Banaue like Sagada in the Philippines is known also for its lush terraced paddy fields. Whichever direction you look, the hill country of Ifugao offers panoramic views of several hues of green. To enjoy calming views, there are several vantage points you can either walk to or take a motorcycle taxi to.The rice terraces in the Ifugao region have UNESCO world heritage site status as they are purportedly over 2000 years old. They were apparently hand carved and built with no aid of any machinery whatsoever.
Banaue though is a relatively larger town. Apart from the rice terraces, there is not much to do here. Most tourists use it as a jumping off point to other more exciting locales. If you would like to explore more rustic settings, consider a trip to the village of Batad. About an hour away, there are infrequent jeepneys till around two in the afternoon to take you close to the village but not to it as the paved road stops about 45 minutes away from the hill interiors. The only way down is to hike there.
It is more fun to ride atop the jeepney with a sackful of rice to cushion your behind for unobstructed views and for the sheer joy of riding atop a vehicle. The ticket collector will without a doubt try to rip you off. If you would like to pay like the locals ( usually 50 PHP), find out ahead of time what locals pay and insist on paying the same price. Foreigners are usually scammed in to paying three to four times the normal price.
From the drop off point ( called saddle point), as we mentioned before, it is about an hours walk on dirt road to the village Sometimes you have to scramble through mounds of stones and mud. There are a couple of shortcuts that include steep stairs that you could use at the very beginning of the descent to Batad. This might save you about ten to fifteen minutes of walking but is a little bit more harsh on your knees especially if you are hauling around a heavy backpack.
Batad itself is serious eye candy. The main village sits prettily bang amidst graduated terraces all around the valley. Some locals offer accommodation traditional Ifugao wooden houses that stand on stilts. These are inexpensive and are a great way to experience conventional Ifugao life. Some of these come with artifacts such as ladles and knives that used to be part of such houses. Views from these high up houses are also quite as breathtaking.
We stayed at a hostelry that belonged to a reputed woodcarver in the region ( traditional houses are built of wood too). The main house had many beautifully carved wooden furniture but the artist himself had passed away only a few months prior. One of his young daughters at the tender age of 21 had now taken over running the place. She not only showed us his more famous work but also sold for a pittance some of his minor works that she had up for sale.
She astutely rued that increased tourism had made the villagers more greedy and less kind. She suggested not hiring a guide at all. She turned out to be right. We really didn’t need one to explore Batad’s pristine surroundings.
Apart from aimlessly wandering around these beautiful paddy fields from deep green to the color of ripening corn, we also visited a gorgeous waterfall, the Tappiyah waterfalls on the other side of the valley. You can’t get lost, if you ask around people will guide you to it but most hire a guide there. Go early, to beat the crowds of day trippers (organized by the Banue tourist office that also for no reason charges all tourists who enter town an entry fee- just casually walk away with minimal fuss). You can pass the village and sit around and chat with villagers or you can choose to bypass it altogether by walking high above it. Either way, the village is picturesque whether from up close or from afar.
Once you reach the other side of the valley, it is a good 25 -minute descent to the waterfall. Don’t forget to take your swimwear. After a hot climb down, a dip in the deep pool is most certainly warranted. Don’t venture too far though, the current is strong and there is reputedly deadly undertow closer to the fall. A handful of foolhardy tourists supposedly die every year here.
On the way to the falls, some villagers have set up stalls and sell everything from water to soda to cookies to beer. Only on our way back from the waterfall did we stop at the stall at the head of the trail to sip on cool beer enjoying the warm sun and a cool breeze in the shade of the stall’s thatched roof. After all the exertion, it was time to just sit back and soak in the beauty of it all. Watching the entire green valley from our perch high above, we kicked back our heels to simply allow time itself to slow down on us.
Feature image- Batad rice terraces. Image courtesy -Frolova_Elena/Shutterstock.com