I awoke suddenly as a ray of sunlight hit me through the bus window.
I was freezing – layered in leggings, a skirt, fleece, wool socks and even wrapped in a sarong and light scarf. The bus was a veritable refrigerator cruising north from Manila to the famed Unesco heritage rice terraces. We had five days to discover Banaue and Sagada. As I looked out the window I realized we had climbed quite high since dozing off after our last bathroom stop.
And then the first of many terraces came into view. I immediately pulled out my phone to record the sights. The sun rising at the start of a new day, the blue skies and the verdant green of the stacked terraces of rice, stretching as far as I could see down the mountains and around all the curves. The nine hour overnight bus ride was already worth it.
About a half hour later we arrived in Banaue.
We paid the nominal environmental fee which helps preserve the Unesco rice terraces. Our lodging, Banaue Homestay, picked us up which was convenient! Although we couldn’t get to our rooms right away, there was plenty of space to stash our bags, and they ushered us through the common rooms to the balcony.
This is the view I had read about.
Our room was only $15/night and while it was small, it was clean. All the reviews had said that it had the best views in town. And they did not lie. I could have sat on that terrace all day taking it in. You could see locals working some of the terraces, kids trekking over them to get to school, cats sunning themselves and lots of houses perched at precarious angles as far as you looked. Then the light went dim as the clouds rolled in. Although I was slightly disappointed, having fantasized about blue skies contrasting against the green, it was equally as cool to watch the clouds slowly obscure your view.
Hours later, we were freshened up and headed out to a tour arranged by our homestay. We met Jane, a solo traveler from Ireland, over breakfast and decided to trek together to the Bogyah Hot Springs in Haundung.
The next day we took a jeepney to Batad and hiked deep into the rice terraces.
This was quite a trek. Todd and I hike a good amount at home in the Gorge and around Oregon, but nothing prepared us for the extreme uneven steps of the terraces. However, the sweat was worth it. We had a brilliantly sunny day, our guide Haseim was super informative about the culture and history of the area as well as providing a lot of facts about rice growing.
At the end was Tappiya Falls, with a refreshing pool to swim in.
It was possibly my favorite moment of the Philippines thus far. I had been obsessing about this since I first saw a picture of the terraces about a month into our planning which seems like a lifetime ago. This was at the top of my bucket list and I enjoyed every labored breath, shaky thighs, profusely sweating moment.
The next morning, we loaded up into a minivan and drove about 3 hours away to Sagada.
Now, mind you that it is actually only about 65 km, or just under 40 miles to get there by car. This should give you an idea of the amount of curves along the crazy mountain roads. There are parts where some of the roads were almost totally washed out. The van drivers are notoriously speed demons and we definitely hung on at some points. But they also stopped at several viewpoints along the way which was awesome and unexpected.
When you arrive and get out of the car, it is wonderful to feel the cool breezes and the lack of humidity.
Higher up in the mountains than even the terraces, it got cool enough for us to wear our fleeces at night and we welcomed the different climate. Sagada has a bit of a hippie vibe to it. Amazingly, they have a ban on plastic bags, unheard of in any other parts of Asia that we have been to so far. The town is also a great jump off for extreme caving, rafting and other outdoor adventures. It is easy to arrange any tours there at the main tourist office. Just show up, tell them what you want to see and you will be paired with a guide and on your way.
Perhaps the best known part of Sagada is the hanging coffins.
The traditional tribes hang their dead on cliffs as they believe that the higher they are the more they will connect with their ancestors. It is an easy trek just outside of town to see them. We took a nice loop hike one day. It took us past the old church, through the local cemetery and then to the coffins. We next trekked through the woods to a cave and underground river and finally over to Bokong waterfall, which is small, but cute and has a little pool to swim in (where the locals learn to swim our guide told us).
Todd and I had a lovely few days in this town, relaxing and checking out some cultural offerings.
There is a local museum, Ganduyan Museum, with wonderful artifacts to look through. The owner talked us through them all while giving us an accurate but also humor inflected history of the indigenous tribes.
One morning we visited Sagada Pottery, a local pottery studio where I got to throw a pot! We also purchased a small vase to send home as a souvenir.
Sagada is known for its food scene and did not disappoint.
We ate at the Yoghurt House several times and loved their homemade yoghurt and entrees that were chock full of veggies. Another favorite of ours was Bana’s Cafe, which had wonderful breakfasts and amazing chicken wings. And for dessert don’t miss the Lemon Pie House for all your pie needs.
It was great to just take a breath in this place and I can see how some travelers end up staying here way longer than they plan.
If we didn’t already have a flight booked, I feel we could have happily whiled away a week or two here. Our trip to the Philippines definitely ended on a high note, not just because of the altitude of the mountains, but because we had a wonderful time exploring the mountain regions of Luzon.
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