Want to walk in the footsteps of the ancient indigenous people of the Philippines? Interested in culture and history? Then I suggest you visit the Ifugao region north of Manila. You will be able to walk through 2000 year old rice terraces, built with minimal equipment by locals whose descendants still plant rice and vegetables on the terraces today.
How to get there?
From Manila, you can take an overnight bus to Banaue. There are 3 bus companies departing from the University of Saint Thomas/ Sampaloc area in Manila every night (9 or 10pm).
The Ohayami bus I used to get to Banaue departed at 10pm, was equipped with (basic) wifi and stopped twice so that people could get food or use a restroom (fare 450 PHP). I highly recommend you book the ticket in advance, as the buses tend to fill up quickly.
If you are taller than average, you might want to consider the Florida line for comfort as the seats are slightly bigger.
No matter which company you use, make sure to take some blankets or sweaters with you on the bus. They have air conditioning and it will get quite chilly at night.
Where to stay?
There are many hostels and inns to choose from and the first thing to decide is whether you want to stay in Banaue or in Batad.
Banaue is a slightly bigger village where the buses will drop you off and you can tour to different viewpoints in order to see the rice terraces. However the actual “amphitheater” is in Batad, which is a short jeepney or tricycle ride away. You will have to hike a short distance, too, so be aware of that before booking a lodge in Batad.
Personally, I recommend Randy’s Brookside Inn. This is a family-run B&B in Banaue with very comfortable rooms, hot showers and good breakfast. I stayed in a single room with breakfast (for 300 PHP). They picked me up from the bus and drove me to the Inn where I could check in immediately and have breakfast. Randy then wanted to know how much time I had in Banaue and helped me plan my days so I could make the most of my time. He can advise you on transportation and helps you with booking buses or getting jeepneys. He also employs friends and sons of friends as tricycle drivers who can drive you around Banaue or to Batad.
What to do?
Obviously, you want to see the rice terraces. In Banaue, there are a few viewpoints along the road running through the village and you can either hike up or go by tricycle to get a good view. There are little shops along the way and my personal favourites were the many wood craft shops.
To get to the Batad rice terraces, you can ride a jeepney or tricycle from Banaue to the Saddle point, where they will drop you off. You will then hike along a trail to get to Batad and Rita’s Mount View Inn, where you will also pay the environmental fee (50 PHP). You can then, either hire a guide to explore the terraces, or go out on you own.
In my case, my tricycle driver actually became my “guide” for one day. He loved talking about the rice terraces and explained about his life and the beliefs of his people. He was a very enthusiastic guide and wanted to show me the best views of the rice terraces, which meant that he lead me up to the highest terraces. Just some advice: if they offer you a walking stick, take it! My pride and belief in my physical abilities made me refuse the stick when offered. I can tell you that I learned a very valuable lesson. These people are much fitter and run across the terraces while I trailed along sometimes on all fours and sometimes trying to avoid looking all the way down while balancing on one of the rims. The views were fantastic, though, and I definitely got enough exercise that day :D.
Moving down the rice terraces, you can then hike to the Tappiya Waterfall and take a very refreshing bath.
The next day, I decided to visit the Bogyah Hot Springs. From Banaue, you can ride a jeepney or tricycle to Hapoa or to the Poblacion of Hongduan. You will again pay an environmental fee of 50 PHP. When we got there, they were rather pushy when it came to hiring a guide but it is still up to you to decide. We wanted to explore on our own and hiked from the village to the Hot Springs, along the rice terraces (about 45min hike). For more info, check out this great post.
Where to eat?
I recommend the Cafe Jam on the main street. The local food is delicious, the interior decoration is very interesting and the coffee is freshly grinded.
Moving on, many backpackers will head to Sagada and the hanging coffins. I chose to delay my visit as I was in Banaue right after a super typhoon and many roads were still blocked. But this is definitely on my list. If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to share your experiences 🙂