How to see the Hanging Coffins in Sagada, The Philippines

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ December 10th, 2008. Updated on July 22nd, 2010. Published in: Travel blog » Philippines.
The Hanging Coffins of Sagada, The Philippines (click to enlarge)

The Hanging Coffins of Sagada, The Philippines (click to enlarge)

After the previous debacle of having to pay 20 pesos just to enter Sagada, I was now being asked to pay 200 for a guide to the hanging coffins. I looked at Lu and surrendered. We paid, and headed off down the main town road past a quaint church

I remembered what it was like as a ‘seasoned‘ traveler vs local traveler. Most think it’s great to have a local show you around. And yes it can be a great asset. But as someone who’s traveled a fair bit, there were some international similarities the world over. No matter the country. There were always ways to see something without having to pay for a guide. This was a prime example. Likewise the ridiculous 20 peso entrance fee into a town. I put money on it no one would ever stop us to see our tiny little tickets. But explaining the do’s and don’t of travel to a local person, who at the same time is feeling the weight of responsibility for showing your around; just isn’t good.

Through a cemetery we went and down a little path into an overground area. The heat of the day was building up and I was glad that

Small decomposing coffin in Sagada, The Philippines

Small decomposing coffin in Sagada, The Philippines

I had 2 bottles of water and trekking bars for the day. Then our guide stopped. He grinned at me and then nodded.

“Erm, yea?”

He pointed out over a forested valley. I squinted. Nothing. He came a little closer and pointed to a rock face. There were some wooden boxes nestled into the vertical face. I smiled, took a photo and started to walk down. The guide didn’t move. Lu spoke to him briefly, then looked at me with defeated eyes.

“That’s it.”

I said nothing. We headed back. Thanked our guide and ate some fried banana.

“Are you ready to go back alone now?”

Lu nodded, “Do you think they will have guards?”

We headed back along the same route. Through the cemetery and then down a steep slope. Through some dense foliage. I could see a light trail and new this was an established route. Or at least had been. Then, voices. American. Filipino. We ate trekking bars and pretended to look like we were heading somewhere else. Duh … It was a guide and two tourists. Like most tourists these days, they didn’t say hello. Just walked on past. Thankfully the Filipino guide was kind enough to respond to our greetings.

Scattered bones from a hanging coffine in the Philippines

Scattered bones from a hanging coffine in the Philippines

We walked as little further and then I could smell a cave. That humid, cold, mossy smell. We turned a corner and got a glimpse of our first hanging coffin. Perched on a rocky ledge it lay broken with age; its contents lay scattered along the ground beneath. I was glad it was an old coffin.

We went a little further, until we stood beneath a vertical grey rock face with coffins galore. Some still bright with paint, others faded over the years. Names and dates hand painted on each. Spray painted Graffiti marked the rock face.

Some coffins looked very old. The wood dried up, withered and falling apart. Some looked very new – 2005 was the latest one I could find. Our guide had mumbled something about no new coffins in over 10 years. I read my print outs and it at least answered the question about why the coffins were so small. ‘People were laid to rest in comfortable positions, often on their sides. Or curled up’ How nice. ‘Quite often their bones would be cracked or broken so they could fit in.’ Agh!

I looked over a Lu, “Much better down here than up there eh?”

She scrunched up her face, “Yea, but I have my period!”

Agh! Just when things were getting good, at least it explained a few things. We headed back to the hotel. She said everything would be fine for tomorrow. Then, she apologized for her mood swings. What to do? I went downstairs and bought her a packet of her favorite snack food, and a drink. Making sure everything was fine, I went back out to the coffins for a trek into the mountain side.

Recent coffins in Sagada, The Philippines

Recent coffins in Sagada, The Philippines

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2 Great responses to How to see the Hanging Coffins in Sagada, The Philippines

  1. CC says:

    We never had a problem with entrance fees or going any where on our own without a guide in Sagada – I am an obvious foreigner, but my partner speaks Ilokano, so maybe that was the reason.

  2. Ray G says:

    I’m right! she had a period.