Our first stop after Manila was North on the same island (Luzon) to an area known for its rice terraces. After our failed attempt to see much of these in Sapa, we thought we’d try again as it was meant to be beautiful up there.
To get there, we had a 10 hour ride in a freezer. Busses in the Philippines are not as comfortable as those in SE Asia and they have the air conditioning set to what felt like 5 degrees on full blast all night. We were both in shorts and T-shirt which was not enough, so we had to fetch more clothes from our big bags at one of the toilet stops.
The drive was also notable for an enormous crash on the other side of the road. A coach had been hit from behind by a lorry and most of the back of it had been disintegrated. All the passengers seemed fine but were stuck on the side of the road at around 2 in the morning with nowhere to go. We were glad we were going the other way.
We didn’t really sleep on the bus due to the cold and discomfort but the sunrise as we pulled into our initial destination was gorgeous with the mountains we had now climbed into as a backdrop. From the bus terminal we were given a free ride into town by a man who conveniently sold tours and breakfast. We took him up on breakfast as he had driven us to where we needed to be but he seemed disappointed when he realised we already had the rest of our trip planned.
We still had to get from where we were (called Banaue) to where we were staying that night, a small village right in the hills called Batad. We found a man, or rather he found us, who offered to drive us there for a sensible price so we took him up on the offer as nobody in town is prepared to tell anyone what time the public transport goes, or from where. A little while later, after a stop at the viewpoint, we reached the end of the road where we were dropped off. Batad is a 20 minute walk from there, so we hired one of the local guides to take us around for the day, starting with our accommodation to drop off our bags. He was also named Andy, and was pretty good.
Our accommodation was simple – similar to the tea houses in Nepal – but had a beautiful balcony that was the restaurant/common area with stunning views over the terraces. We then went out to explore the terraces which were very steep and had some extremely narrow paths!
We spent a few hours walking around the terraces, with plenty of amazing viewpoints allowing for some great photos. The terraces are built in to a very steep hillside, so it was hard work but well worth it. The time of year meant there was a mix of newly planted rice, empty fields and slightly more established plants which combined for a great mix of colours. There were also a surprising amount of animals living in them, from snails to fish and even some snakes, though we didn’t see any of those.
We then headed to a nearby waterfall and had a little swim which was lovely, though the water was freezing! We spent about 20 minutes at the waterfall before starting the climb back up to town which required going up many hundreds of steps. After a Christmas with absolutely no exercise, this was very hard work! We were doing better than some of the people we overtook though, who did not sound healthy at all.
We headed back to our accommodation via the main town of Batad, interrupting a very serious game of volleyball being played by the local children as we went. After yet more steps up, we made it back and had a well earned beer on the balcony, admiring the view.
We decided at this point we liked it in Batad, so booked another night with intentions of doing nothing other than sitting on the balcony, resting and catching up on some of our planning. We had a lovely day doing exactly that, while also playing with some of the animals the hotel had as pets.
The next day we headed off back to Banaue, this time on the public Jeepney (an old US military vehicle that is essentially a stretch jeep, now used all over the country as local busses) which left at 9am. We discovered as we were getting on that sitting on the roof was a viable option, and as we were still sweating from the walk up the hill to the road this sounded perfect. That was the best decision we’d made in a while. The hour ride back was stunning – sitting in the sunshine with a breeze blowing through us as we watched the absolutely stunning landscape go by. It was even surprisingly comfortable despite us sitting on a metal cage designed to carry bags.
Having made it back to Banaue, our time in the rice terraces was over but we’d had a great time and were delighted we had chosen to head there, and that the weather had been on our side this time!