate beach stretch out for miles.

Old Spanish Church

There are many historical bell towers and churches in northern Luzon as the Spanish were heavily entrenched in this area for hundreds of years.

lighthouseThis lighthouse is a beauty!

Philippine windmillsHeading up the coast I came across a beach full of windmills. This was a real highlight for me because I am a huge fan of alternative energy.

youtube windmill video

sunset and windmill

Bangui Bay wind power project

Beautiful north coast of the Philippines

It was like crossing the finish line when passing through this arch near Pagudpud. I have been zig zagging for 60,000k with my bike on the roads between Zamboanga in the south and finally reaching Pagudpud in the north. It was sort of like finishing a marathon race. It took 3 years but I feel that my journey has just begun because there is so many places yet to explore in the Philippines.


Following the north coast.

north coast highway in the philippines

North coast beach

north philippines beachTraveling salesman

horse cart with goods for saleIn Tuguegarao I was warned not to travel alone in Kalinga country.  It took me by surprise because I have always found the Kalinga to be very kind and pleasant but somewhat reserved the further you strayed into the back country.

chico rver valley

This might be a spill over from the old days when the Kalinga were actually head hunters and were fierce warriors – I don’t know, but I have no safety concerns about traveling in this area.

road in the mountains

The run to Tabuk and Tinglayan was beautiful and I pulled into Tinglayan just as it was getting dark and starting to rain – perfect timing. I got my bike under cover and checked in at the Sleeping Beauty Inn (200 pesos per head per night).

fish dinner with rice and vegetablesThe cooks there made a fantastic fish dinner and I had a great nights sleep. You can really travel inexpensively in these mountain areas!

Jeff and Fiona at TinglayanJeff and Fiona were heading east and I was going west, our paths crossed for 3 days and we had a great time.

Kalinga womanKalinga Woman

Trail to TulgaoThe trail on the way up to Tulgao.

breakfastCutting carabao meat for a feast.

Chico River White water rapidsChico River rapids between Tinglayan and Tabuk

Chico River whitewaterWhitewater on the Chico River

Chico River CanyonThe Chico River between Tinglayan and Bontoc is much more wild.

You would want to have a serious handle on it if you were doing this stretch.

There is no room for error in this canyon. The entire river is squeezed through narrow bottle necks and really rages after a rain.

One rockslide crushed this Komatsu during a recent rain.

Crushed KomatsuThe road between Bontoc and Tabuk is now almost completely concreted but due to the steepness of the terrain there will always be landslides after heavy rains in a few areas. The crews usually get the road cleared within a day so don’t let that put you off. This area is one of the most beautiful and pristine parts of the Philippines. The jeepney drivers will even stop along the way so the riders can fill their water bottles with fresh water running down from mountain springs.

making a connectionFiona really had the ability to make a connection with the Kalinga people.  The local woman here has the traditional full sleeve tattoo that the older Kalinga women all have. The old ways are rapidly dying out as the younger generation wants to move on with the times and has no interest in retaining the old traditions. They shun tattoos and prefer to listen to songs on their cell phones.

Kalinga mountain guide FrancisIf you have an interest in experiencing a bit of the traditional Kalinga culture try not to put this trip off too long because many of the older generation are passing away and the stories and ways of doing things will soon be only a distant memory.

Francis  pictured here with his mother, guides hikers through the rice terraces to some of the mountain villages.

He is quite a character and being Kalinga himself he will smooth the way. His cell phone number 09157690843

Road TripNorth Luzon part 1 – I got into Sagada last night and plan to stay here a few days.

The Northern Luzon Loop part 2 will begin in Sagada. I am not trying to cover everything – I just threw out some ideas and you can do your own research and go from there.

Jul 19, 2010 www.dutchpickle.com

12 responses to “Loop through Northern Luzon”

  1. Hi DP fantastic info and great pics, amazing, wish I had the gall to do this trip. Must be a dream trip I really envy you mate.

    Take care there, if talking to any hikers love to read their comments, and yes very wise to write about getting there soon. Must talk to Lyn and who knows maybe we can follow in your foot steps…or motor tracks..

    Take care there DP be safe.


  2. Mate…you get around as i remember only last October when your over in Southern Palawan with me your motorbike just ticked over 40,000km’s now 9 months down the track and you have ticked over 60,000km’s…I arrive back in Manila this coming Saturday plan to call you before i leave Sydney ok…take care…MG

  3. Fantastic pictures here! Enjoyed the trip!

  4. Im about to do the same trip solo on a motor bike … Thanks for the pics and advice . Leaving from subic Bay … From Canada any add… advice … Thax.. Places to stay etc

  5. Hi DP, I’m setting out on a solo backpacking trip up north in June and planned to cover La Union, Vigan, Pagudpud, Tabuk and Bontoc (start point: Manila). I’d love to hear tips, suggestions on where to stay, etc. Hope to hear from you :-)

  6. In WW2 was at San Fernando La Union. What a contrast then and in Ur pics. If not aged would be tempted to see that area again.We had supply dump just S. Of this town covering perhaps one half square mile. was in Baguio Xmas 1945. I
    ur pics made my day!

  7. Liked the article. I see it is a road bike you were using so that may have been a disadvantage. Was it rented or did you own it? Donal

  8. That Chico River is the cleanest , coolest , freshest river I have ever swam in in the Philippines. Thanks Beth for the memories !

    Also camping out high in the mountain rainforest with Gil , sans tent , just under outcroppings , what a blast , eating frogs and rice and being super aware of a poison ivy luba plant that even the natives fear. Just wake up to wipe the leaches dropping down on your face at night ha ha.

    What a blast climbing over vines so thick that you can not even see the ground for 100 meters or so . Gil hunts monkeys, but I do not eat monkeys. I did have one named Moi Moi for several years at my place in Leyte , but she died shortly after the Yolanda Typhoon. (the irony is that my neighbor didn’t want good meat to go to waste so he made bbq and they ate her – true)

    I think my first time in this area of Luzon was 1995 and it has changed but it is still pretty sweet

    …or maybe I should say magic !



    note: getting way up in the rainforest would be quite difficult without with out a local guide

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