A solo roadtrip to see one of the wonders of the world

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The Batad Rice Terraces are one of the five clusters of the Rice Terraces of the Philippines Cordilleras officially inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Photo by ENZO CRUZ

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — After a few years of travelling, it still amazes me how even after 10-hour bus rides, there are still some places that can make you forget you need to pee. Batad in Ifugao has always been one of them for me. I've never been so enthralled by a collection of stairs, one that also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage site. So enchanting it is, in fact, that we just had to include a picture of it in our local currency.

My first solo trip to see the 20-peso wonder

Actually, it is worth so much more.

Getting to Banaue is easy. There is a variety of buses that offer direct routes. Ohayami Trans happens to offer online reservation and purchasing of tickets so it was a clear option. I highly suggest booking ahead since Banaue is a very popular destination among backpackers and Ohayami Trans has a very small station that easily gets crowded, especially during long weekends. Banaue-bound busses usually set off at night given the 10-hour one way ride. My ticket was set to leave at 9:30 p.m. which meant arriving in Banaue around 7 a.m.

A word of caution

Upon reaching Banaue, the bus dropped us at a local restaurant where we were greeted with a swarm of local guides and tour groups. A normal sight for a bus full of tourists, perhaps, but I later learned that busses were apparently supposed to drop you at the Banaue Municipal Hall, and not at random restaurants. Be cautious as this may seem beneficial for travellers who don't have concrete plans, but may inconvenient those who already have existing arrangements.

Once at the Banaue town proper, getting around on your own is a breeze. There are tricycles waiting from every corner of the street and everything is within a rideable distance. Each tricycle has a laminated copy of a centralized rate card, which means everyone will be charging you equally. They offer transit options ranging from point-to-point basis to something even as complex as a personalized tour. The locals are very good at speaking both Filipino and English so language barrier will never be an issue.

Breakfast with a view

It looks like this will be the common theme for this trip. There's no escaping the view no matter where you look. I slipped in a quick breakfast at People's Lodge at the heart of the town and I was off to see the Ifugao-made treasure of the — the Batad Rice Terraces. Since everything is within riding distance in Banaue, a short 20-minute tricycle ride brings you to the saddle of Batad. There’s a small sari-sari store right before the long and winding road to the village. This marks the last point of network and data coverage. It’s about an hour’s worth of walking from the saddle until you reach the villages. The path winds from long narrow roads to rough but paved terrain.

Thumbnail.jpg A short 20-minute tricycle ride brings you from the heart of the town to the saddle of Batad. It’s about an hour’s worth of walking from the saddle until you reach the villages. The path winds from long narrow roads to rough but paved terrain. Photo by ENZO CRUZ  

As soon as you reach the village, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee of ₱50. A short walk to the right and you’ll soon be greeted with a 180-degree view of the rice terraces.

It’s all downhill from here, literally. The villages in Batad are built along slanted slopes. And while there are established trails that safely lead you from one place to another, it can get a little tiring if you were not physically prepared. After a couple of photos, I make my way to Ramon’s Native Homestay.

Centuries old huts

Ramon’s Native Homestay has native Ifugao huts that have been around for at least 400 years. It offers a unique and immersive experience especially to first-time guests who are up for a truly local experience. While checking in, I had the grandest opportunity of speaking with the owner, Mang Ramon himself. He spoke highly of his guests and how he always wants them to have the best possible time during their stay in Batad, and you see this in how he built the inn.

Head to toe, the walls are covered with historical artifacts, each with a rich story to tell about the Ifugaos’ heritage and culture. Mang Ramon even built a small museum dedicated to their wardrobe, where guests are more than welcome to try and fit them.

As luck would have it, I arrived on a very special night. Mang Ramon apparently hosts small gatherings every now and then, where he invites all his guests to sit around a bonfire while locals perform songs and folk dances.

Locals Dancing.jpg At Ramon’s Native Homestay, there are native Ifugao huts that have been around for at least 400 years. Every now and then, one can chance upon small gatherings with performances of songs and folk dances by locals. Photo by ENZO CRUZ

As expected, meals in Batad are a little bit pricier compared to Banaue. But that’s only because there are no cars or trucks to bring the  items they need. Meat, vegetables, canned goods, bottled water, and even beer have to be delivered by foot. A regular meal would cost around ₱200 to ₱250.

Batad Sunrise 2.JPG The sunrise reflecting on the Batad terraces. During the post-harvest period, the terraces are filled with water instead of crops. Photo by ENZO CRUZ

There simply is no time to waste in Batad. The following morning, after securing a guide, I made my way to the Viewpoint A, the highest viewpoint in Batad. I spent my first real sunrise here. Slow. Warm. Bright. A nice sign of how the rest of the trip will go. I went on November, which only meant it was the post-harvest season and the terraces were filled with water instead of crops. Not the usual sight one would associate with a rice terraces, but a marvellous sight to behold, nonetheless. It gets very hot, very fast. So after the first break of light, I started making my way to Tappiyah Falls.

The way down is steep

There were steps as high as my thigh. This is where people usually take their time. It’s a steep descent from the Viewpoint A, and one wrong step could severely injure anyone if they weren’t careful. After a few breather stops here and there, you are greeted by this massive 50-foot waterfall. Cold, tranquil, and aggressive. As with most waterfalls, the water was freezing, yet very relaxing to the muscles especially after an excruciatingly knee-breaking descent. Too relaxing, in fact, that your muscles might cramp up a bit if you don’t take it slow.

Tapiyah.jpg The descent to Tappiyah Falls is physically demanding even for active and experienced travelers, but the cool waters and majestic view make the trip rewarding. Photo by ENZO CRUZ

The way back up is just as challenging

No, wait. It was actually much harder. You’re lugging all your wet clothes, you’re dripping with sweat, and the heat is back. And this time, it’s not going away. I enjoyed a hearty dinner back in Mang Ramon’s Native Inn as soon as I got back. I stared in the darkness, painting the view right in front of me from memory. I let it sink in for a bit. I enjoyed a bottle of beer and I fixed my bags and prepared to leave for Banaue in the morning.

The 20-peso view

20-Peso View.jpg The Banaue Rice Terraces are the iconic Ifugao-made structures featured at the backs of our 20-peso bills. Photo by ENZO CRUZ

Back in Banaue, I withdrew some cash at the one and only ATM available in the whole town. After splurging on all my meals, Batad has completely drained my budget for the trip, and I was yet to explore Banaue itself. There are several viewpoints to appreciate the terraces in Banaue. I was lucky that I went on a weekday. There weren't many people so I had the view mostly to myself. It was a little after 9 a.m. with small patches of clouds looming over the horizon.

I spent most of my morning at the final viewpoint, taking pictures, speaking with the locals, and shopping for souvenirs. After a loaded morning, I made my way to Hiwang Native House Inn. It has, in my opinion, one of the best views of the terraces I’ve seen to date. I spent most of my afternoon here, lounging and waiting for my last sunset for this trip to fade.

Hiwang Native Inn View 3.jpg Hiwang Native House Inn offers one of the best views of the rice terraces. Photo by ENZO CRUZ

Here, I sit back, put my feet up, and loosen my belt. I slowly accept the fact that my trip has come to an end. It has taken me months to prepare for this trip that seemed to pass faster than it did. There are some trips in our lives that we wish would never end, not because of how well we were experiencing it in that moment but simply because of how that moment has prepared us to experience everything else that follows after it.

I can’t tell you if that trip to Batad was my best trip to date. What I can tell you is that it made me realize something about myself, leading me to seek more equally breathtaking places.