In reading through a handful of must see lists online and then more specifically in our travel companion “Southeast Asia on a Shoestring,” we came across the Ifugao Rice Terraces. These rice terraces must have been built by hand long before the use of modern tools as they are estimated to have been carved into the steep mountains over 2,000 years ago. Then as we scrolled through pictures from fellow travelers and made our way to the Philippines, we penciled in a visit to the Ifugao Rice Terraces. With a little research and knowing we would have limited time, we made a plan. We would catch an overnight bus to Banaue, make a short trek to Batad for the night; then, we would hike back out on the following day exploring all we could until it was time to catch our return overnight bus. Yes, that’s right, a solid 36 hours on the ground in the rice terraces of the northern Philippines sandwiched between two overnight bus rides. This was an adventure to say the least.
First, we landed in Manila and rearranged our bags to carry the minimum amount of gear. Then, we stored our larger backpacks at the airport so that we only had to carry our smaller packs for the trek. We spent that night and then the entire next day exploring Manila and finally headed to the bus station late in the evening to start the journey.
We had taken a handful of overnight buses in our travels thus far and thought it would be similar. Boy, were we wrong. An overnight bus is simply a bus that is driven at night. It’s nothing like the “luxurious” sleeper buses we took trough parts of Vietnam. We boarded the bus, squeezed into our seats and prayed for a safe ride. We were met by tons of traffic before we even got out of Manila and our 7hr ride quickly turned into about 10hours. Then with multiple stops along the way, we ended up filling the center aisle with more and more people. It was quite stuffy in there.
We may have slept a total of only a few hours in the stop and go stuffy crowded bus, all while telling ourselves “it’s all a part of the adventure.” Eventually though, we arrived in Banaue. We were met at the bus station by many helpful local guides, one of which helped us make a plan for our 36 hours in town. As you know we didn’t have long, so getting lost was not an option. Once fueled up with breakfast, our designated local guide met us out front. We squeezed into the local version of the tuk-tuk, more like a sidecar attached to a scooter, and headed to the trailhead.
After making a couple stops along the way, we parked and began the short hike to Batad. A narrow dirt trail led to the small village on the edge of the valley overlooking the expansive terraced hillsides. We checked into our guesthouse Hillside Inn and Restaurant.
Then we set off with our guide for a tour of the valley and terraces below. He gave a brief introduction to what we were seeing then led us along the many narrow edges of the terraces. Some stone terrace edges led to other narrow dirt ridges…balance became very important for sure. We were visiting just prior to growing season, so the more beautiful green terraces we’d seen in pictures weren’t yet in season, but we could still appreciate the efforts that have gone into creating these hillside farmlands.
Our guide even led us to one of his friend’s homes where they explained how the rice is harvested then stored in the traditional dry attic-type space above ground. The kind family welcomed us into their space to point out where they would traditionally spend their nights and how generation after generation has spent their lives here. As for this family, they are slowly adding on to their home to create rooms for tourists to begin spending the night as another homestay in the village. It’s an obvious transition happening in many places we’ve been to, but this one is in the earliest stages of the transition.
Continuing on our guided tour while taking plenty pictures along the way, we eventually stepped out of the Batad valley and followed a small trail up river to a huge waterfall. It had been raining so much in the region that the falls were enormous according to our guide. As usual, I took the opportunity to jump into the frigid water and paddle around briefly. I needed to rinse off the stuffy muggy feelings from the overnight bus and our hike through Batad. It was quite refreshing, but very brief since it was so incredibly cold. Afterward, we trekked back to our guesthouse to settle in for relaxing dinner with a view followed by an early night to catch up on all the lost sleep.
The next morning we woke up with the sunlight and prepared for our hike back out of town. We enjoyed breakfast on the guest house terrace before heading out.
We opted to take a different route out of Batad and scheduled to meet our ride at a designated pick up point early in the afternoon. We decided to go this day without a guide as there really was only one trail to follow. We left out of Batad passing by the village registration booth with the attendant fast asleep just like the day before. We followed the trail as it traversed the hillside wandering through small private rice terrace farms. We encountered some local farmers and the occasional pig along the way. We would intermittently get breaks in the clouds to look out over the green valley and rolling hills. We scurried along when brief rain showers came through and happily took our time when the sun would shine through.
We eventually made it to end of the trail where we met a driver to take us back to Banaue. The rain was slowly becoming steady as we got back to town, but we still wanted to see a little more before the bus ride back to Manila. We stopped for lunch and checked our small backpacks at a guesthouse near the bus stop then took a quick ride to the top of the main road in Banaue. From there we took an easy downhill walk back to the guesthouse passing by a series of viewpoints along the way. Not expecting to return anytime soon, we didn’t let the rain stop us. Although the pictures didn’t turn out so good, we could still see through the foggy mist and rain at each viewpoint.
We arrived back at the guesthouse in Banaue thoroughly soaked, but satisfied with our trip to the Ifugao rice terraces, and prepared for our next late night bus ride. We recalled each step of the adventure and scrolled through our photos while digging in to our much needed dinner and drying out before our ride to Manila.
We are happy to have made the trip to see the rice terraces of the northern Philippines. We would certainly prefer to visit during the growing season when the green picturesque terraces shine and would avoid the rainy “muddy” season even though it made for quite an adventure. Even so, we could still appreciate the impressive terraces each step of the way. Also, if you’re heading this way, try to spare a little more than 36 hours.
Now, we’re off to Donsol in hopes of seeing the enormous whale sharks swimming in the wild!