I was on an challenging (but beautiful) motorbike ride through the massive region of Samar, Philippines. I wanted to stop by Calbayog, because I read there were 2 beautiful waterfalls in the mountains there. Bangon Falls looked pretty nice, but I was really interested in photographing majestic Tarangban Falls further up the trail...
Words & Photos By Nathan Allen
Don't Miss the Sign Post in Barangay Tinaplacan
I had actually already missed it once before on this trip. I wanted to stop by on my way to Allen, in northern Samar. Since it's my family name, I always wondered what the place was like.
Anyhow, I ended up missing the turn for Bangon Falls completely. Perhaps I was just too focused on riding safely - there was so much construction going on, and the rainy season was also starting.
Well, this time I paid more attention. In the drizzling rain, I saw the sign for Bangon Falls, and started up the road through the village. I was struck by the beautiful creek scene above....it looks like a volcanic lava rock flow or something...and I love the banana trees and tropical plants as well.
It was already 4:30pm by the time I arrived at the trail head for Bangon Falls. The locals looked a bit surprised to see me arriving alone. By now it was raining a bit harder. They told me I needed a guide to go the falls, and that it was too late (and rainy) that day. I was disappointed. I had come all this way, and even if I wanted to wait until the next day, there weren't any hotels or anywhere to stay.
An Offer To Stay in the Barangay Hall
We got to know each other pretty quickly...that's one good thing about traveling solo. It's much easier for people to approach you and make a connection, but also easier for you to reach out to them, as you might be needing some human contact after hours and hours of isolation. Haha.
Anyhow, the Barangay (neighborhood) Captain didn't want me to miss out on the waterfalls, so they were kind to invite me to stay overnight there in the meeting hall! I followed kuya (Filipino word for a friend, like brother) down a narrow, cement path through the village.
This community seemed just as excited to have me there as I was to be there. They really took good care of me...setting up a nice bed and a meal of chicken and rice. We drank together, and had a bit of cultural exchange, as I was keen on learning some Filipino (and even the local Waray language).
The next morning, sunlight crept through my window, and I was able to see the view were I was staying for the first time. It was a quaint little fishing village right on the coast!
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I said my thank yous and goodbyes, and started back up the windy road to the trail head.
It was a nice day - no rain this time! I hoped to get some nice pictures.
Below, I came across what looked like a "coconut avalanche" in the middle of the road. Haha. I still don't know why they were there, perhaps they were drying out. This is one reason why it pays to be very careful when riding a motorbike in the Philippines.
The road to the trail head is just a few kilometers at most. before I knew it, I had parked the bike and was starting up the trail with my guides.
Water Slide Rock
Just before Bangon Falls, there was a section of slick rocks with a channel of water flowing through them....creating a water slide of sorts. Some local kids were enjoying it, but kuya showed me that you don't have to be so young to enjoy it!
I needed more convincing, though...after I watched his hips knock into the sides of the rock on the way down, I decided to avoid the bruises. Haha. I was already sore enough after countless hours on the bike in the hot sun.
Bangon Falls can be reached quite quickly and easily. Honestly, it was a bit underwhelming. Ironic that this is the most popular waterfall in the area, but I guess it makes sense, because it's super accessible, and has a good swimming area where locals can come cool off. You can hike to the upper portion of the falls, but don't get too excited about it.
Like so many things in life...good things come to those who put forth the effort. It was time to continue to Tarangban Falls...
Jungle Hike to the Upper Waterfalls
Really, it's not even a long hike. Certainly is beautiful, though. The trail consists of a mild climb through jungle ferns and coconut trees. You may actually find some locals harvesting coconuts along the way!
As a photographer, I pay a lot of attention to light. I studied Google maps before my trek, and estimated that the best time to take photos of Tarangban Falls might be early afternoon. However, most locals I asked told me that the morning was the best. When we arrived, I realized that it really was late afternoon when the sun was in the ideal location for pictures.
Now I just had to draw my tour out so that I could get the photos I hoped for. How to keep my guides occupied?
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Well, one way is to keep buying them drinks and snacks while I take photos of the surrounding area. At one point, (as requested), I bought them cigarettes, too. Scary how cheap those are in the Philippines. Anyhow, we had fun eating and drinking with some local guys, and I enjoyed taking photos of the enchanting jungle scenery.
Tarangban Falls - One of the Best in the Philippines
Finally, our patience paid off. At around 1pm, the sun was approaching the perfect angle, and Tarangban Falls revealed itself - in all its cascading glory. I call waterfalls like this "water world", because the river finds so many paths off the mountain. It's quite wide, and if you climb up onto the rocks, it completely envelops you.
Here is a long exposure photo I took at the base of the waterfall. My Sony RX100 has image stabilization and a built in ND filter, so I was able to take this picture handheld! All these pictures were taken with this camera, if you're in Asia you can check it out on Lazada (If not in Asia, Amazon link is at bottom of page):
The Climb to Upper Tarangban Falls
I travel in Flip Flops (tsinelas, as Filipinos call them), so I don't always have the best traction. That, combined with my advanced age (and lack of health insurance) makes me climb very cautiously. Haha. I was proud of myself for getting up here, as difficult as it was.
In an instant, that pride was shattered when a 10 year-old local girl climbed past me with ease (and without shoes on!). She was by herself, and walked to edge of the falls to appreciate the view (and contemplate the meaning of life?). What a badass. I hope her parents are proud.
At the top of the falls there was a natural pool, and not a tourist to be found. I took a refreshing swim up there, and snapped some nature photographs. These frogs were easy to spot by the water's edge, and if I moved very slowly, I could get close enough to take a good photo (taken with Sony RX100 iii ).
(Click photos for more info)
After this, we hiked back down the mountain and were offered some sinabado (?) by the local authorities at the trail head. This is some kind of fish or shrimp paste that people enjoy with rice. I haven't acquired a taste for it yet:)
We said goodbye and took the motorbike to the last destination of the day - a hidden waterfall nearby, known as Larik Falls.
You probably won't be able to find this tiny trail on the side of the road...you'll need a guide to point it out. It's a quick, steep descent into this cool canyon, where the flowing water has carved a beautiful natural pool into the rock. Apparently it is possible to dive below the surface and swim through an underwater hole into another pool!
I couldn't experience it, because unfortunately I had my bag and all my gear with me, and it had just started raining again. Besides, I needed to start the long ride to Marabut, where I would be staying for the night. Next time, Larik Falls!
(continued below, but I do hope you'll consider following along with me...)
How To Get To Bangon / Tarangban Falls
Domestic flight to Calbayog come from Manila and Cebu...and from Calbayog City you could take a trike for 400-500 pesos, but there is also a public jeepney which is 10 times cheaper.
Of course you can do what I did if you're feeling adventurous...fly to Tacloban and rent a motorbike or car from Haven's Rentals...
There is a 10 peso entry fee when you turn off of the highway, and then a 200 peso guide fee. I agree with other bloggers who thought this was a bit expensive...especially for those that are traveling solo. 200 pesos is worth it if the guide takes you all the way to the top of Tarangban Falls, though.
Be advised: I thought the local guy was just being nice when I first arrived in the rain. He took me over to the water's edge so I could snap a quick photo, but the next day after my real tour, I was asked to pay an additional guide fee (+200) for that first day. I was also encouraged to "donate as much parking money as I wanted" suddenly when it was time to leave.
Tourists may feel like they are just a walking ATM machine for the locals...so that's something I hope they'll be mindful of as tourism develops here.
The Uncertain Future of Bangon & Tarangban
While I was assured it was cleaned up each day, I was sad to see locals and tourists throwing their trash directly on the ground at the base of the waterfalls.
I also heard talk of "developing" the waterfalls for tourism...which could mean creating unsightly concrete viewing platforms, at the top of stunning Tarangban Falls. It could make it more convenient for tourists, but the increase in foot traffic could put strain on the natural environment. Obstructing the beautiful view of the waterfall with bridges / platforms would be a shame, too.
I think tourists love to see natural spaces kept natural...as much as possible. Right?
Anyway, just my two cents.
Where to Stay
There are no places to stay in this area, so you'll need to stay in Calbayog City, about 45 minutes away. Here are some options:
Again, thanks to the local community for all the wonderful hospitality. Tarangban Falls really is now one of my top 3 waterfalls anywhere in the Philippines, and I loved Samar in general. Such a great adventure...do check out more from Samar below!
- Nathan Allen
Thanks for reading, and feel free to share!
More Adventures in Samar, Philippines