We knew before we even arrived in Manila that we wouldn’t really want to spend a lot of time there and as soon as we got there it was set in concrete even more! Due to the horrific traffic in the city we had to wait over an hour to get a taxi to our hostel! As if we weren’t tired enough after yet another overnighter in Kota Kinabilu airport! However our moods were suddenly lifted when we did get in the taxi because we had the loveliest and chattiest Filipino guy! He was chatting away with us all the way through, happy to learn about where we were from and so humble about his knowledge of the English language even though it was really good! He even invited us to come and have dinner at his house and play basketball haha! Unfortunately we couldn’t take him up on the lovely offer as we only had the one night in the city. When we asked him if the city was safe as we were driving through some pretty sketchy looking areas he advised us, “of course, of course…………but just don’t carry a lot of money with you!” Putting plenty of confidence into us!
We had a little walk out in the evening into the Malate district that we were staying in. It was pretty buzzing for a Monday night to be honest and as it is a seedier part of the city there were plenty of “ladies (and probably some boys) of the night” lurking around! We grabbed some dinner at one of the nicer places called Café Adriatico which seemed to be quite well known. The food was delicious but unfortunately with nothing traditionally Filipino just yet!
We got up early the next morning ready to catch the 9am bus towards Baguio up in North Luzon as we were heading up there to do the overland loop through the famous rice terraces. The 7-8 hour bus journey was relatively stress free and there wasn’t too much to see out of the window either. However the real hassle started when we arrived at Baguio in the late afternoon. We got pretty lost trying to find the actual centre of the town, I’m not sure whether we walked in circles or we actually went the correct way but it took us around an hour to find a reasonably priced place to stay. I think by that point we would have paid to sleep on the floor we were that tired so we took one look at a cheap room with a bed and toilet and said yes. The Leisure Lodge it was called, yet there was surely nothing leisurely about it. On closer inspection the place was an absolute dive but we still maintained the thought that it was fine because it was a place to lay our heads before another long bus journey to Sagada the next day.
We had a little walk around Baguio onto the main strip away from the dark and dingy area we were staying in and it seemed to have a lovely little ambience about it. It reminded me of home; going off to the local city to do the big Christmas shop. This was what it seemed like everyone was doing as they were milling around! The presence of plenty of Christmas lights hung up along the streets probably helped as well but it definitely got us in the festive spirit which is sort of odd for an Asian country! I never expected to feel Christmassy over this side of the world anyway!
We didn’t linger long in the streets as there wasn’t much going on to entice us to stay out and we wanted to get an early night, however it seemed that the lovely proprietor of our “Leisure Lodge” had other ideas! We were kept awake pretty much all night with the receptionist and the night porter chatting away practically just outside our room! I went out once of course, no one disturbs my sleep! But I knew it was real trouble when Liam hunkered out of bed to shout at them! Definitely something we could have done without before the 7 hour bus journey onto Sagada!
We got up pretty groggily of course, after maybe catching a couple of Zzzz’s and walked on through the town to the bus station. As we were just about to get on the bus, obviously laden with all my bags, I felt a little tug on my arm. Of course my immediate reaction was to get away as it’s usually people trying to sell something or other. However a little girl probably around 3 or 4 was the culprit, it seemed she was begging me for the little take out box of pancakes I had bought for my breakfast. I handed them over of course, I knew she would benefit from them more than me, but it was heartbreaking to see her carry them back to her mum and little brother as they sat down next to our bus and tucked in as a family. A portion that I was about to polish off alone went round the 3 of them and they were thanking and waving goodbye to us as the bus pulled away so thankful for the small contribution. Then our bus pulled out through the streets, past hotels and dozens of chain restaurants and branded shops. The rich and poverty-ridden living literally side by side and all I could think is Why?
The drive up to Sagada was probably one of the most stunning roads we have been on! We climbed higher and higher into the mountains and rose so high that we were literally level with the clouds! There was even a little sign along the way proclaiming it the highest point in the Philippine highway! We started to see more and more rice fields along the journey as we got higher and they were all built in the traditional way into the mountainside like steps for a giant! On one of the rest stops I also had my first taste of Filipino food (Liam declined as he had been a bit ill!). It was these little dumpling type bites called Siamao which were filled with Chicken or Pork & Shrimp! They were actually really good but only a small snack!
Sagada was sort of the little quaint mountain town we had been waiting for with its winding streets up and down the hills. As we had arrived towards the end of the afternoon we didn’t have any time for tours around Sagada, we were doing more of a quick whistle-stop through it. However it was still just a cute place to walk around and take in the nature around. Surprisingly for the first time in a long time we found a cheap room that was excellent value for money; it was clean, convenient and we even had our own little balcony! It was actually a shame that we didn’t have more time to spend in Sagada but we had decided to get straight on the day after.
The journey wasn’t as long this time luckily; we had an hour jeepney ride to Bontoc and then another 2 hours onto Banaue. We had heard that the views along the way were spectacular so we decided to hop on top of the Jeepney for the best view! A Jeepney, by the way, is the popular mode of transport in and around the Philippines; it’s probably one of the stranger ones we have come across! Lots of dodgy looking metal monsters that have been customised and decorated with all sorts of slogans and funky patterns!
Sitting on the top of one of these wasn’t too comfortable to say the least but surprisingly it was more comfortable than being squashed into the benches inside! It was more than worth it for the views anyway! It was a little terrifying at times as we looked down into the valleys and the sheer drops at the side of the road but it was a journey I will never forget! I think all Liam and I said was “wow!” all the way through!
I didn’t think those views would be topped but our trek from Banaue to Batad the next day certainly rivalled it! We set off at the reasonable time of 8:30am as all the tours do and we got our van up to “saddle point”, which is the tip of the peak at which we have to start our hike. Hiking to Batad is the only way to get there and to see the famous Ifaguo rice terraces which are hundreds of years old! The way down was pretty easy as it was mostly downhill, however I was already dreading the walk back up the steep steps and hills!
When we arrived at Batad it is easy to see why it’s both a Unesco World Heritage site and why they call it the amphitheatre! From every angle the mountains cascade, step after step in the valley and all are lined with precision made rice terraces! We have come in the “mirror season”, aptly named as the rice terraces looked like shards of thick glass reflecting the sun and sky above. It truly was the picture perfect rice terrace we had been expecting!
After the “oohs” and “ahhs” of taking in the amazing sight had died down we carried on our trek actually through the rice terraces themselves to see the Tappiya Waterfall. The waterfall was stunning, although it was extremely powerful and causing some mighty waves in the pool so we all succumbed to just a quick dip rather than a proper swim! We needed the quick refreshment and spray from the waterfall to cool us down anyway as the walk back up to Batad village was incredibly hard! I think we may even have underestimated how hard the walk up to saddle point was too as it felt like we flew through it coming down but the knee-crunching walk back up seemed to take forever! It’s safe to say we were happy to see our driver’s face when we did finally get to the top!
In the same way we had to make the journey back from the wonderful view, we also had to make the long bus journey back down from the stunning setting of Northern Philippines to Manila to catch our next flight down to the island of Palawan for some beach hopping and sunbaking!