Banaue and the Rice Terraces of Banaue and Batad were absolutely mesmerizing and the initial reason I’d wanted to travel to the Philippines. (I mean aside from sunshine, gorgeous waters, and those cute little monkey things)
The terraces did not disappoint, although the weather was less than cooperative. Rainy season typically starts in June, but my first day we experienced a Flash Flood that was quite destructive although a bit fun to watch from the safety of my balcony… until the power went out for 24 hours… which was less than stellar.
My bus from Manila to Banaue (Buh-Na-Way) had three foreign passengers, and we were conveniently all assigned seats together: Joost from the Netherlands, Richard from U.K., and myself. We would not that surprisingly continue to bump into the same people over and over again throughout the week.
Day 1: arrived in Banaue at 5am, and were picked up by a representative of the hostel. Joost and I were both staying at the same hostel and so when we were told that we wouldn’t be able to check into a bunk until after 11am, we decided to rally and try to enjoy the first day in Banaue despite some massive sleep deprivation. We decided to hike to the rural villages of Tam-An and Poi-Tan which the Tourist Office had said was a 2 hour hike. We figured that two hours was doable and set off!
Tam-An was a tiny little village set up on the hillside below town. We made our way through the village past children playing in the dirt and chickens strutting around welcoming the new day, and down a little dirt path until we arrived at our first rice terraces. Pictures do not do the rice terraces justice, they are so tranquil and beautiful both up-close and from afar. We got a bit lost in the fields trying to find the way to Poi-Tan village but with the help of a few of the local farmers we were set back on track again and again until we’d spotted the village in the valley below.
The Tourism Office and I/We had a bit of miscommunication… as it took 2 hours to get to Poi-Tan Village and nearly 5 hours for the entire trip. I had for some silly reason thought I would find a restaurant or store in one of these villages… but there were stilted huts and livestock and little children running around naked. An amazing experience! But, I hadn’t had a proper meal in nearly 18 hours and thus basically crawled back up the hill to town and food, definitely having gotten into an adventure that was far more strenuous then I’d expected.
The rice terraces are no joke. Most of them in Banaue built nearly 2000 years ago, and they are steep as you navigate your way down and up. Steep, slippery, and did I mention absolutely gorgeous? Views like those make the climb absolutely worth it.
Once back up to the town of Banaue we grabbed lunch and I convinced Joost to go to a museum to learn about the town and rice terrace history, as we were pretty sure we didn’t want to rent a guide for the following days hike. Turns out the huts that we’d seen in the villages are still the same as the huts that were built in the 1800s according to the photos and traditions. The Ifuago people believe in a “waste not want not” mentality and that it is good luck to live in the same huts as your ancestors, and so they don’t rebuild anything, rather they retrofit and mend repairs when needed.
It was starting to rain when we headed into the little museum, and was dumping rain when we left, and there was a full on flash flood within 15 minutes of getting back to our hostel. The flooding was insane, the hill by the hostel completely washed down and the streets were covered with rocks and debris. The power went out before sun down, making the evening an early one, much to my approval for an early bed time.
Day 2: Joost and I booked a Tricycle hire for the day starting at 6:30 am, with my logic being to get a solid hike in before the afternoon rains started. We arrived in Batad around 7:30 and were dropped at the starting point of the trek up to the Batad Terraces. The entire time along the way we hear “you want guide ma’am” , “you don’t have a guide” etc. much to the disapproval of the locals that we hadn’t hired someone to assist us on the trek. I was initially feeling pretty confident in my hiking and navigation skills, but after talking to several people along the way who’d hiked the day before, nearly everyone said a guide was necessary… whelp… too late now!
We grabbed breakfast up at the rim of the terraces looking down into the towns below, and then started the descent. We had two points of navigation, the village in the valley of the Batad Terraces and the viewpoint on the other side of the valley; aside from that, without a guide, it was just a matter of calculated choices to pick the best rice terraces to try to walk on. There were a few wrong turns and a few slips and falls (rice terraces are super slippery) but it was nothing that my trusty Tevas couldn’t handle! The village was much more modernized than the other villages we’d seen in Banaue, but still very very limited resources; the people grow rice for a living, and live very simply, but there was a church in town a few schools and of course homestays and locals trying to make money off of selling souvenirs and snacks to tourists hiking to the terraces and waterfall.
After walking through the village we had the sense that most tourists with a guide didn’t come this way, and we were completely foreign although not unwelcome. We climbed up to the stores near the descent to the waterfall and took in the views. The way down to the waterfall was difficult to say the least. A path only wide enough for one way travel, and to make matters more tricky, it was painting day! So the railing was completely covered in fresh green paint! Steep stairs, no railing, and occasional two-way traffic down very steep slopes, but the view at the bottom was absolutely stunning. The waterfall is huge, and there is a large area to swim in under the waterfall if you are brave enough to swim out into the cold water on shaky legs after all of those stairs!
The way back up and I did NOT get along. Not having enough protein in my diet these last few months combined with the insanely humid and hot weather has made stairs my nemesis this trip. I finally made it to the top where I found Joost and Richard (English guy from the bus) chit chatting away while enjoying a smoke. Joost was not shy about leaving me to my misery anytime there was stairs, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way, haha!
We climbed up to the observation view points that gave some stunning views of the terraces from higher up, and then the way back to our starting point was now completely uncharted territory as we were returning back out about 1500 meters higher than where we’d come down. This resulted in a good jungle trek full of caterpillars, bugs, lizards and of course mosquitos, and a few waterfalls we had to climb over before making it back to the top! The woman who’d served us breakfast was absolutely shocked to find out that we’d made the trek to the waterfalls and back up in such a short amount of time and without a guide. In all honesty, we were actually feeling pretty thankful to have made it so safely through the journey, as it was much more strenuous and difficult than we’d ever imagined and it could have been a lot worse as far as slips and falls.
On the way back to Banaue the tricycle was taking us to another viewpoint and when we got to the road there was a truck completely stuck in the mud blocking the way. The rains have been pretty rough at the beginning of their raining season (the two days we were there) and so the two-way road was already blocked to one lane in this particular spot, so the truck was blocking both sides of traffic. It was entertaining to see them get this truck out of the mud; after several broken ropes and cables, a giant Bobcat tractor lifted it off the road way, breaking the trucks back fender, but getting traffic moving.
I found out yesterday from English Richard that the day after I’d left Sagada to get back to Banaue and Manila on the bus route, that another brutal landslide had trapped a passenger van under a heap of mud and rubble blocking the entire route back to manila and stopping traffic for over 6 hours. I was SO happy I’d left the day before as he’d missed his flight to Kota Kinabalu because of the accident and weather.
Interestingly, a lot of travellers take very similar paths around Asia. I’ve crossed paths with people several times who are following a similar route plan as I am along their own adventures. English Richard is also in Kota Kinabalu for a few days, although its looking doubtful that we will be meeting up at all while both here.
Currently in Kota Kinabalu, having an amazing time on the islands with the fishes and monkeys, and will have to send out some pictures soon! My phone took a bit of a swim yesterday and is currently in a rice bag, fingers crossed it works in a day or two when I attempt to turn it on. 😦