I took a let morning flight to Manila and arrived around 12:30. I had been advised by fellow travellers to avoid Manila and spend my time elsewhere in the Philippines so I booked a bus ticket for that afternoon to the north of Luzon island to Banaue, home to a UNESCO world heritage rice terrace (yes another one). My bus wasn’t until 8pm but I decided to just get a grab taxi (Asia’s version of Uber) to the bus station anyway and find somewhere nearby to wait (hopefully find WiFi and food). My first impression of Manila during that taxi ride was it is BUSY! So many people and cars everywhere! When i got to the “bus station”, aka parking lot in random suburb (all bus companies have their own bus depots so there’s not just one main bus station in the city) I picked up my ticket and asked if there was anywhere I could wait. I was then given directions to a nearby mall. That first afternoon I learnt that although the Philippines is a developing country, and the streets are what you’d expect from that, if you go into any mall in any city here you could be in any city in America. Outside it’s all run down buildings and street markets, and inside the mall it’s Starbucks, sketchers and a cinema. It’s very bizarre. I also learnt in my few hours waiting for the bus that pretty much everyone in the Philippines speaks English (also due to the large American influence in the country). It was finally time to get the bus to Banaue (no more nice train journeys for me). The bus ride was overnight and for the first two hours they played Skyfall (though the volume was so low no one could really hear it). I managed to sleep most of the way which was good.
I arrived in Banaue at 5am and was met off the bus by a driver from the hostel I had booked. Before I got on his trike I had to pay a small fee to the Banaue tourism board for conservation of the area. We then took the short 30 second journey to my hostel (seriously I could’ve walked it in 2 minutes) where my very kind host let me go straight to sleep and said I could check in later. After a very welcome three hour nap I was ready to start exploring Banaue. I decided to ignore all the waiting trike drivers offering to drive me to the various view points of the rice terraces and walk to the route myself. And boy I am so glad I did. It took me about two hours to walk to all the way to the main view point along the main road, but on the way I passed 6 other view points all with amazing views. This was nothing like the Longji rice terraces. It was so green it was like a feast for the eyes. Even the views between the official view points were stunning. I spent the whole two hour walk thinking how amazing it was and taking photo after photo. Halfway up I met two lovely Philippino girls (Arielle and Daniela) who helped me take my staple jumping shot (thanks girls!). When I got to the main viewpoint I had a much needed drink break and consulted my trusted Maps.me app to see what to do next. I saw that there was a footpath that went down into the rice terrace and up the other side that looped back to the village. I asked the owner of the shop I was in if it was ok for me to walk the track and she said absolutely, just ask the locals I pass which way to go. Sounded good to me! I followed the steps all the way down to the bottom of the terrace, crossed over a small bride and started following the path along and up the irrigation of the various rice pools (not sure what the technical term is). After about 20 minutes I came across a small farm house and a local man came out and greeted me. I said “Banaue?” And he said “yes mam you follow the path, when you get to the bottom you see two paths, you go up, not flat, you go up”. I thanked him and went on my way. At the bottom I did indeed see two paths and I took the left one which ”went up”. Let me tell you that path was pretty damn steep! I was practically rock climbing up it instead of walking. At this point I thought maybe doing this walk alone wasn’t the best idea, but I was too far in to turn back now (and there was no way I could climb back down this section!). Finally I reached the top and the path became wider and started to follow the irrigation. For the next hour and a half I followed the path through varying widths of irrigation (trying not to fall into the rice pools). At one point it started to rain and again I questioned why I was doing this. But I had my raincoat and soldiered on. And the views were pretty stunning. Eventually I started to see more houses, asking each person that I saw “banaue?” And getting nods of encouragement as I went. Finally after a 5 hour round trip I reached the village again, pretty hungry but also pretty chuffed that I had completed my trek. I found a local cafe for dinner and then headed back to my quiet hostel for an early night.
I woke up early to the sound of voices outside my room. It looked like my quiet hostel had some more guests. I went out and said hello to the four new people, two English guys a french guy and a french girl. We spent the morning swapping travel stories and trying to decided what to do today. The two english boys wanted to rent bikes and drove around the area. I wasn’t so keen as they had only learnt to drive bikes while travelling. We went into the village anyway to see if we could find anything. Unfortunately for them (fortunately for me) this wasn’t really the place to rent bikes, well at least not the automatic ones the guy were used to. Instead we decided to follow the main road in the other direction from the main rice terrace to a small natural pool we were told we could swim in. It took almost an hour to walk there and I’m not going to lie it was a bit of a disappointment. It was a very small rock pool in the middle of a small river. We also discovered that the water was absolutely freezing! And unfortunately by this point it was overcast so it wasn’t even that hot outside to make the pool a nice place to cool down. Nevertheless we had walked all the way there so we manned up and got in. It took me at least 10 minutes linger than the others to work myself up to getting in, and when I did I nearly died of shock it was that cold. And unlike most places you swim the initial shock or cold took a good 2 minutes to wear off. We stayed in the pool for around 20 minutes until it started to rain (on queue at 2pm). Luckily for us there was a small cafe right next to the pool where we took shelter and had a pretty tasty meal of noodles and vegetables. After the rain died down we headed back to the village where I got some snacks for my bus journey that evening. It was then back to the hostel to pack and wait for my bus back to Manila.
So there you have my first three days in the Philippines.
Next stop Bohol island.