The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

Death by Hanging: Sagada’s cliffside coffins

Written By: herbrunbridge - May• 09•10

Death from above

At over 5,000 feet in altitude, and accessible only by roads that are fit for off-roading, the visitor really has to want to come to the Philippines village of Sagada. In addition to Christina Aben’s Ganduyan Museum, the cliffside and cave coffin sites are the biggest draws in this small, quiet hillside town. For hundreds of years, locals have buried their people, wrapped in fetal positions, in tiny coffins that have been stacked away from churches. To get to Echo Valley, where a number of coffins aree displayed, one actually has to traverse a church cemetery. Roughly a 15 minute walk down a gorge, the visitor is rewarded with a fully-dressed cliff of coffins, each of which is held up by two metal spikes driven into the cliff face. There is room for future generations too, as spike holes have been driven below the lowermost caskets, awaiting new residents. 

A little further down the main road, one encounters the Lumiang Burial Cave, where dozens of coffins have been stacked near the cave opening. Again, there are plenty of spots for new arrivals. 

Overall, we found the excruciating drive to Sagada worth the trip. Aben’s museum is unique in the world, and death rituals are a fascinating element of any culture, whether you’re talking about Vienna’s wonderful Bestattungs Museum, or Bangkok’s grisly Siriraj Hospital Museum.

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