As we intended to spend some extended time in the Philippines we decided to explore the north luzon area before we got to the islands so we could get a better feel for the country. We also like to work for our beach time; theres no pleasure without pain. Plus we figured 1 week of strenuous mainland activity equates to several weeks of beach time right?
When we were told by other backpackers that the rice terraces in north luzon were truly beautiful although we were in no doubt about it, we could not start to picture or imagine what these terraces were like for ourselves. Looking at pictures gave us a general idea but this alone was not even close to the actual experience. The experience was far better. Being there with these terraces in front of you was amazing; it all looked unworldly.
It therefore goes without saying, if you are one of those wowing at amazing pictures from across the globe, instead of just looking at them, you should consider visiting the sights for real. It doesn't have to be a big trip but just a few weeks at a time.
order to get to Banaue (pronounced "Ba-now-we") from Manila, we caught an overnight bus, leaving at 9pm arriving in Banaue at a reasonable morning time; 7am. As 2 other travellers (Anna from Germany and Jacob from Denmark) also from our hostel were catching the same night bus we paired up with them. Sleep wasn't great, but we didn't expect anything more.
Arriving in Banaue, we knew we had to register to do some trekking so after we found a room we went straight to the tourism office to register and get some infomation and advice. In the end we agreed that we would take the tour to the Batad rice terraces (600pesos each including transportation, tour guide and the 4/5 hr trek) the following day with the tourism office but would begin with a DIY rice terrace trek on the same day we arrived. The 4 of us agreed we would walk the paved road to the Banaue view point and then take the more challenging trail that climbed up, down and across the rice terraces on the way back. We were told this would roughly take 4 hrs.
First however we needed sleep. 1 hr
of it. Not that we slept properly or it had much of an effect on us but after an hour we were off again ready to start our own trek.
After asking for directions we found ourselves climbing the rice terraces within 10 minutes or so. This was strange as we were told the walk to the view point should be on a paved road for 45 minutes. In the end we figured we must have been using the 3hr trail we intended to use on the way back. Even though we were heading in the right direction, we still asked ourselves what chance we had of successfully navigating this trail if we were using a completely different path to the one we intended to use. Either way we kept on moving. After 20 minutes of heavy panting and non stop sweating, we had climbed the stairs going up the rice terraces. From there we weaved in and out of the terraces following some quite narrow and windy paths that followed the edge of the terraces. Some paths were really narrow requiring a lot of balance (no telling Chris slipped in a rice terrace but luckily only got
his foot wet) and sometimes we felt that we were walking through the farmers back yards but we kept on. Asking some local farmers along the way reassured us we were heading in the right direction and so we carried on merrily into the expanse.
On the way however we spotted 2 small snakes in the rice terraces and someone in our group commented that there must be larger ones around. Not that we wanted to see one. But we did. A thick brown snake 1 meter long fighting its way up a river path. We all stopped to watch the snake struggling its upstream battle when all of a sudden it stood up as if going to attack us. We all screamed and ran as fast as we could along the rice terraces until we were out of harms way.
The snake was so close and had us all shook up. Needless to say we were all super observant for the rest of the trail.
The final leg to the view point was the hardest part of the trail as we had to navigate down a group of steps to cross the river
between the mountains then back up another set of stairs to the top of the opposite mountain. This was then followed by a few more up and down stretches before we finally reached the view point. This was a serious legs workout, we could feel the pain but felt we would be rewarded for our efforts.
The viewpoint was amazing although it did not catch our breath as much as it should have, as after-all we did take the scenic trail to begin with, and were treated to the views throughout which really wowed us, stopping occasionally to really take it in. Either way it was still impressive at the view point so we took some obligatory panoramic pictures and group pictures with our newly acquired selfie stick before we made our journey back.
Walking the main road on the way back, the 4 of us happily conversed until one small dog (with a bad case of small dog syndrome) came barking at us. We carried on walking thinking it would get bored of barking at us. But instead this dog's insistence appeared to spark an interest in more dogs all walking towards us violently barking.
About 4 in total. Oh no we were in trouble. P and Anna shrieked and clung on to one another while Jacob stood still and Chris tried to bat away the dogs with his water bag. Not a good idea. They became more vicious and closed in on us. In what felt like a lifetime a local villager finally came to our rescue and shooed the dogs away. Thats all it took for them. But for us this was our 2nd near miss of the day; What is it with these savage animals?
Back on the trail we arrived back at Banaue town 4 hrs later both tired and hungry. For food we ate at the touristy 7th heaven perched on a hill with amazing views as we recalled the days events.
Later that evening the two of us, Anna and Jacob drank a few beers whilst playing some card games. During a game we were invited by a local lady to a cultural community performance down the road. "Why not?" we thought. Not quite what we expected however, we'd thought it was going to be more of a community event for locals but it was
more or less just for tourists. The 4 of us were the only audience members. We did however manage to round up one more tourist from our guesthouse, not that it really made much of a difference.
Not really sure what to expect; we were treated to a set of traditional dances that take place at different times of their lives; when a man comes back from hunting, when a man asks a woman to marry him and the wedding. In between different performances things were explained to us such as the dressed or outfits that varied slightly in colour for the females according to class with the lowest class wearing black and the more well off classes wearing more intricate designs. Overall, although it was touristy it was still delightful as it was humorous and informative at the same time. We left a small donation and all slept like babies.
Next day; Batad rice terraces. Not quite getting our fix of rice terraces we wanted more and were told that the rice terraces in Batad were completely different. The 4 of us decided to get up earlier for breakfast the following morning because although we
Female worker chewing betel nut
Mainly the men who chew this. Apparently it helps keep you warm during the cooler weather and also makes you stronger!
were tired, we were fully aware of the energy necessary to climb the rice terraces. The 4 of us all met again an hour and a half before the trip began and ordered our breakfast. Half an hr passed. Where was our food?. Another half an hour. We started to panic as we had to meet outside the tourism office in 20 minutes. We informed the restaurant and asked if they could bag up our breakfast (omelettes and toasted egg sandwiches etc). With only a minute to spare we were given our bagged meals and arrived at the office just as everyone was boarding the bus. You can see where this is going. Off we went on our hour journey to Batad. We apologised to the rest of our group (with 14 in total on this trip) for the food smells and tucked in to our breakfast's. Well not all of us, P's was missing. Dammit.
Arriving in Batad, we started our trail on a paved road on the top of a mountain. We therefore had to walk down a very steep road to get to the top of the rice terraces. Soon after we started an enclosed
jungle like trail all downwards but not too exhausting. On the way we got talking to 2 more really nice travellers on the tour Dennis (from Germany) at the end if his 7 month trip and Matt (from London but living in Australia).
Before we got our first glimpses of the rice terraces we had to order our food for later. P ordered the chicken curry with rice Chris the tuna pizza. Although nothing like pizza, Chris enjoyed his meal but P was not too keen on the chicken within her dish.
When we got our first glimpse of the rice terraces we were blown away. The rice terraces here were amazing. All enclosed by mountains with neat lines and curves forming the rice terraces all a very vibrant green. I know we always say everything blew us away but like we said seeing is believing. In a way, we preferred these more to the Banaue rice terraces, (not that they were not impressive) we were just taken away by the expanse of the terraces here. They were everywhere you looked. When we looked at the mountain tops all the way down to the lower valley,
to the corners of the mountains; they were all sliced into layers of land creating the rice terraces.
Our guide informed us that the rice terraces here were created around 2000 years ago. They are passed on through family generations as time goes by with the average family owning 3 patches with a total of 200+ families having patches here. The seeds are planted and harvested twice a year and provide the family with over 6 months worth of rice.
The rice grown is not for profit but purely to make ends meet. You could see this was no easy work. Plus there are snakes in the terraces which we were all to aware of from the day before and our guide explained that many farmers will carry a machete just in case they had any encounters.
The trek through the terraces proved to be a downward climb to the valley below, down huge uneven cement steps or down sides of walls with small rocks jutting out of the wall (meant to be used as steps). The scenery we passed was purely idyllic.
The descent continued round the bottom of the valley
and down some more huge steep rocks until we eventually reached a beautiful waterfall. We were all very hot from the last 2.5 hours of trekking and even though it was mainly a downward climb we were all delighted to be able to rest at the ice cold waterfall below. We swam a little (all except Chris who had forgot his swimmers and passed on the opportunity to go nude) and dried off in the sun before awaiting our 2 hr climb up. Did we say UP? Yes it was all upwards from here.
The climb back was tough, soo much harder than coming down. Not much talking followed and the climb had us both questioning the level of fitness we thought we had gained as we struggled for breath. Sometimes we had to stop and let others pass us by as we could not catch our own breath. The steps were steep and the burn in our legs made us think it was impossible to climb any further. But we did, focusing on each step at a time and looking up (occasionally) to see what we had left to climb until we reached the bottom of the
rice terrace valley. After a short rest we climbed some more for over an hour, again sweating profusely and exposed directly to the sun's heavy beams. Although it was tough, whilst in the valley we did not take for granted our beautiful surrounds. This led to a mistaken step for Chris, falling in the rice terraces (not again) followed by Jacob doing the same shortly after. The clouds in the sky provided a beautiful backdrop to the terraces on the way back and we did not miss the opportunity to capture it.
Arriving at the restaurant at the top was much needed and the 6 of us (Dennis and Matt now included) grouped together, ate, chatted away and shared plans to go to Sagada the following day.
Like I said the pictures never really do a place like this justice so if our pictures are only half decent, imagine what this place was really like in real life.
The remainder of the trek took about 45 minutes (still uphill) and had the whole group spread out as we took the uphill climb at our own pace until we reached the jeepney on the way
back. The 2 of us joined some others and sat on the top of the jeepney for the journey back to Banaue. The views from up there were amazing. The bus rounded the mountains and took its downhill journey at a much faster speed than you would expect but we held on tight and enjoyed the ride home nevertheless.
Later that night the 6 of us and a group of others from the trek all met up together and had dinner at 7th heaven (again), all delighted with todays experiences, the scenery and the fact that we had survived those horrendous steps. Now we understood what the t-shirts meant that read "I Survived The Rice Terraces in Batad!!"
overnight bus from Manila to Banaue 9hrs/450p.
Peoples lodge 500p for a double
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