What they don’t tell you about getting a tattoo from mambabatok Apo Whang Od.

I have been tattooed twice, say, the usual-machine-way and I’m not sure when I started the decision to have a traditional tattoo at least once. It appealed to me so much because it was raw and real. Then some friends went up the mountains to have their tattoos done manually, known as pagbabatok, by famous Whang Od (if you don’t know yet, it’s pronounced as Fang-Od). So I researched more about the traditional art, Whang-Od, and how to get there, through blogs and friends. So if you’ve read the title, I’m not really getting into those details. You can find tons of info in any search engine so go ahead and do that.

I told my family and friends about my plans to go and they were all like, am I sure, can I handle the pain, it’s too risky and dangerous, blah blah.

Days before our trip to Kalinga, we visited a friend who’s had his “batok” last year and has visited Buscalan many times already. Aside from the usual warnings of the dangerous road and rough trek, he mentioned, “Pero eto ang pinakamadumi na tato ah. Hanggang ngayon pag pinipisil ko yung tato ko, may lumalabas eh.” (“This is the dirtiest tattoo. Even now, when I pinch it, something comes out.”) I asked him if he ever had it checked by a doctor, he said no, simply because it will defeat the purpose of having it done traditionally. Also he was a friend of the group Tado was with on the way there, so he knew the people who died to take this journey, may they rest in peace, that’s why he asked me if I still wanted to go. You can also discover in blogs that though Whang Od changes the pine needle to use per person, she does not change the cloth she uses to wipe over the skin of those getting their tattoos. Even if you give her a new one to use, she won’t allow it. The ink to be used is the soot from her cooking-ware mixed with water.

Honestly, knowing all these didn’t even shake my desire to go there. I have decided before I knew.

I was ready to go alone, but my friend Keisha wanted to go too, so we went together. We also happen to meet Kuya Paolo along the way who’s heading to Buscalan. You can read about our trip here.

So, yes, you already (hopefully) know the process is cringe-worthy. They don’t give you anesthesia. For me, it was 20 times more painful than machine tattoos, and I’d like to believe I have a strong pain tolerance. I managed not to cry or scream though, concentrating on the plants around and savoring the feeling of what the elders in the tribes have felt. Kuya Francis Pa-in, our guide, also told us stories. The pain was too much to bear for some that there were cases when the person peed, fainted, and yes, even pooped. In these instances, Whang Od won’t continue with the tattoo even if you insist, she can always tell if the person can or can’t bear it. Also for women on their dreaded time of the month, it is not advisable since it can be more painful or for whatever reason I don’t know. Ask your doctor. Don’t worry too much though, Keisha was on hers when she got tattooed and she’s fine. Her tattoo just bled profusely more than mine though I’m not sure if it’s the position or her condition that time. I earnestly hope what I’m saying doesn’t discourage you if you happen to plan to go.


After we’ve been permanently branded a traditional Buscalan art, I was more than overwhelmed. I was exhilarated. I have never felt more alive and proud. The throbbing wasn’t so unbearable after. They just put coconut oil on it and said we didn’t have to put anything after. It looked like pointillism and it was swelling more than my previous tattoos after an hour. We were allowed to take a bath that afternoon, but getting it wet a day after wasn’t advisable since it might affect the natural scattering of the ink. The following day, about four inches of my arm was swelling in length, and an inch more in terms of width.


I could not lower my hand because the blood flows down and it throbs like hell so I held it up all the time. This wasn’t the case for Keisha though, again, it might vary by the tattoo’s position. That’s when I understood what Kuya Francis said about tattoos on the legs and feet are so painful after because the blood flows down and you can’t really put them up unless you’re lying down. My wrist kept throbbing when my hand was down for at least a week.

The soot ink started to form solid lines. I also observed that it looked and peeled like a normal wound, except the dried skin was black. Well, it’s really a wound after all. It was my personal choice not to put antibiotic or anything on it because I wanted it to be as genuine as the tradition.


When my tattoo started to look out of hand though, I was slightly worried since nobody said that it would look so scathed after a week. People would stare at it with judging looks, like they were telling me I made a very unwise decision getting it. I didn’t really care. And those who inquired were taken aback upon hearing the story behind it. Although I admit, it gets pretty tiring to explain yourself to everyone.

Thankfully, Keisha’s tattoo looked the same. So we tried to find out more about the healing process of this kind of tattoo and nothing in the internet mentioned it. So we just resorted to letting it heal naturally.

On the third week I decided it was safe to put moisturizer on it since the wound was closed and was just repairing the skin, which was really, really itchy by the way. I applied RestoraDerm, since I use it when my skin gets too dry. It works wonders and it did work its wonder on my healing tattoo.


The skin didn’t look too dry and it peeled faster, leaving a grey tint, like ash. It was still embossed though. I thought this was finally how the color was going to look like since the ink used was really soot. I consistently put the lotion every morning after bathing and before I go to sleep at night. Keisha told me she put on a regular lotion so I made her try RestoraDerm as well. She said it works better and the itching lessened, but a normal lotion will do.

My tattoo still peeled and it looked like it had blackheads on the fourth week. I admit I always picked on it. I completely don’t recommend doing this though. When the excess skin came off, there were visible holes on my arm where the needle went through. It started to flatten as well but the skin was still unsmooth because of the irregularity the holes bring. Still, it looks healed now. My own eyes tell me that it’s infection free.


Now the lines are obviously not perfectly straight, but that’s the beauty of it. It wasn’t made by a machine. It is purely done by the hands of a 95-year old Kalinga tattoo artist, with pine needle and soot as her tools, and almost a century’s worth of experience. I carry this art, traditionally only for the most brave and beautiful.

All details mentioned were my own experiences and choices. I decided to share them since I found no other blog saying what happens AFTER you get your batok.

So for those of you who are attempting to get your tattoos from Whang Od and are wondering about the risks and joys, you’re welcome. Though I earnestly discourage you to go there if you just want to look cool. Revere the art, the artist and the culture.

Feel free to share how you managed your batok or if you have any questions on the comments below. 🙂


217 thoughts on “What they don’t tell you about getting a tattoo from mambabatok Apo Whang Od.

  1. Super informative post! It answered a lot of things I had been wondering about, e.g. how to get there, if you have a say in motif, etc. My own story is that I’m traveling to the Philippines in a couple of weeks and staying till February to visit my parents, and plan on finding time to go north and visit this fascinating area and get a traditional tattoo. I already have two machine tattoos related to my filipino heritage so now traditional is the next step 🙂
    So if anyone is planning on going in that time frame and want company, let me know, I always like sharing experiences with others!

  2. Super informative post! It answered a lot of things I had been wondering about, e.g how to get there, if you have a say in motif, etc. My own story is that I’m traveling to the Philippines in a couple of weeks and staying till February, and plan to find time to go north and visit this fascinating area and get a tattoo. I already have two machine tattoos related to my Filipino heritage so now a traditional tattoo is the next step 🙂
    So if anyone is planning on going in that time frame and want company, let me know, I always like sharing experiences with others!

      1. She’s going to give you the price after getting one. 1k would be a solid budget. And Just a reality check… Don’t expect to be tattooed by Apo Fang Od. If you really want to be tattooed by the master herself a lot at least 3 days and 2 nights stay. Source: I had my Ginawang Hawk done 2 weeks ago.

      2. That’s not entirely true, maybe it depends on who your guide is or if you go without one. Kuya Francis, our guide, told us how much our tattoos would cost before we had them. Also, as soon as we got there, after drinking coffee, Apo Whang Od sat down in front of us and immediately started on my tattoo. But maybe things are different now as that was two years ago, and based from the inquiries I get from here and from my friends, I’m sure a lot of people want to get tattooed by Whang Od and they get more visitors day on day.

    1. We are planning to go there this December 30- January 2 and spend the new year’s holiday exploring the traditional culture. Any chance someone’s planning the same thing?

    2. Hi Karen, me together with my friends are planning to have this tattoo this feb. no specific date yet, but we will surely visit whang od. Can we join you?

  3. The peeling and scabbing is a normal thing for new Tattoos. But keep in mind that while it is healing you should never put any form of lotion or cream as this causes your tattoo to fade easily. More so with traditional tattoo’s where soot is used as ink. I suggest you use Terramycin or Vandol. It heals and dries up the tattoo faster! It’ll also ensure that your tattoo looks new and fresh for a very long time!

  4. This is very informative. If you are worried about the pain and of getting an infection after your session, you can take an anti-inflammatory drug and antibiotic. I usually prescribed Mefenamic acid every 6 hours for 5 days and Amoxicillin 500mg every 8 hours for 7 days. Do not self medicate, consult a Physician and tell Him if you have allergies to certain medications.

    For prevention of Tetanus infection, if you have not receive a booster dose of tetanus toxoid after your DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus) shot, then get it done.

    Prevention and prophylactic treatment is better than cure.

    1. What are the chances of hep c or hiv? Im really bothered about the cloth Apo Fang Od uses to wipe the blood or the ink out from the skin.

    2. Hi Doc Jhoe, i got my traditional tattoo by Apo Whang-Od last May 15. It was an impromptu decision to have one. Is it still advisable to have vaccine? What kind of vaccine?
      It was my very first tattoo and i dont have any idea about vaccines for this though she used “tinik ng suha” according to our guide. Thanks for your response.

  5. Thanks for this really informative and unbiased review. Just want to ask if Apo Whang Od can tattoo my name in Alibata/Baybayin design? Or should i just only choose the traditional designs? will go there this APEC weekend. Ready to get my first tatt on my upper back. Really hoping i can bear the pain. Haha. Thanks for answering my query. 🙂

    1. Hi, Peter. I’m very sorrry to have been able to reply so late. I’m not really sure about the Alibata as I was told that she only tattoos traditional ones. Although she has tattooed our guide, Kuya Francis (who’s a local) with a mountain tattoo in the shape of a woman. How was your trip? Hope you had a wonderful and rich experience!

  6. Wow! I always admire people who get their tattoos this way!!! It’s not for me definitely. I’m already cringing just from reading your article, especially that Day 12 photo. But that is a beautiful tattoo. 🙂

  7. hi! this is so helpful. i got mine last friday. saved me from a trip to the doctor because i thought the graying stage wasn’t normal. may i ask, how did you protect your tattoo when taking a bath? I read that you shouldn’t soak the tattoo and that it should be rinsed with unscented soap. thank you so much!

    1. Hi, Gingy! Sorry to have been able to reply so late. I’m guessing your tattoo must’ve healed a lot by now, depending on what you did. I got mine on my wrist, as you may have seen, so I really only had to raise it and use one hand when I was taking a bath back then. How’s yours?

  8. Great post! It all answered my questions and finally decided to have one for my bday! Planning to leave Manila on Dec 5 or 6.. pasabay naman.. pwede? thank you

  9. I am here in Baguio and trotting off to Buscalan tomorrow for Apo Whang Od… I already am machine inked and (two big ones) yet her tattoo method really scares me, looks like it hurts like hell. (I have a rib tattoo btw) I am more terrified after reading your post. 😦 wewww.

  10. Hi mam nice tattoo po galing din kmi don Dec.3-5 worth it ung pagod,mdjo risky sa habal2x, mainit at makikipot na daan sa gilid ay bangin.3d/2n po kmi nag stay mdjo mdmi rng umakyat c apo wang od pagod at hndi maganda ang pakiramdam kya nung pauwi n kmi xa po msmo nag tattoo samin..yes makati po tlga unlike sa machine tats 3 days lng ok na .. more blessings and have a safe trip sa mga aakyat.salamat po kay kuya charlie sapag asikaso samin.

    1. Hi pwede ba mahingi yung number nung nag guide sa inyo?
      Hows your tattoo so far.? Ganun oarin ba yung cloth na ginamit nya sa lahat ng tinatatoan nya? Thank you.

  11. Wow., all your responses were all of great help., I am planning to go and experience the tradition March 6-7 this year. This is going to be my first time in the north, anyone can help me to find a guide on this trip to meet apo Whang-Od., Thank you in advance.,

  12. Hello!
    First of all i really appreciate you putting all the information of your experience getting the tattoo for people who are interested in getting a traditional tattoo. It’s really helpfull and so i want to thank you for that and also that you are willing to awnser people’s questions.
    My question is how long it took to get tattooed by Whang-od. Im kinda scared i won’t be able to bare the pain after a while ( i think i kinda have a low pain tolerance) eventhough i want to push through till the end. By kinda getting An idea of how long it would take to get it, i might be less scared of going through the proces.
    Getting this tattoo is still a very important thing for me so if it does take long i don’t think i am willing to change my mind getting the tattoo its Just to get a better view on how long i have to bare the pain.

    I have to appologize if my english isn’t that great, english is not my first language but im trying my best 🙂
    I will be so thankfull if you’ll find the time to awnser my question!

  13. Hi thank you for this, it gave me good insights on what will happen after the experience. i am planning to go there this April. can you suggest me a better way to go there? im from manila 🙂

    your response will help a lot :))))

  14. Hello Everyone!

    Just got my Travelers Tattoo 😛

    Galing kame dun last Feb 20 – 21 2016. May nakuha kaming package tour papunta sa But-but tribe (Village of Apo Whang – od) All in tour (Van, accomodations and local tour guide + food). You could message me through FB for the Contact Numbers 🙂

    Update ko lang po para sa mga gustong pumunta, Pagdating po ng Village una nyung hanapin si Kuya Jun, sya po ang incharge sa listahan ng mga gustong magpa tattoo. tatlo na po silang mambabatok; Apo Whang – od, Grace, Elyang (The Grand Master, Young Master and Grand Daughter as their tarp says). Meron silang wooden tablet kung saan kayo mamimili ng Tribal design na gusto nyung ipa tattoo pero pwede din naman po ang personalize (yung sa kasama ko personalize design yung kanya, P1000). Pwede din po ang Alibata. Para sa Meaning ng bawat designs ask Kuya Jun.

    About po sa price, P500 yung pinaka murang narinig ko and P1000 yung pinaka mahal nung nandun kame. Disregard kung kanino sa tatlo kayo nagpabatok si Apo Whang-od padin po ang magde-decide ng price :). Just a tip para sa magpapalagay ng scorpions, centipede or mountain ranges, bibilangin ni Apo Whang-od kung ilang points, at curves ang nilagay sainyo for the price, a P100 for each curves and points.

    May instructions din na naka post sa tattoo shop ni Apo about sa healing process ng tattoo be sure na makita nyu yun. Day 3 na nung so far so good pa naman :P.

    Lastly, Sobrang Joker si Apo prepare yourself na ma culture shock hahah at para sa mga lalake na magpapalagay ng batok beware of Apo Whang-od’s past lovelife looks could be deceiving hahaha. I learned it the hard way 😦

    Hope it helps.
    Good luck and Enjoy!

    1. Hi Jonathan, can you please share the instruction posted on the healing process? I didn’t see it. I got inked last May 15 only. Thanks.

  15. Managed to have the Tattoo last week from Wang Od (or Fang Od in the local dialect) and Grace.
    Just some thoughts I wish to share once you guys are there.

    1. For girls, please don’t wear skimpy clothes and short shorts within the village. This is considered disrespectful to the culture that they have. There was a girl (actually 2) who got reprimanded by Wang Od when we went there. What’s norm to you might not be norm to them. Respect them please.

    2. Drink the coffee. It’s considered welcoming their hospitality (they are really nice people).

    3. For the tattoo, listen to what Wang Od says on where to place it. She has a practical sense and years of experience to back it up.

    4. Grace, the grand daughter of Wang Od is equally good. So take the opportunity to get inked by her too since you are there already!

    5. Don’t bypass the guides. They are the ones determining and managing the Q. Look for Amboy (he is the care taker of the house where Wang Od does the tattoo- PM me if anyone needs help contacting him).

    6. Allocate at least 3 days on the location for this trip. You never know how long the Q might be.

    7. Bring soft foods. There will be a time that during the session, Wang Od might be hungry. She won’t mind being fed on the course of what she is doing.

    8. Please bring your trash with you when you leave THE MOUNTAINS.

    9. Take a bath without heating the water at least once.

    10. Cherish your tattoo.

    And lastly, enjoy the experience. The fact that there is no signal in the mountains helps a lot to refresh both body and soul.

    1. Hi sphere. I plan on going to the Philippines in a few weeks for a month and am looking to have a tattoo done by Whang Od. I am unsure of how to PM you but if you could link me with Amboy or a guide to help me find my way from Manila I would be forever great ful. Please email me at lsharris07@yahoo.com if you are able to. Thank you!

      1. Hello.I just went to visit Apo and Grace twice—last week of May and second week of June. For guide, I highly recommend Lorena, Grace’s bestfriend 09074834074. Grace’s homestay is also the best in Buscalan.

    2. Hello Sphere. Do you still have Amboy’s contact number? Thank you in advance and nice review and reminders you shared.

  16. hi mimiyako, I had whang-od tattoo in my arms more than 3 months ago. I just want to know if same results to yours now ganun b tlga may butas butas pa rin ang skin? I don’t mind it but am curious kung mag heal pa din kaya mag smooth yun skin.

    1. Yup, I had mine for two years and it still has deep holes. Like scars with ink. I think it’s really like that since not a needle was used. So the pine really punctures the skin, permanently I think.

  17. Reblogged this on Larra Nima and commented:
    This is a really informative article with a lot of comments on the details of how you can go on about getting a tattoo from Fang-Od/Wang-Od.
    I’ve had this recent obsession with her as I do have a sense of patriotism and a love for my homeland and that I’m into tattoos. I love that the history of tattooing dates back from very ancient cultures that believed in animism (in modern times, this has been rejected…though I believe in it and I do feel that it has its meanings that are in tune with the Spirit of the World). It took me a while to come into terms with my own identity as a Filipino/Filipina and to find its wealth within me after everything that came with the downsides of civilization.
    But…as the Buddist saying goes: “all sin already contains grace, all youngsters already contain oldsters, all babies contain death, all the dying contain eternal life.”
    I know there’s still plenty of groups out there that hold a certain sort of bitterness towards colonization, which isn’t completely invalid: there are plenty of fucked up shit that came with it…BUT along with these things, came new breaths of life, meaning, and Spirit within the realms of man-made things. Because of technology, we are able to express ourselves in various many ways…
    I would still get tattooed by her if I have the chance: yes, admittedly it has to do with her status as the last legendary Female, Tribal Mambabatok…but also, because I believe that whatever history her life holds, will probably pervade, in Spirit, during the process (a very animist sensibility).
    Having said that: as an aspiring Filipina tattoo artist residing in Canada and having been exposed to various cultures and subcultures, I am thankful for the technology that I have at my disposal and I am thankful over the facts that I do not have to use soot (modern inks are organic) and that I have things like alcohol as a disinfectant.
    I would like to learn the traditional way eventually because the thought of having the freedom to tattoo in remote places without the aid of electricity sounds like freedom to me.
    When I was a little kid, my parents and I stayed in rural areas of the Philippines that were made of wood/banig patterns for walls and beds with mosquito nets.
    If I can tattoo in those settings, I would be in heaven. My heart glows even as I write about that, thinking about it.
    In any case: this is also one of the reasons why I really like the Filipino festivities called Sinulog and/or Ati-Atihan – both symbolizes the mergence of indigenous cultures along with modernization brought about (mostly) by the Spaniards (if you crack a book, you will find that we have been colonized like A LOT).
    But what I love about Filipinos, is that, we are pretty accepting of what comes and goes. It is not without its brushes of incoherence and discord (much with any other mergence), but for the most part..at least from what I’ve learned and come embody within my best efforts, is that because of the colonizations, we have learned how to use what comes to our advantage and let whatever gunk leave our hearts.
    From what I gather, and this is probably the patriotism speaking: we are a pretty resilient and emotionally rich folk.
    I don’t wanna say I’m proud to be a Filipino because I was born Filipino… but I am proud to have come to this understanding of my own ancient heritage and thank the Spaniards for bringing in la pación into my system.

    1. Hello Xyla, is the weather okay in Kalinga in the month of June? I’m planning to visit Apo Whang-Od by the month of June. Maulan na po ba nun?

  18. Hi guys,

    Saw some enquiries on whether she can do tattoos outside the traditional tribal motifs. The answer is yes. I modified mine. The catch is she did it for me only after my friend sketched it out on my back. Thank god he’s a graphic artist.

  19. Thanks for this. Very informative. I haven’t had a long chat w a friend who went to apo whang od twice. Nonetheless, still unsure about getting the tattoo because I have low pain tolerance and imagining myself fainting haha Albeit, I love the tradition and how that this is around thousand years old. Well, I’d still love to visit there in the near future. Thanks.

  20. Any idea, since shes aging, of shes gonna stop tattooing soon? So its my understanding that her grandaughter and others are now performing them as well correct? I want to travel there in December 2016

    1. Hello.When we interviewed her for a foreign project,she said that she might stop by next year due to poor eyesight.

  21. sa mga planong punta sa amin sa buscalan para magpatatoo kay Apo whang od pm me in this # 09467637947 am raffy here in buscalan,,,,, to guide you there,,, thanks po… welcome po kayo sa buscalan,,,,

  22. sincerest apologies for the long delayed reply.. you can reach Amboy through: +639169686835. If he doesn’t reply, there is a high chance he is up in the mountains (no signal). leave a message and he will be more than helpful to guide you through.

    still am extremely proud of fang ods’ work of art. 🙂

  23. I already have Apo Whang-od’s batok, a centipede and from her daughter which was my own design, a mountain. My fellow mountaineers and I are coming back this August 25-26 for another one or two. Hope to see you guys around at the Buscalan Village. Btw we are from Cebu! 🙂

  24. hi guys! tin here..is it ok to go there December? cause me and my friend are planing to go to apo whang od dec. 1 2 3 maybe.. if any one wants to come with us it’s our pleasure, the more the merrier. thank you!

  25. hi guys! tin here..is it ok to go there December? cause me and my friend are planing to go to apo whang od dec. 1 2 3 maybe.. if any one wants to come with us it’s our pleasure, the more the merrier. thank you! by the way im from Bacolod!

  26. hello! i got my first ink as my breakfast from Emily and the 2nd from Whang Od (on the same day, July27). The one from Emily is healing nicely but one side seems lighter. But it could be due to my impatience that i removed the peeling skin on the 5th day and not letting it fall off by itself. Stupid Decision and don’t do it. Then the one from Whang Od is mostly bumpy and it seems that it’s showing as keloid (day18 now) i hope the skin could flatten out later. (fingers crossed) if not, it could be my skin’s reaction to wound which i can’t change. i hope it will be better after 2 months

  27. Does anyone here planning to go there on November? Im Mai from ilocos sur. I was thinking to go there alone but when I started to compute kung magkano magagastos ko, I realized kelangan ko ng masasabitan.(: So please, if you’re looking also for someone to share with the expenses, please let me know. (: thank you! (:

    1. Hi Mai I’m from Ilocos Norte but too bad I’m not there yet Im planning to go at nana Whang od’s place on October, but the problem is I don’t have accompany, if you want to you can re schedule it and we can help each other about the expenses,

    2. Hi Mai I’m from Ilocos Norte but too bad I’m not there yet Im planning to go at nana Whang od’s place on October, but the problem is I don’t have accompany, if you want to you can re schedule it and we can help each other about the expenses, email me pls jenilamaemanuel@gmail.com

  28. Hi guys pls help. I wanna go there today. How much and does anyone have any contact number of a tour guide there . Thanks.. pls help

  29. Oh my gosh.. thank God you’re safe and that your tattoo turned out beautiful and free from nfection 😂was expecting something really bad, basing from your title. You really got me there! Lol. This isn’t the first time that I’ve stumbled to a post like this and actually your post was the 1st to tell that everything turned out well at the end. Yay!

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