As you probably know, the Philippines is composed of many islands. The main one, if you will, or where Manila is, is called Luzon. It’s the biggest and has a range of activities for people to do meaning, in the South, there is Anilao, which boasts some scuba diving and snorkeling adventures (and where I got Open Water Padi certified), and in the North, there are mountains and rice terraces.
I want to focus this particular blog on the North.
We took a night bus from Manila to Banaue where we decided to spend one night. I read that Banaue has UNESCO rice terraces and from our hostel you can see them. However, many people were talking about Batad and in fact, you can take a tour or self-tour from Banaue to Batad.
This is what we did.
First, we got accosted on the bus because we didn’t have any hotel booked and so a young man said he was with the tourist office and would provide us a free ride to there. Yes, well, it was the tourist office at HIS hotel. Coming from the night bus, we weren’t in the state of mind to be dealing with this young man badgering us for buying a very over-priced tour. We excused ourselves by having breakfast at the hotel, but he still kept coming to us and asking questions.
Finally, we left and walked to the hostel next door (Stairway Lodge)- just to ask for prices on rooms. The owner was super nice and didn’t try to sell us anything, in fact, she was encouraging us to go to Batad on our own etc. We booked a room.
While we were showering, she called a tricycle driver for us.
To get to Batad on your own, you can either go with a jeepney, which leaves at a certain hour or hire a tricycle for the whole day. We paid 800 pesos to go there and back and for him to wait for us there. It is around 700-800 pesos, don’t pay more.
I would also recommend that you look for a newer and bigger tricycle and I will explain why later.
It is an hour ride and because our tricycle was a bit old, Dad had to sit behind the driver for a little bit.
We got to Batad around 11. You can hire a guide and perhaps I recommend this to you as Batad, though a very small village filled with open rice terraces, it is easy to get lost and even though locals didn’t seem to know much. Plus, we were there at the height of the day so really hot and humid with no shade. Granted, since it’s in the mountains, this area is generally cooler, but it’s still the Philippines.
I say perhaps recommended because we did not take a guide and we survived.
Getting and seeing the terraces are easy, but we were having physical difficulties getting to the other big tourist attraction there, a waterfall.
It was a lovely waterfall, but unfortunately for it, I have seen some spectactular ones prior so I wasn’t so impressed, but it’s another 20 minutes hike from the terraces to the waterfall. You can go swimming there, if you fancy.
The steps are very tall and quite steep. I was pretty much climbing the stairs in the terraces and on the way to the waterfall. I don’t recommend this if you have knee or so problems.
I also suggest bringing snacks and plenty of water. You can buy some along the way, but they are more expensive, which makes sense because the locals 1. Need to make money 2. Had to carry all those things to the location.
We ended up not having anything to eat until 5pm, which, as a food lover, made me grumpy haha.
On the way back, the locals pointed us to a path that was through the jungle. Literally, the jungle.
We doubted we were going the right direction until we somehow managed to find the viewpoint we came across at the very beginning meaning we were 10 minutes from the tricycle.
All I wanted to do was ride the bike back to town, get a beer, sit, and relax. After over 3 hours baking in the sun and sweating with no food, I was not in the mood to be doing anything else.
Due to our problems coming to Batad, the tricycle driver found another driver to take Dad back to town (he was going back anyways). I made sure to clarify that we weren’t paying more and the driver agreed.
Leaving Batad, there is a very steep hill. Dad and his driver (along with another passenger) zoomed up it and waited for us at the top.
When we got to the bottom of the hill,
“You need to walk.” My driver said.
“I’m walking?” I ask confused.
“Yes, I wait for you at the top.”
After getting kicked out, I walked the almost 1km of hill to the top. I had no water. I was not happy.
The driver tried making a joke, but I cut him off.
“Yes, I am not happy about walking. Not happy at all.”
We got into the tricycle and met with Dad and his driver who informed him that I had indeed walked.
My driver tried explaining to me that it was for safety. Which I totally understood, but after the day we had (including not sleeping very well on the night bus), walking that last bit was the absolute last thing I wanted to do.
We made it back and took another shower and had a beer.
A friend we met in Manila was also in Banaue and we decided to meet for dinner/drinks.
However, by the time we met up with him he had already been snacking. That was the big joke with him,
“I have already eaten!”
He was a good guy and we had a lot of fun conversing with him. We later ran into him at the airport leaving Manila, but unfortunately, couldn’t meet up in El Nido. I look forward to seeing him again in the future!
From Banaue, we took a van at 8am to Sagada. If went through Bontoc where we switched vans to keep going to Sagada.
Once again, we didn’t have a place to stay, but no one accosted us and we went to a hostel that was in our guide book (Greenhouse).
Both in Banaue and Sagada, you have to pay an environmental fee. It’s usually around 1 USD equivalent, 50 or 60 pesos and you can pay it at the tourism office. Make sure to get a receipt.
In Sagada, we went to the tourism office to pay as well as to look at tours. There are many tours available in Sagada, but you need a guide and after our Banaue incident, we were not fighting the lack of guide.
The big sights to see in Sagada are as follows:
- The Hanging Coffins
- This group believes in nature and that there is no afterlife (if I understood correctly). To ward off the animals from eating their dead, they hang the coffins along a cliff or mountain. The oldest is from the 1940’s while the newest one was put up around 2010.
- Several waterfalls
- Several caves
The tours can do a specific one or a combination.
We did the adventure tour which was about 1,000 pesos for the guide (up to 10 people I think) and was about 2-3 hours. We were more on the 2 hours because we were 2 people and we walk fast.
The adventure tour showed us 2 hanging coffins sites, one waterfall (less spectacular than Batad), and we had to go through a cave/tunnel. Jolly, our guide, told us that we wouldn’t have to get wet in this cave (others yes), but due to the rain the night before, the water was higher and we ended up getting our feet wet. It is so hot there that everything dries really quickly.
There are so many tour guides that they have a rotating schedule. Jolly said he only does one tour a month. It is definitely hard to make a living.
Our first day in Sagada, we hung out and did some planning and internet things. On our second day, we did the tour and had a night bus back to Manila that left at 4pm. Because we were finished at around 11am, we had some time to kill.
Sagada town isn’t that big and we walked into several restaurants looking for a cheap smoothie, well, only one restaurant was decent priced, but we had eaten there before and wanted something else. We finally ended up at a place and had a pitcher of extremely sweet ice tea.
At our hostel, we were able to meet a great group of people: a couple from the Czech Republic, a couple from Poland, and an Australian man. We talked to the Australian a lot more than the rest, but they were all interesting and funny people. The Czechs were happy I had spent time in their country and learnt some of their language- it was actually nice saying the few Czech words I know.
The bus back was more comfortable than on the way up, but I somehow got motion sickness.
I could barely eat and spent a lot of the time staring out the window or trying to sleep.
At one point, I was drinking water to calm myself, but that produced a woman that needed to pee- and there was no toilet on the bus. An hour of pain led me to run to the bathroom at the rest stop and a nice woman, who was also in the same condition, paid the 5 pesos for me.
We arrived in Manila around 3.30am and we had a flight to Cebu at 10, so we found a 24 hour Jollibee and had a late dinner and early breakfast there.
Literally, we had some dinner food (hamburgers) and then order some breakfast (eggs).
Getting to the airport was easier as we sort of figured out Manila’s system, but it still took us an hour or so.
If I may go back to Manila for a moment, there is not much to see, maybe a day’s worth. Manila is hot, crowdy, messy, and chaotic. We spent 2 nights at the Pink Manila Hostel and noticed that people only stayed one night before continuing on. My suggestion is the same.
There was actually a funny occurrence at our hostel. So, when Dad and I flew from Taiwan to Manila, we were on different flights.
When he was in line for immigration, he started talking with a young man from America, M. When we get to the hostel, Dad had already told me about M and who should be walking down the stairs- M!
Later that night, before we went out for drinks, another hostelmate approached me. He looked familiar, but I put it aside until,
“Where you in China?”
Sure enough, we had made dumplings together in Xi’an, China 2 months prior and now we were in the same hostel in Manila.
Manila does have good nightlife and though I didn’t experience much of it, I enjoyed myself. We had beers at a restaurant close to the hostel- 6 buckets of 6 beers for 7 of us.
Speaking of beers, the Philippines has really just 2: San Miguel and Red Horse. Red Horse is quite strong and there is a saying about how the horse will kick you in the face.
Well, it hasn’t kicked me in the face yet, but it has definitely been a crazy ride!
The first week in the Philippines was definitely a mixture of many things!
As a side note: I would also recommend on the island of Luzon, Tagaytay. It holds the volcano Taal which is an island in a lake in a volcano in a lake in a volcano. You take a boat to the second crater and then you hike up to see the second lake and little island.
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